The Eyes of the Beholders: How Should We Interpret Religion?


Years of experience in the fields of biblical studies and religion, as well as in other walks of life, have taught me one valuable lesson: reality is what we make of it, and what we make of it is both the result of our perceptions that translate into interpretations.  Things do not mean anything in themselves. Thanks to the role played by many factors or variables, “meaning”  is something we create, and opinions or interpretations embody and convey such creations.  And such creations, in turn, are subject to other peoples’ multidimensional understandings.  That is why, in our effort to understand ourselves and the world around, we must take a close look at many perspectives for, according to Plato, “Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder.”

The timeless truth contained in this old saying applies to religion as well.  To enrich of understanding of it, religion, as a worldwide human phenomenon or experience with “the Holy”, should be looked at with different eyes, through different lens and from different social locations. The fact that people around the world still experience “The Divine” differently and have different ways of naming such experiences reminds us that we must study religion from different angles and, at the same time, with the help of different methodologies.[1]Just remember that any method, based on the original meaning of the Greek word that the term “method” is a transliteration of, is a path or a road taking us somewhere.

How should we, then, interpret religion and their concrete cultural efforts to encounter the Sacred in the here and now?  What are some possible approximations that would serve us as paths leading to a deeper understanding of this human behavior?

The modern study of religion grew out of the Enlightenment in the 17th century in Europe, and from there it spread out to other parts of the world.  Indebted to the contributions of a multitude of thinkers who were part of this movement, in its early and late stages, religion (and the many cultural appropriations of it) may be studied from the following perspectives or points of view:

  1. Taking into account the human efforts to facilitate a relationship with a mystical reality, enacted through eyes of faith, legitimated by the same faith, and contextualized through the use of cultural capital (i.e., Theology or Religion).
  1. Observing closely key events, people, times, and circumstances of the past, which have significantly shaped the course of human life, and the place religion has had in this process throughout generations or at particular stages (i.e., History).
  1. Considering the connections that religion has with the secular understanding and use of privilege, power, and resources to help – or not – the larger society achieve its common goals (i.e, Politics).
  1. Fixing our eyes on the points of contact and differences between religion and the human thought-processes and emotions as expressed in concrete behaviors at any given social context (i.e., Psychology).
  1. Focusing on the religious ideas that touch on fundamental ideas pertaining to the nature of human existence, and their evolution, interconnections, logic, and relevance to people’s lives (i.e., Philosophy).
  1. Paying attention to the ways in which religious communities organize themselves and how their members interact with each other, on the basis of their place and function in the world and as replicas of the dominant society (i.e., Sociology).
  1. Analyzing the values, beliefs, and customs of past or remote ethnic groups and their respective institutions in relation to religious ideologies and praxis (i.e,  Anthropology).
  1. Putting our emphasis on the content, format, context, intentionality, and other characteristics of religious, written traditions (i.e., Literature).
  1. Reflecting on the relationship there is between religion and the production, consumption, and distribution of goods and the structure and classes of people involved in this process (i.e., Economics).
  1. Putting our energy on the aesthetical manifestations of religious views as concrete manifestations of people’s soul and their quest for order, beauty, and meaning (i.e, Art).
  1. And emphasizing the religious values, principles, and norms developed to create sets of expected behaviors that would better societies, distinguish good from evil, and form character (i.e., Ethics).

It is obvious that this list of paths is not exhaustive.  The disciplines or areas of knowledge they represent are important, but there are other foci of analysis one could and should add to this conventional and practical list of possibilities.

Needless to day, no option is superior or rules the others out. Because of their heuristic nature, they are limited and is only so much they can add to our understanding of religion.  They are simply approximations.  Thus, all of them are valid and necessary.  Moreover,  at any given moment one of them or a combination of them should be given more notoriety because of the relevant explanatory power they might have, so they should all be kept in mind and used when it is appropriate.  Specific approaches must be aware of the larger, pool of options and how they influence each other.

