Depth Study - Belief Systems and Ideologies

Table of Contents

The Similarities and Differences Between Belief Systems and Ideologies


  • Can be defined as anything someone holds to be true. Either because the evidence points to it being true or regardless of the evidence.

  • Beliefs operate at micro, meso and macro levels.

  • If a belief is backed up by evidence & statistical evidence it’s hard to argue against.

  • If someone’s belief is a firm one that they’re not prepared to negotiate, evidence isn’t important.

  • Beliefs are deeply personal features of our being → they influence our identity and meaning of life.

Belief Systems

  • Is a structured way of organising the beliefs of a whole community of people at the meso or macro level.

  • E.g. Following a local football team (meso), following a religion (macro).

  • Belief systems create cultures of belief and practises.

  • Belief systems are seen in Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism.

  • For devout Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists, their belief system defines who they are, how they live, what sorts of activities they take on, who they marry, and what they will fight and perhaps die for → this will be true to the extent that they truly accept their belief system.

  • For those who truly have faith in their belief system, there may be little room for negotiation with other belief systems and their believers → this is where conflict can begin.


  • Function on micro, meso and macro levels.

  • Can be anything from strong, semi-organised belief systems to something closer to a point of view or preference.

  • An ideology is essentially an ‘idea’ held with passion.

  • E.g. humanism, environmentalism, Confucianism, feminism.

  • Difference between ideologies & belief systems → the word ‘systems’ indicates that these are organised systems, whereas ideology is less organised, more ingrained.


  • Produced by belief systems & ideologies.

  • Worldviews are a perspective or take on the world brought by a set of beliefs or ideologies.

  • E.g. (macro level) Worldviews of major religions – their beliefs might tell them they’re each the superior religion.

The Nature & Role of Shared Values

  • Belief systems & ideologies arise from the environment in which people live and the era, or time, they live in. → It is in these environments, through time, that the shared values that underpin belief systems and ideologies arise → In turn, these values provide meaning, purpose and identity for individuals and groups.

  • The stronger our values, the better we hold together as individuals and groups.

  • The group that holds firmly to a religious or ideological value will find meaning, purpose and identity even if they are a minority being persecuted.

  • Many beliefs and ideologies are a response to the physical world in which people live.

  • There is always a sense of time in any belief system or ideology.

  • Indigenous religions, such as those of the Australian Aboriginal people, are wonderful illustrations of how belief systems and ideologies have developed into worldviews in particular environments through time.

Religious and Non-Religious Belief Systems and Ideologies

  • The most common difference between religious & non-religious belief systems are ‘God’.

  • Religious belief centres on a God, while ideologies are normally understood to be Godless or at least have a neutral position on the existence of a God.

  • E.g. Christianity is considered religious, whereas communism is referred to as an ideology.

  • Religion is the mechanism in life for holding people’s lives together in meaningful ways, so they know who they are, what they stand for and where they are heading.

  • Psychologist Edward de Bono maintains that weather a ‘religion’ focuses on a God (as in Islam), on an absence of a God (as in Buddhism), or on a total denial of a God (as in Atheism) may not be important.

Expressions of Beliefs, Values & Perceptions


  • Atheism is a worldview that denies a belief in ‘God’.
  • For some, it means they tolerate n- spiritual or religious views.
  • Others are not worried about other people having different beliefs.
  • Their values will be expressed in their rejection of the dominance of religion.


  • Merely means ‘I don’t know’.
  • The uncertainty of a particular religion or ideology.
  • Their values will be expressed in their assertion of the right to freedom of belief.


  • Humanism is a worldview that regards humanity as more important than any other consideration.
  • Humanists will say the most important value for people to have is the dignity of humanity.
  • Religion and humanism are interchangeable.


  • Fundamentalists are those who hold to one belief system or ideology as an absolute; they refuse to see the validity of any other person.
  • They often place high value on going to church, do not smoke or drink alcohol, and mix mainly with those within their own faith.

Ritual Expression of Belief Systems & Ideologies

  • Ritual → the natural expression of a belief.

  • From the way people act, perform or ritualise their customs, we gain insight into their thoughts.

  • Behind any ritual lies a story of some sort → people who know the story can understand & participate.

  • Those who know the myths & legends associated with a belief can take part meaningfully in its rituals.

  • Behind the stories people tell lie their real beliefs – these true beliefs capture their real philosophy of life because people’s philosophies arise from their beliefs.

  • When looking at a belief from the perspective of a ritual, it is important to note there are different types of ritual, all serving slightly different purposes & portraying different kinds of beliefs.

