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Note: The only material specifically relating to the current Stage 6 Studies of Religion Syllabus on this page is the material under the heading "The Nature of Religion".  All other material was produced for the Studies of Religion Syllabus in force prior to 2000.  Some of this material may be of use for students studying the current Syllabus.  I have been concentrating on developing and maintaining the Physics pages on this site.


Contents of Religion Page



1.      Split class into groups.  Students introduce themselves to each other where necessary.

2.  Spend 5 mins. – one person as scribe – jot down reasons for studying religion.

3.  Brief feedback to whole class from each group.

4.   Students read article “Why Study Religion” by Prof. Bowker.

5.  Now use this article to start the process of learning the meanings of the different “key words” from the glossary of terms.  Hand out sheet with Exercise on it as shown below.  Explain the process and then give students sufficient time to attempt the process.  If you have more than five groups, I suggest giving two groups the same question rather than introducing yet another key word.

6. Each group presents their response to their particular question.  After each presentation discuss with class how well the response answers the question that was asked.  Clarify the meanings of the various “key words” explaining differences & similarities where necessary.

7.  Stress that learning to use the key words is an ongoing process – a matter of practice.  No-one expects then to be perfect at this stage.


During this course you will be asked to answer a variety of different questions.  It is important, therefore, to understand the meanings of the various “key words” that you will come across.  This exercise begins that process. 

Five “Key Words” 

The following words have the meanings shown throughout this course: 

Identify – Recognise & name 

Explain – Relate cause & effect; make relationships between things evident; provide why and/or how. 

Discuss – Identify issues and provide points for & against. 

Evaluate – Make a judgement based on criteria; determine the value of.  

Analyse – Identify components and the relationship between them; draw out and relate implications.

Read “Why Study Religion” by Prof. Bowker and then, as a group, answer the question appropriate to your group.  You will be asked to report back to the class at the end of the exercise. 

Group 1: Identify the three reasons for the study of religion proposed by Professor Bowker. 

Group 2: Explain the third reason for studying religion proposed by Professor Bowker. 

Group 3: Discuss the third reason for studying religion proposed by Professor Bowker. 

Group 4: Evaluate the reasons proposed by Professor Bowker for studying religion. 

Group 5: Analyse the reasons proposed by Professor Bowker for studying religion.

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  • Now students read “Introduction” from Crotty – “Finding a Way”and answer a basic set of comprehension questions on the reading.  Discuss the answers to these.  Focus on the nature of religion & its purpose.
  • Students read “What is Religion?” from John Bowker’s “World Religions”.  Students summarize this – highlight main points.  Discuss the main points of the article.
  • We are now in a position to make some summary notes on several points from the Syllabus.

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Most animals are born with instinctive instructions of what to do, how to do it, when to do it, etc that govern their lives.  Humans are not.  We must learn a way of life.  We must acquire a common set of understandings so we can live in our society.  This way of life is called our culture. 

Humans also ask very fundamental questions: Who am I?  What is life all about?  Why am I here?  What is my purpose in life?  Why does evil exist?  Why do innocent people suffer?  Everyday culture does not provide answers to such questions.  Neither does science.  Human beings need another system, another way of life, another common set of understandings – these are the religions of the world. 

Having read Bowker & Crotty, we are now in a position to define the term “religion”.  Although many definitions are possible, in this Course our definition is as follows:

“Religion is a distinctive answer to the human search for meaning and purpose in life.”

That this search for meaning is universal is obvious.  Look at the huge number of different religions – Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Taoism, Rastafarianism, Zoroastrianism and so on.  Look at our society and its art, movies, books, poetry, music and so on.  Much of this concerns itself with the fundamental questions mentioned above.  A common theme in novels and movies is “good versus evil” - think of “Star Wars”.  Articles in newspapers & magazines – discussing theology, ethics, abortion, euthanasia, in-vitro fertilization, ecology, sexuality, morality.  People all over the world are interested in these topics.  “Dear Abby” letters in magazines – people asking for help with relationships, happiness, beauty, love.  Science itself is the search for truth.  While physicists today seek a “Theory of Everything”, many scientists are quick to admit that science at its very best can answer only certain questions.  It cannot answer the fundamental questions of life and its meaning. 