With all these caveats, not only is it necessary to have an interdisciplinary approach but also a cross-disciplinary one, even to a point in which popular and difficult-to-classify perspectives will be included.  A holistic approach to the study  of religion is the ideal in order to have a holistic understanding of it!

What is the reward ahead of us once we make these approaches our own?  An exciting inquisitive journey that would not exhaust the meaning of religion, nor the attempts to grasp its mystery.  Only then will the true nature of religion be seen through the eyes of countless beholders, hopefully to appreciate its manifold expressions of “beauty.”



[1] To read my previous posts of religion, pleas see; ; ;




About amartinez

Dr. Aquiles E. Martinez is Professor of Religion (Biblical Studies) and Coordinator of the Religion and Philosophy Programs at Reinhardt University. Ordained in the United Methodist Church, Dr. Martinez has dedicated a good part of his life to equip pastors and church leaders in Latin America, the Caribbean, and the United States, with the appropriate skills, knowledge, and experiences so they can serve their communities effectively. In addition to his many books, articles, and essays published in English and Spanish, Dr. Martinez has served several churches and the global community as an effort to help people develop significant relationships with God and their neighbors, especially with marginalized communities.
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37 Responses to The Eyes of the Beholders: How Should We Interpret Religion?

  1. Angela Yi says:

    In the article, the one thing that stood out to me was when Professor Martinez mentioned how “The Holy” has different ways of experience and how people who study religion learn it from different angles with the help of different methodologies. I think this is something that I can relate to because we all have different beliefs and have our own opinions on what we believe is right or wrong. Saying how we study from different angles reminds me how not everyone has the same religion and that there are people who learn religion differently from others. Although we learn our beliefs differently, we all worship and praise on our beliefs and that is how we interpret religion.

  2. Gabrielle McDaniel says:

    I really like the way this is formatted in terms that Religion is however we interpret it to be and to mean for us. Religion is the glasses we place on and have new meaning when we are looking through them vs. when we are not. I like this in the aspect of a multitude of things goes into how one would interpret Religion and at times different situations would call for different interpretations but the options are endless. They are all able to coexist and give someone the interpretation they want. I like to think on it when you’re thinking on a basis of the information is out there for us, but what we take from it is up to the person and who they are and what they need from it.

  3. Lauri Malinen says:

    It is true that religion manifests itself differently in individuals. Nearly every human has a different view on how their religion should be interpreted. Why is it that one Muslim can live a peaceful life, while another dedicates their life to violently assert their belief, even though they are part of the same religion, and believe in the same holy book? This is because every person while interpret their religion in a way that suits them. I personally like to interpret religion as a means of observing past values, and beliefs from a historical perspective. I also see it as a platform to observe human psychology, and the effects religion has on societies. There is nothing inherently bad or scary, about religions, but often time’s peoples interpretations of religion can come across as evil, or immoral. My hope is that all religious people would strive to interpret their religion as a means of living a peaceful, and harmonious life, which focuses on respecting all living beings.

    Lauri Malinen
    Religion 104 Section 4

  4. Cecil Comenencia says:

    (Religion 104 040 MC)
    In this article Dr. Martinez explains why we have to take a look at religion from different angles in order to understand. I totally agree with this because when you look at the religion the Islam, this religion is interpret by people in a lot of different ways a example by this is the way how Islamic woman cover their bodies, some cover their whole body and face and others only will cover their body and leave their head uncovered. Also I believe that my interpretation of the Christianity is different than a fellow student that also believes in Christianity and reads the bible. I think this is a nice thing about religion that it does not tell you how to interpret the information that is out there but lets you interpret the information in your own way. By learning about the different interpretations we will have a better understanding of all the different believes, values and religions out there.

