7 Various Approaches to the Study of Religion


7 Various Approaches to the Study of Religion

In the last article, you studied about the features and the characteristics of religion. You learnt that these features are the aspects that describe the religion. You will be introduced to the various approaches to the study of religion. 

You will remember we have said earlier that the definition of religion depends on the approach from which the one defining religion takes.

You will study more about these approaches. By approaches we mean the methods employed in the study of religion.

By the end of this article you should be able to enumerate the various approaches to the study of religion, discuss the various approaches to the study of religion, compare and contrast the various approaches and explain the role of data in the approaches to the study of religion


List of Various Approaches to the Study of Religion

1 Historical Approach

2. Literary Approach

3. Comparative Approach

4. Psychological Approach

5. Philosophical Approach

6. Sociological Approach

7. Data and the Study of Religions

Let study in details


1. Historical Approach: The historical approach helps us to understand and know the origin, which is: the beginning, the development and the spread of the various religions of the world. 

In addition, this approach affords us the opportunity of knowing the contributions of great religious figures in the different religions like Jesus, Buddha and Confucius among others.

2. Literary Approach: This approach to the study of religion helps us to examine the thoughts and the words of the key figures of the religion on paper. It is this approach that has led people to the sacred scriptures of the various religions. 

Through this method, humans have been furnished with the authentic facts of the origin, development, doctrine spread of the religion, worship mode of the religion and the expectations of the particular religion. This method has contributed to the authenticity and the credibility given to the religions which has written scriptures.

3. Comparative Approach: This approach makes use of comparative analysis through which an objective, honest and dispassionate analysis of religion is obtained. It reveals that in spite of the differences present in the different religions, there are similarities running across them. 

If used conscientiously, this method can bring about a better understanding among the followers of the different religions thereby fostering religious harmony.

4. Psychological Approach: This approach recognizes the fact that religion itself arose out of the psychological needs of humans. The theories of the origin attest to this fact, on the basis that religion arose out of people’s desire to satisfy their inner complexities; and this to a very large extent is psychological.

5. Philosophical Approach: This is one approach that scholars dread and are hesitant to use it in the evaluation of the study of religion. This is because while religion thrives on faith and belief, philosophy is more interested in using reason and logic to decipher its object of study. Having noted this however, we must emphasize that since humans are bound not only to reason about their faith, but also to embark on the quest from knowledge about the Supreme Being, and who is the object of their religion, and the philosophical approach cannot be neglected in the study of religions.

6. Sociological Approach: This approach is very significant because religion cannot be practiced in a vacuum or in isolation of humans. Human beings, according to the sociologist are social animals. 

It is this sociological approach that demonstrates how religion can be studied as one of human’s social activities and the consequent role religion can play in fostering social order in the society.

7. Data and the Study of Religions: The objects of investigation, which actually refers to what and what are being studied are commonly referred to as data. Loosely speaking, data includes elements such as ideas, ideals, and individual feelings, and man-made objects, natural and social phenomena.

In the study of religion there are no fixed data so far it can be classified as religious by implication. Care must however be taken in determine what will constitute data for the study of religions. This is because simple fiat cannot be used to determine what will constitute religious data.

For example, it has been discovered in the past that a datum when viewed from a religious angle may be religious while the same datum may lose its religious quality when used in a non-religious way.

An example that readily comes to mind in is that of the Christian cross. The cross is a religious datum as a crucifix. However, it can be used to represent cross-roads for a driver and ceases to be a datum.

There are other data that may also become religious data by definition but when considered ordinarily, they may have nothing to do with religion.

Also read: What Is Religion? Definition and Characteristic

Conclusion on 7 Various Approaches to the Study of Religion

Though approaches to the study of religion can be said to be varied, a better understanding of religion can only be obtained if all these approaches are blended together for a holistic approach to the study of religion. 

In other words, all the various approaches are relevant and indispensable to a good understand of religion. Data is also one vital element that is used in the study of religion.

The following are the major points that you have learnt in this article: Data are the objects of study, religious data cannot be classified by any hard and fast rule, and there are six approaches to the study of religion, namely: the historical, literary, comparative, psychological, philosophical and sociological.

Also read: Etymology and the Study of Religion

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