Any Questions?

dwightSeveral REL classes this semester off by asking their students to pose one question about religion or its study that they’d like answered.

As you might guess, our faculty got quite an array of questions — from some that were focused on the possible links between violence and religion to queries about the origins and function of religion, and even some specific questions about why some women cover their faces in Islam, the place of cows in Hinduism, whether atheism is a religion, and the origins of Shinto in Japan.

Prof. Loewen even made us a word cloud for the questions.

Picture 6So if you had just one question about religion in general, any religion in particular, or even about how to study religion in a public university, then what would it be? Pose it in the comments and we’ll try to answer it.

4 thoughts on “Any Questions?

  1. My students are often looking to use what they learn in a Religious Studies classroom to modify their beliefs and practices which they identify as spiritual or religious. It’s a great pleasure working with passionate and curious students, and they often frame questions in challenging ways. How do you recommend instructors work with students who use the information offered in class to generate theological claims, seeking confirmation or rejection of those positions from academic scholars of religion? What’s the best way to join fellow scholars in discussing this?

    1. Important topic: the relevance and also limits of the academic study of religion (i.e., we can’t control what anyone does with the information they learn in our classes). I suppose a goal anyone has for the material they teach is for students to figure out ways of applying it in new domains but our field certainly is not aiming to transform people’s beliefs–that may happen, of course, in any number of directions. But the typical theological question — “What does this mean for me and my life?” — is not a step we’re taking when, say, reading a text or studying an action. Many students, however, are likely familiar with making this move when talking about so-called religious topics, aren’t they, making it a challenge for religious studies profs to persuade students that we don’t assume our material necessarily has personal relevance for them, i.e., that there are limits to the study of religion as we conceive it as opposed to seeing it as transcendentally relevant and personally transformative.

  2. Why is religion, and faith important in modern society? With advancements in science, and research is there a need for religion?

    1. The presumption that religion and faith are synonyms is itself something a lot of people study, that is: the assumption that religion is a private sentiment only secondarily projected outward into the world. So we could ask why they’re important, yes, but also why is it important to presume religion is a private experience only subsequently put into practice–what if the feeling we associate with religion or religion’s origins is itself the result of, say, a social situation? How would we then look at those who persist in saying it is a unique emotional state? As for science, only if you think religion is about, for example, explaining things, like where life comes from or why bad things happen to good people (as that old book title phrased it), would one see a conflict between them. But if whatever one calls religion is about something else entirely then there’s no need to assume a conflict between the two or to assume that one would replace the other–so it all depends what you define as religion.