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Is Belief the Center of Religion?

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Chapter Summary

In the increasingly religiously pluralistic society of the United States, the U.S. Supreme Court faces the challenge of how to define religion. A number of U.S. Supreme Court decisions concerning free exercise of religion illustrate that the U.S. legal system distinguishes between religious belief and religious practice, and implicitly characterizes belief as the essence or core of religion. This chapter gives a brief historical sketch of several Supreme Court cases that illustrate the Court's focus on belief as central for religion and argues that this focus does not do justice to the self-understanding and self-definition of several non-Christian religions. It discusses how the apostle Paul, as an influential representative of early Christianity, focused on belief in a way that changed religious history and redefined what it means to be religious.

Keywords: apostle Paul; early Christianity; religious practice



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