What should we study when learning about religion?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As our world is becoming more globalized and interdependent, I would suggest that one aspect of study when examining religion might be the exploration of similarities in religious worships.  When we study religion, there are many elements of difference.  Monotheistic focus, polytheistic points of reference, ceremonial practices, as well as the view of God are all points of study that can accentuate differences between religions.  

I would suggest that it might be enlightening and quite worthwhile to study where points of convergence might be in different modes of religious worship.  With globalization and interdependence, understanding not only spiritual differences, but points of convergence might exist is becoming increasingly important.  Citizens of the globalized world are interacting more with "diferance," to quote Derrida. As we seek to understand more and deconstruct the borders and boundaries that exists between us, using a study of religious convergence might allow individuals to better understand one another as well as themselves.  Swami Vivekananda, a scholar of world religions, articulated this point:

Each soul is potentially divine. The goal is to manifest this divinity by controlling nature, external and internal. Do this either by work, or worship, or psychic control, or philosophy - by one, or more, or all of these - and be free. This is the whole of religion. Doctrines, or dogmas, or rituals, or books, or temples, or forms, are but secondary details.

Swami's point emphasizes why religion should be studied.  The ability to find where each religion emphasizes a manifestation of the "divinity" of each soul is vitally important when studying religion.  When individuals are able to undertake the study of religion in this light, it becomes clear that greater external and internal understanding emerges.  This type of illumination is the fundamental driving force behind all religion.

Another reason why the study of religion should embrace where points of convergence exist would be in examining how different spiritual traditions treat the role of material culture.  While our world is becoming more globalized, it is also becoming more materialistic.  Wealth, money, and the impact that these aspects of material culture hold on the individual is becoming a greater reality.  Examining how different religions view the role of material wealth and how to navigate it in the modern setting is a vital aspect of spiritual identity. Being able to place focus on this in a study of religion can allow for better understanding a reality that confronts everyone.  Such an idea builds from Swami Vivekananda's idea that the universality of religions becomes one of the most important aspects of religious study.  All religions have distinct opinion about the need to place the material reality in specific context.  A course of study that emphasizes how different religious experiences emphasizes the spiritual in light of the material could be extremely worthwhile.

In the end, individuals will have to make the decision as to why religion needs to be studied.  Yet, much can be gained from emphasizing the universality of religious experiences.  Out of this specific, something transcendent emerges, and this can apply to religious study.  When Swami Vivekananda argues that human beings should strive to "accept all religions as true,” it speaks to how the study of religion should be guided by points of convergence as opposed to divergence.