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What is your idea of the human capacity to stand in awe of that which transcends one’s understanding?

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Lynnette Wofford eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Some belief in the transcendent seems to be a feature that has arisen within many, but not all, cultures, though when studying such phenomena it is important to note that there is tremendous variation among people within given cultures. One may find devout mystics and skeptical atheists within the same culture, period, or even family.

While some people might associate a sense of transcendence with religion, that association is not universal. Many ancient religions had anthropomorphic deities who were not really mysterious but just strong and powerful creatures with quasi-human characteristics who operated on the principle sometimes known as "do ut des" ("I give that you might give"), providing favors to humans in return for worship, loyalty, or offerings rather like powerful kings and warlords. Other religions, such as Islam, Judaism, Sufism, and Hinduism have much stronger transcendent components with gods who may be beyond the understanding of their worshipers.

There have also been philosophical movements such as Platonism, Hegelianism, and Transcendentalism which emphasize some forms of transcendence but are not necessarily religious. Buddhism, especially Zen, does not really have gods per se. Many works of poetry, music, and art also emphasize a type of transcendence or awe.

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