why do we need to study religion
Whether you consider yourself a religious person or not, or whether you think religion has played a positive or negative role in history, it is an incontrovertible fact that from the beginning of time, humans have engaged in activities that we now call religion, such as worship, prayer, and rituals marking important life passages. Moreover, religions have always asked fundamental questions, such as: What is the true meaning of life? What happens to us after death? How do we explain human suffering and injustices? The answers different religious traditions give to these important questions are many and varied and often contradictory. But the questions themselves are ones with which humans throughout time have grappled, and probably will continue to grapple with into the indefinite future. Thus, one of the first reasons to study religion is simply to deepen our understanding of others and ourselves. We also study religion in order to learn more about how different aspects of human lifeвpolitics, science, literature, art, law, economicsвhave been and continue to be shaped by changing religious notions of, for example, good and evil, images of the deity and the divine, salvation and punishment, etc.
By studying different religious doctrines, rituals, stories, and scriptures, we can also come to understand how different communities of believersвpast and present, East and Westвhave used their religious traditions to shape, sustain, transform themselves. More than ever before, the world we live in is both multicultural and global. We no longer need to travel across the ocean to visit a Hindu temple or an Islamic mosque or to meet a Sikh or a Jain. The chances are that you can find a temple or mosque within a few miles of where you live, and it is almost certain that you will be meet someone from any and all of these religious traditions on campus or on the street. This makes it even more essential that we cultivate our ability to understand and interpret other peopleвs religious traditions. Finally, the academic study of religion is inherently multidisciplinary.
This is reflected in our program here at Washington University, which draws faculty from different disciplines in the humanities and the social sciences, such as history, anthropology, literature, art history, and political science. Studying religion thus provides you an opportunity to learn about a range of disciplinary approaches, and, even more importantly, the connections and linkages among them. In this way studying religion invites us all to think in a more interdisciplinary and integral way about the world and our place in it. So, what can you do with a major or minor in Religious Studies? The study of religion helps you to learn how to think critically, listen empathetically, speak thoughtfully, and write clearlyвall skills that will be of great use no matter what you go on to do in life. It will also help you to better live and work in our increasingly diverse society and global world. Students of religion go on to careers in a wide variety of fields including teaching, medicine, social service, law, journalism, international business, diplomacy, and, of course, religious professions of various kinds.
Religion has always been with us.
Throughout history, it has expressed the deepest questions human beings can ask, and it has taken a central place in the lives of virtually all civilizations and cultures. As we think all the way back to the dawn of human consciousness, we find religion everywhere we turn. This may be true of the past, but what about the present and the future? In recent times, critics have suggested that religion is on the way out. Technology and science have changed our view of the world radically, leading some to say that we've entered a new stage of human existence, without religion. Soon, they argue, it will truly be a thing of the past. In our day and age, rumors of religion's demise seem very premature and perhaps there's no grain of truth in them at all. Religion persists and is often on the rise, even as scientific and non-religious perspectives have become prominent.
We still find religion everywhere, on television, in film, in popular music, in our towns and neighborhoods. We discover religion at the center of global issues and cultural conflict. We see religion in the lives of the people we know and love, and in ourselves, as we live out and wrestle with our own religious faith. Why does religion continue to thrive? There are many reasons, but one thing is certain: religious traditions are adaptable in important ways. For many, contemporary religion even has room for skepticism, science, and the secular, which allows it to keep going strong in our rapidly changing world. Overall, religion is powerful and persistent, and it shows no signs of disappearing. It provokes heartfelt commitment, eloquent expression, forthright action, and intense debate. For both practitioners and observers for everyone who wants to be informed about the world around them religion is an intensely curious phenomenon that calls out for better understanding.
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