When studying religion, it is of paramount importance for the researcher or the professional to adopt a way that is not biased. It is of great importance as well to understand that the study of religion calls for one to lay aside the perceptions they have obtained from the seminary or any other instructional institution for their religion.
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Bearing in mind that every religion has its own origin and a long history behind it, it is important for people to avoid biasness so as to understand why the icons or inspirational figures of these religions behaved the way they did behave (Eliade 148).
The first question that arises at this point is whether it is possible place to study religion without biasness. The academicians need to answer this question because if the answer is negative, then the efforts will be futile and trying is not even worthy. Another part that needs some more light is the effects of the biasness that characterize the approach of many studies. In this paper, attention will be paid to deliver a conclusive answer to these two points of concern.
Academic Study and Theology
These two fields are completely different when it comes to understanding religion. The outcomes of these fields to the committed individuals are again completely different. Therefore, it is important to differentiate between the two with the aim of creating a cut line distinction between them (Eliade 152).
On the one hand, academic study of religion is a tertiary engagement chief purpose of which is to discover, describe and explain the core values and practices within a particular religion. This calls for the use of multiple methods and an approach that involves many disciplines.
On the other hand, has an inward approach to the issue of religion. One of the paramount things dealt with in theology involves the thought of God. As opposed to the academic study, which adopts and outward approach, theology is internally oriented and discuses ideas within a particular religious group (Stark 428). The crucial thing about theology is the fact that it aims at transmitting religious teaching of the group involved, unlike academic study which does not indulge in such endeavors.
The academic study of religion like any other empirical study, is founded on assumptions. If the assumptions are void, then the whole study is futile. One of the assumptions that the study focuses on is the fact that neither of the religions under scrutiny is superior compared to another one (Stark 460). The approach must be of the opinion that these religions are different. Furthermore, the study must also acknowledge the fact that, there are core similarities that the religions share.
As academicians go about the study of religion, it is important that they are not oblivious of the importance of respect for other people’s religious heritage. The assumptions are that these groups of people have adopted the right choice for them and the choice has to be respected. It is also important to keep in mind that differences exist between, within, and among religions and that any religion has a great influence on the individual’s perceptions (Freud 213, Stark 460).
Academic study of the religion also requires that the learner appreciates the fact that not all people are religious, but even those who are not religious need to be respected for who they are. These guiding principles are very important in determining the outcome of the study through the intelligent application of these principles; one can embark on the study with the hope of an authentic determination.
One of the most important aspects of religion is the aspect of its literature. Each religion has its own set of beliefs and rituals, whose source of power are principles articulately outlined in a piece of literature that is sacred to that religious group. This implies the importance of these sacred books to the academician (James 68).
First, the academic approach must establish the authenticity of the sacred literature. Some questions at this point require answers. The author may need to establish the date of composition, audience and the way they received this literature, how the literature was reproduced, edited and transmitted. This process is important in establishing the credibility of the whole literature.
Every religion has a story of its beginning and the facts about its development. Studying the historical background of the religion is important to the academicians since it helps them establish the facts about a particular religion. This study unveils how the social, economic, and other factors influenced the beginning, development and spread of that particular religion (Miles 678, Pals 314).
This enquiry may require the application of different tools, which may involve geography, demographic study and archeological approaches. This brings out concrete facts, which are actual happenings not on prejudiced or distorted perceptions.
In studying religion, it might be of paramount importance to determine the relationship between the society and religion which is what this approach seeks to determine. One must note that the sociological approach does not seek to establish the credibility of religious beliefs but on the contrary seeks to unveil historical backgrounds, practices and the universal role of religion within the sociological setup.
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Two major concerns arise at this point; they are how the society influenced the religion and how the religion has been influencing the society. Finally, what is important is the orientation of its approach. Sociological approach focuses more on the developed societies of the modern time unlike other approaches like anthropology, for example, which focus on “old” societies.
This is another crucial tool in the study of religion. This theory proposes that prior experiences may influence us unconsciously and, therefore, impair free judgment of matters. This approach, thus, advocates for the ability to make deductions without prior beliefs and interpretations.
As it turns out, this approach is concerned with description only (Pals 319). The main aim of this approach is, consequently, to define religion in its own terms rather than in terms of another discipline. These are not the only tools that are useful in the academic study of religion. Other important tools include geographical, philosophical and anthropological. These approaches give rise to concrete understanding of the religion that is not biased.
Effects of bias approach to religion
There are adverse effects that are associated with biasness in the approach to religion. One of the most obvious is the aspect of religious superiority whereby, members of one religion despise and discriminate against members of another religion. One of the resulting immediate effect is the violation of other people’s rights.
In extreme cases, this may lead to religious wars or religious enmity between two or more religious groups. Ultimately, this may result in turmoil, which is a threat to national integration or and unity, being one of the factors important for political stability (Smith 34, Pals 324). The issue of religious biasness goes beyond religious premises but ends up as national and international problem that has proved hard to solve.
This brief discussion has shed more light on the subject under discussion. First, it has articulately defined the subject matter and has given the underlying assumptions that are important in the process of making inference about the objectivity of the study. On this basis, one can note that it is actually possible to understand religion without biasness. However, it is important to note that this will only be possible if the individual is committed to this course and is ready to step out of the cocoons of their religion.
The idea that one has to embrace in order to achieve this noble goal is the idea of religious tolerance. This tolerance enables one to bear contradictions between religions without prejudgments about the other religion. Furthermore, this implies that even religious people can get engaged in the activity of academic study of religion if there is a commitment from their side.
Eliade, Mircea. The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion. San Diego: Harcourt, 1987. Print.
Freud, Sigmund. The Future of an Illusion. Edited by James Strachey. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1989. Print.
James, William. The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature. New York: Penguin, 1982. Print.
Miles, Jack. God: A Biography. New York: Vintage, 1996. Print.
Pals, Daniel. Eight Theories of Religion. 2nd Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. Print.
Smith, Huston. The World’s Religions. New York: HarperCollins, 1991. Print.
Stark, Rodney. Discovering God: The Origins of Great Religions and the Evolution of Belief. New York: HarperCollins, 2007. Print.