Open-Mindedness Opens Life’s Doorways
The Academic Study of Religion
An academic viewpoint on religion provides perspectives on a wide range of beliefs, while being religious means devotion to a higher power. Religion courses are important in college, not only because they teach religion, but students are taught to develop a type of mindset and view that can be applied to all walks of life. Education builds a bridge to lessen the expanse between theory and practice, and it offers a safe venue to explore ideology and its effects on pluralism in society.
The study of religion focuses on comprehending religion without endorsing a certain belief-system or faith. Professor Hammerling believes that students should be able to flourish in an open environment free of bias (Hammerling 9). Academic study pushes students to learn to participate and broaden narrow views of the world. Regardless of predisposed attitudes, students starting a religion class can come together, have discussions, and enlighten each other with individual viewpoints (Hammerling 16). One of the fundamental goals of religion curriculum in schools is to motivate students to improve understanding of perspectives and ideas towards religion in general (Hammerling 11). The environment of the classroom needs to be welcoming to all ideals without exclusion or alienation. And, rather than study the Bible under a religious pretense, a scholarly approach should be taken in its analysis and interpretation (Hammerling 13). Professors encourage that a wide variety of academic methods be used to look at the Bible to widen understanding. Bible passages and parables ought to be viewed as lessons rather than literal truth (Hammerling 15). Parables are learning tools that continue to fit life no matter what the century. Keeping an open mind while reading the Bible allows one to see the deeper meaning and how it relates to today’s issues.
Hammerling details a new way to present the differences between religion study and experience to students. He has implemented a metaphor taken from Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis as a way to describe the classroom setting of religion courses (Hammerling 22). The classroom is the embodiment of the metaphorical hallway where all students gather coming from different faiths to discuss ideas (Hammerling 23). People join here for enlightenment and open dialogues that lead to a deeper perception of individual convictions and those of others. As a society, differences should be celebrated, rather than condemned, encouraging inclusion, self-introspection, and broadened perception. The populace can either live as one, or as disconnected units within the whole. The open-minded must incite the change, or no one will.
A mind open to ideas and the consideration of innovative concepts will discover a world of opportunity. Religion classes can benefit the outlook that students have on life, and positively affect interactions with others. College students are just starting to fully experience the world. Religion courses have the opportunity not only to teach students about religion and how to analyze it, but to share ideas while encouraging self-reflection. It is vital to learn how to foster meaningful discussions with peers in order to achieve pluralism.
Pluralism ties in well with the importance of religion courses, melding diversity with coexistence. The idea is built on the foundations of engagement, and creating a harmonious society (Eck). A community will only ever be as strong as the weakest link, and will be damaged by isolating certain groups. Segregation creates massive divides in religious and cultural ideologies (Eck). The goal of citizens should be to foster a new time of prosperity and coexistence through the pursuit of pluralism. With coexistence comes compromise. Diversity exists without action, while pluralism requires participation (Eck). Pluralism is a two-way street with mutual interaction and reciprocation to better the situation (Eck). Community members must remove their prejudicial lenses in order to facilitate inclusive discussion amongst all cultures and religions. Each cultural group brings their multifaceted and unique differences to create building blocks for the new pluralistic community, structured on understanding and compassion, rather than tolerance based on shallow acceptance and ignorance (Eck). These facets of pluralism were touched upon in the Better Together presentation and in the article by Diana Eck.
The goals of the Better Together movement are to have respect for all, create mutually inclusive relationships, and promote common action for the common good. Religious dialogue aims to reduce ignorance, foster knowledge, and find common values to avoid unnecessary assumptions, criticism, or condemnation. Society should have respect for all identities, religious or not. A comparison should be made between religion education and evangelism.
Being religious is not mutually exclusive from the study of religion. One of the key differences between studying religion in an academic sense and in a religious setting is perhaps how one interprets the Bible. The academic study takes moral and historical facts from the faiths of the world while being religious is based on devotion to a supernatural entity, countless customs, and rituals. For congregants, being religious revolves around going to church and the experience of becoming closer to God. People utilize dogma and the Word of God as a tool to guide daily life. Believers in God also try to emulate His example presented in the Bible. The devoted take a leap of faith and know the Bible is the Word of God, and have no reason for disbelief, while academia views the writings of the Bible in a more scientific light, as nothing more than stories until proven otherwise.
Religion professors provide an objective curriculum that does not support or dispute the tenants of any particular theory. The classroom environment should be all-inclusive and not be used to convert the students. Churchgoers, including Christians, share the Word, and actively evangelize. Young Christians are taught to share faith and relay the Word of God. “He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation’” (Mark 16:15). This presents a struggle for Christians who enter the metaphorical hallway as the focus is acceptance and not conversion. Accepting others is quintessential to the Christian faith, so the struggle is easily overcome. “When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt” (Leviticus 19:33-34). Sharing and absorbing new ideas is embraced by Christians.
The study of religion provides students with the opportunity to consider different viewpoints from across all belief-systems to further obtain pluralism in the community. While studying religion, no one idea is put on a pedestal over another. The intent is to build a welcoming place for all. People must realize that, to succeed, it is necessary that judgments be set aside, and know that coexistence is possible without giving up individual convictions. Pluralism can only be achieved if people try harder in life to escape their comfort zone and enter the hallway. Just as the Word can grow and apply to all aspects of life, so should its believers, and those who study religion. Open-mindedness opens life’s doorways.
Eck, Diana. “From Diversity to Pluralism.” Accessed January 21, 2019. Website.
Hammerling, Roy. A Brief Introduction to the Academic Study of Religion.
Leviticus, New International Version.
Mark, New International Version.