  5. Kimberlee Smith says:

    (Religion 104 010 MC)
    This blog post talks about the 11 ways that religion could be interpreted and how we should use religion to benefit us and other’s well-being. It is true that religion is viewed the way we want to view it, but we should view it from other’s points of view. It is interesting that most of these points could be used, to better society and humanity, outside of a religious standpoint as well. I think it is very wise to use what you have learned through religious beliefs and values to show the world how we could be better. After reading this post, it made me want to look at viewing religious beliefs in a different light as well.

  6. Sarah Crawford says:

    (Religion Section 3)
    Something that really stood at to me, and made me thinks, was at the beginning of this article. When the article talks about how around the world, “The Holy” is experienced differently so we should it would be ignorant of us to only see all religion as a one sided factor. Throughout the world, and, as far as we know, for all time, religion has existed in all different forms. Due to the fact that I am a Christian, it would be silly of me to think that is the only religion that matters in this world. My father is in the navy and has been to many many countries in the middle east. Every time he goes somewhere, he brings be back something that represents their culture, so, in a childlike way, i can experience the world. I feel that every part of the world experiences “life” in a different way, and religion has a huge part in a person’s life. Religion is something we should explore and learn about in order to gain knowledge of the world and the civilization that resides in it.

  7. Mariama Diallo section 3 says:

    Religion to me means life of integrity. Our representation of it can vary depending on our understanding and interpretation of the kind of religion we practice, but it is clear that we all follow religions that stress on the same moral values and provides an outlet to experience the holly. As stated here, we can approach religion in different angles to make best use of it. One can learn a lot from the rich phenomena that is religion. Religion has been around so long that through its own historic systematic evolution we can gain a wealth of knowledge about our history as humans on this planet. So, we should interpret religion with all these in mind and to remember that everyone has a unique life experience.

  8. John Reed says:

    Religion 104 Section 3
    Everyone interprets religion differently. As the blog says we have to remember that everyone has a unique life experience. Everyone has a perceived idea of the religion they believe in and what other religions are. But to fully understand other religions we have to learn about them. We have to learn and understand the context and traditions to grasp a better understanding. In learning, bias can be removed. There also has to be respect given, because we would want other people to treat our religion with respect, so we must do the same. Without this we cannot interpret other religions truthfully and honestly.

  9. Tiffany Blalock says:

    One thing that “caught” me in the blog was the idea that everyone has different experiences with religion and “The Holy”. I can relate to the because I did not have major experiences with “The Holy” until I became older. No matter what religion someone is classified as, they still have to experience something in order for them to be a part of the religion that they believe in. We all have differences in the way that we interpret each religion, but at the same time we can account the similarities that each religion has. Its all about the interconnections!

  10. Natalie Kelly says:

    Rel 104 Sect 4

    I think one should interpret Religion with an open mind, through a different perspective and to be see how the “others” may live. I can agree with Cecil looking back over the course when we talked about Isalmic women how they cover their bodies and the reasoning behind it. Also as well as looking at the Karma Cycle how if you do good you will that much closer to Brahman in your next life. Everything is open for interpretation, you just have to be willing to accept different point of views.

  11. Reanna Whitlow says:

    Religion 104 040
    Religion is interpreted different by every single human on this planet. No two people, even if they are family, will have the same exact view and answers about religion. Religion is not supposed to be the same for everyone anyways. It is up to the believer to interpret it the way it fits to their life. If everyone interpreted religion the same way there would only be one religion. Since people do not see religion the same way it leaves lots of room for different perspectives. By having different perspectives we can all see things through each others view, we can put on different glasses and see things a different way each and every time we look at it which is so beautiful. We can learn something new by just looking at it in a different light.

  12. Madison Reeg says:

    Religion is all about interpretation of the information. In the first paragraph, it says that what we make of reality is both “the result of our perceptions that translate into interpretations.” This part stuck out to me because everyone learns about religion differently, and whether it be something one just grew up learning, or learned about through history class, it can be interpreted differently. What may seem normal to one religion, may seem different to another because it is not what that religion is used to. Everyone sees religion in a different wat and has different life experiences that lead them to have these views about different religions. It is amazing how many different angles religion can be seen as.

