Touchstone 1: Reflecting on Major Approaches to Studying Religions. Instructions
ASSIGNMENT: In this unit, you learned some of the reasons for studying religion. You also learned that religion is universally recognizable, yet difficult to define. A narrow definition of religion that ties it to a belief in and worship of a higher, supernatural power, can exclude religions like Buddhism. On the other hand, definitions of religion that eliminate mention of the otherworldly or divine by equating it simply with “faith” or “belief” yield an understanding that is overly-broad.
Due to the challenges of studying religion, various methodologies have arisen including: phenomenology, theology, historical approaches, comparison, philosophy, and sociology. This Touchstone gives you an opportunity to reflect on these major approaches to studying religion.
In a 400-600 word short essay, you will explain the difficulties involved in defining religion. Then you will select one method for studying religion that you believe to be most thought-provoking, and explain its strengths and weaknesses.
In order to foster learning and growth, all work you submit must be newly written specifically for this course. Any plagiarized or recycled work will result in a Plagiarism Detected alert. Review Touchstones: Academic Integrity Guidelines for more about plagiarism and the Plagiarism Detected alert. For guidance on the use of generative AI technology, review Ethical Standards and Appropriate Use of AI.
A. Assignment Guidelines
DIRECTIONS: Explain, in your own words, two reasons why religion is difficult to define. Review the lessons in Unit 1 as you consider your response. Then, select one method for studying religion that you believe to be most thought-provoking and explain what you believe to be its strengths and weaknesses.
Your short essay should include four parts:
Explain, in your own words, two reasons why religion is difficult to define.
Select one method for studying religion that you believe to be most thought-provoking and summarize the approach in your own words.
Explain a strength of this approach to studying religion.
Explain a weakness of this approach to studying religion.
The methods for studying religion discussed in Unit 1 include:
Philosophy of Religion
Sociology of Religion
As you develop your reflection, be sure to engage with the course material from Unit 1. You will use information from the Sophia tutorials to support your response. When citing material from a tutorial, please include the name of the tutorial and use the following format (using Sophia’s Primal Religions tutorial as an example):
In-text citation: (Primal Religions, n.d.)
Reference: (n.d.). Primal Religions [MOOC]. In Approaches to Studying Religions. Sophia Learning. https://app.sophia.org/spcc/approaches-to-studying-religions–2/unit1/study-guide/7845/primal-religions-2
The following requirements must be met for your submission to be graded:
Composition must be between 400-600 words.
Double-space the composition and use one-inch margins.
Use a readable 12-point font.
All writing must be appropriate for an academic context.
Composition must be original and written for this assignment.
Plagiarism of any kind is strictly prohibited.
Submission must include your name, the name of the course, the date, and the title of your composition.
Include all of the assignment components in a single file.
Acceptable file formats include .doc and .docx.
In-text citations should use this style: (Primal Religions, n.d.)
References should use this style: (n.d.). Primal Religions [MOOC]. In Approaches to Studying Religions. Sophia Learning. https://app.sophia.org/spcc/approaches-to-studying-religions–2/unit1/study-guide/7845/primal-religions-2
Defining religion is challenging for two main reasons. First, there are many diverse religious traditions in the world with varied beliefs, practices and experiences of the sacred or divine. A single definition risks overgeneralizing or leaving some traditions out. Second, the concept of religion itself has evolved over time, so definitions that worked in the past may no longer adequately capture the complexities of religion today.
After reviewing the approaches covered in Unit 1, I believe phenomenology offers valuable insights while also having limitations. Phenomenology aims to understand religion through careful study of religious experiences, texts and practices without prejudging their truth or value (Primal Religions, n.d.). This open and descriptive method can help observers gain nuanced understandings of religious worldviews different from their own. However, phenomenology risks overemphasizing commonalities between religions at the expense of their real differences. It also says little about how religious beliefs and practices intersect with other social and historical factors.
A strength of phenomenology is its focus on understanding religion from the perspective of adherents themselves. By prioritizing descriptive accuracy over judgments, it can reveal aspects of religious life that outsiders may overlook or misunderstand. However, a weakness is that phenomenology may gloss over power dynamics and social contexts that shape religious traditions. For example, it does not directly examine how interpretations of sacred texts vary between religious elites and ordinary believers or change over time (Asad, 1993).
In summary, while phenomenology offers valuable insights, a more comprehensive approach to studying religion may also incorporate historical, sociological and comparative methods to provide deeper contextual understanding. Multiple lenses are needed to gain holistic perspectives on traditions as complex and diverse as the world’s religions.
Asad, T. (1993). Genealogies of religion: Discipline and reasons of power in Christianity and Islam. Johns Hopkins University Press.