What is Religious Science?



 What is religious science?


A given religion comprises an array of phenomena:

- 1 - It is first a system of beliefs, an articulated Creed, a discourse about the structure and manifestations of the Transcendent, the Absolute or the Ultimate Reality – whatever the name that is used. This system of beliefs can be more or less consistent, developed and rationalized from one religion to another.

- 2 - Second, a given religion usually develops a system of worship and rituals, which is more or less centralized or diversified according to the religion in question. (This can go with recording of rituals, study of forms of popular religions, formation to the study of symbolic and performative action…)

- 3 - Not all religions have books and Canons, but this is indeed the case of the largest religions in the world. A Canon is not exactly the system of belief itself neither the ritual code of the religion. It provides a textual referential ground for both Creed and ritual expressions.

- 4 - Creed, rituals and canons are the basis on which a religion will elaborate a cultural system throughout history, manifested through artworks, writings and ordinary customs and ways of life.

- 5 - Creeds and canons are also the basis for a moral code. This moral code might let little space for interpretation or, on the contrary, will provide principles on which believers will have to exercise their judgment and conscience according to the precise situations they are living in.

- 6 - Religions allow for the development of individual practices and inner feelings, which provide the basis on which some people will develop spiritual experience. These spiritual experiences can be quite simple and embodied into the collective worship of the community. They can also develop into individual practices and specific ways of prayer. Such spiritual experiences will sometimes be narrated and reflected upon, the path initiated by a given person will help other believers’ spiritual exploration. This is the way spiritual traditions (there are very often several traditions within the same religion) will gradually develop and evolve.

- 7 - Another area needs to be included into a curriculum of religious studies: the study of the study of religion. It encompasses historical, socio-economic, cultural and psychological explanatory paradigms.

- 8 – Philosophy of religion is a connected field, which tries to give meaning to religious experience and creeds in relationship to the philosophical systems of thought that have shaped the history of ideas.

- 9 – Becoming an expert in religious sciences requires familiarity with some adjacent disciplines and expertise: (a) languages and textual analysis; (b) sociological enquiry and methodology, including statistics; (c) field study, non-directive interviews and anthropological methodology; (d) history of arts, of sciences and ideas.

- 10 – Finally, we cannot overlook the contemporary significance of the religious phenomenon; it means formation to interreligious dialogue, religions and globalization, religion and ecology, religion and peacemaking, religions and feminism, religions and psychological healing.