At Aspect Ministries, we tackle questions of religion, philosophy, and culture. Our goal is to explain these topics in a factual, non-biased, brief, and engaging way. The iKnow World Religions series makes learning about world religions easy. You can find our videos and books here.
So, why study the religions of the world? Keep reading to find out!
Society is Increasingly Pluralistic
We live in an increasingly pluralistic society. Over the past several decades in many parts of North America and Europe, there has been an influx of people from a wide variety of places which most of us had only heard about before: Asians, Middle Easterners, Africans, Latin Americans, and others. These people are now our neighbors, co-workers and schoolmates. They serve us in businesses and restaurants. Some teach in our schools, or work in some sector of public service. It is in our own interest to understand these people and at least know something factual about what they believe and how those beliefs may impact the way they live.
The Study of World Religion Connects Us to the World
Recently we have been exposed to terms like “global village” and “global community”. These terms have made us aware that, because of the media, the Internet, email and social networking, the world really is a smaller place. I’ve taught world religion at the college level for twenty years and some of my classes have been online. In my online courses, I’ve taught students from China, Japan, France, and other countries, as well as students who have recently returned from deployment in remote locations with the military. This doesn’t mention the large number of people who travel extensively for business or pleasure. I have traveled quite a bit myself in the last ten years and had the privilege of teaching cross-culturally. All of this brings home the idea that we are living in a very interconnected world, in which events in one place can have profound effects elsewhere. What happens to a group of people on one side of the globe can cause major economic and cultural shifts for people on the other side. And some of what causes these shifts has to do with religion in one way or another. So, learning at least some basics about the religions of the world is necessary.
Secular Society Doesn’t Give Satisfying Answers
One of the courses I have taught for many years is Western Civilization. It has been interesting to me that the Twentieth Century saw huge advances in technology and lifestyle for many people, but it was also a time of catastrophic disillusionment. Two world wars, nuclear power, acts of genocide, unimaginable cruelty and ethnic hatred on a large scale, caused many people to see that the solutions to human problems cannot be solved simply by raising the standard of living or providing a basic education.
Don’t misunderstand me – education and a decent standard of living are very, very important. But they are not the complete picture of what drives people. Religion speaks to the other dimension of human nature: what some people call the spiritual. It is no accident that people from all time periods and in all parts of the world are religious. In fact, the human race as a whole, appears to be incurably religious. So the study of religion and the traditions, ideas and culture produced by religion is vital to understanding what makes us tick, so to speak.
We Need Perspective
Learning about world religion can give a “big picture” view of life. This is true whether you have very little religious background, or whether you are already committed to a particular faith. I got my start teaching world religion two decades ago, because I have an advanced degree from a Christian theological seminary. For the first few years, I struggled with how to teach the major religious traditions of the world fairly and compellingly, while holding to my own convictions. I finally made the personal decision that God was on the side of truth and that I did not need to be afraid of what I might find as I delved more deeply.
Certainly, I have encountered things in the study of other religions which I do not agree with. On the other hand, I have been struck by some of the similarities between the teachings of one religion as compared to another and even by the fact that sometimes, an aspect of one religion helps enhance the understanding of a related aspect in another faith. At all times, I have found such study to be enlightening and personally broadening. I am a stronger Christian for having fairly considered other viewpoints, rather than simply avoiding them.
I was recently interviewed about this very subject on KAIL’s MyConVersation show. Check it out!