It should by now be obvious why a study of religion is essential for all people.  To summarize the many reasons that can be quoted in answer to the question “Why Study Religion” we can say: 

  • To understand the religious nature of humankind.

  • To overcome our ignorance.

  • To comprehend our culture.

  • To help us develop our own religious belief or philosophy of life.

  • To achieve a global perspective and in so doing understand and accept our fellow human beings everywhere.

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Religious versus Secular Responses 

Let us now turn our attention to what we mean by a religious response to the search for meaning and purpose.  There are other responses. 

Suppose we ask the question: “Why is there so much suffering due to starvation in many countries of the world and what should we do about it? 

There are many secular (non-religious) responses to this question.  For instance, speaking politically or economically one can trace the events that led to this state of affairs and one can decide what action to take in terms of ones’ own political or economic aims. 

There are many religious responses to such a question.  For example, as a Christian, I might say that there is evil in the world and this starvation etc is part of it.  We need to help these people materially, educationally, spiritually regardless of our own political or economic aims because GOD created these people and JESUS asks us to care for those who are less fortunate than ourselves. 

NOTE that the religious response is generally characterised by a cosmology (or world view) that recognizes a transcendent dimension, belief in divinity or powers beyond the human and/or dwelling within humanity.

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Exercise:  Examine the stories of creation in Genesis.  They are a religious response to the human search for meaning and purpose.

Exercise:  What are the characteristics of religion?  Examine the articles by Bowker & Crotty once again.


More coming soon.

WORKSHEETS - to help you prepare notes




WORKSHEETS - to help you prepare notes




WORKSHEETS - to help you prepare notes




Instructions: Study ONE of the following Religious Traditions and write a paper of between 800 and 1000 words describing the essential nature of that Tradition.  Choose one of Buddhism, Hinduism or Islam.

Date Due:

The questions below will help guide you through the writing of your paper. 

1.      What were the origins and early history of the tradition?  Who was the founder of the tradition?

2.      What are the sacred texts of the Tradition and what do they contain?

3.      What are the beliefs of followers of this tradition?

4.      How do the followers of the Tradition worship?  What are the important practices, ceremonies or festivals etc of the Tradition?

5.      What are the ethical and moral teachings of the tradition?

6.      What are the differences (if any) in the roles played by men and women in this Tradition?  What are the reasons for these differences?

7.      How wide-spread is this religion in the world today?

Note: These questions are meant to serve as a guide.  You do not have to answer them in the above order nor do you have to answer all of them.  It would be expected, however that a good answer to this assignment would necessarily answer most if not all of the above questions.  You are free to add other questions.  Most of the information required for this assignment is in your textbook.  You are free to use whatever other sources are appropriate.  A Bibliography is required at the end of your paper.

Return to Nature of Religion Contents List




See pp 202 - 205 of “Living Religion” text.



Heaven in its fullest meaning is the bringing to perfection of the material world through Jesus Christ.  


Some fundamentalist Christians believe that hell is an actual place of horrible, eternal punishment.  Non-fundamentalist Christian Theologians suggest that hell is simply the eternal separation of a person from God.  They suggest that each person freely chooses whether they “go” to heaven or hell when they die by the way they live their life on earth.

These non-fundamentalist churches believe that there is a devil who is a very powerful tempter of humans to do evil things.  Christians believe that Jesus Christ defeated sin, death and all evil through his resurrection, which he promised all of his followers would share.


Christians believe that at the time of death each person is judged by God as to whether their life shows that they lived in accordance with God’s law of love.  This is called “particular judgement”.

Christians believe that Jesus will return one day as he promised.  This is called “the Second Coming of Christ”.  At that time all humans who have ever lived and those still living will be judged by Jesus as either worthy of heaven or worthy of hell (by their own choice in how they lived life).  This is called “the Final Judgement” (see Mat. 25).  Modern Theologians see the Second Coming not so much as the return of the absent Jesus BUT as the world reaching a stage of such perfection of love that it makes Jesus truly present again.  (Read the works of Karl Rahner.)

At this Second Coming each believer will be completely human but transformed body and soul for all eternity and share in the glorious resurrected life of Jesus in heaven.  (See 2 Corinthians 4:14 and 1 Corinthians 15:35-37 and 42-44.)

