The Field of Religion
Religion is present in every aspect of our daily lives. It is the basis of moral beliefs and behaviors, it shapes our calendars, influences political and legal systems around the world, and even affects our health. Studying religion increases your understanding of the global diversity and complexity we live in.
In its most general sense, religion is human beings’ relation to that which they regard as holy, sacred, absolute, spiritual, divine, or worthy of especial reverence. This is often expressed in terms of a concern for the soul after death, but can also include a focus on community, worship, prayer, or participation in religious institutions.
The field of religion has a long history as an academic enterprise, but its modern configuration and institutional embodiment are 20th century phenomena. The field has developed with the recognition that religion is a cultural phenomenon, and its study requires an appreciation of the complexity of this culture.
It may seem avant garde to treat religion as a complex of social practices instead of a single set of monothetic-set definitions, such as fides (belief), benevolence, or fidelitas (fidelity). But it is not new, since Christian theologians historically described the anatomy of their way of life as simultaneously a system of faith, practice, and governance.