Does religion produce or reflect society?
What is religious studies?
Religious studies is the science of religion or religions. She researches the world's religions in their cultural, social and historical contexts. In addition to studying culture-specific developments, she devotes herself to the systematic research of religion as a general component of social communication and cultural production. Religion is considered here in its interactions with other cultural areas such as politics, economics, law, economics, art, etc.
What actually is 'religion'?
There are now well over 100 attempts to define what religion is. Incidentally, it looks no different in other subjects that deal with certain social sub-areas, such as political science, economics, law or art history. To this day, religious scholars, political scientists, economists, art historians and lawyers argue about an appropriate definition of their subject. During the course, students are made familiar with the most important attempts at interpreting religion that have the most consequences for religious studies.
But even without definitive answers about religion, one can cautiously put forward the hypothesis that certain key distinctions are made in every society or are fundamental for these societies - even in so-called secular societies: namely, distinctions such as immanent and transcendent or holy and profane. Even the 19th century, which went down in history as the century of secularization - the withdrawal of religion (s) - knows the "holy war" against Napoleon and the "holy fatherland". In this cautious approximation, we can claim that we come across religious or religious (that is, religion-like) facts wherever there are distinctions such as immanent and transcendent, sacred and profane or similar statements are made and realities are thus constructed.
Religious studies is not a theology
It is important that religion is the subject of religious studies and Not their content is. In religious studies, scientific, i. H. methodically controlled religious issues analyzed and theoretically reflected. But religious studies is not a religion and it is not theology either! In our role as religious scholars, we are to a certain extent religious skeptics or agnostics. When we slip into the scientific role, personal creeds no longer play a role either. We don't argue about questions about whether God or the gods etc. really exist or not. The issue with which we are concerned is the fact that people believe or do not believe in God or other things. And the fact of belief can make a difference, especially in that it creates patterns of behavior and shapes perceptions and ultimately ways of thinking. Religion can therefore have a force that shapes society. If one follows, for example, the argumentation of the sociologist of religion Max Weber, then it was religious convictions that brought about the emergence of capitalism.
To make it short: The study of religion deals with religion as a social and psychological fact. And it is a social and psychological fact that people believed in spirits, gods, demons and angels and developed practices for communicating with these powers. Religion as a socio-psychological fact can be examined independently of the question of whether there really are ghosts, gods, demons or angels or not. Anyone who as a religious scholar thinks he can prove or disprove the existence of spirits, gods and demons has confused science with its subject. The statements “there is God” or “there is no God” are religious or ideological statements, not religious-scientific statements. Therefore a so-called methodological agnosticism is fundamental to the subject.
Again, this is not to say that religious scholars are agnostic or that only agnostics are suitable as religious scholars. Many religious scholars are very religious themselves. Even among the student population, many people may be very religious or, what amounts to the same thing on this question, decidedly anti-religious. But religious beliefs should not play a role at the moment when religious studies glasses are put on. Religious studies as a social practice accordingly presupposes a personal process of differentiation. As a person and in everyday life you can be religious, anti-religious or even non-religious, if you slip into the role of a religious scholar, you are not religious.
Material history of religion and systematic religious studies
If one directs the question of how the study of religion approaches the subject of religion, there are two approaches in particular. One is more historical. He asks about religion and the formation of individual religions in historical epochs, from prehistoric times to the present. Recently, the question of whether there was not just the history of individual religions, but something like a worldwide religious history, i.e. something like a global evolution of religion, has been increasingly discussed.
In addition to the historical perspective, there is a systematic perspective. It goes less into historical details than examines religious issues in a comparative and analytical way. We know rituals, myths, ideas of God, end times, prophecy and so on from numerous religions. For example, what exactly are rituals, how do they work and what effects can they have? Furthermore, from a systematic point of view, the question is how religion interacts with other social areas such as politics, economics, art, law, sexuality and others. If religion is a social fact, the question arises how religion relates to other social fields such as politics or economics - in principle and in individual historical cases.
Religious studies as an interdisciplinary field of investigation
The scientific study of religion (s) is characterized by the fact that numerous scientific disciplines make their contribution to it. In the area of the material history of religion, these include ethnology (e.g. the study of indigenous religions), ancient Near Eastern studies, classical philology, historical studies, and regional studies (e.g. African studies, Indology, East Asian studies) and those disciplines who deal with individual religious currents (such as theologies, Judaism, Islamic studies, Buddhology, etc.). In the branch of systematic religious studies, sociology, ethnology, psychology, economics and philosophy are of particular importance.
The long and incomplete list alone shows that the subject of religious studies is more interdisciplinary than almost any other subject in the humanities and social sciences. With these subjects, religious studies share the intersection of religion as well as theories and methods. In this sense, religious studies is a cross-sectional subject that unites all disciplines of the humanities and social sciences under their contribution to the subject of religion. Students of this subject will therefore have to acquire content, theories and methods from different disciplines and develop their own areas of specialization.
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