“You don’t understand the basic assumptions of your own culture if your own culture is the only culture you know.” ― Alan Watts
Mr. Watts (1) points out one of the primary reasons for studying our assumptions and understanding core beliefs.
Understanding Our Assumptions
Mr. Watts uses the term ‘assumptions of your own culture.’ He’s saying most people are not aware of their culture’s bias. Our cultural narrative is invisible—most are not aware of the other worldviews available for comparison. Therefore, we make assumptions out of ignorance.
What keeps people ignorant is not their intelligence level; it’s the programming that blocks their ability to use reason and common sense. This programming solidifies as our core tenants or beliefs. That’s why understanding core beliefs is the first step to freedom.
So, Comparative Analysis helps us take off our cultural narrative’s blinders. This process gives us a way to research with the least amount of harmful interference. Let’s see how this works.
To understand a culture, you need to compare it with another. Comparison expands our perspective on the subject. So, understanding assumptions requires knowledge of two or more cultural elements. Your observational perspective expands in proportion to the number of worldviews you understand.
What is Comparative Analysis?
It is a structured form of comparative religious study. It uses the scientific process’s six steps to guide research and provide consistent, accurate results.
A systematic approach like this helps us stay on track and minimize the interference of any preconceived judgments. This approach begins with understanding our assumptions, bias, and prejudice. As we conduct the research, these elements can taint our results. So, this process helps us make an honest appraisal of our worldview.
Always set goals for your research. For instance, your objective might be to find and compare a specific symbol in different religions. However, it also a good idea to be flexible. The symbolism may lead you to other interesting data. It’s not uncommon for solid research to uncover other things worth investigating. You can set the new data aside for another research project.
Guiding Principles of Comparative Analysis
Stay with the model, and don’t skip steps. The scientific model will give the best results. However, you don’t have to be a scientist to use these six steps. It’s logical and straightforward.
The scientific method is a process for developing new knowledge and theories. It corrects errors in previous hypotheses. It’s a proven method that uses common sense, logic, and verifiable data to arrive at conclusions. This approach promotes a healthy skeptical mindset. It helps us in understanding the assumptions that we may hold.
Six Steps of Comparative Analysis
1. Pick Topic
Pick a subject for comparison, and then list your assumptions about each. Seeing your opinions in writing will help you identify your preconceived ideas. After you’ve selected a topic, find several different sources for your data comparison.
2. Gather Data
Next, gather the data. If you can, go to the library. Then, find data from valid sources. Use books from authors outside the worldview you are researching. Sources from the paradigm you are exploring are likely to have a biased opinion. You want data you can verify with independent sources.
3. Record Facts
Now record the facts and ask yourself questions about what it could mean. Don’t develop conclusions. List all the possibilities and brainstorm to find new connections and possible conclusions. It may require more in-depth study within the religions you’ve selected. Or, you may expand your research when you discover new data provides. Go where the data leads.
4. Form Initial Hypothesis
Form a hypothesis. Again, brainstorm on the implications of the verifiable data. What story does it tell? List all the possibilities. List the most probable and the least.
5. Test the Initial Hypothesis
Time to test the various hypotheses. What is most likely and least likely? Is the theory logical? Does it accurately represent the data?
6. Develop Conclusions
The last step is developing your conclusions. What does the data support? What new questions does this raise? Do we need more data? Does this help in understanding assumptions that I may hold?
These six comparative analysis steps either confirm one or more of the hypotheses or prompts us to ask other questions. Remember, a skeptic is a Freethinker guided by common sense and logic. Don’t skip steps. Don’t rush to conclusions until you complete your due diligence.
While you are engaging in this process, be sure to stop every 15 to 20 minutes. Check your emotions. Emotional checks will help you do more accurate research with less emotional stress. If you are not familiar with this type of quality check, follow the link to learn more.
Believe it or not, this can be some intensive inner work. It is especially true if you deal with topics related to your own beliefs. So, please stop and assess your emotional equilibrium.
The Benefits of Comparative Analysis
Understanding Core Beliefs and Other Worldviews
Exploring the beliefs of a foreign system is more accessible than investigating our own. That’s because looking at other belief systems does not threaten our sacred ground. And so, this is the value of undertaking a comparative religious study. We learn to see our holy ground from a different perspective.
Gaining a new perspective is essential for any religious devotee. It will keep you from slipping into extremist views that are harmful to others. It isn’t a coincidence that people have the same religion as their parents. The strategy of most religions is to indoctrinate children early in life. So, they have no other narrative to compare it with their paradigm. They learn not to question our cultural folklore.
If you study only one religion, you are a customer for life. But, if you investigate more than one, you are less likely to become a believer of any. That is the power of knowledge. Knowledge of other systems helps us to understand our own.
