The Study of Religion


Religion is an aspect of the worldview and values systems that are held by the majority of the world’s population. It is difficult to define, but it generally involves an all-encompassing system of beliefs, a moral code of behavior, and some form of devotion to something that is holy, sacred, absolute, spiritual, divine, or worthy of especial reverence. Religion also deals with questions that cannot be answered by science, such as the origins of life, the meaning of existence, and what happens after death.

The study of religion is multi-disciplinary, drawing upon historical, ethnographic, theological/philosophical and sociological tools to interpret the varied complexes that are the religions of humanity. Many scholars prefer to work with an open polythetic approach, as opposed to a monothetic approach that specifies exactly which properties a belief must have in order to be considered a religion. This allows for the discovery of patterns and the co-occurrence of particular properties that may help to explain what it is about a religion that makes it meaningful in people’s lives.

Anthropologists have argued that religion evolved out of early human beings’ attempts to control the uncontrollable parts of their environment, such as weather, pregnancy and childbirth, and success in hunting. Rather than trying to manipulate nature by direct intervention (such as magic), humans sought supplication by appealing to higher powers, gods and spirits.

Early religions began as tribal totems, ancestor worship and guardian spirits and soon grew into more elaborate belief systems, including mythology, theology and rituals. In addition to giving humans a sense of purpose and a reason for living, religion also provides them with a moral code to guide their actions and behaviors.

The religions of the world vary widely in their beliefs, practices and values. Some of the most popular include Judaism, Christianity and Islam. There are a number of smaller and less popular religions as well, such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Bahaullah and Scientology. Some of these are more serious than others, but all play a role in the lives of billions of people. The study of religion can be very interesting and exciting, as it offers a unique perspective on the most diverse, yet still universal, aspects of human culture. Religion has shaped and continues to shape individuals, communities and nations throughout the world. It is important for all of us to continue to examine its influence and understand its importance in our everyday lives. As such, it is a subject that will always be of interest to students and educators alike. CC BY-NC 2.0 by Erin Rempel.

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