Return to Christianity Depth Study Contents List 



Ethics - refers to a system or study of standards of conduct and practical judgements, usually based on the thinking of a philosopher - eg Buddhist ethics, Kant’s ethics.

Morals/Morality - refer to the judgement of the rightness or wrongness of a particular action in a given set of circumstances by a particular person or group.

So, ethics refers to a system or approach whereas morals/morality refers to the nature of a person’s actions.


There are many different approaches to ethics that can be called Christian.  Situation Ethics holds that the intended result of an act (the ends) justifies the means.  Here the ethical standard changes depending on the situation being considered.  For example, we could argue that the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima was ethical because it brought a swift end to the War and saved many thousands of allied soldiers’ lives that would have been lost by invading Japan.

Duty Ethics focuses on the “right thing to do” regardless of the situation.  So, we could say that the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima was unethical since the A-bomb would kill innocent human beings and killing is wrong.

Catholic ethics focuses on the dignity of each human person and the individual and social obligations due to them.  When making a moral decision the Catholic Church teaches that a person must find out as much as possible about the pros & cons of the situation from reliable sources and authorities.  Then the person should think and pray about the situation and make their own informed decision - the decision that sits right with their informed conscience.

“Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey.  Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment ....... For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God ....... His conscience is man’s most secret core and his sanctuary.  There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.”

Gaudium et spes, 16 (The Church in the Modern World)


There are two main sources of Christian ethics and morality.  The first is the “Decalogue” or “Ten Commandments”.  The second is the teachings of Jesus Christ.  These teachings are set out for Christians in the New Testament of the Bible.  The best place in the Bible to read the ethical and moral teachings of Jesus is in the Gospel of Matthew where in chapters 5 to 7 Matthew recounts the story of the Sermon on the Mount.


To understand the importance of the Ten Commandments as a basis to Christian ethics and morality we first need to appreciate that they are part of the covenant that God made with man.  God loved us first.  The Ten Commandments express the implications of belonging to God through the establishment of the covenant.  Moral existence is a response to God’s loving initiative.  Living a moral life is the acknowledgement and homage given to God and a worship of thanksgiving.  It is cooperation with the plan God pursues in history.

The Ten Commandments teach us the true humanity of mankind.  They bring to light the essential duties, and therefore, indirectly, the fundamental rights inherent in the nature of the human person.  The Ten Commandments bring man’s religious and social life into unity.  Since they express man’s fundamental duties to God and to his neighbour, the Ten Commandments must be followed by all Christians, always and everywhere.  Thus, the Ten Commandments provide a basis for the moral and ethical choices of all Christians.


In this sermon Jesus teaches us the Beatitudes - the way to live a truly Christian life.  The Beatitudes highlight the actions and attitudes characteristic of the Christian life. The Beatitudes teach us that true happiness is not found in riches or well-being, in human fame or power, or in any human achievement.  True happiness is found in God alone and the Beatitudes purify our hearts in order to teach us to love God above all things.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus stressed that he had not come to abolish the old Law but to fulfill it - to make a NEW Covenant between God and his people.

Jesus acknowledged the Ten Commandments but also showed the power of the Spirit at work in their letter.  He preached a “righteousness [which] exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees” (Mat. 5:20).  Jesus unfolded all the demands of the Commandments.  “You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill.’  .....  But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgement.” (Mat. 5: 21-22)  In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus revealed the full meaning of the Ten Commandments and thereby set out for his followers a way of life that leads to the Kingdom of Heaven.

Return to Christianity Depth Study Contents List



 THE EAST-WEST SCHISM (text pp.168-170)

  1.  As Christianity spread in the first few centuries after Jesus two distinct Churches developed: the Latin (Western) Church and the Greek (Eastern) Church.  List some of the differences between these churches that caused misunderstandings to arise.

  2. Explain the term “schism” and state when the Great Schism occurred.

  3. State the TWO doctrinal issues given as the official cause of the schism.

  4. What step was taken in 1965 to resolve the situation.

THE CRUSADES (text pp.171-172)

  1. What were the Crusades?

  2. What social and religious factors help explain why the crusades occurred?


  1. To what do the terms “Reformation” and “Counter-Reformation” refer?

  2. What was the practice of selling indulgences and why did the people of the time accept it?

  3. List some of the factors that led to the Reformation.

  4. Martin Luther (1483-1546) was the leading figure in the European Reformation.  Describe his contribution to the Reformation.

