Understanding the Concept of Religion


Religious Studies is one of the NCSS C3 Framework topics that teaches students to understand global contexts and encourages civic participation. It also cultivates skills that can be used in a variety of academic disciplines and careers.

Religious studies scholars have a range of viewpoints that help them to understand the diverse and pervasive nature of religion. Many believe that it is important to approach all religions with respect, even those that are often viewed as being offensive or oppressive. This approach allows for a more accurate and less biased study of the topic.

Some scholars have tried to define religion functionally, claiming that it is any belief or practice that generates social cohesion and provides orientation in life. Such approaches have been criticised as ad hoc, since they create the illusion that there is a neutral definition of religion that would be found in every culture.

Other scholars, influenced by Michel Foucault, have attempted to examine the notion of religion by examining the concept’s history and its relationship with other concepts that sort cultural types (like literature or democracy). This approach has been called the “reflexive turn” in religious studies and is exemplified in Talal Asad’s Genealogies of Religion (1993). Asad uses the work of Clifford Geertz to show how anthropological approaches to religion have been shaped by Christian assumptions and modern assumptions about the role of human subjectivity. This has left the door open to count political ideologies as religious beliefs.

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