Foundations of Religion

Religious studies, also known as the study of religion, is the scientific study of religion. There is no consensus on what qualifies as religion and its definition is highly contested. It describes, compares, interprets, and explains religion, emphasizing empirical, historically based, and cross-cultural perspectives. While theology attempts to understand the transcendent or supernatural according to traditional religious accounts, religious studies takes a more scientific and objective approach, independent of any particular religious viewpoint. Religious studies thus draws upon multiple academic disciplines and methodologies including anthropology, sociology, psychology, philosophy, and history of religion. Religious studies originated in 19th-century Europe, when scholarly and historical analysis of the Bible had flourished, as Hindu and Buddhist sacred texts were first being translated into European languages. Early influential scholars included Friedrich Max Müller in England and Cornelis Petrus Tiele in the Netherlands. Today, religious studies is an academic discipline practiced by scholars worldwide. In its early years, it was known as "comparative religion" or the science of religion and, in the United States, there are those who today also know the field as the "History of religion" (associated with methodological traditions traced to the University of Chicago in general, and in particular Mircea Eliade, from the late 1950s through to the late 1980s). The religious studies scholar Walter Capps described the purpose of the discipline as to provide "training and practice ... in directing and conducting inquiry regarding the subject of religion". At the same time, Capps stated that its other purpose was to use "prescribed modes and techniques of inquiry to make the subject of religion intelligible." Religious studies scholar Robert A. Segal characterised the discipline as "a subject matter" that is "open to many approaches", and thus it "does not require either a distinctive method or a distinctive explanation to be worthy of disciplinary status." Different scholars operating in the field have different interests and intentions; some for instance seek to defend religion, while others seek to explain it away, and others wish to use religion as an example with which to prove a theory of their own. Some scholars of religious studies are interested in primarily studying the religion to which they belong. Other scholars take a more unbiased approach and broadly examine the historical interrelationships among all major religious ideologies through history, focusing on shared similarities rather than differences. Scholars of religion have argued that a study of the subject is useful for individuals because it will provide them with knowledge that is pertinent in inter-personal and professional contexts within an increasingly globalized world. It has also been argued that studying religion is useful in appreciating and understanding sectarian tensions and religious violence. ..More on Wikipedia

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