The Study of Religion


Religion is a cultural phenomenon that shapes people’s lives and societies in many different ways. This makes the study of religion an important subject for both students of the world’s various cultures, and for anyone interested in understanding how a diverse range of beliefs can coexist peacefully and productively within our globalized culture.

The term “religion” is a social construction that was forged in the crucible of Western imperial and colonial encounters, but it has become a widely-used concept that appears to have taken on a life of its own. As with any abstract concept used to sort cultural practices, however, there are philosophical issues that arise with the study of religion.

One objection is that focusing on religion as structure, or as a collection of institutions, ignores the role of individual belief systems. It’s also possible that describing religion as a taxonomic category is reductive and simplistic, as it fails to capture the richness and complexity of the various faiths around the world.

There is another argument, however, that anthropologists and sociologists who study religion are legitimately exploring a key dimension of human experience, which is both universal and unruly. This approach may also be a useful way to study religion in its modern forms, as the religious phenomena that are currently taking shape around us.

One of the best ways to understand a particular religion is to read their holy book, or scriptures. This will give you an idea of the tenets and teachings of that faith, as well as their mythology and philosophy. It’s also helpful to talk with people who follow that religion, and get a feel for the cultural context in which their beliefs are practiced.