Academic Study of Religion

Lesson Objectives

• Appreciate the way religion is taught in a public school setting

• Understand the difference between a Theologian and a Scholar

• Understand the evolution of Religious Studies (Comparative to Functionalist)

Key Terms

Scholar of Religion (c.f. "Religious Studies")

Theologian (c.f. "Confessional Theology")

Normative/Descriptive distinction



Religion in a Public School Setting

The Theologian & the Scholar

• A theogian does religion. A scholar studies religion.

     • A theologian picks sides; a scholar does not.

     • Non-sectarian scholars do their best to remain impartial

     • Scholar not interested in whether a religious group is "right"

• Theologians and scholars have different methodoloiges and goals

     • Theology: shares personal beliefs as “Truth” claims

     • Scholars: shares peer-reviewed scholarship; makes no claims to “Truth”

     • They appeal to different audiences (i.e. student vs congregant)

• Scholarly Methodology

     • Scholars don't legitimize specific religious approaches

     • Modern American religious studies courses may have an American           Protestant bias, because that's our typical background (Prothero 9)

     • Scholars check bad scholarship with global perspectives

          • Peer-reviewed research (eg. Oxford, Harvard, Princeton presses)

          • Consensus within the discipline (American Academy of Religion)

          • Seeking out a variety of voices in scholarly inquiry

Why Scholarship doesn’t compete with Theology (3 min vid)

• Scholars and Theologians have different goals

     • The theologian aims to convince you of heartfelt belief

     • The scholar aims to convince you of nonsectarian evidence

• Theologians prescribe ("you should") beliefs to congregants

• Scholars engage in the empirical, descriptive ("it is") pursuit of knowledge

• This course aims at fostering critical thinking through logical inquiry

What does a Scholar of Religion do?

• Scholars aren't out to prove or disprove religion — only to explain evidence

• Scholars seek the criticism of other scholars and work within a consensus

• Scholarship (unlike belief) should be logical, proveable, and precise

     • Logical: claims are built of evidence-based reasoning

     • Proveable: correctly works within the consensus of other scholars

     Precise: clear — not built of vague or subjective assertions

• Theological belief doesn't require logic, proveability, or precision

     • People can believe illogical things (I'm gonna win the lottery!)

     • Something taken "on faith" is unproven (I believe that aliens exist!)

     • Vague truth-claims are quite common (I am centered on my being.)