  • ‘Rites of passage’ – rituals that move people from one state to another. E.g. childhood to adulthood.

  • ‘Rites of communication’ – rituals that bring about some interchange between people or between people & their spirit world or God.

  • ‘Rites of demarcation’ – rituals that separate out some space as sacred. E.g. declaration of a heritage sight.

  • ‘Rites of memorial’ – rituals by which special movements or events of the past are made sacred. E.g. ANZAC services.

  • ‘Rites of cleansing’ – rituals that restore people to their original innocence.

Hierarchies & Power Structures

  • Hierarchies in religious & secular institutions reinforce authority, provide a clear chain of communication and set the agenda, tone and teachings of an organisation.

  • Hierarchies & power structures are evident in Buddhism:

Secularisation in Australia

  • Secularisation is the process of a society moving away from being shaped by a close alignment with a faith system towards non-religious value & institutions.

  • Many more young people are claiming to be spiritual or non-religious compared to in the past.

  • Statistics may indicate that traditional religious affiliation is declining, but they also indicate that new and different forms of religion are flourishing.

  • The choice to follow a religious or non-religious belief system is one aspect of secularisation in Australia.

  • Statistics 2011 Australian national census – more than 30% of Australians declared themselves to either not believe in God or to have no interest in religion.

  • Australia has undergone secularisation – its moving further and further away from its religious foundations.

The Process of Secularisation in Australia

  • In the past societies tended to have limited belief systems, ideologies and worldviews … As societies became larger and more complex, belief systems & ideologies, and their associated worldviews also became more complex and varied.

  • Late 18th century – people believed there were only 2 belief systems: that of the Indigenous people & the colonising British. → this wasn’t true, there were different belief systems across tribal groups & different religious belief-systems on the colonising side.

  • As early as the 14th century – Chinese Buddhists made landings in Australia and influenced certain indigenous practises, mainly around meditation.

  • Early 17th century – Dutch sailors found evidence of Indonesian Muslims trading and intermarrying with Northern Indigenous tribes.

  • Smaller & less dominant belief systems grew throughout the 19th century – by Federation in 1901, the non-Christian portion was about 1.5%.

  • With Federation came the ‘White Australia Policy’ which stayed in place until the 70s → it was put in place to discourage immigration from non-Christians.

  • 1947 – proportion of non-Christians shrunk to 0.5%.

  • Abolition of White Australia Policy – since the 90s religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism & Islam have been among the fastest growing in the country.

  • In the past whole societies were known as Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist etc. → over the past 50 years more societies have defined themselves as ‘secular’, ‘multicultural’, or ‘multifaith’.

  • Australia’s central belief system – defined by the values of ‘fair go’, ‘tolerance’, ‘non-discrimination’ and ‘respect’ according to the Australian Values Education program (2003-2010)



Multicultural & Multifaith: A Feature of Secularisation

  • Between the beginning of the 20th century and the 2011 census, Australians claiming to be Christian fell by about 40%.

  • Other mainstream religions have grown in Australia with about 7% claiming to follow Judaism, Hinduism , Buddhism or Islam.

  • 30% reject religion.

  • 5% claim to be religious but outside of mainstream religions (‘other religions’).

  • The national census findings demonstrate that Australia has an extensive combination of ‘new’ and ‘old’ religions.

  • Usually, new religions have grown out of some earlier spirituality or have developed in more recent times from one of the mainstream traditional religions.

  • It seems the same religious or spiritual impulses exist in today’s young people as were there in the past, sometimes more strongly

  • The difference is that they find their outlets in different ways and places.

  • The reason for this: they find the group they have given their commitment to more relevant than traditional religious organisations.

  • There are many studies that capture the movement of people from mainstream Christianity to either non-Christian religions or no religion at all. → Reasons: ranging from changing ideas about spirituality & religion through to the failure of Christian institutional churches to fight for the justice issues that people expect of them.


  • Buddhism explains a purpose to life, it explains apparent injustice and inequality around the world.

The Three Jewels of Buddhism

  • The Buddha (teacher)

  • Buddha Shakyamuni was a real person. He lived 2500 years ago and it was he who, after he attained enlightenment and became an ‘awakened one’ or ‘Buddha’, chose to share his wisdom with us.

  • The Buddha reminds us that we too can be awakened, that it is possible to be released from cravings and end our suffering.

  • Dharma (teachings)

  • Buddhism is a dharmic, non-theistic religion and a philosophy.

  • It can be said to be one’s righteous duty or path.