  5. What is meant by the term “Church of England”?

  6. What was the main stimulus for the English Reformation?  What were the deeper reasons behind this Reformation?

  7. List some of the positive and negative effects of the English Reformation.

  8. Give a brief description of the other Protestant groups that emerged.

  9. Briefly describe the Catholic Church’s response to the Reformation.

THE ENLIGHTENMENT (text pp.181-182)   

  1. What was the Enlightenment?

  2. What effect did the Enlightenment have on the Church?

COLONISERS & MISSIONARIES (text pp.182-183) 

  1. Define the terms “mission activity” and “colonial expansion”.  What was the connection between these activities from the 15th Century onwards?

  2. Why was this missionary work often ineffective and sometimes even disastrous?

  3. What change took place in Catholic thinking on missionary work in the 20thC?

  4. What missionary activity took place in the Protestant Churches?

CONTEMPORARY RENEWAL (text pp.184-189) 

  1. What is the World Council of Churches?  What are the Council’s aims?

  2. What was the Second Vatican Council and what were its aims?

  3. Describe the four key documents of the Vatican II.

  4. What were some of the outcomes of Vatican II?

  5. Describe what is meant by “Pentecostalism” and give some examples of Pentecostal Churches.

  6. How has the growth of Christianity since Vatican II affected “spirituality” and “devotion”?

  7. Define the term “Ecumenism” from the Glossary on p.184 and then describe the three major directions of the modern ecumenical movement from the bottom of p.188 and the top of p.189.

Then rejoice and be glad for you have finished this history stuff!!!

Return to Christianity Depth Study Contents List


1.      Identify the values and principles that are fundamental to Christianity.

2.      Demonstrate how these values & principles form the basis for the moral and ethical choices of believers in the Christian Tradition.


The Christian person not only knows and believes the teachings of Jesus Christ but strives to put these teachings into practice in his/her own life.  The Christian person strives to develop a deep personal relationship with the person of Jesus.  Christianity can be called a living religion because the many ways in which it is celebrated give meaning to the lives of its followers. 

1.      Read & summarise “Christianity as a living religious system” p. 213 of text. 


1.      Read & summarise p. 214 of text.

2.      Define the term “nominal Christian”.

3.  Create a list of some of the many Christian denominations found in Australia today.

Return to Christianity Depth Study Contents List



Christian Marriage

 Marriage is a sacred rite of passage for Christians.  When the bride & groom exchange vows, Christians believe that Jesus becomes present through these vows and that the man & woman are truly transformed into one flesh - they are transformed into loving one another totally in body, mind and spirit.  Rings are blessed by the minister and given by man & woman to each other as a symbol of their unending union in love.  The community itself witnesses this union and recognises that the couple are now one.  Marriage creates a new family, a new home, where God’s love is made present through the love and faithfulness of husband and wife.  It is into this loving family that children can be brought.  The love and faithfulness of the couple are reminders to the community of God’s love for and faithfulness to us all.

Order of Events for Christian Marriage: 

1.    Preliminal: Rite of Separation - engagement - couple are “separated” from general community and marked as candidates for marriage - ring, party etc.

2.    Liminal: The couple learn about each other & about the new state they are about to enter, they grow in understanding of the religious & social significance of what they are about to do.  Attendance at a Marriage Preparation Course is encouraged.  The Rite of Inclusion - the marriage ceremony or wedding - occurs, the main features being:
- bride “given away” by her father
- readings from the Bible
- homily from the minister
- rite of marriage including the blessing of the rings, exchange of vows and rings
- prayers said for the couple & sacred blessing of the marriage by the minister
- signing of the register of marriages and marriage certificate
- Wedding Reception (celebration)

3.    Post Liminal: The couple usually begin their married life with some private celebration time - the Honeymoon.  The couple settle down to their new existence as husband & wife.  They create a home together into which they can bring and raise children.

