Studying Religion in the Classroom
Religion is a term that describes human beings’ relation to something considered holy, sacred, divine, spiritual, or worthy of especial reverence. It also describes the way people deal with ultimate concerns about their lives and their fate after death.
There are many reasons why students should study religion in the classroom, whether they’re interested in becoming more religiously literate or just want to learn more about how different cultures interpret and practice their beliefs. For example, studies have shown that religion can affect social and political decisions as well as psychological and physical health.
The study of religion can be interdisciplinary, using textual, historical, linguistic, and philosophical approaches to gain an understanding of a culture’s views on faith and worship. A student who wants to study religion can begin by finding a textbook that offers an overview of the major world religions, then read more about one or two in depth.
Alternatively, a student can take advantage of field trips to houses of worship to observe how religious communities perform rituals and ceremonies. It’s important to note, however, that religion involves a specific type of ritual and that observing ritual is not the same as participating in it.
In a social studies class, a teacher may ask groups of students to analyze a primary text that justifies a particular religion’s view on an issue such as gender equality in the clergy. These groups analyze the text and develop hypotheses about why a majority of American Catholics support the ordination of women even though the Roman Catholic Church has long prohibited it.
Some scholars have argued that the study of religion should not be primarily concerned with developing a definition of the concept, but rather with understanding how it relates to other concepts such as literature and democracy. They also argue that stipulative definitions are problematic and should not be accepted without a rebuttal.
A polythetic approach to studying religion has its roots in the 19th century. Social theorists like Durkheim, Max Weber, and Karl Marx were fascinated by the idea that religion could be a social creation. They wondered what would happen to society if traditional religion disappeared, and they posited that religion represented a form of “social cement” that helped hold societies together.
This polythetic approach has become more popular in the 21st century because of the increased complexity and diversity of religion, as well as the increasing emphasis on interdisciplinary study of religion. Researchers have found that the range of properties associated with the concept of religion can be very large and complex, compared to other abstract concepts used to sort cultural types (such as “literature” or “democracy”).
The most important issue is how one can define a sociological taxon such as religion in terms of the necessary and sufficient conditions for its existence. This is similar to the process of family resemblance theory, wherein researchers try to sort members of a biological or cultural species into categories based on their shared characteristics.