Rasmussen University Religion

In this module, you have learned about different religions and philosophical views of happiness. Write a 1-2 page essay answering the following:

  • What role does religion play in being happy? Provide detail and examples.
  • Is religion necessary for happiness? Why or why not?
  • Support your position by providing three pieces of evidence from the readings and lesson content.

Archetypes in Religion

  • Interactive – Religious Archetypes for All
  • These religious archetypes are present in most world religions from the past and present. They inspire the ways in which humans make meaning of our existence and the good and bad events we experience. This inspiration is evident in many creative works of humans, from ancient art to current creations.

    Throughout history, art and religion have been closely linked. Examples of religious influences in the arts include the Islamic influence on the architecture of the Moors in Spain, works of Christian art in the Vatican and various Catholic and Protestant churches, and the works of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, and many others.

    What we call fine art today had other purposes in the past. Sculptures, textiles, illuminations, and even architecture all served the utilitarian purpose of communicating meaning beyond language. The desire to convey meaning through art can be found in every culture throughout the world. Most creations from history are either for decorative purposes or as tools, such as for cooking or defense. Worldwide, decorative art objects were almost completely religious in nature, even from the earliest recorded dates. Consider the examples below.Ancient Austrian Art

    The Venus of Willendorf is a Paleolithic statuette dating back to around 24,000-22,000 B.C.E., making it one of the oldest artifacts in the world. Art historians have learned a lot about the people who created this palm-sized figure, which was carried by nomadic people in Austria.

    By looking at the most important features of the figure, it is apparent that the people who made it were matriarchal and concerned with fertility. This is evident in the care the artist took in creating her large breasts, vulva, thighs, and stomach. In contrast, there is very little attention paid to her non-reproductive body parts; her face is blank, and her hands and feet are missing. These small statues are believed to be fertility charms.

    Piles of similar statuettes have been found in shrine-like arrangements throughout the surrounding areas. Although these early humans may not have had a structured religious practice, Venus of Willendorf indicates spiritual practices that centered around female fertility and reproduction. The Venus of Willendorf, side view of female figurine, Gravettian culture, Upper Paleolithic Period, c.30000-18000 BC.Ancient Mesopotamian Art

    The White Temple was built in Uruk, which is modern-day Warka, Iraq, and was the birthplace of all city life worldwide more than five thousand years ago. Ancient Sumeria is where the first writing, called cuneiform, emerged.

    Uruk was one of the most significant locations in southern Mesopotamia. Inside Uruk, the greatest monument was the Anu Ziggurat on which the White Temple was built in the late 4th millennium B.C.E.

    The White Temple was dedicated to the Sumerian sky god Anu. This temple was visible from a great distance because it towered above (approximately 40 feet) the flat plain of Uruk and the protective city walls. The first major architectural undertaking in human history was built for Anu, the god of all gods, who “contained the entire universe.” Reconstruction of White Temple at the Sanctuary of Anu, Uruk, Mesopotamia, drawing, Sumerian civilization.Ancient Greek Art

    Ancient Greek art is filled with reflections of religious beliefs and customs and rituals associated with the worship of gods and goddesses. Pottery, statuary, and grand architecture were all made to honor the gods and goddesses. Vases portray gods and goddesses up to their mythical antics. In one work, Ganymede, the most beautiful human, according to the ancient Greek poet, Homer, is being abducted by Zeus. Detail of Attic goblet depicting gods gathering, painted by Oltos, a late archaic Greek vase painter.

    The quote below from Homer’s ancient Greek epic poem, The Iliad, exemplifies the impact of religion in ancient Greek literature.
    “Ganym?d?s who was born the best-looking mortal man of them all, and because of his beauty the gods wafted him aloft to be Zeus’s cup-bearer and dwell among the immortals” (Homer, 2015, Book XX, lines 233-235).~HomerEarly Christian Art

    Early Christian art followed in the footsteps of the ancients with art dedicated to biblical figures. It took three centuries for early Christians to overcome their ban on graven images, which ended because the first converts to Christianity had grown up accustomed to Greco-Roman iconography. Christians needed to meet converts where they were and provide them with biblical images to replace their Greco-Roman icons. In one of the earliest images of Christ, a youthful Jesus is depicted among a generic crowd of students. Christ and Apostles, fresco, Catacombs of Domitilla, Rome, Italy, 2nd century.

