Religion is one of the most complex and controversial subjects in the world. It can provoke feelings ranging from love, compassion and goodwill to hatred, loathing, and xenophobia. Yet it is a topic that is also an important one because the beliefs and behaviors of religions often shape human behavior. As such, it is important for scholars to understand religion and how it affects people’s lives.
Although the definition of religion is debated, there is a general consensus that it is a unified system of thoughts, feelings and actions that gives its followers something to believe in, such as god or a spiritual concept. In addition, many religions contain moral and ethical teachings that guide the conduct of its members.
The study of religion encompasses a wide range of subjects, from the history of religions to religious philosophy and theology. Anthropologists and sociologists generally define religion in terms of the practices that help to organize a person’s values. In contrast, theologians tend to focus on the content of religion, such as biblical stories and the teachings of a particular faith. Each approach has its strengths and weaknesses.
For example, the sociological approach to religion relies on Emile Durkheim’s concept of religion as a social function: a way to create solidarity and to give meaning to life. While this definition of religion is valid, it may be a little too broad to describe all religions. A more specific and useful definition would be a “functionalist” definition of religion, such as that of Paul Tillich (1957). This defines religion as whatever dominant concern serves to organize a person’s values, whether or not those concerns involve belief in unusual realities.
Philosophers and theologians have long debated the definition of religion, with some suggesting that it should be defined only as a set of ideas and beliefs about the nature of reality. Others argue that it should be more expansive, and include all of the cultural elements that enable a person to live a life with meaning and purpose. This view is known as a “neo-Aristotelian” definition of religion, and is widely accepted in modern academic circles.
Another controversy surrounds the question of whether or not religion is a necessary component of a healthy society. Some argue that it is a dangerous ideology that leads to intolerance, violence and oppression, while others point out that it can be a source of peace and well-being for some people.
The debate over the definition of religion is unlikely to be resolved soon, as it reflects an ongoing struggle between different intellectual traditions over how to analyze and understand human experience. The ubiquity of religion in the world and its impact on both individual and global societies makes it an important subject for scholars to study. The wide variety of scholarly approaches to the subject reflect the diverse and complicated nature of this phenomenon. Whether you are an established scholar looking to deepen your understanding or just interested in learning about a new aspect of this complex phenomenon, there is a course for you on Coursera.