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Dr. Ronald Davidson Engages with the Question: How Do You Define Religion?

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Dr. Ronald Davidson gives his definition of religion which is “physical, vocal and mental actions done with the supposition of a transcendental reality.” He discusses the following problems with attempting to define religion: many definitions are either functionalist or substantive and often do not take both function and substance into account, many religions do not fit into a Semitic or theist model on which most definitions rely, and some religions do not believe in transcendence, but in immanence. He then relates his definition to Buddhism and to other religions.

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Playing Time for five videos: 3:58 minutes, 5:37 minutes, 4:44 minutes, 5:22 minutes, 4:37 minutes = 24:18 minutes

About the Interviewee: Dr. Ronald Davidson was trained in Sanskrit and Chinese Buddhist studies at the University of California Berkeley under Drs. Padmanabh Jaini, Lewis Lancaster, and Michel Strickmann. For seventeen years before and during his graduate career, Dr. Davidson studied with Tibetans. He has taught at Fairfield University since 1990, and has previously taught at Santa Clara University and at the Institute of Buddhist Studies (Graduate Theological Union) in California. His primary area of expertise is the history of tantric Buddhism in India and Tibet, especially in the relationship of religious history to social history during the medieval period, from 500-1200 CE. He is the author of several books on these topics such as Tibetan Renaissance: Tantric Buddhism in the Rebirth of Tibetan Culture and Tibetan Buddhist Literature and Praxis: Studies in Its Formative Period, 900-1400.

About the Interviewer: Dr. Alfred Benney is Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at Fairfield University. He has a Ph.D in Theology from the Hartford Seminary Foundation and taught courses in Non-Traditional American Religions and Christian Religious Thought. His research interests include “how people learn”; “the appropriate use of technology in teaching/learning”; and “myth as explanatory narrative”. He has published work on teaching with technology.

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