ARU The Ways in Which Religion Is Examined Essay

1. After Reading my E-lecture on “Ways of Studying Religion”

2. Complete Cornell notes on the lecture,use the attched cornell notes should be 7 pages

E-Lecture: Ways of Studying Religion


Religion is a field of study that used many different disciplines.

Theology, or the “study of the gods” is only one of the disciplines used.

Theology is subject to academic rules, such as scholars must not use evidence that is not available to other scholars that are not believers. Also, theologians must focus on critical analysis, not finding converts to their faith. In other words, although theologians believe in the religion that they study, they must still follow the academic rules of the study of religion.

  • Another discipline that is used is literary criticism. Since many religions rely on a sacred scripture or text, literary criticism is important in answering questions about authorship, author purpose, reliability, and transmission.
  • Historiography, or the study of the history of religions, is another important discipline within the field of religion. Historians seek to answer questions about what “really” happened and to distinguish myth from “fact.”
  • Anthropology, or the study of human beings, is also important within the field of religion. Family, economics, and other human organizations influence, and are influenced by, religion.
  • Sociology, the study of human collective or group behavior, is also important. Religion is certainly a social institution.
  • Psychology, the study of the human psyche, is also sometimes used within the field of religion.
  • Philosophy, the study of knowledge, has been used to study religion for centuries. Philosophy of religion has been used to test the logic of religious language within the 20th century, but this has recently been criticized as too narrow.
  • Phenomenology, which is the study of the structure or form of religion, came out of philosophy and seeks to study religion in its own terms without reducing it to a social or psychological explanation.


Scholars debate the role of interpreting religion and explaining religion.

The science of interpretation is called hermeneutics. A scholar looks at all the data available, and interprets its meaning.

  • Some scholars, most notably Mircea Eliade, are critical of explanations of religions that do reduce them to social or psychological phenomenon.
  • He claims that religion is sui generis, or first and foremost. This means that the religious experience is a first order activity and the study of the religious experience is a second order activity. In other words, first is the religious phenomenon, second is the study of it.
  • To explain it in ways that reduce it to a nonreligious experience is to misinterpret it.

Descriptive reductionism is to fail to identify a religious emotion, act, practice, etc. under the description the subject identifies it. For example, if a woman says that she received an answer to prayer and the scholar said that it was only a psychological phenomena, this would be a descriptive reduction.

However, scholars do not only have to describe what religious followers say, but they must at least include what the religious say about the experience as part of the explanation, this is called explanatory reductionism.

Explanatory reductionism, which is considered a legitimate scholarly tool, allows the scholar to describe the experience in terms that might not meet with the woman’s approval (in the above example).

The academic study of religion is complex and draws on a number of academic disciplines. Religion and culture are intertwined and the academic study of religion can give us insight into our own culture, as well as other cultures.


Some believe that in order to understand a religion, or study it, one must be within the religion. Others will argue that in order to study a religion, one must be neutral and objective. This assumes that the student would not be a member of the religion.

This tension, between belief and critical study is important. Imagine a continuum from believer to an objective observer, most lie somewhere in between.

Ideally, a student of religion will temporarily suspend their own beliefs and empathetically study another religion in order to try to understand how the followers of the religion understand it. This is not easy but it is optimal.

Some scholars believe that objectivity is not possible at all, but it is a farce that scholars and students of religion hide behind as they continue to shape their opinions.

Religious commitment and objectivity are NOT incompatible but that one does NOT need to be a believer to study religion.


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