The Study of Religion


Religion encompasses the cultural dimensions of human values, beliefs and practices. It is the framework people use to orient their lives in this world and in the next. It provides a foundation for moral conduct and supplies answers to the big questions of life: meaning, value, death and afterlife. People are willing to live and even die for their religions.

Historically, scholars have approached the study of religion in a variety of ways. Some have used a textual or doctrinal approach, which may help students with standardized testing but can lack the depth and dimensionality required for today’s multicultural society. Other approaches take a more holistic view that combines history, anthropology, linguistics, philosophy and other disciplines. These resources bring a deeper and more diverse understanding of the religious experience to the classroom, preparing students for the diversity of the modern world.

In many traditions, religion is defined as human beings’ relation to that which they deem sacred, absolute, spiritual, divine, or worthy of especial reverence. In more humanistic or naturalistic forms, it is defined as people’s attitudes toward the broader human community or the natural world.

Regardless of its definition, most theories about religion are “monothetic” in that they operate under the classical notion that every instance of a concept can be accurately described by a defining property that puts it squarely within a particular category. In recent times, however, some scholars have begun to challenge this classical view and are developing “polythetic” theories about religion that operate with a more pluralist model of what a religion is.