The Study of Religion

Religion is a cultural system of beliefs, practices and ethics. It includes a variety of spiritual and moral teachings and practices centered on the supernatural. It also involves a variety of rituals, symbols, scriptures and laws that guide believers in their interactions with themselves, other people and the world around them.

While many scholars have used the three-sided model of the “true, beautiful and good” as a framework to analyze religion, others have taken a more sociological approach to understanding its function and problems. These perspectives rely on theories such as those of Durkheim, who argued that religious beliefs and practices reinforce social unity and stability, act as an agent of social control, promote physical and psychological well-being, and motivate people to work for positive social change.

Other perspectives on religion have focused on the role that it plays in a culture’s structure and development, and on how it may serve as a means of coping with problems such as poverty. Gallup surveys, for example, have shown that people in poor countries are more likely to report that religion is a source of social support than those in richer countries.

The study of religion is interdisciplinary, combining textual, historical, linguistic, philosophical and other approaches. Its study can help students develop a broad worldview and understand global contexts. NCSS recommends that the study of religion be part of all social studies courses and curriculum. It helps students develop a sense of civic responsibility and cultivates skills for working with diverse populations.