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APPROACHES TO THE STUDY OF RELIGION (REL 1260)

Lecturer: Dr. Stephen Palmquist


"'God' is a primordial experience... And again and again it happens that one confuses God with one's own ideas and regards them as sacred. This is superstition and an idolatry every bit as bad as the...delusion that God can be educated out of existence." --Carl G. ung !b"ectives #hat is religion$ This %uestion& and many of the other %uestions which arise out of this %uestion& can be answered in two ways. !ne way is to in%uire into the meaning of religion& into the %uestion of whether or not it is true& and into its value for human life. This way of examining religion is often referred to generally as the "philosophical" approach to religion. This approach will not be included in the main "approaches" studied in the present class& because the religious studies ma"ors at '()C will ta*e a "+hilosophy of ,eligion" class in their third year& which should sufficiently cover the philosophical approach to religion. The second way of answering the %uestion of the nature of religion is to in%uire about the facts associated with religious beliefs and actions. This alternative concentrates on examining what religious people actually believe or do- it focuses more on what can be observed to ta*e place than on the reality behind that observation. .o this way of examining religion is often referred to generally as the "scientific" approach to religion. This description& however& immediately gives rise to a basic paradox/ this is a class in the science of religion& and yet religion itself is a sub"ective experience of such profound depth that it cannot be studied as a science. Any attempt to grasp religion scientifically is bound to fail& because science grasps after ob"ective *nowledge& whereas religion is rooted in sub"ective experience. As a result& what we will end up studying is not so much religion itself& as the effect religion has on the cultural& psychological& and social phenomena of human life. The result of this paradox is often disastrous for scholars. 0or example& when people who are naturally religious pursue a scientific study of religion& they usually do so with the best intentions. And yet& if they believe they are actually studying religion& and not "ust the outer shell of a fundamentally hidden experience& then they are often disillusioned as they see the "religion" they believe they are studying evaporate before their eyes. #e can avoid such a fate only by *eeping in mind that 1to paraphrase the famous saying of 2ao T3e4 "The #ay that can be studied is not the eternal #ay."