We started our first seminar by looking at a lovely quote, which seems to encapsulate why it is so important to study religion: “The aim of studying religion is to make sense of religious behaviour: neither to endorse it, nor criticise it, but endeavour to understand it”. This set the tone for the rest of not only our first seminar, but for the entire module.
We looked at the difference between the essence of religion and the form of religion. The essence being the thing that encompasses the abstract concepts of the faith, theology and spiritual aspirations of its followers. It could be a thought or an idea, but it does not have a physical or concrete existence – the simplest example of this being the idea of God or an afterlife. ‘Form’ is comprising the rituals, guidelines and practices which concretize its essence while also uniquely identifying its practitioners. For example, making the sign of the cross will identify a Christian.
Next, we touched on the idea of the origin of religion. We looked at the view that religion has always been with us, going back to ancient Greek and Roman plays where ‘God’ would swoop down to resolve the problem. However, more recently, there is the idea that religion is dying out, maybe due to scientific advances meaning that religion no longer serves the purpose of answering questions anymore. Even so, science and technology still can’t fully answer the big question of what happens when we die, suggesting that maybe religion, while becoming less popular, will always be needed on some level.
We ended the seminar by looking at the development of the study of religion. The problem of defining religion has made the study of religion even more important, as some definitions can ignore aspects of different religions – particularly the non-Abrahamic faiths.