Studying Religion offers students an opportunity to gain a greater understanding of the cultural beliefs of people around the world. It can help a student better understand the people they encounter on an exchange program or move to a foreign country, for example. It can also give them insight into their own religious beliefs, whether they are atheist, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu or something else entirely.
In the past, most attempts to analyze a phenomenon called “religion” have been monothetic, in that they operate under the classical view that each instance of a concept will have one defining property that will accurately describe it. More recently, however, scholars have shifted to a polythetic approach that abandons this classical theory.
The term “religion” came to be a broad category of social practice in western antiquity. It was derived from the Latin religio, which means scrupulous devotion or feeling of obligation. The concept was further retooled in the 18th century by the French anthropologist Emile Durkheim. His definition focuses on the function of religions to establish powerful and pervasive moods and motivations in men, as well as to dress these conceptions of a general order of existence in such an aura of factuality that they seem uniquely realistic.
Another approach to the study of religion was formulated by American anthropologist Clifford Geertz, who focused on the structure of a religious system. He argued that all religions consist of three C’s: content, context, and community. He also proposed a fourth C, which he termed “form”, that refers to the way in which a religion is organized and portrayed.