    This was just the beginning of Christianity’s impact on the humanities, though. During the Middle Ages, Christian art was small and intimate. It consisted of illuminated manuscripts and small votive statues. Eventually, exalting Christ became the impetus for some of the most significant leaps in architectural advancement in history, and nothing demonstrates this more than Gothic architecture.

    Tired of medieval churches that were dark and cramped, architects succeeded in designing Basilica Cathedral of Saint-Denis, with gigantic ceilings and much larger windows to let the spiritual light of Christ within. Later Gothic architecture included architectural novelties such as flying buttresses, as seen in the Notre Dame Cathedral.Notre Dame Cathedral


    Because of their religious influence, these and other works of art and architecture unified entire geographical regions of people who shared common beliefs. Art continues to be inspired and influenced by religion. Traditions, practices, deities, saints, and all other intangible aspects of religion can only be made tangible through art.

    Christ and Apostles, fresco, Catacombs of Domitilla, Rome, Italy, 2nd century [Photo]. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. https://quest.eb.com/search/126_141404/1/126_14140…Detail of Attic goblet depicting gods gathering, painted by Oltos, late archaic Greek vase painter [Photo]. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. https://quest-eb-com.eu1.proxy.openathens.net/search/Zeus-Ganymede-vase/1/126_3736405/Detail-of-Attic-goblet-depicting-gods-gathering-painted-byHomer. (2015). The Iliad: A new translation by Peter Green. University of California Press.Notre Dame Cathedral [Photo]. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. https://quest.eb.com/search/139_1932917/1/139_1932…Reconstruction of White Temple at the Sanctuary of Anu, Uruk, Mesopotamia, drawing, Sumerian civilization [Photo]. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. https://quest-eb-com.eu1.proxy.openathens.net/sear…The Venus of Willendorf, side view of female figurine, Gravettian culture, Upper Paleolithic Period, c.30000-18000 BC [Fine art]. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. https://quest-eb-com.eu1.proxy.openathens.net/sear…

Hagia Sophia – Alterations Through Time

  • The Hagia Sophia (pronounced Hi-ya Sofia) is an architectural monument in Istanbul, Turkey. Its identity has changed drastically over the years, each change marking the building indelibly, culminating in fascinating history.

    Today, it is the Grand Mosque. Yet in 537 A.D., it was the Christian Church of Hagia Sophia, the main cathedral of the capital of Constantinople. At the time of construction and for many years after, the Hagia Sophia was the largest Christian church in the eastern Roman Empire, which was called the Byzantine Empire, and the Eastern Orthodox Church.

    From 1204 to 1261, a Latin empire resurgence caused it to become the city’s Roman Catholic cathedral. It changed again in 1453, after the Fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire, when it was converted into a mosque, and the minarets were added. In 1935 the secular Turkish Republic established it as a museum. In 2020, it re-opened as a mosque.

    Below, read this beautifully illustrated article to see for yourself how all of these changes altered its architecture and decoration throughout history.


    Leonard, B. (2020). Hagia Sophia’s hidden history. Archaeology, 73(4), 24. https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=tru…

Polytheistic and Monotheistic Religions

  • As the quote below implies, religion involves the direction of the heart.
    “Religion is something infinitely simple, ingenious. It is not knowledge, not content of feeling…it is not duty and not renunciation, it is not restriction, but in the infinite extent of the universe, it is the direction of the heart.”~Ranier Maria Rilke

    This heart impulse begins at an early age and continues until the day we die. This module explores how many cultures from the past and present have responded to the direction of their hearts. Initially, in human existence, religion involved dances, music, singing, and eventually, stories of gods and mortals and their encounters. From these stories and encounters, philosophical inquiries and debates developed as the religious aspect of human existence evolved.

