That's what the study of religion is, but what does it look like? Answering this question is the aim of George D. Chryssides (PhD, University of Birmingham) and Ron Geaves (PhD, Liverpool Hope University) in their 2nd edition of The Study of Religion: An Introduction to Key Ideas and Methods (2014). Rather than simply offering an introductory text that tries to spell out, in an essentialized, siloed, & woefully inadequate manner the systematized basics (or codified essences) of each "world religion" (as if there is such a neatly defined category), these authors instead seek to equip their reader with the tools for the study of religion. This is a brilliant move and one that the two scholars should be applauded for.
I was honored to review this book for the latest edition of the Alternative Spirituality and Religion Review (5:2). To delve deeper into what I think about the book, you can read that review HERE.
What you will find in this approach to an "introduction to the study of religion" is three-fold:
- an appreciation for the distinctiveness of religious studies as a discipline sui generis and deserving of its own rationale, theoretical foundations, and methods of study;
- an awareness of the very reflexive, disciplined, and self-critical thought that scholars in this field have put into the why, how, and what of their discipline of study; and
- because of its situated, yet scientific, approach to religious phenomenon how vitally important it is for understanding political forces, social movements, and other areas beyond what we typically treat as "religious."
In their own words, this text is "a 'user-friendly' approach...introducing a number of key methodological issues surrounding the study of religion, and explaining why they are needed." (3) To that end, they do a fair job and although the text is not without its weaknesses, I highly recommend it for undergraduate courses introducing the study of religion, for independent/community study groups, or for anyone interested in learning more about religion. This is a better place to start than with a "world religions" survey, because instead of introducing you to several religions and leaving you with a thousand-and-one questions about the many variants of each of these religions and the many more religions not covered in the book it empowers you to do your own informed, empathetic, and nuanced study as you encounter religious phenomenon.
So get reading, and get exploring the wide world of religious studies!