Religion is a system of beliefs, practices and ethics that is common to many societies. It can be a source of social unity and cohesion, but it also promotes social conflict.
The study of religion can benefit people in many ways, including preventing intolerant speech and actions at home or abroad, improving a person’s coping skills, and increasing compassion and goodwill. It can also teach students about the diversity of cultures, improve academic standards, and prepare them for post-secondary life.
A number of approaches to studying religion have emerged over time. Some focus on the way in which people interpret their religious experiences. Others are functional in nature, examining the role religion plays for a society irrespective of how it is practiced or what religious beliefs it favors.
One approach in this direction is the work of Emile Durkheim, who argued that religion provides a basis for solidarity and a sense of shared identity within society. It can also serve as a tool to encourage the poor to accept their lot in life and to combat social inequality and conflict.
Another perspective is that of the critical religion school, which aims to describe a broad range of human experiences in a rich and multifaceted way. It takes an anthropological approach and brings out the unique modes of religious subjectivity in different traditions.
Finally, a number of scholars use polythetic definitions in their study of religion. These definitions are designed to avoid the claim that an evolving social category has an ahistorical essence, which would reflect an ethnocentric perspective.