Ultimately most students study religion because they find it fascinating and interesting. Beyond its fascinating character, however, the study of religion serves a number of useful purposes.
Religion has been an extremely powerful influence in human affairs. It has affected practically every sphere of human experience, from culture and politics to art and literature. In some cases, religion has had a positive influence, promoting compassion, human rights, and social justice. In other cases, it has had a disastrous effect, promoting sectarianism, intolerance, violence, and terrorism. For better or for worse, religion has played, and continues to play, a central role in making human life what it is.
One cannot understand human culture without some knowledge of religion. Such knowledge is essential for understanding both the past and the present—the history of the world as well as contemporary events in the news. Such knowledge is likewise essential for understanding both the familiar and the exotic—our own culture as well as the cultures of other nations and peoples. Studying various cultures of the world is central to Religious Studies as it seeks to explain divergent views about the world and the purpose of human life. The study of religion is thus essential for understanding the beliefs, motivations, actions, hopes, fears, and morals of a good portion of the world’s population.
The study of religion explores how various religions have approached issues of ultimate significance: where we came from, where we are going, and how to live in the meantime. While the study of religion does not necessitate that one have or not have a particular religious orientation, it does provide a basis for developing an informed and critical perspective on such issues.
Religion can be studied from the perspective of any number of disciplines, including history, literature, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, psychology, politics, gender studies, and the arts. This interdisciplinary character makes the study of religion useful for different students with a broad range of different interests.