Religion

Welcome! Religious studies is one of the most important fields in the humanities because religion impacts the foundational notions of meaning at work in human culture. In this sense, to competently study religion, one must learn about everything. History, philosophy, and literature are all fair game. Presuppositions about religion are even embedded in the visual media we watch and the art we admire. One of the problems with our modern context is that ancient people saw no distinction between what we call “religion” and other aspects of life. Scholarship on the history of religion shows a gradual shift in the definition of religion (Latin: religio), mostly serving the interests of Enlightenment polemics and European strategies of power.[1] Part of what makes religious studies such an interesting (and inviting!) field is that it encourages people to become more culturally competent. Enriching our culture through the study and practice of religious traditions provides unparalleled fulfillment. Religion is the poetry of the soul. The sources of religion serve to support this and perpetuate a particular way of life across time. My website focuses on the Christian tradition, but I am open to having discussions of any kind.

Language is a great analogy for conceptualizing a healthy approach to this. How can you speak a language you don’t know? Religion is a creature whose potential depth often depends on participation. When singing hymns in church, it is always noticeable when the laity do not sing along; and it is always beautiful when they sing songs of praise together. For the Christian tradition to which I am predisposed, one might think of kneeling, confessing (e.g. penitential rites), and prayers spoken in unison. Liturgy can be a very surface-level activity, but it does not have to be that way. Every individual can dive into the meaning of the spoken word or ponder the significance behind the sacraments. Mystery is the primary object of most religious practice.

“A mystery is, on the contrary, something that is revealed for our understanding, but which we never understand exhaustively because it leads into the depth or the darkness of God. The eyes are closed—but they must be opened.” – Kallistos Ware

One of the reasons people mistakenly criticize religion as having “too many rules” is because religion seeks to offer a way of life. The Western mind uncritically and unconsciously believes that religion is a dispensable part of one’s private practice—like a hobby. This belief creates a prejudice against the kind of rigorous fasting that Eastern Orthodox churches practice during Lent. Similarly, the Catholic tradition of abstaining from red meat on Fridays is also portrayed under this rubric. Such presuppositions obscure the real and crucial observation that such “religious” practices create needful reminders and provoke an integrity of faith. A Muslim is not an active practitioner of Islam solely because she goes to a mosque once a week; instead, in the practice of Salah (i.e. praying five times a day), her everyday life involves her faith. Many religious traditions have stripped themselves of this notion, but it is important to consider.

Commentary on Religion and Religious Education

  • Theological Studies (link)
  • Scripture Study and Old Testament Exegesis (upcoming)
  • Further Resources (link)

 

 

Citations:

[1] William T. Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of the Modern Conflict (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).