[Rites of Passage Contents List]

Jewish Marriage

In Judaism marriage is a sacred and highly respected rite of passage.  It is a covenant between two people which is reminiscent of the covenant between God and His people. Ideally, marriage is a person’s highest relationship, one in which both partners unite physically and spiritually to uphold and to strengthen the sacredness of life.   A man is not considered complete until he has married and raised a family.  Marriage allows the couple to share in God’s process of creation.  Marriage establishes the basic Jewish religious unit - the family.  Marriage allows children to be raised in the Jewish faith. 

Order of Events for Jewish Marriage:

1.    Preliminal: Rite of Separation - the Betrothal - couple are “separated” from general community and marked as candidates for marriage - betrothal party etc.

2.    Liminal: The couple learn about each other & about the new state they are about to enter, they grow in understanding of the religious & social significance of what they are about to do.  As the wedding day approaches gifts are exchanged between bride & groom (tokens of their future life together).  The groom is called to the Synagogue on the Sabbath before the wedding to recite the blessings over the Torah.  The bride immerses herself in the ritual bath (mikvah) before the wedding.  The Rite of Inclusion - the marriage ceremony or wedding - occurs, the main features being:
- signing of the Ketubah by the witnesses and its acceptance by the groom
- use of the chuppah
- escorting of the groom first & then the bride underneath the chuppah
- the sharing of the first cup of wine and chanting of the betrothal blessings
- giving of the ring by the groom to the bride and his vow of consecration
- reading of the Ketubah and its presentation to the bride
- the sharing of the second cup of wine and chanting of the seven b’rachot of marriage
- the breaking of the glass & traditional shouting of “Mazel Tov”
- the festive meal

3.    Post Liminal: The couple usually begin their married life with a week of celebration - the seudat mitzvah - The couple settle down to their new existence as husband & wife.  They create a home together into which they can bring and raise children.

[Rites of Passage Contents List]


RELIGIOUS TRADITIONS: Christianity & Judaism


1.    the esteem & importance with which marriage is viewed in each tradition

2.    the before, during & after (or preliminal, liminal & post liminal) stages of the rite

3.    the order of events/actions

4.    the rituals associated with Christian & Jewish marriage & their significance

5.    symbols used & their significance eg rings, chuppah, bridal gown etc.

6.    the correct names for important aspects eg chuppah, ketubah, seudat mitzvah


1.    giving of the ring(s)

2.    the vows

3.    witnessing of the minister/rabbi/congregation

4.    signing of marriage contract/ketubah

5.    joyous celebration of the new union


1.    in orthodox Jewish marriage only the groom gives the ring & makes a vow

2.    rabbi not essential for religious marriage in Jewish tradition

3.    two cups of wine are used in the traditional Jewish wedding

4.    use of the chuppah

5.    breaking of the glass in the Jewish ceremony

6.    several other minor differences - eg which hand the ring goes on, etc

Essentially Christian & Jewish marriage rites are very similar.  The differences tend to be in the details rather than in the essential nature & meaning of the rite of passage.

A General Note:

Note the warning in the HSC Exam Paper: “... Candidates should demonstrate an awareness of the whole tradition and not simply focus on one variant of a tradition.”  So have some examples from different denominations or groups WITHIN each of the TWO traditions you studied.  For example, say how Liberal or Reform Jews differ from mainstream Orthodox Jews by allowing both bride & groom to exchange rings and vows at a wedding or by allowing the cremation of the body after death etc; or how a Catholic funeral usually involves a requiem mass where the Eucharist is consumed followed by further prayers etc at the graveside whereas many Protestant funerals are much simpler consisting of prayers, hymns, brief words on the deceased from the minister followed by cremation of the deceased; etc.

On the same idea - when writing about Christianity DO NOT use words such as Mass, Priest, etc. Mass is a Catholic religious service.  Priest refers mainly to Catholic clergy (although the Anglicans are using the term with increasing frequency these days).  Keep it general - refer to the “(religious) service” or the “ceremony” not the Mass.  Refer to the “minister” not the Priest.

