The dictionary–at least in the way we commonly use it– presents the illusion that the meaning of words is timeless. However, if you read closely in a dictionary of note, say Merriam-Webster’s, the Oxford English Dictionary, or the American Heritage Dictionary, you’ll see that meanings change over time.

A page from Merriam-Webster's Dictionary Website: Usage Notes When Words Stray from Their Roots Should 'awesome' only be used to mean "inspiring awe"?
Have a little extra time? This is a great little article on how the meaning of words are hardly fixed.

The case of “religion” is no exception. Craig Martin begins his book by highlighting a few key points about the meaning of the term, “religion.”

  1. Ancient usage of the term’s root word in many ways differed from how the term is used in contemporary times.
  2. The term “religion” has Greek and Latin roots, and we should be mindful of the assumptions and agendas that come with translating the term accordingly.
  3. Contemporary usage of the term “religion” is a product of modern Western political developments.

To help you be mindful of the implications of Martin’s argument. I want you to briefly jot down notes/definitions for the following terms and then construct a timeline or some other graphic that helps you see the changing meaning of “religion” over time. I have indicated time periods on the terms that should be included in your timeline/graphic below.

  • Ancient Rome- religio/-ones
  • din
  • anachronism
  • John Locke
  • Martin Luther
  • 16th Century- Catholicism v. Protestantism
  • 17th Century- True Religion v. False Religion
  • 18th, 19th , 20th- Evolutionary Schema
  • Anthropologist E. E. Evans Pritchard’s Primitivism
  • Theologian Rudolf Otto’s definition of religion
  • Christianity as ideal type (simply describe Martin’s overall point).

For examples of infographics, scroll through “10 of the Best Infographic Examples of 2016.” You can be as simple or as complex as you’d like on this, but developing one in your notes will help make this important information stick!