The Study of Religion


Religion is an ancient human phenomenon that encompasses a wide range of beliefs and practices. It can involve feasts and festivals, prayers and meditation, art and music, sacrifice or service, community building, and more. Some form of religion exists in every culture and it is essential for understanding the world around us and facilitating civil engagement in our religiously diverse society and nation.

The study of religion offers students a way to understand how humans create meaning in their lives and make sense of the universe. It can be used to explore a variety of questions such as: What does it mean to believe in God? What do people think about death and afterlife? What role do they see religion playing in their communities? Why do some people take their religious beliefs seriously and others not so much?

Scholars have used a variety of methods and theoretical frameworks to analyze religion. Some, such as Emile Durkheim and Max Weber, analyzed religion from a sociological perspective, focusing on how beliefs and behaviors generate social solidarity or provide orientation in life. Other scholars have adopted functional approaches to studying religion, arguing that it refers to whatever dominant concern organizes people’s values (regardless of whether the concern involves belief in unusual realities).

The National Council for the Social Studies has long called for teachers to include religion in the curriculum, ensuring that students are well-prepared to live as citizens in a religiously pluralistic democracy. The study of religion enables students to understand the deepest values, social identities, and aspirations that are part of our shared heritage.