[Rites of Passage Contents List]


1.      What is the Hebrew term for “marriage” and how important is marriage to the Jewish people?

2.      What does the bride’s veil symbolise?

3.      Describe the modern form of the Chuppah (or canopy).  What is the spiritual significance of the Chuppah?

4.      Describe the significance of the “ring” in Jewish marriage.  Do both the chatan (groom) and kallah (bride) give the other a ring?  Describe the ritual associated with the giving of the ring.

5.      Define the term “Ketubah”.  What is the purpose of the Ketubah?  What ritual is associated with the signing of the Ketubah?

6.      The chatan and kallah drink from the same cup of wine on two occasions during the marriage ceremony.  What does this signify?

7.      The “breaking of the wine glass” is performed by the groom at the end of the ceremony.  What is the significance of this act?

8.      What does the term “Mazel Tov” mean?  When and why is it used?

9.      What is a “seudat mitzvah”?  How is the seudat mitzvah used in the Jewish wedding rite.

10.  Clearly describe the order of events for a Jewish Marriage.  Place the events under the headings pre-liminal, liminal and post-liminal, as described in van Gennep’s three phases description of a rite of passage.

 [Rites of Passage Contents List]

Jewish Death, Mourning & Funerals

A major focus of Judaism is on the beauty and goodness of life and on God as the “True Judge”.  So, the Jewish response to death is a very positive one.  Death is a sacred and highly respected rite of passage which involves and unites the whole community.  Death is not seen as an end but as a beginning to a new and fuller existence, where the soul of the dead person returns to God.  Every Jew wishes to die conscious of God’s eternal love.  This is the purpose of the dying person making a last confession of sins and where possible dying with the words of the first line of the shema (Jewish proclamation of faith) on his/her lips.  The mourners and indeed the whole community show great care of and respect for  each other and the one who has died - for example, the washing and preparation of the body for burial, the prayers said on behalf of the dead person (eg the kaddish), the funeral rituals, the shiva.  Many of the rituals associated with the death of a Jew are designed to help the mourners through their grief and return them to their daily lives – the shiva, the sheloshim, the eleven months of kaddish and the yahrzeit. 

Order of Events for Jewish Death, Mourning and Funerals: 

1.      For the dying/dead person the three phases are:

  • Preliminal (Separation): Dying person makes last confession & recites the shema.

  • Liminal (Transition): Body is prepared for burial by Chevra Kadisha – washed & clothed in white garment (men wrapped in personal Tallith or praying-shawl).  Funeral service is conducted.

  • Post Liminal (Aggregation or Inclusion): Burial takes place (for Orthodox Jews) or perhaps cremation (for Liberal Jews).

2.      For the Bereaved the three phases are:

Preliminal (Separation): The shema is recited for the dying person if he/she cannot do it for themselves.  A prayer is said acknowledging the justice of God’s decision.

Liminal (Transition): The body is never left alone.  The Chevra Kadisha are called & the  body prepared for burial.  Mirrors in the home are covered.  Funeral service is held, the main features being:
- Body wrapped in white linen garment, simple coffin.
- In front of open coffin, traditional Orthodox Jews make tear in clothing.
- Prayers are said for the repose of the soul of the dead person.
- The coffin is lowered and all present cast three handfuls of earth into grave
- When grave is filled the mourners say the Kaddish for the first time.
Shiva begins for members of the immediate family.  The Sheloshim follows the Shiva.  This ends the mourning period for all but the dead person’s children.  The children continue semi-mourning for 12 months.  Sons say the mourner’s kaddish for the first 11 months after death.

Post Liminal (Aggregation or Inclusion):  The Yahrzeit, the placing of tombstone on grave, the complete return to everyday life of all the immediate family.

 [Rites of Passage Contents List]



Read the two sets of notes on Jewish death, funerals & mourning (Chapter 23 from “The Star of David” & pp.134-136 from “Rites of Passage”).  Then answer the following questions. 

1.      What is the Jewish understanding of “death”?  Medically speaking, how do Jews define when death occurs?

2.      What rituals are associated with death?  What should be the Jew’s last words?  What is the significance of these last words?

3.      How should a Jew react on hearing of the death of a relative or friend?

4.      What is the Chevra Kaddisha and what is its function?

5.      Describe the stages of Jewish mourning: (a) the shiva; (b) the sheloshim; (c) the eleven months of kaddish and (d) the yahrzeit.  What symbols and rituals are associated with each stage?  Who is involved?  What is the meaning or significance of the symbols and rituals you have mentioned?

