Religion is the study of beliefs about God and how people behave in accordance with those beliefs. It is an important part of culture and society, and the study of religion can give you a deeper understanding of other cultures.
The origin of the term religion dates back to antiquity, when it was used to describe a group of social geniuses who worshipped different gods and committed themselves to specific beliefs. The word was adapted from the Latin term religio, which is equivalent to “scrupulousness” and can also mean “conscientiousness” or “felt obligation”.
Many religions make their mark on society through culture, literature, art, music, dress codes and ways of organising life together. For instance, religious rituals are often incorporated into marriage ceremonies, burial practices and pilgrimages.
Historically, the study of religion can be divided into descriptive and normative inquiries. Descriptive inquiries mainly deal with the structure, history and other observable features of a religion, while normative inquiries primarily involve questions about the truth and acceptability of religious claims and values.
Sociological perspectives on religion focus on the functions that religion serves, the inequality and other problems it can reinforce and perpetuate, and its role in our lives. The conflict perspective focuses on the relationship between religion and violence; the symbolic interactionist perspective focuses on the relationship between religion and power.
In recent years, there has been a debate about whether to understand religion in terms of mental states or institutions and disciplinary practices (Schilbrack 20201). Among the most influential books on this topic are Talal Asad’s Genealogies of Religion (1993) and Michel Foucault’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (2011).