    From history and from what we have discovered through archeology, we understand that early religions were polytheistic, meaning that they believed in many gods and goddesses who reigned over the natural world and all aspects of human life. The deities associated with planting and harvesting were especially important.

    Those who followed polytheistic beliefs included the ancient Egyptians who worshipped the pharaohs as gods. Then there is Hinduism, which has a pantheon of deities, including the trinity of Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu. Greek and Roman polytheism, often referred to as Paganism, followed gods and goddesses who were immortal versions of human beings who had both good and bad qualities. Native American tribes all had their own beliefs, which included many gods, but the influence of Christianity eventually impacted their beliefs. Buddhism, originating in India, includes a belief in an impersonal divinity in the form of dharma. Similarly, China follows the belief in Taoism, which includes the fundamental belief that order is achieved in the interactions of the opposites: joy and pain, life and death, cold and heat, success and failure, etc.Paganism

    The word Pagan refers to a very broad category of Earth-centered beliefs. Pagan beliefs are usually polytheistic and acknowledge both gods and goddesses, with a particular focus on Earth and the sacred feminine. Early spiritual practices of Europeans from classical antiquity — Egypt, Greece, Rome, and Persia, as well as “barbarians” in northern Europe, for example, the Gauls and the Druids, were all considered Pagan despite their vast differences in traditions and practices. Today, Pagans are often conflated with witches, which isn’t entirely true. While Wicca, or witchcraft, is considered a Pagan practice, not all Pagans are witches.

    The Earth itself is sacred to most Pagans. Generally, Pagans celebrate the cyclical patterns of the natural year and the changes brought by the seasons.

    The wheel of the year is seen by most Pagans as the model for renewal and spiritual growth. The changes in the wheel of the year are marked by festivals and feasts, which are ancient in origin.

    Ancient Pagan feast days continue to influence common holidays around the world today. Geometric octagonal star in Pagan wheel of the year on starry space background.


    One of the early examples of monotheism occurred briefly during the reign of Amenhotep IV in Egypt. However, monotheism did not become a dominant religious belief until the development of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, all of which have a link to Abraham.Judaism

    Judaism is the earliest of the three major monotheistic religions, and the Hebrew Bible is thought to have its origins as far back as the thirteenth century BCE. The Hebrew Bible features the history of the Hebrew people who were enslaved in Egypt and delivered under the leadership of Moses. Included in the Bible is the covenant between God and Abraham and the Ten Commandments, which were given to Moses. The Hebrew Bible features many characters and archetypes which are a part of Western art, literature, and theater in the Humanities.Christianity

    Christianity also holds the Hebrew Bible as sacred and features it as the Old Testament. The New Testament focuses its four Gospels on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Other portions are books or letters of the disciples of Jesus and of the Apostle Paul. At the center of Christianity is Jesus who lived and died to atone for human sin and by grace invites humanity to life after death. Christianity includes a belief in the Holy Trinity in which the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are all manifestations of one deity. Historically, much Western art can only be understood and interpreted in light of the details of Christ’s biography and other elements of Christianity.Islam

    The Islamic belief was founded by the prophet Mohammed, an Arab, who was born around 570 CE. Mohammed devoted his life to teaching his faith. His sermons were written down and became the Qur’ an, which is the sacred book of Islam. Like Judaism and Christianity, the Islamic view follows the Ten Commandments given to Moses, and features a belief in a final judgment. Judaism was at least one thousand years old by the time of Mohammed, while Christianity was about 600 years old.Common Elements But Areas of Distinction

    The three major monotheistic religions have elements in common, but there are areas of distinction which create much controversy. Speaking of controversy, in the 16th century, Martin Luther started a reformation when he nailed his 95 theses on the door of the church at the University of Wittenberg. All he originally wanted was to start a discussion, but his theses ended up dividing Christianity into Protestantism and Catholicism.

