Is there value -or risk - in the 'historical-critical' approach in the study of religious traditions, considering sacred texts -- familiar or unfamiliar to the student. A student might very well...

Is there value -or risk - in the 'historical-critical' approach in the study of religious traditions, considering sacred texts -

- familiar or unfamiliar to the student. A student might very well find themselves in the awkward position of questioning some of the familiar assumptions they were raised to accept without question. Should a class such as WR232 be a theological exercise to strengthen or weaken one's faith?

Expert Answers
pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Of course, I have no idea as to what WR232 is, but this is an issue that I bring up with students whenever we study anything having to do with religion in history.

Of course, there is risk in subjecting religious traditions and texts to a historical approach.  When you try to explain why or how a religious tradition came about, you are doing two things.  First, you are denying that the tradition is mandated by God (which is what the believers would say about is).  Second, you imply that religious traditions come about because of the needs of people at a given time and place.  In other words, you are saying that people make up religions based on their own needs.  You can see where that is risky in the sense that it is insulting to religious people.

However, there is value in this approach as well.  If we simply say that religions are mandated by God, we give up trying to be social scientists.  We give up trying to understand what "makes people tick."  Therefore, if we are going to try to understand people from a scholarly point of view, we have to try to understand (as well as we can) why they come to hold particular beliefs.