Knowledge of several systems will open your eyes to the historical context, the similarities, and the contradictions. Understanding assumptions is a huge benefit. It will help you see ethnic, racial, and gender prejudices. It will help you become a freethinker in a world full of followers. The value of conducting a comparative religious study is to open your mind to other possibilities.
Safe Place Tread on Your Sacred Ground
The six steps of comparative analysis help view other belief systems without judgment. It helps us examine our sacred ground without emotional attachment. One of the main obstacles to spiritual exploration is our bias. Our ability to learn is directly proportional to our ability to embrace new ideas.
We all have a dominant cultural narrative. Religious beliefs often dominate our cultural folklore. These control the bandwidth of our ability to see the value of new ideas. Taking part in this type of study enables us to discuss our closely held beliefs in safety.
We can explore ideas and beliefs outside our worldview. This type of study will give people practical experience understanding assumptions. It is easier to see the assumptions of others first. We can do this without emotional attachment. This perspective enables us to see our beliefs with more clarity.
It can help us unplug the emotional ties surrounding our own religious beliefs. It gives us the ability to weigh them with common sense and logic and keeps our prejudices from holding back our progress.
Enhancing Critical Thinking
When you use a process like the six steps of comparative analysis, you enhance your ability to use logic and common sense. Understanding our minds is an extra benefit.
Tips to Conduct Independent Research
Pick a subject and then at least four different beliefs for comparison. Start with the chosen topic in your belief system. Then pick at least three from other belief systems.
For example, many people believe in a sect of the Abrahamic religions (2). These are the Semitic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. If you are a believer in a branch of these religions, then pick three others.
Then pick at least one from Eastern-based traditions. Eastern religious traditions come from two main lines, India and Asia.
- The Indian line of traditions includes systems like Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism.
- The Asian group of religions includes Taoism, Shinto, Confucianism, as well as East Asian Buddhism.
Then, pick one belief system from the earlier roots of the Abrahamic tree.
- These are Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian, and Assyrian mystery religions circa 1 BCE.
If you want to expand the comparison, pick one of the Pagan systems like Wicca. Then, finish with non-religious approaches to Atheism and Agnostic thought.
Some Things You’ll Likely Discover
First, the more studies you complete, the more you will value understanding our assumptions. You will spot the assumptions as bias and prejudice. It will also make your preferences clear. This clarity will help you be a better person. Understanding core beliefs gives you the power to change those that are not correct.
Second, the most successful rebranding effort is the Abrahamic traditions. These are the modern religions of Semitic origin, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. However, you won’t hear this from them unless to do some research. They are the rebranding of Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian, and Assyrian mystery religions. One source of this data comes from their internal documents. The Catholic Encyclopedia from 1907 is one of the best resources to find information not meant for public consumption.
Admission of Pagan Origin
“Symbolism in a greater or lesser degree is essential to every kind of external worship, and we need not shrink from the conclusion that in the matter of baptisms and washings, of genuflection’s and other acts of reverence, of lights and sweet-smelling incense, of flowers and white vestitures, of spiritual unction’s and the imposing of hands, of sacrifice and the rite of the Communion banquet, the Church has borrowed without hesitation from the common stock of significant actions known to all periods and all nations. In such matters as these, Christianity claims no monopoly or originality.” ― The Catholic Encyclopedia and International Work, Vol. 14 (1907).
Belief Systems, Gods and Religions for Study
Here are some examples of our favorites. It is not an exhaustive list, just examples: Aladura, Asatru, Bahā’ī Faith, Buddhism, Cao Dai, Chinese Religion, Christianity (5,000 + variations and growing), Confucianism, Druze, Eckankar, Epicureanism, Falun Gong, Gnosticism, Greco-Roman religion, Hare Krishna, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Judaism, Mayan religion, Mormonism, Mithraism, Nation of Islam, New Age, New Thought, Olmec Religion, Paganism, Rastafarianism, Scientology, Seventh-day Adventist Church, Shinto, Sikhism, Spiritualism, Taoism, Unification Church, Wicca, Witchcraft and Zoroastrianism.
Examples of Topics for Research
Comparative Analysis = Comparative Religious Study.
You start this journey to discover new information. We take on the challenge of exploring other ideas and beliefs. This process is not only an analytical exercise. This journey also involves an inward journey. When we open our minds to different ideas and perspectives, it is a catalyst for our spiritual growth.
The benefits of this study include:
- Greater bandwidth of perspective
- Understanding of our assumptions
- Enhancing our critical thinking skills
Are you interested in spiritual exploration? Check out the blended learning process at the core of our teaching process. It reflects what Joseph Campbell called the Hero’s Journey. Our learning options include both face-to-face and virtual learning sessions. Please consider donating and supporting our mission.
(1) Alan Watts, Wikipedia
(2) Abrahamic Religions, Wikipedia
(3) Joseph Campbell & Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero’s Journey, Wikipedia