understanding our beliefs comparative analysis comparative religious study

Comparative Analysis ― The Key to Understanding Our Beliefs

“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 why learning about our beliefs is important.

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.

Understanding Assumptions and Bias

So, Comparative Analysis helps us take off our cultural narrative’s blinders.  This process gives us a way to research with the least bias possible.  The less bias we use, the more accurate our conclusions. 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 perspective grows in proportion to the number of worldviews you understand.

What is Comparative Analysis?

This is a scientific model for comparing topics between different belief systems. 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 our bias. 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 goal might be to find and compare a specific symbol in different religions. However, it also a good idea to be flexible. The symbol may lead you to other interesting data.  It’s not uncommon for good 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 exploring things.  It helps us develop new knowledge.  And, it helps us correct errors and integrate knowledge. This method uses common sense, logic, and verifiable data to base conclusions.  This approach promotes a healthy skeptical mindset. It helps us in understanding the assumptions that we may hold.

Six Steps of Comparative Analysis

Six Steps of Comparative Analysis

1. Pick Topic

Pick a topic for comparison. List your assumptions about the subject. Seeing your thoughts in writing will help you minimize your own bias.  Select the initial sources for the subject.

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.  Brainstorm.  This 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. Brainstorm.  Look at the 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 hypothesis logical?

6. Develop Conclusions

The last step is developing your conclusions. What new questions does this raise?  Do we need more data?  Does the conclusion lead to other questions? Does this help in understanding assumptions that I may hold?  Does this help with understanding our assumptions?

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.  This 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

comparative religious study

Other Worldviews

Exploring the beliefs of a foreign system is easier 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 sacred ground from a different perspective.

Gaining a new perspective is important 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.  They learn not to question the cultural narrative.

If you study only one religion, you are a customer for life.  But, if you study 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.

It will open your eyes to the historical context, the similarities, and the contradictions. Understanding assumptions is a benefit.  It will help you see ethnic, racial, and gender prejudices.  This 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 narrative. 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 own assumptions with more clarity.

This can help us unplug the emotional ties surrounding our own religious beliefs. This gives us the ability to weigh them with common sense and logic.  This 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 own minds is an extra benefit.

Tips to Conduct Independent Research

Comparative Analysis ― Comparative Religious Study
Voynich Manuscript

Pick a topic and then at least four different beliefs to compare the topic.  Start with the chosen topic in your belief system.  Then pick at least three from other belief systems.

For example, many people believe in some form of 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 includes Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism.  The Asian line includes Taoism, Shinto, Confucianism, and Eastern Asian Buddhism.

And perhaps one belief system from the earlier roots of the Abrahamic tree. These are Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian, and Assyrian mystery religions.

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 assumptions. You will spot the assumptions as bias and prejudice.  It will also make your own bias clear.  This clarity will help you be a better person.

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 to 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.  This 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

    • How do different belief systems approach the subject of a higher power or God?
    • How is the subject of spirits and spirit guides handled in various religions?
    • What are the similarities or differences of salvation between Western and Eastern religions?

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 other 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

If this article resonates, there are more on our blog. To find out more about our organization, see our page FAQ.

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

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