The Importance of Studying Religion

Studying Religion provides students with a broader perspective on the world and encourages them to be open minded, respectful and curious about the beliefs of others. While it can be challenging, learning about different cultures and religious practices is a great way to develop empathy for the world around us. It can also inspire creativity and in-depth research that can help students prepare for standardized tests, as well as life beyond the classroom.

Religion is one of the most complex and diverse topics to teach. Too often textbooks use a standard “dates and doctrines” approach that may be useful for standardized testing but doesn’t help students engage with contemporary religious diversity. Look for materials that offer rich, layered and detailed explanations of the variety of current religious beliefs, practices, rituals and traditions. Choose resources that explore the cultural contexts of religious diversity and offer first-person accounts from people who live within a specific belief system.

A scholarly tradition developed with the recognition that religion is not an isolated phenomenon but is an integral part of human culture and history. Its study is a critical component of the academic discipline of Anthropology.

The concept of religion as a social genus or cultural type evolved over time, from a term for scrupulous devotion to a god or gods, to a category that refers to a particular kind of religious practice, and now to a broader social anthropological concept encompassing many different types of beliefs, practices, and institutions.

Although a number of definitions have been proposed, most fall into the category of functionalist interpretations that posit the existence of a religion in any society and treat it as a dominant concern that organizes values (whether or not the concern involves belief in unusual realities). This approach is exemplified by the work of Durkheim, who defines religion as whatever dominates a person’s life, and that of Paul Tillich, who describes religion as whatever dominant concerns serve to organize a person’s values.

Other scholars have argued that the notion of religion is mythological, metaphorical or imaginary and that there are no objectively valid criteria for defining it. These views are sometimes referred to as “no such thing as religion” and antireligious.

Other scholars, such as anthropologists like Clifford Geertz, argue that it is more accurate to see religion as a way of knowing and experiencing the truth, which can be discerned through symbols. The study of religion is a key factor in understanding the world and is necessary for addressing a wide range of global problems. It can help individuals and communities find meaning in their lives, manage conflicting values, deal with intractable differences and create a just world order. It is essential for the survival of humanity.