I trust one need not justify the importance of at least a basic knowledge of the worldviews that affect the lives, for better and worse, of most people on the planet. Of course the worldviews adhered to by individuals can differ quite dramatically from their "official" versions. Worldviews--religious or not--are akin to what Wittgenstein called “forms of life,” and thus include “not only our beliefs and the concepts we employ informing our beliefs, but the interests we have that help explain why we have those concepts, the values that guide those interests, and the underlying practices and capacities that limit and define our cognitive production and intake” (Michael P. Lynch).
The systematic, ideological or philosophically coherent quality that is often a conspicuous feature of official, public, or strongly institutionalized worldviews, or worldviews of considerable historical pedigree, or worldviews of universalist orientation or ambition, leaves us with a picture rather abstract and stylized if not rationally re-constructed and on the order of “ideal-types” in contrast to the messy picture of worldviews, as it were, “on the ground,” as they extend or ramify through corporate bodies, social movements and individuals, or the various strata of worldview identity and expression (at the level of individuals, worldviews take the form of ‘lifeworlds’). In short, there’s a gap of descriptive, analytical and evaluative import between worldviews in theory and worldviews on the ground, worldviews in praxis (with its own unique theoretical articulation or justification). Compare, for example (in the manner of Ninian Smart), Roman Catholicism as propagated by the organs of the Vatican with the Catholicism of believers in a small village in North Eastern Spain, or that lived by a Catholic Worker community in Pennsylvania, or as practiced by members of a comunidades de base inspired by Liberation Theology in Columbia (or Peru, Chile…). This gap is widest at the stratum of individual worldview identity and expression in which worldviews are individuated as lifeworlds, the conscious or articulate part of which is like the proverbial tip of an iceberg, as much of the lifeworld is below the surface, subconscious and taken for granted, subject to little or no light of reason, helping to account for the conservative character of traditions. It is with regard to such lifeworlds that Smart suggests the importance of the recognition that “we tend to live in a certain amount of aporia,” asking:
Do we, when it comes to the crunch, really have a systematic worldview? We have an amalgam of beliefs, which we may publicly characterize in a certain way. I may say that I am an Episcopalian, but how much of my real worldview [what I have called here a lifeworld] corresponds to the more or less ‘official’ worldview which tells me nothing directly about cricket, being Scottish, having a certain scepticism about nationalism, thinking there is life on other worlds, shelving the problem of evil, or other matters. Our values and beliefs are more like a collage than a Canaletto [cf. Lévi-Strauss’s use of the term 'bricolage']. They do not even have consistency of perspective.
In lieu of a definition of religion, here is a list of "religion-making characteristics:"
1. Belief in supernatural beings (spirits, gods, etc.), God, or a supreme divine principle or force. A doctrinal, theological, ethical and/or philosophical dimension.
2. A distinction between sacred and non-sacred (or ‘profane’) objects, space, and/or time. An experiential or emotional dimension.
3. Ritual acts centered upon or focused around sacred events, places, times, or objects. This includes such activities as worship, prayer, meditation, pilgrimage, sacrifice (vegetable, animal, or human; literal or figurative), sacramental rites, lifecycle rituals, and healing activities. A ritual and/or praxis dimension.
4. A moral code (ethics) or ‘way of life’ believed to be sanctioned by the gods or God, or logically derived from adherence to the divine principle or force. A doctrinal, theological, ethical and/or philosophical dimension.
5. Prayer, worship, meditation, and other forms of communication or attunement with the gods, God, or the divine principle or force. An experiential or emotional and ritual dimension.
6. A worldview that situates, through (usually mythic) narrative, the individual and his/her community and tradition within the cosmos, world, and/or history. It is a significant, if not primary source of one’s identity, both in its individual form and group aspect. The worldview articulates the meaning—makes sense of—the group’s cultural traditions: its myths, history, rituals, and symbols. A mythic or narrative dimension.
7. Characteristically religious emotions or attitudes: a peculiar form of awe and fear, ‘dread’ or angst, existential anxiety, sense of mystery, adoration, reverence, love, devotion, hope, a sense of guilt or shame, serenity, compassion, etc. An experiential or emotional dimension.
8. A more or less total organization or structuring of one’s life based on an understanding (hence interpretation) of the worldview. Experiential, narrative and philosophical dimensions.
9. A social group wherein personal and collective identity is forged by the aforementioned factors. An organizational, institutional or sociological dimension.
10. Artistic or creative expressions related to any of the above. An artistic and praxis dimension.
Finally, I subscribe to the viewpoint articulated here by the philosopher John Cottingham in The Spiritual Dimension: Religion, Philosophy and Human Value (2005):
Current attitudes to religion among philosophers are highly polarized, some impatient to see it buried, others insisting on its defensibility. But as long as the debate is conducted at the level of abstract argumentation alone, what is really important about our allegiance to, or rejection of, religion, is likely to elude us. There is, to be sure, a cognitive core to religious belief, a central set of truth-claims to which the religious adherent is committed; but it can be extremely unproductive to try to evaluate these claims in isolation. There are rich and complex connections that link religious belief with ethical commitment and individual self-awareness, with the attempt to understand the cosmos and the struggle to find meaning in our lives; and only when these connections are revealed, only when we come to have a broader sense of the ‘spiritual dimension’ within which religion lives and moves, can we begin to see fully what is involved in accepting or rejecting a religious view of reality.