Why Study Religion?

kaaba_mirror_edit_jjIn a recent post by a friend on Facebook, a deceptively simple question was posed: “What is the difference between religion and belief?” Here are a few of the answers.

“Religion you follow a guide, belief you creating your own guide. With belief, you are your own mentor.”

“A belief is something you believe in and religion requires practice.”

“Religion is the myths everyone has agreed to believe. Beliefs are the myths you personally believe.”

“Religion is the organization of a specific series of beliefs.”

“Spelling?”

“Religion is manmade and controllable. Belief is a function of the human entity to agree, believe, and trust in something. Belief is not limited to world views or faith or religion. It is a condition of our relationships with the planet, each other, and above all ourselves. Religion is just a system of control put in place to manipulate people. Everything is just a sales pitch in religion.”

“Anyone can have a belief. Religion is structured belief with processes and culture.”

These are a selection from 20+ responses to the prompt. Among the many observations about how people attempted to answer the prompt, one reality is apparent: nobody defined religion or belief in the exact same way. Some answers were similar. Yet, some answers were distinct from others.

Why does this matter, though?

Religion is a part of life, as is belief. The way we define it and understand it impacts how we choose to understand our own culture and history, world history, and life itself. In other words, the way we define these categories (religion and belief) substantially impacts how we understand the world. If any of the people who responded to this questions were to attempt to engage with each other about modern Christianity, ancient Near Eastern rituals, or 21st century culture itself, they would be unable to communicate effectively. They would be unable to communicate effectively because they would not have a mutual understanding of how they are defining the term “religion” or “belief” in their conversation. Thus, it is of the utmost importance to work towards such a goal, even if it is impossible to achieve the goal.

For this reason, religion must be studied. How we understand religion must be studied. How other people understand religion must be studied. Without it, we are unable to communicate ideas effectively. Consequently, we are unable to work towards a common goals of some sort of peace in the world.

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