Religion is one of those topics that can stop or start a conversation depending on who you are talking to. In part this is because people have many different understandings of what religion is. Anyone who has spent time thinking about what religion is will find that it is a notoriously difficult thing to define. Some cultures do not even have an indigenous word for the thing we call “religion.” So, how does one go about studying religion if there is no agreed upon definition?
The answer to that question was answered in an oft-cited article by Jonathan Z. Smith entitled, “Religion, Religions, Religious.” The term “religion” as used in scholarly discourse, is defined by scholars for their own intellectual purposes. Defining the boundaries of what one studies is the first step of study; however, we must keep at the forefront of our minds that our definitions have the potential to distort our view. Our definitions are arbitrary at some level and so we must proceed recognizing the usefulness and limitations of our definition, and be ready to change it when our subject matter demands it.
Courses in Religious Studies at DYC teach students the essential skills necessary to understand sympathetically yet critically the world’s religions—their practices, sacred texts, and beliefs—and to explore the phenomenon of religion itself as a prominent component of human life, culture, and history. The Religious Studies student will develop analytical, writing, and communication skills, as well as religious literacy—essential knowledge of the religious world of which we are a part.
Links to Online Resources
Sites Dedicated to the Study of Religion
http://pluralism.org Website of the Pluralism Project housed at Harvard University. Addresses many issues related to religion in contemporary society.
http://www.pewforum.org Pew Research Center forum on Religion and Public Life. Great for statistics and polls on issues related to religion in the United States and around the world.
https://www.ifyc.org Interfaith Youth Core addresses issues of interfaith cooperation on campuses and beyond.
Sites of Scholars of Religion
http://www.johnhick.org.uk/jsite/ Site of the British philosopher and theologian of religion John Hick (d. 2012). Access to many interesting articles and addresses.
http://www.robertbellah.com/index.html Site of the American sociologist of religion Robert N. Bellah (d. 2013). Links to articles, interviews, and lectures. See especially the articles on Civil Religion and Religious Evolution.
More to come. . .