Why Study Religion?

Religion is an aspect of many people’s cultural identity and, as such, it can be a source of strong feelings of attachment and belonging. It can also be a source of great controversy and division. As the world becomes increasingly multicultural and interconnected, it is important to have an understanding of the diverse religious beliefs that exist throughout it. Studying religion can also be a great way to learn about other cultures and their history.

Many theories attempt to define what constitutes a religion. Some, such as Durkheim’s definition, focus on the social function of religion in creating solidarity among its members. Others, like Paul Tillich’s definition, focus on the axiological function of religion in organizing values and providing orientation for life.

Some scholars treat the concept of religion as pan-human, meaning that it is a feature that appears in all human cultures. Others, such as the psychologists who study the human mind and the neuroscientists who study the brain and nervous system, suggest that there is a biological basis for religion, that is, that there is a specific part of the human brain that has circuitry to respond to religious experience.

Still other scholars, such as the anthropologists who study human culture, argue that religion is a result of a need in humans for spirituality and an answer to questions about death and what happens after death. Others, such as evolutionary biologists, point to the theory of memes, which suggests that religious ideas and practices spread just like genetic information, from person to person.

These and other theories of religion are largely philosophical, seeking to explain the nature of religions in terms of their origin, development, and function. There are many other reasons to study religion, including the fact that it is a significant component of many cultures, that it can be an effective tool for social cohesion, and that there are interesting and often compelling stories behind even some of the most obscure religions. The study of religion can also be a useful and engaging way to explore the beliefs of your friends, neighbors, and colleagues. Having an understanding of the beliefs and traditions of different religions can help you relate to them more positively, and avoid making unintentional assumptions about them. However, it is important to remember that there are serious religious principles behind every religion, and that some of them can be very violent and destructive. For this reason, it is important to study all religious traditions with a balanced approach and not to promote or sponsor the practice of any religion.