  • Sangha (community)

  • The community of monks & nuns that follow the Buddha.

  • Sangha is the spiritual community that practises the Dharma.

  • This is the community of followers of the Buddha who have taken monastic vows.


  • The formal term for a Buddhist canon of scriptures. Many different versions of the canon have existed throughout the Buddhist world, containing an enormous variety of texts.

The Four Noble Truths

  1. DUKKHA “To live is to suffer”

  2. TANHA “The cause of suffering is self-centred desire & attachments”

  3. NIRVANA “The solution is to eliminate desire & attachment, thus achieving true happiness.

  4. ASTAPADA “The way to Nirvana is through the Eight-Fold Path”

The Noble Eight-Fold Paths

  • It describes the way to the end of suffering, as it was laid out by Siddhartha Guatama.

  • It is a practical guideline to ethical and mental development with the goal of freeing the individual from attachments and delusions; and it finally leads to understanding the truth about all things

  1. Right View
  • The beginning & the end of the path, it simply means to see and to understand things as they really are and to realise the Four Noble Truth.

  • It means to see things through, to grasp the impermanent and imperfect nature of worldly objects and ideas, and to understand the law of karma and karmic conditioning.

  1. Right Intention
  • Can be described as commitment to ethical and mental self-improvement.

  • Buddha distinguishes three types of right intentions:

    1. The intention of renunciation, which means resistance to the pull of desire.
    2. The intention of goodwill, meaning resistance to feelings or anger and aversion.
    3. The intention of harmlessness, meaning not to think or act cruelly, violently, or aggressively, and to develop compassion.
  1. Right Speech
  • The importance of speech in the context of Buddhist ethics is obvious: words can break or save lives, make enemies or friends, start war or create peace.

  • Buddha explained right speech as followed:

    1. To abstain from false speech,
    2. To abstain from slanderous speech and not to use words maliciously against others.
    3. To abstain from harsh words that offend or hurt others, and
    4. To tell the truth, to speak friendly, warm, and gently and to talk only when necessary.
  1. Right Action
  • Right action involves the body as natural means of expression as it refers to deeds that involve bodily actions. Unwholesome actions lead to unsound states of mind, while wholesome actions lead to sound states of mind.

  • Right action means:

  • To act kindly and compassionately,

  • To be honest,

  • To respect the belonging of others,

  • To keep sexual relationships harmless to others.

  1. Right Livelihood
  • Means that one should earn one’s living in a righteous way & that wealth should be gained legally & peacefully.

  • The Buddha mentions four specific activities that harm beings & that one should avoid for this reason:

    1. Dealing with weapons
    2. Dealing with living beings
    3. Working in meat production and butchery, and
    4. Selling intoxicants & poisons, such as alcohol & drugs.
  1. Right Effort
  • Can be seen as a prerequisite for the other principles of the path. Without effort, which is in itself an act of will, nothing can be achieved.
  1. Right Mindfulness
  • It is the mental ability to see things as they are, with clear consciousness.

  • Right mindfulness is anchored in clear perception and it enables us to be aware of the process of conceptualisation in a way that we actively observe and control the way our thoughts go.

  1. Right Concentration
  • Concentration in this context is described as a state of mind where all mental facilities are unified & directed onto one particular object.

  • Concentration on wholesome thoughts and actions.

  • The Buddhist method of choice to develop right concentration is through meditation. The meditating mind focuses on a selected object. It first directs itself onto it, then sustains concentration, and finally intensifies concentration step by step.

Five Precepts

Known as a set of training rules.

  1. To undertake the training to avoid taking life of beings

  2. To undertake the training to avoid taking things not given

  3. To undertake the training to avoid sensual misconduct

  4. To undertake the training to refrain from false speech

  5. To undertake the training to abstain from substances such as intoxication.

Buddhism Beliefs & Practices


  • Karma – “You get what you give”.

  • Reincarnation – Rebirth

  • Nirvana – True happiness

  • Buddha is not a God, just a teacher

  • The Four Noble Truths

  • The Noble Eightfold Paths


  • Meditation

    • The benefits include physical and mental health, relaxation, improved relaxation & mental ability, and happiness.
    • It is primarily the ability to understand & control the mind and its use for practises that lead to enlightenment that is considered the most important.
  • Chanting

    • Goes back to the days of the Buddha, when writing was not common. His teaching were memorised by monks in chant form and passed on.
    • Chanting is done today as a form of veneration, to help purify the mind, and as a means of protection against undesirable events.
  • Vegetarianism

    • One should be aware that killing an animal, even for food, has its kammic consequences. Buddhist monks will refrain from eating meat & if they are aware that an animal has been specially killed for the offering.

