The Study of Religion


Religion is a cultural system of behaviors, practices and ethics that give meaning to people’s lives. It binds together family, community, culture and tradition and is one of the world’s most widespread systems of belief. The study of religion is essential to understanding the global contexts of our past and contemporary world. It fosters knowledge of the diverse cultures of our world, encourages civic engagement and cultivates the skills to work collaboratively with diverse populations. For these reasons, NCSS recommends that the study of religion take place across social studies disciplines and courses.

In the simplest form, religion involves beliefs and feelings about spiritual beings and about how to best live life. Its core message is that life is a project, an attempt to achieve the highest goals possible. Some of these are proximate, goals that can be attained within this life (a wiser, more fruitful, more charitable, or more successful way of living) but others are ultimate, goals that have to do with the final condition of any human person or even of the cosmos itself.

A major aspect of religion is organization. Religious societies may be large and international, involving millions of adherents, or they may be small, limiting their influence to the borders of a village. They may have hierarchies with priests, rabbis, imams, and other specialists, or they may be informal associations of laypeople.

Another major aspect of religion is mythology, which uses a set of symbols and images to represent the nature of spiritual beings and their relations with each other and with the human world. Mythology also includes sacred texts, which provide a framework for understanding the beliefs of any given religion.

The last major aspect of religion is eschatology, which provides the means for discerning the eventual destination of humankind and all of creation. Eschatology uses a religion’s mythology and sacred texts to explore questions of ontology and cosmology.

All of these aspects of religion can be studied in any number of disciplines, including psychology, sociology and social anthropology, history, philosophy, anthropology, and literature. Each discipline approaches religion in its own way, but all attempt to get at the essence of what it is about religion that makes it so powerful, important and influential.

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