6.      What purpose do the Jewish mourning customs serve?  What is the purpose of having strict phases of mourning?

7.      Describe the main features of a Jewish funeral.  Identify the main symbols and rituals involved in the funeral?  What is the meaning or significance of these symbols and rituals?

8.      Briefly describe the regulations that govern the burial of the body.

9.      Clearly describe the order of events involved in the Jewish death, funeral and mourning process.  Place the events under the headings pre-liminal, liminal and post-liminal, as described in van Gennep’s three phases description of a rite of passage.

[Rites of Passage Contents List]

Christian Funerals

 Death is a sacred rite of passage for Christians.  It is viewed by Christians as a passage from this life to share in the eternal life into which they were born at Baptism.  Helping people prepare for death and supporting them in their illness and suffering are congruent with the Christian belief that the power of Jesus Christ will always support them in time of need.  When death comes the Christian approaches the funeral rites strong in the belief that this is just a temporary parting.  The funeral rite echoes the belief in the resurrection, belief which stems from Jesus’ resurrection and his power over death.  In Orthodox Christianity, the funeral ceremony is full of symbolism (see notes from Holm et al pp.56-58) providing mourners with the opportunity to express their grief.  In the Catholic case, there is a vigil at the church the night before the funeral, the funeral rite usually preceded by a Requiem Mass and the burial service.  Protestant funerals tend to have less prayers for the dead than either Catholic or Orthodox, in keeping with their tendency not to assume what awaits any particular person after death.  Protestants often use cremation rather than burial.  

Order of Events for Christian Funerals: 

1.      Preliminal: Rite of Separation – In the Catholic denomination this would include the last rites for the dying person (confession of sin, absolution by a priest, anointing with oil and communion).  In most denominations, a short service at the home of the deceased, at a funeral home or at the Church the night before the funeral (called the Vigil), marks the separation of the dead person from the realm of the living.

2.      Liminal: The funeral service, the main features being:
- blessing of the coffin (with Holy water and incense in Catholic funeral)
– the person’s Baptism is recalled and belief in the resurrection is reiterated
– prayers for the dead person
– prayers of thanks to God for the life of the person
– often a Eulogy is given by someone who knew the deceased well
– if the funeral service is at a church, the coffin is then taken from the church to the cemetery or crematorium, where the burial or cremation service is held.

3.      Post Liminal: The burial or cremation service – in which it is recalled that death is but a parting and hope in the resurrection is proclaimed.  In the Catholic and Orthodox denominations there are also formal celebrations of the anniversaries of the death (eg a Mass may be celebrated for the dead person).

[Rites of Passage Contents List]

SUMMARY: Funerals (Christianity)/Death & Bereavement (Judaism)


1.      the importance with which death, funerals & mourning are viewed in each tradition

2.      the before, during & after (or preliminal, liminal & post liminal) stages of the rite

3.      the order of events/actions

4.      the rituals associated with Christian & Jewish death, funerals & mourning & their significance

5.      symbols used & their significance eg simple Jewish coffin, torn clothing, the Orthodox Christian use of hymns from Holy Saturday at the funeral – symbolising waiting for the resurrection, etc.

6.      the correct names for important aspects eg shiva, kaddish, vigil, Requiem Mass, etc.


1.      prayers for the dead

2.      funeral service is held

3.      the respect shown to the dead body

4.      family & friends mourn for the dead

5.      specific rituals are used which relate to the beliefs of each tradition

6.      variants exist in each Tradition (eg Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant in Christianity)


1.      focus of the rite of passage – see below

2.      definite structure to mourning in Judaism but not in Christianity

3.      the nature and order of the funeral ceremony – the specific rituals involved

4.      other minor differences – flowers not allowed at Jewish funeral, etc

Christian & Jewish rites of passage of death are distinctly different in their focus.  The Christian focus is more on the change in status of the person who has died, reflecting Christian belief in the resurrection and eternal life with God.  The Jewish rite involves the whole community to a larger extent with the focus being more on the bereaved and caring for the living, reflecting their belief  that the community is united in death as in life.

[Rites of Passage Contents List]




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