    Religion 104 010

  13. Landon Babay (religion 104 010) says:

    In this article, religion is said to be looked at from many different angles. I agree with this because I believe religion is something that is experienced differently for each follower. For example, there are so many denominations of Christianity, and this shows that many people can believe in the same god but they do so in their own ways. I think religion runs into hardship when others try to authenticate people beliefs with material things. People should be able to practice their personal beliefs in any way they feel suits them. Which links backs to religion being looked at from many different view points. In reality, your faith is what you make it to be, and because of this I think religion is a thing that in some way suits everyone

  14. Josh Chupp says:

    Religion 104 #4
    This article takes a post-modern perspective on religion. At its most basic, this means that everyone’s reality is simply how they perceive it to be. My reality may differ from yours because I see this aspect of life differently. This article states that in order to gain the best perspective possible, we must look at religion from every angle that we can; sociologically, theologically, literary, and so on. It is up to you to interpret the religion through the lens that you see it, and that will be what the reality of that religion is to you. It may be beautiful and extravagant for you, but you may be wearing a different pair of glasses than someone else.

  15. Kristen Wengryniuk, REL 104, Section 040 says:

    It is interesting how differently two people can interpret religion based on their culture and way of thinking. The wide variety of possible interpretations are why it is so important to examine religion from different angles. The idea of putting on different lenses to view religion with has been discussed many times throughout this course. The more we learn about religion and how much it can differ depending on the time and events going on, the more it becomes clear why different perspectives are so valuable. It is truly incredible how many variable play a part in the beliefs, values, and actions of religious institutions around the world.

  16. Hinton Bolinger says:

    Religion Section 1 104.
    Religion is seen differently by different people. This has to deal with where you are from and what you grew up believing in. Even if you grew up a strong Christian in the heart of the Bible Belt, you cannot have a close minded opinion when it comes to Religion as a whole. “You have to look through the different lenses” as Dr. Martinez would say, and truly decipher what religion is and what the other religions around the world are like and how they came to be. Religions sometimes come from a branch off of a different religion, like Christianity. Which shows why when study the basis of religion you should not be bias. Everyone’s view of religion is different. But that does not mean everyone’s view is wrong.

  17. Hannah Fuller says:

    Religion is seen from different angles. People interpret their religion to fit their lifestyle as a way to justify their actions. This, I suppose, is human nature. One does not want to think that they are in the wrong. If they are involving themselves in something that is frowned upon, any source of back-up provided will be used. For example, radical Muslims kill people. That is known all over the world. They kill these people, though, because their religion tells them to do so. They take the Quran, find passages that support their actions, and justify it using that. Is it right? Is it fair? Probably not, but that won’t stop them. Religion truly is in the eye of the beholder. As long as they think they are doing right by God, change will not be made.

    REL 104, Section 1

  18. John Guillen says:

    (REL 104: Section 103)
    We can interpret religion according to how we want it to be. If we take one context from any scriptures we can say it is what it is, but if we read more and cross-reference that particular verse then we can understand and paint a bigger picture. We see what we want to and we apply it to our lives if it fits. Our interpretation of “The Holy One” could mean many things or different persons. The key is to have a personal relationship with our creator. Understanding who we are in this world and where we’re going after our time on the earth is over will give us a peace in our hearts. The way to interpret religion is to have an open mind and accept the idea that we all have a journey to take and some may take a different route. In the end we’re all trying to reach that place where Jesus has prepared for us.

  19. Skyler Baughman says:

    Rel 104, 040
    There are several ways to interpret religion. My experience from traveling through many different countries in Africa and the country of Polland as well as Austria has brought me several different views of how religion is processed and spiritually carried out in different cultures. Whether, it be eating grass in Kenya, to sacrificing a live goat and pig in Uganda. Every culture has an aspect to how they worship their god or gods. The way we should look at religion as referenced in this blog, is through multiple glasses instead of just one single view.