    Just as there are those who believe, there are those who don’t “believe.” Two distinct areas of disbelief include Agnosticism, which considers that a God or higher power cannot be proven or unproven, and Atheism, which is a belief that there is no higher power. Today, many people do not identify with one specific belief system, yet engage in rituals and traditions that once originated with religious roots. Celebrations and holidays are examples. Regardless of what one’s religious beliefs are, coming together to mark certain occasions and seasons is an important aspect of being human.
    Holidays are important to understanding religion because they all have the hallmarks of religious practice –ritual, seasonality, tradition, and communion– but are often absent of specific dogma. Even non-religious people often celebrate at least some of these holidays in various ways. Holidays are the intermediary between religion and myth. Some common holidays and celebrations with Pagan roots are New Year’s Day, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, Lent, Easter, Halloween, and Christmas.Valentine’s Day

    Lupercalia was celebrated by ancient Romans on this day, which is halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. The celebration honored Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome. The celebration would begin with a goat sacrificed to them, hence the color red associated with this day. The goat hide was then dipped in blood and used to slap both men and women of Rome as a fertility blessing. The association with valentine cards and love came because Roman women would place their names in a giant urn, and single men would pick the names out and be paired with the chosen women for a year. During the fifth century, Pope Gelasius proclaimed this holiday was unchristian and declared it St. Valentine’s Day instead.Easter

    Eostre was the ancient Pagan goddess of fertility and spring, who was celebrated during the vernal equinox when the amount of daytime and nighttime were exactly equal. Today’s Easter celebrations are still filled with ancient Pagan symbols of fertility; the egg and the bunny are both fertility symbols associated with Eostre.
    The Descent of Inanna is an ancient Sumerian story found on a cuneiform tablet dating back to 2100 B.C.E. It tells the story of how Inanna was so grief-stricken when her husband dies that she follows him to the underworld, where she is stripped of her earthly attire, passes through seven gates, is judged, killed, and hung on display. In her absence from the earthly realm, all fertility is lost. She is resurrected after three days in the underworld, saving the people of Earth from eternal darkness.Halloween

    Samhain, in modern Irish, translates literally to “summer’s end” and is, to this day, a Pagan feast day. This fire festival that marks the start of the dark half of the year happens halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. In many cultures throughout the world, it is believed that the veil between the living and the spirit world is the thinnest on Halloween. Death and darkness are venerated. In an attempt to appease deities, bonfires are burned, treats are offered, and tricks and pranks are often played, but blamed on spirits.Christmas

    Early Pagans around the world celebrated the winter solstice, which is the shortest day of the year. Neither Christmas nor Jesus’ actual birthday is ever mentioned in the Bible, but Christian scholars believe Jesus was most likely born in the spring, which is supported by other events recorded in the Bible, such as shepherds herding sheep. Four hundred years after Jesus lived, Pope Julius declared December 25th as Jesus’ birthday.

    Thousands of years before Jesus’ birth, Norse people decorated their homes with evergreens and burned a Yule log to celebrate the return of the sun on this day. Odin is represented during this time as a chubby man with a long white beard. Romans celebrated Saturnalia during this time with feasts and parties, as well as celebrated Juvenalia, which was a party for children in which they received gifts. Ancient Egyptians celebrated the return of the sun god, which was represented as a human baby being born and then brought before the people, who would cheer for his birth.

    These holidays are important to many people, regardless of religious affiliation. They provide the backdrop for rituals and traditions year after year that helps unite communities, coalesce family life, and celebrate the changing of the seasons. Many myths surround holidays, making holidays the link between mythology, ancient and present-day humans, and various religious traditions.

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Native American Tribes – Religious Beliefs

  • This module touches upon Native American religions. However, it is important to note that each Native American tribe represents its own culture. There are many Native American tribes, each with its own distinct language, music, artistic style, traditions, myths, and religion.

    Use the resource below to investigate more specific details about some of the major Native American tribes and their religious beliefs.

  • This reference book includes articles on the Native American tribes listed below. A link is provided for each; investigate two tribes that you want to learn more about.


    Lehman, J. (Ed.). (2000). Gale encyclopedia of multicultural America (2nd ed.). Gal

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