Imam faces ornate wall

How do we study religion?

The cultural studies method

Religions have functioned throughout human history to inspire and justify the full range of agency from the heinous to the heroic. Their influences remain potent at the dawn of the 21st century in spite of modern predictions that religious influences would steadily decline in concert with the rise of secular democracies and advances in science. Understanding these complex religious influences is a critical dimension of understanding modern human affairs across the full spectrum of endeavors in local, national, and global arenas. The Religious Literacy Project provides educational opportunities and resources for how to recognize, understand, and analyze religious influences in contemporary life through the overarching theme of conflict and peace and the specific (often intersecting) sub-themes of gender and sexuality, public health, and environmental sustainability.

For a variety of reasons dating back to the Enlightenment (including Christian influenced theories of secularization that were reproduced through colonialism) there are many commonly held assumptions about religion in general and religious traditions in particular that represent fundamental misunderstandings. Scholars of religion are well aware of these assumptions and have articulated some basic facts about religions themselves and the study of religion that serve as useful foundations for inquiry. [1]  

 [1] See The American Academy of Religion Guidelines for Teaching About Religion in K-12 Public Schools in the United States, Atlanta: AAR, 2010. (PDF)

Image Credit:

"Muchilottu Bhagavathy Theyyam," Bobinson KB (2007), from Flickr Creative Commons.