J. Brent Crosson discusses how colonial government has shaped definitions of religion, science, and spirituality
By Saralyn McKinnon-Crowley
What is the difference between religion, science, and superstition? How a society or nation defines what constitutes religion has important legal implications. If the state considers a set of spiritual practice to constitute a religion, those practices will be protected under freedom of religion laws; without those protections, spiritual practices are vulnerable to becoming criminalized. Practitioners of outlawed religions may be compelled to redefine their practices in order to remain on the right side of the law, and spiritual groups that are not considered official religions under the governmental definitions will not be able to claim the financial and legal benefits that official religious organizations are often granted. Religious practices, however, often challenge the binaries that serve as the very basis for the classification of religions as legal entities—binaries, for example, between spirituality and science or spirituality and superstition. In contemporary Trinidad, efforts to define the problem-solving practices that together are known as Obeah illustrate some of the many challenges of distinguishing and defining religious practices from other spiritual activities.