Religion is a set of beliefs and practices that gives its followers an object or objects of devotion, a code of conduct to live by, and an explanation about the world and the human situation that provides them with meaning. It often deals with the supernatural or spiritual, about forces and powers that are beyond the control of humans.
In a study of religion, it is normal for scholars to criticize the beliefs and behaviors of religious individuals or groups, but some academics take this critique further and criticize the concept of “religion” itself as an academic category. They argue that the category of religion is deeply implicated in the history of western statism and imperialism, and therefore the appropriate scholarly stance towards this phenomenon is one of criticism and suspicion.
The word religion comes from the Latin religio, which means devotedness or strict observance of rules and obligations. Religion has a long and diverse history, but its modern form is a 20th century development that reflects the recognition that it is a cultural phenomenon with great power in the world. This makes it an important subject for study in schools.
While some people have different definitions of religion, most scholars agree that it is a social phenomenon. In addition, they all recognize that it is difficult to study religion in isolation from other aspects of life. Therefore, they use a variety of approaches to study it. One way to approach religion is through a functionalist perspective, which focuses on its function of creating solidarity and group identity. Others use an axiological perspective, which focuses on its underlying values and assumptions.
Another way to look at religion is through the lens of a cultus, which looks at religion as a system of rites and rituals that aid in emotions and provide expressions of valuations. Still others have used a semantic perspective, which focuses on the meanings that people attach to religion.
A final approach to studying religion tries to understand it as a hegemonic system of beliefs and values that shape societies. This is a complex idea, and it requires a lot of work to analyze and understand.
Whether you are a religious studies major or just curious about other cultures, learning about religion is a worthwhile endeavor. It can help you become a more well-rounded person, better understand your friends and family, and even prepare for a new career in a different country.
You can find a variety of courses and microcredentials on Coursera on all sorts of topics, from a broad overview to more in-depth lessons on specific religions. You can also join millions of other students from around the world who are taking online courses and earning microcredentials at the same time. Get started today!