Religion is an area of study that involves understanding people’s beliefs and practices. It is a wide-ranging and fascinating subject that can be used to explore the world and its peoples in a way that is not limited by time or space. The study of religion provides the opportunity to learn about a variety of faiths and cultures, to build an appreciation for diversity, and to develop social skills that will be useful throughout life.
The term “religion” has come to be a catch-all for many different types of human practice, and this change in semantic range has created two philosophical issues, ones that are likely to arise for any abstract concept that is used to sort cultural types (like literature, democracy, or culture itself).
One issue is how to categorize the various practices that are now said to belong to the category religion. One approach, which dates back to the ancient Greek thinkers Xenophanes and Herodotus, is to use a three-sided model of the “true, the beautiful, and the good” as a way to distinguish religion from other forms of human organization.
A second issue concerns the nature of the concept itself. It is easy for assumptions baked into a concept to distort our grasp of the historical realities that it names. The philosopher Husserl argued for a phenomenological approach to studying religion that sought to shelve all presuppositions and interpretations so that observation could take place without them influencing the outcome.