Different Ways to Study Religion


Religion is an important aspect of human life and society. It is reflected in our culture and politics, as well as in our material possessions. In addition, it has an influence on the way we perceive the world and how we think about others.

There are many different ways to study religion, which makes it a challenging yet rewarding type of education. It also requires in-depth understanding and inspires real-life skills that can be applied in other areas of learning.

Functional Definitions of Religion

In the twentieth century, scholars began to develop definitions that shifted from a substantive approach to one that defined religion in terms of a distinctive role that forms of life play in the lives of people. This was called a “functional” definition, and it is often used in sociology to define religion as a belief system that helps social integration or to establish a collective conscience.

Monothetic Definitions of Religion

Some scholars have argued that a monothetic definition of religion is best, because it names the essence of the category. Moreover, this definition can recognize more properties than a polythetic version.

For example, Alston argues that the core of a religion is a set of beliefs that reflects a specific kind of reality. He does not stipulate the threshold number of these beliefs, but he suggests that when enough of them are present to a sufficient degree, then we have a religion.

In a longer unit, a 12th grade social studies teacher might ask students to analyze two sources: a primary text from the Roman Catholic Church, which says that only men can act as priests, and a recent poll that shows that a majority of American Catholics support the ordination of women. Then, they would develop hypotheses about why a majority of Catholics disagree with the Church on this issue yet continue to claim affiliation with the Roman Catholic Church.

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