Studying Religion – A Basic Overview


Religion is the underlying set of beliefs and practices that determines how we think, feel, and act. It can be either positive or negative, and can affect every area of human life. It is an essential part of social structure and can promote or undermine the health, happiness, and well-being of individuals and societies.

The study of religion can be a fascinating and rewarding experience. It allows students to understand the world through a different lens and develop important skills for lifelong learning. It is also valuable to society as a whole, and should be studied by everyone.

Studying Religion: A Basic Overview

The field of religion studies emerged in the 19th century as scholars from a range of disciplines came to study the history, origins, and functions of various religious traditions. It was originally based on the work of historians, but has expanded to include sociologists, anthropologists, psychology, and others. Despite its broad scope, no consensus has developed among scholars about the best way to study religion.

One of the main issues that scholars of religion face is how to define the term “religion” itself. Some argue that the term is a product of a Western project and should be rejected; others claim that it names an inevitable feature of the human condition. Regardless of the view, the concept of religion as a social genus provides an important conceptual framework for understanding the meaning of the word and its relationship to other social types.

A Social Genus is an etymologically defined category that identifies a distinct form of life, typically one with unique features. This definition enables us to distinguish religion from other forms of valuation and to identify its distinctive characteristics: intensity, comprehensiveness, and the ability to generate social cohesion and orientation.

Ideally, religion serves multiple purposes, including giving people a sense of purpose and direction in their lives; reinforcing social unity; serving as an agent of social control; promoting psychological and physical health; motivating people to work for positive social change; and influencing how the government operates. It is important for students to learn about the many facets of religion as they prepare for their future careers.

Some of the most prominent theories about religion are those of Durkheim, Tillich, and Smith. The first approach, developed by Emile Durkheim, focuses on the functional aspect of religion as a means of creating solidarity; the second, by Paul Tillich, emphasizes the axiological function of religion, that is, its ability to provide orientation in life.

Other perspectives emphasize the symbolic interactionist aspects of religion, focusing on how rituals and ceremonies are meaningful and transformative for believers. These rites can be deeply intense and often involve tears, laughter, screaming, trancelike conditions, a feeling of oneness with others, and other emotional and psychological states.

The study of religion is an essential tool for fostering a more global understanding and civic participation. It provides students with the knowledge and skills they need to make informed choices about their lives, the world around them, and the role they play in their communities. It is also a valuable resource for helping students to understand and appreciate the differences and similarities between cultures and ethnic groups.