Why Study Religion?
One can easily understand the need to study a discipline that will be used for one's whole life (such as speech, math, or English). Studying to acquire skills necessary for employment also needs no justification. But why should we take time to study religion from an academic point of view? Livingston lists at least five possible justifications for the academic study of religion:
To understand what it means to be human. Since religion characterizes all societies, understanding the nature of religion helps us understand humanity.
To overcome our ignorance. We all have a limited world view that centers on our own group or nation. Because of this ethnocentric perspective we often are unaware of the different perspectives other societies may have. Studying the religious values and experiences of other groups exposes us to different world views.
To understand our own culture. Religion has been and continues to be a powerful influence in shaping the culture of the United States. To understand that influence is to better understand the American experience.
To achieve a global perspective and understanding of the nature of the issues and conflicts throughout the world. The Protestant-Catholic struggle in Northern Ireland, as well as the Arab-Israeli and India-Pakistan conflicts have roots in the clash of culture and religion. An understanding of religion equates to a better understanding of of these conflicts.
To help us formulate our own beliefs or philosophy of life. If the "unexamined life is not worth living" then the unexamined faith is not worth holding. Studying religion helps individuals formulate their own questions of faith and to confront and come to terms with their own beliefs.