  20. Annie Barnes says:

    Religion is a set of varied beliefs as pointed out in a earlier article. Religion has been established from the beginning of time, and with time comes change. What people believe isn’t the same when it started. So what is religion can be a very good question to ask. For me how I feel what religion is peoples way of explaining phenomenal or irrational events that they rationally can’t explain. Many follow what they are comfortable with, or what soothes there ears, or gives them answers to what they do not know. Religion contains many fallacies that are contradictory to what it stands for. I feel with this opening and continual disproving gapes, a solution needs to be found to solve it without confliction.

  21. Aisis Hull says:

    (Religion 104 Section 3)
    We should always take religion as open minded and interpret as other people’s views. Sometimes religion is hard to interpret. Religion comes in different faiths and diversity. People have to analyzed what they value, believe, and understand the context of religion. During the second article “The Role of Religion in Society” talks about how religion takes a role in society which is relate able to this article. So I think people have to understand how they want to take religion into their daily life. During the article there is 11 steps of perspectives. The 11 steps number 11 “And emphasizing the religious values, principles, and norms developed to create sets of expected behaviors that would better societies, distinguish good from evil, and form character (i.e., Ethics).” Basically stating people have religious views and how they value religion or even how they interpret religion. Honestly people take religion how they see it. It is their decision how they want to interpret religion.

  22. Madison Arrendale says:

    (Religion 104 sect. #4)

    Religion is interpreted in different angles. A human has the ability to understand religion the way they want. What is quite interesting is that two people with the same religion can interpret religion from one another. The wide variety of possible interpretations are why it is so important to examine religion from different angles. In this article, Dr. Martinez explains how we need to interpret religion differently and understand others perspective. I agree with this because the more we learn about religion and how much it can differ, the more it becomes clear why different perspectives are so valuable. I find it amazing how there are several angles and perspectives on each religion.

  23. Sarah Inman says:

    Religion 104 Section #3
    Just like the blog says “it is in the eye of the beholder.” Religion is what you want it to be which means that you can have your own beliefs and values, so you can interpret it differently than other people. This isn’t a bad thing or a good thing; it just means that there are different perspectives. When combined, these perspectives can open up new ideas about religion that some may have never thought of. I think it’s interesting that even though two people could consider themselves Christians, they could have two different ideas of what being a Christian is, and they could have different ways of how they act to be Christian. So, in the end, religion should be interpreted how you want it to be. To me, there is no right or wrong when it comes to the way other people think in terms of religion, because they may of had different experiences in life to alter their perspective.

  24. Matthew Corrales says:

    religion 104 section 4

    Religion is interpreted in many different ways. It gives meaning and purpose to life. It reinforces social unity as well as social stability. It can serve as an agent of social control and promote psychological well being. On the other hand, religion may help poor, underprivileged people feel happy with their position in life. Religion affects the daily lives of individuals and how they interpret their own experiences. These different perspectives are valuable and interesting as well as important to understand and relate to.

  25. Curtis Doctor says:

    Religion 104 040
    section 4

    When it comes to this blog it talks about the way people look at religion and the role it plays. I agree with this blog because at the end of the blog he mentions that this is not the way everyone sees religion and that these are not the only roles religion plays in people’s life. Religion is a self-seeing belief. I say this because from what we learned in class and what we have read in this blog religion works in many different ways to everyone. Just because I see God in a certain way does not mean the next person sees God in the same way as me. Religion is a creative belief and works in everyone’s mind differently.

  26. Hannah Rooks says:

    Religion 104 Section 3:

    In the end, I love the fact that no ones opinion is better than another. As religious people, i feel like our society is so focused on saying that “My church has the best music” or “I pray 10 times a day”, “My pastor is world renowned”, people need to stop comparing themselves in their religions, rather focus within themselves, their relationship with the holy one, and seeing the world with a more open mind. So may people just want to one-up others around us. We need to listen to others to understand, rather than just listening to argue back. Everyone has their own opinion in terms of religion, and we need to respect others in order for them to respect ours.

