The Importance of Understanding Religion


Religion is a set of beliefs, traditions, practices, and values that is central to the lives of many people. It includes prayers, ceremonies, sacred places and objects, and texts, and it typically involves a belief in a god or goddess or a universal spirit. It also focuses on questions that science cannot answer, such as life after death. Although religion can be highly personal, it is also a social phenomenon found in all cultures. It is important for students to understand religion in order to appreciate and accept religious diversity and to participate in a multicultural society.

Religions developed in response to human needs and wants. One theory suggests that early religion evolved out of an attempt to control uncontrollable aspects of the environment, such as weather, birth and pregnancy, or success in hunting. Two different ways that humans tried to accomplish this were manipulation, through magic, and supplication, through religion. Magic attempted to manipulate the environment directly, while religion supplicated for divine assistance.

Regardless of its origins, most religions share a few key characteristics. They are traditional and often centralized in a sacred place and led by a prophet or leader with nearly godlike status. They are polytheistic, recognizing more than one god or goddess. They also include a concept of salvation and redemption, or redemption from sin; myths and legends that are deemed to be true; and codes of behavior and rituals.

The National Council for the Social Studies has long encouraged teachers to incorporate the study of religion in their curriculums. Teachers should select resources that offer an in-depth understanding of the complexities and nuances of contemporary religious life. These may include a text that provides first-person accounts of what it is like to be part of a specific faith; detailed, fact-based analysis of current events; and descriptions of the variety of modern-day beliefs and practices.

Another important consideration when selecting a teaching resource is its ability to teach the academic skills that students need to examine religious diversity. These include historical, comparative, and interpretive thinking, which are all necessary when studying the world’s diverse religions.

Most religions have a holy book, which contains all the teachings and stories that are believed to be truthful. It is a good idea for students to read these books and become familiar with the teachings of each religion before they begin to learn about the history of their faith. In addition, they should talk to someone of a different faith and ask them questions about their religion. These conversations can be very eye-opening and a great way to learn about other people’s views. It can also help dispel stereotypes and promote religious tolerance in a classroom setting. Ideally, every college student should take at least one course in the academic study of religion. This will allow them to better appreciate the role that religion plays in all cultures and to prepare them to participate in a diverse, peaceful democracy.