Investigating Religious Experience
At the center of my concept relating to the word “religious”, including compound-terms containing
“religious”, my expectation is that these terms apply to a person or people who are well-versed in a
system of beliefs which hold important meaning. The aptitude level is salient, as it forms a credential to
validate the member as an authority on their knowledge of the system. For those who are not yet wellversed,
perhaps limited by youthful or underdeveloped understanding of the religious system, if they
have the ability or desire to connect other meanings to that religious concept in conversation, it is an
indicator that their achievement is a work in progress with the ultimate goal to become an authority on
the system. If they don’t make it to that level, then they cannot claim to be religious.
Terms such as “religious sect, community or order”, “religious experience”, “religious morals” or
“religious fervor” are all connected to the root of what it means to hold that set of beliefs and
associated values that are implied with the term. One who hears the religious term or terms uttered
can safely presume that license for religiosity exists in that context. Religious members are both
individually and collectively confident in any label, judgement, or opposition that connects them to their
cause. Very often, a religious person or religious people are not silent about their membership, instead,
they are more apt to be demonstrative as an outward sign of being religious. Continued participation
religious activity gleans confidence among members that the collective knowledge on the belief system
is in force and validated by its continuity.
For those with an intention toward religious activity, the action is sufficiently symbolic to either privately
or in a group to verify religious knowledge to oneself or others. Either way, ritual or other familiar
routines to demonstrate knowledge of the belief system is required to carry out the goal of the activity.
If it is prayer, one should know the prayers, or how to pray. If it is a spiritual dance, one should know
the dance or the words to chant or rhythm to play. If it is to follow directions, even if it is self-harm,
carrying out the order is a sign of your understanding and obedience to the belief system. If you
succeed with aplomb and passion while conducting yourself as religious, you can be perceived as wellversed.
If you fail at any of these actions, you are not yet considered to be religious.
The continual practice of religious activity affirms people’s membership for most or part of their lives,
providing self-worth, society and in Christian or Muslim or other religions, often extend help to those in
need. For some, the term “religious” has negative connotations associated with older religions that
have practiced inequitable, oppressive or abusive behaviors, but that does not mean those who disdain
the term do not possess another belief system, or a modified version of that from which negative
feelings originated; they do not consider themselves to be religious and shun any indication that they
are, even if they might technically be well-versed.
From Week Five Dialog:
For my religious experience investigation, I chose Hinduism. My reasoning is that I know least about the
practice of this religion, even though I have read about Mahatma Gandhi and his works for as long as I
can remember. The practice of yoga, sourced in Hindu philosophical tradition, has long been a comfort
to me. As a result of that experience, I have helped many people close to me with high stress or tough
circumstances, like cancer, to use their techniques to handle the stress, pain and anxiety that is not in
Too, I can count at least a dozen friends and co-workers with Indian heritage who practice their religion
to various degrees. Through the years of our friendships, some of my friends have related their stories,
and I observed the way they lived through positive and difficult events, often being able to apply their
peaceful and yet very human reactions in the most admirable ways.
Ten days ago, I made an appointment with a Pujari for a temple in the area. To prepare for this visit, I
took some notes about Hinduism, watched some prayer services and ceremonial events on YouTube
with focus on those happening in the current month. I also studied up on how to address the person
meeting me (Pujari, Pandit, Ramakrishna, Swami, for example) and whether I, as a female, should be
mindful to extending my hand (no) or bow (no), but instead, pose my hands in prayer and say
“Namaste” is best.
When I got there, it was a simple strip mall store front, but inside there was a room with an altar and
various deities and incense in the air. In the vestibule, there was a large rack for all of us to remove our
shoes to remove worldly dust from their sacred areas. While I waited for my appointment to begin, I
observed others in prayer and men, women and children came and went. Unfortunately, the Pujari did
not appear and I left after 45 minutes of waiting. I will call again to see if he prefers to talk on the phone
for our initial introduction.
= = =
I left another message and did not hear back. I e-mailed and left a message for a different temple
nearby but did not hear back. As I don’t feel comfortable coming into an unfamiliar situation both for
myself and for those who belong to the community, I decided not to pursue a sight visit. I talked with
one of my quasi-religious Indian friends and she said that she was not very surprised at my experience of
having no experience. She knows their religion is complicated and it would be difficult to address its
complexity in a single visit. Some temples are extra busy during certain seasons.
As I mentioned, prior to my scheduled meeting with with Swami Sundararajan Rajagopal, I studied about
an upcoming holy day, Panchamuka Hanuman Abishekam was coming February 9 and there were
website instructions on what food to bring. While the Temple website did not state what the day was
about, I noted on a different website (not in this area) that was about Lord Shiva, born to Vayu, “a
powerful devotee of Sri Rama that promotes innovation, strength, fame, courage fearlessness, good
health, activeness and ability for effective and impressive speech.” (http://www.hanumantemplela.org).
I watched a few videos on Hindu services just to get a sense of what I might experience. I watched a 58-
minute video about Lord Panchamukha Hanuman Abhishekam (main deity) and observed something
similar to what I saw when I was waiting for the Swami at the HECSA temple. People moved about and
spoke quietly among themselves while prayer (pooja, or puja, depending on dialect) was going on. A the
temple, three men dressed in white cotton panchakacham and dhoti were praying and would
periodically stop and talk with each other, women and children came and went. One person I asked did
not know where the Swami was, but I don’t believe she understood what I was asking. I did not feel
comfortable to enter the temple area while people were praying, even though they seemed comfortable
with each other.
Coming away from the in-person attempt to meet with the Swami, I felt the comfortableness of the
unkempt front room where everyone leaves their shoes, the comings and goings were similar to that
what I observed on the video. There is a great emphasis on celebrating their festivals with food, and the
preparation of food is incorporated with who is bringing which dish or accompaniment. This particular
temple also caters and delivers food as a side business. In most observable religions, food is very
integral to the honoring of their god and their celebration, and the community and social aspect is very
strong. My experience also notes the differing states of dress that were formal, and others were in
jeans, some were covered up, some were not. This mode of connection and dress is similar to many
churches I have visited; some, however, were always well-dressed and not casual at all. Pairing that
minimal experience with what my friend said, she comes and goes with her religiosity, and tends to
honor more closely observations at home and visits her temple during more pronounced holy days, like
Diwali and Navrati.
My experience takeaway in this investigation is I feel a little more informed about the complexity of the
Hindu religion. I believe I could learn more from my friends and access education of their deities and
culture more through them than I could through a service. I don’t feel I was necessarily shunned, but
perhaps did not inquire in the right way. Due to my tight schedules, I could not keep pursuing this and
was perhaps too deferential and reticent to press for a meeting. My experience with other religious
practices is that some are actually trained to keep new members coming in and their friendliness is
meant to encourage membership along with worship, socializing and service to others. I find that to be
a very positive thing in common.
Thanks for reading my work,