  27. Curtis Doctor says:

    – Religion 104 040
    Section 4

    Like the article said, “Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder”, and when it comes to religion I feel the same the same way. In my eyes religion is beautiful, religion is something that can keep you up, keep you strong minded, keep you out of trouble, and keep you in a happy and positive state of mind. That is how I interpret religion and how I see things in my eyes. In life people look at things differently. For example, some people see money as the most important thing in the world, and others just see it ass an object. That is the same thing when it comes to religion. Religion is all interpreted in your own eyes and has its own meaning to everyone.

  28. Steve Chavez says:

    How people interrupt realign has to do on their way of thinking. Like when learning about your realign or about other realign the was you interrupt that realign has to do with your own believes and thoughts. Like for example if you believe in peace and happiness then the way you read some text from different realigns will be based on your own beliefs. So if you learn about a realign that promotes violence then you will see that realign is evil and bad. While someone that believes that in violence will think that realign is perfect.
    (Religion 104 sec. #4)

  29. Jacob Samuels says:

    This article talks about how there is not a set meaning for anything. Many words and ideas have several meanings depending on how you look at them or think about them. How you look at something would be your perception and many people can have a different perception of the same idea. How you think about something and what it means to you is your interpretation. Just like perceptions, many people can interpret the same idea in countless ways. There is no set meanings for things, making them multidimensional. There is multidimensionalism in the meanings of words because there is no such thing as the definition police to oversee peoples perceptions and interpretations of ideas presented to us though religion.
    (Rel 104 030)

  30. Antonio Robinson says:

    (religion 104 section 3)
    “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder is a perfect quote to make your point, which you stated well. I think that when you think critically about religion, you must look at it from many perspectives. I think at the end of the day if are follower or believer of sacred texts then we should abide by the laws of our religion. At some point the text says what it says and there’s no other way to interpret that.

  31. Brittany wilson sec 4 says:

    Everything is how you perceive it. Religion is no different. That is how we have so many forms of the same religions. And why we have had holy wars in the past. People believe things based off of their experiences with them. If you have had a bad experience your less likely to believe and conform. The opposite with a person if they have had good ones. It’s about how a person looks at their current situation and deals with it.

  32. Abby Lyttle says:

    Religion 104 Section 3
    I agree with this article. Religion is based on our perceptions and how we make them. For example, even though Christians believe the same things, everyone is different. Everybody has a different relationship with Jesus. Some Christians might not even have a relationship with Jesus. Then some Christians have quiet time with God or a bible study daily. Everyone’s walk is different. The way we interpret religion is going to be different for every religion. Religion does have “guidelines” but humans are still going to take it and make it suitable for their needs.

  33. Joshua Jenkins says:

    (Religion 104 010 MC)
    Religion is interpreted by every person individually. We all view it differently. It’s important that we as followers of religion hold our beliefs true to us and respect the views of others. Dr. Martinez has mentioned many times “religion is in the eye of the beholder”.

  34. Katherine Mejia says:

    Religion 104- sec 4
    Different people can believe in the same religion and yet they can having different views and perspective towards the religion and what its all about. with that being said, you can be judgmental towards someone who sees things differently than you. When it comes it religion, you have to be open-minded. You have to put on your glasses, like Mr.Martinez says.

  35. Tori Cason says:

    REL 104 Section 4
    There is no set way that we are told to interpret religion, but how we want to interpret it. In the article above, it gives 11 ways that religion could be interpreted, and i really like all ways. I know that religion is all about personal beliefs, but i feel like that we should take other people’s beliefs in consideration to. Not everyone believes the same thing as everyone else, and just because they may be different, does not make them wrong.

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