Religion in the contemporary society is a very sensitive subject. It has been the root cause of many wars and has also been part of many hidden political agendas. There are many ways to perceive religion and many arguments that go along with the different perceptions.
One way religion is looked upon is in its most common image of worship. Many people in today’s society look at religion as a group of people who follow particular beliefs and worship a particular god - be it in whichever faith. This is the easy way to get around the whole question of faith but, not all people who have a particular faith are devout followers – they may believe but choose not to attend the respective events and gatherings that go along with that faith. However, taking all this into account, I personally do not agree that people would choose to study religion to get a better understanding of the whole ‘worshipping’ issue. It is perfectly clear how the worshipping comes in to the equation of religion and this has been going on for centuries so, this argument is in my opinion, not one of the principal reasons for studying religion.
One of the primary reasons for studying religion is to do with politics. There has been a lot of civil unrest and many wars in the past and even still going on today, due to religion. There were the conflicts between the Christians and the Jews, Muslims and Christians, Protestants and Catholics, etc. There were also some very well known
figures who pursued world peace and understanding for their causes. Ghandi and Martin Luther King are two examples of people who wanted to promote world peace through better understanding. More recently in history, there were the September 11th atrocities. This happened in part because of the religious intolerance that drove religious extremists to carry out these attacks on innocent civilians all in the name of religion. If there wasn’t so much religious hatred and intolerance, these atrocities may have been avoided and therefore the chain of events that followed may too never have occurred. Some people may say that these terrorists are blinded by religion but then again, we as a society are quite blind to the beliefs of certain religions and through having this attitude and not making an effort to learn more, we are sometimes part responsible for some of the conflicts in the world. I am in no way condoning the actions of terrorists in the name of religion but, in a way, I do condemn the lack of caring in today’s society towards religious education.
Therefore, someone might choose to study religion to get a better understanding of what it all entails – the history, the beliefs, the traditions, etc. Having a better understanding of religion might, in some people’s eyes, solve many of the world’s problems. I am not sure how much of that would actually work in practice but, I do believe that it could do no harm to have that extra bit of knowledge and tolerance.
Some people might choose to study religion to get a better understanding of its influence on modern art, drama, music or literature. I do believe that this would be a very good reason to study religion as so many of today’s artistic works are in part based on religion. Evidence of this is shown by the opening of the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art (MOCRA) in St. Louis in 1993. This museum has works by Andy Warhol and also by some less well known artists of Latin American backgrounds such as Luis González Palma, María Magdalena Campos-Pons and
Pablo Soria. The opening of this museum, as many others, shows that there is growing interest in ‘religion in arts’. Therefore, with a rise in the influence of religion on modern art, music, etc, there also has to be a rise in the amount of people interested in studying religion to better understand the effects it has on the artists of today’s society.
To summarise, I do believe that the most compelling reason for studying religion today is to reach a better understanding of contempporary society. Without the study of religion, ignorance in this subject would create more global conflicts and prejudices. There is still a great need for more study into religion as there is still a lot of ignorance in the subject and in today’s society, with the amount of different religions / faiths; understanding is the key to a cultured social wellbeing. There are still too many racial and religious prejudices in the world through lack of vital knowledge in this subject.