What is Religious Studies?
The term “religious studies” refers to the academic study of multiple religious traditions. It seeks to understand the practices and belief systems of these traditions from both “outsider” and “insider” perspectives – that is, in objective terms as well as the terms of the traditions themselves. Such an understanding neither presupposes nor promotes a particular set of religious commitments. In religious studies we focus on the intellectual traditions of a variety of religions.
Why Study Religion?
There are many reasons to study religion, and many benefits to be had from such study. Here are just a few:
- Cultural Awareness: Religious beliefs and practices have been central to virtually every human culture throughout history. Studying religion, in promoting understanding of these beliefs and practices, promotes understanding of and respect for other cultures more generally. Such understanding also helps put one’s own culture into context.
- Ethical Awareness: Since, for many, religious beliefs form the basis for ethical and moral convictions, any approach to ethics should incorporate the kind of examination of various religious convictions that Religious Studies makes possible. Conversely, the study of religion often involves the consideration of a wide variety of ethical commitments and arguments.
- Interdisciplinary Connections: Since Religious Studies is a broad area rather than a single field, it utilizes the methodologies, procedures, and content of many different disciplines (such as Psychology, Sociology, Anthropology, History, as well as Philosophy).
- Critical Thinking: Religious Studies helps students distinguish between arguments and convictions, and between statements of fact and statements of belief. Religious Studies also helps the student assess claims of truth, value, revelation, and morality.