Yoga Journal Buzz blog recently asked a spin on this question to readers: Should yoga be included in religion study?
Now, I’m no theologian nor can I claim an in depth knowledge to any particular religion, so I relied on my Librarian Skills to try and decipher this knotty question.
What did I do? I looked the words up in the dictionary. 🙂
The Oxford English Dictionary defines religion as
“a belief in or sensing of some superhuman power , entitled to obedience, reverence and worship, or in a system defining a code of living, esp. as a means to achieve spiritual or material improvement; acceptance of such belief (esp. as represented by an organized Church) as a standard of spiritual and practical life; the expression of this worship etc.“
The Oxford English dictionary defines discipline as
“Instruction given to pupils or disciples; teaching, education. Instruction fitting one to perform an activity; training. Controlled and orderly behavior resulting from training.“
Finally, the dictionary defines yoga as
“union of the self with the supreme being; a system of practice and meditation.“
Using these dictionary definitions, one could safely make the argument that yoga is a religion. The eight limbs of yoga work together to achieve union with a greater spiritual power. The path of yoga outlines ways of living and behaving that help the practitioner achieve this relationship. The term discipline also applies, but seems too narrowly defined to include all that yoga encompasses.
However, the modern use of the word religion is fraught with cultural baggage. It implies a more dogmatic view of the world with much stricter rules for behavior and belief. I think this is what makes people so uncomfortable calling yoga a religion — they’re operating from the cultural definition rather than the dictionary definition, where, for the most part, all social context has been removed.
Is yoga a religion? Should it be included in religious studies? I say yes, on both counts. The study of yoga, both personally and academically is a worthy and enlightening path, as is any open, curious and unbiased study of any religious disciple.
What do you think? Is yoga a religion or a discipline?