Center for Religious Studies
Why Study Religion?
Many people take Religious Studies classes these days because religion is in the news so often and in so many ways, and they want to know more about the various groups doing various things. What’s the deal with Israel? Who are the Wahhabis, and how are they different than the Shi’a? Why are corporations going to the Supreme Court over birth control? Perhaps, though, you already know what you believe, or don’t believe, and what you think of other people’s religions. Why should you take Religious Studies classes and risk getting confused?
Lots of reasons.
First, confusion is good; this is how you know that you’re thinking, and trying to understand. Second, Religious Studies classes can help you work through that confusion! What do you really know about the religion you grew up with? Do you know why your religion looks the way it does? How it relates to other religions? What other people who share your religion, but are from elsewhere in the world, do differently? If you’re an atheist, or an agnostic, do you know what your neighbors, or your legislators, think they’re doing when they pray, or how their beliefs relate to the things they do?
There are practical reasons, too.
Are you going to be working with people? Of course you are. Whether you are studying to be a nurse, a police officer, an accountant, a director, a teacher, a coach, a musician, a pilot, a chemist, to work in international law, or to be an engineer, you will have to interact with people as part of your job. They may be your clients or patients, they may be the people who determine whether your project gets funding, or they may be the people who protest against your project or your company. Understanding their religious perspectives will help you to navigate the increasingly diverse and globalized world in which we live and work. It might even make you more attractive to potential employers who know they need someone who understands “that stuff.”
But, won’t the professors try to make me less religious? Or convert me?
No. This is the thing most people don’t understand about Religious Studies. It isn’t about promoting any religion or religion in general, or about tearing down any religion or religion in general. We just want you to understand how various religions work, and why they are the way they are. Classes may focus on one tradition in depth, or take a comparative approach to a particular social issue in the context of several traditions, but your professors (who come from a variety of religious backgrounds themselves) are not interested in convincing you that any tradition is good or bad! Being religious will not handicap you in the classroom; neither will being absolutely without a religious background. In fact, it probably won’t ever come up unless you choose to mention it. What you do or don’t believe is your business, period.