Swidler STUDY OF RELIGION TEXT PP 1-42

Swidler STUDY OF RELIGION TEXT PP 1-42 - THE STUDY OF...

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Unformatted text preview: THE STUDY OF RELIGION L EONARD S WIDLER and P AUL M OJZES METHODS FOR THE STUDY OF RELIGION At the core of every culture and every civilization lies its religion. Religion both reflects and shapes the cultures and civilizations in which it lives. One of the "fathers of sociology," Emile Durkheim, stated the matter clearly when he wrote: Religion has given birth to all that is essential in society.... We have established the fact that the fundamental categories of thought, and consequently of science, are of religious origin.... In summing up, then, it may be said that nearly all the great social institutions have been born in religion. 1 Hence, if we wish to understand human life in general and our specific culture and history, it is vital to gain an understanding of religion and its role in general and specifically in our culture and history. That is why we need to study religion. To study something is more than casually looking around in a subject. It is an investigation of the subject organized according to certain principles and following certain methods which arrives at particular conclusions. What the conclusions will be obviously will depend on both the subject that is being studied and what principles and methods are followed. The subject of this book is religion, and more specifically, the methods contemporary scholars use in the study of religion. Those methods are several, including the following: historical, scriptural, philosophical, anthropological, sociological, psychological, comparative and dialogical. One way to describe the essential difference between humans and the other higher animals is to note that humans are not just aware of things (my dog is aware of the presence of a prowler or a piece of meat), but we are aware that we are aware of things. We are reflecting animals; we can look at ourselves looking at things. Religion is the most fundamental, comprehensive of all human activities, that is, it tries to make sense out of not simply one or other aspect of human life, but of all aspects of human experience. Hence, the study of religion needs to start out in that most fundamentally human way of being: looking at how we are looking at things, in this case, looking at how we are looking at religion. But before we can look at our methods of studying religion, we first need to reflect on how we understand the object of our study: religion. 1 1 Emile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life translated by Joseph Swain (Glencoe: Free Press [1912], 1961), p. 48. I. WHAT IS RELIGION? 1. A Definition for Religion? Religion. Few words in our vocabulary evoke more instantaneous recognition, yet elude precise understanding and definition than the word religion. It is perhaps its very commonness which make the word hard to define. Both practioners and admirers of religion as well as its critics and enemies think they know clearly what it is that they support or reject. Yet despite years of effort there is no clear agreement by the scholarly community on how to define the...
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Swidler STUDY OF RELIGION TEXT PP 1-42 - THE STUDY OF...

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