Origin of Buddhist Temples

The Stupa

  • The design of Buddhist temples originated with the stupa, which was used to cover Buddha’s ashes and relics.

The Stupa Sanchi (Photo by Patrick J. Finn)

The Pagoda

  • In China, the stupa grew taller and thinner and adopted a new identity: the pagoda. Pagodas are eight-sided towers which contain an odd number of stories-between three and thirteen.

  • In Japan, for example, small stone pagodas often appear in cemeteries. They have five levels, symbolizing the void and the four basic elements.

The Monastery

  • The Buddhist monastery originated around the same time as the pagoda.

  • As early as 200 BCE, these structures were providing shelter and study space for monks.

  • Some were made of stone or wood while others, amazingly, were forged out of mountains of rock. Monks literally carved their sanctuary into cliff sides.

  • Once this was done, they designed the interior with an assembly hall and living quarters, including a small stupa at the heart of the monastery.

  • Detailed reliefs of Buddha and various bohisattvas often decorate the rock walls.

  • Monasteries of Chinese Buddhist temples almost always face south.

The Theravada Shrine

  • Theravada shrine rooms are relatively unadorned places of meditation. An elevated statue of Buddha, surrounded by offering of incense, candles & flowers, rests at the centre. A carpet decorates the floor. The meditation instructor sits in a chair at the foot of the rug.

  • Buddhist Temples (Wats)

  • Attended to by monks, the Wat is a place of worship & community gathering.

  • Colourful & exotic, the temple contains a shrine room housing an image of Buddha.

  • Followers usually bow to the statue. Then, they may light a candle, burn some incense or offer flowers.

  • The entrance to the temple, facing East, is decorated with curtains and serpent-like ornaments. The top of the wat is usually a towering pinnacle.

  • Constructing temples have to face either North or South.


  • Is the state of perfect attained by a Buddha.

  • Buddha Statues are found in four positions

    • Seated Buddha
    • Reclining Buddha
    • Standing Buddha
    • Walking Buddha
  • Buddhas of three times often represented by Dipamkara (the Buddha of the past), Shakyamuni (present) and Maitreya (future).

Cave Temples

  • The idea of constructing Buddhist temples by hollowing out rock faces was brought to china from Central Asia, where monuments of this sort had been constructed for centuries.

  • Over the years, more and more caves would be excavated and decorated as pious acts on the part of monks and artists.

  • Most of the cave temples were begun in the north during the Northern Dynasties.

The Relationship of the Belief System of Ethical Issues in Society

  • According to Buddhist teachings, the ethical and moral principles, are usually examined by understanding whether the connection to body or speech is harmful to one’s self or others

  • Moral conduct is applied differently to groups in the Buddhist religion. For example, moral conduct for the laity will differ to moral conduct of the Sanghas or clergy.

  • Buddhists should continually follow good moral conduct by referring to the Five Precepts.

Sangha & Ethics

Four rules that apply to male & female Sanghas:

  1. Sexual intercourse

  2. Killing a human being

  3. Stealing to the extent that entails a jail sentence

  4. Participating or claiming that one has supernatural or miraculous powers.

Buddhist Views on Sexuality & Marriage

  • The third precept is linked to the training of restraint in terms of sexuality.

  • It states that Buddhists need to be mindful of the effects on themselves and others in relation to improper sexual activity. This would also include adultery as this breaches the precept of ‘not taking what is not freely given’.

Views on Marriage

  • Marriage is not a sacrament in the Buddhist religion. It is governed by civil law and Buddhists are expected to observe this law in whichever country they live in.

  • One interpretation of marriage is that Theravadins are prohibited by Vinaya rules are disallowed from encouraging or performing a marriage ceremony.

Buddhist Attitudes to Violence, War and Peace

  • In the Dhammapadd, the Buddha had stated:

“Victory breeds hatred. The defeated live in pain. Happily the peaceful live giving up victory and defeat (DP.15.5)”

“Hatred never cease by hatred in this world, through love alone they cease. This is eternal law (DP.1,5)”

  • Wars have been waged between Buddhist nations for economic or similar reasons, however they have never been waged as a means of propagating the Buddhist religion.

  • The Dalai Lama, for example, has never suggested that armed forces should be brought in to overcome the communist nation of China who continually persecute the Tibetan Buddhists.

  • All Buddhists follow the non-violent path.

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