College of Liberal Arts & Sciences
Philosophy and Religion

Why Study Religion?

There are many reasons to study religion, some of them obvious, some of them less so. Religion has shown itself, both throughout history and in recent times, as able to unite people and to divide them, to inspire acts of love and acts of hatred. A few decades ago, many voices of secularization were declaring that religion, or at the very least religious fundamentalism, will soon disappear entirely. Today we can see that religion is very much alive!

  1. What is religion?
  2. What is involved in studying religion at university?
  3. Why study religion?
  4. Careers for religion majors


What is Religion?

This question is much harder to answer than may first seem to be the case. Is Buddhism, which does not believe that a personal God or gods is the ultimate reality, a religion? Both Buddhists and non-Buddhists disagree on the appropriateness of the term 'religion' as a description of their way of life. Some Christians likewise prefer 'way of life' to 'religion' as a description of their faith. Theologian Paul Tillich defined religion as follows: "Religion is the state of being grasped by an ultimate concern, a concern which qualifies all other concerns as preliminary and which itself contains the answer to the question of the meaning of life." Study of religion can thus be regarded as reflection on what is ultimate, of what really matters, of what life is all about. To study such questions has an obvious appeal and relevance.

What is involved in studying religion at university?

While most of us have some notion of what religion is, many wonder what might be involved in studying religion at college. For some, the assumption is that this will be an advanced form of 'Sunday School'. For others, there is the suspicion that academic study of the Bible and/or other religious texts is dangerous and asks questions incompatible with faith. Neither of these positions accurately represents what is involved in the academic study of religion.

Studying religion means looking at religious beliefs and practices in a careful, analytical, academic manner. While this is in no way antithetical to faith, it clearly will be challenging to any student, irrespective of whether he or she is a religious believer or not. The study of religious texts such as the Bible at a college level means examining it in detail, both as literature and from a historical perspective. Doing so often means asking difficult questions, but the exploration of such questions is rewarding-just ask our students! At Butler, we seek to provide a context in which students can express their differing viewpoints in a way that leads to fruitful dialogue, learning, and mutual understanding.

Why study religion?

The study of religion is not only for the religious! Understanding religious human traditions is of great value in and of itself. Religion is a key element in most human cultures. As our 'global village' becomes increasingly smaller, opportunities for interaction with people of other cultures, and of other faiths, is constantly increasing. Especially in view of recent acts of violence perpetrated in the name of religion, it is crucial that we make greater efforts to understand one another better. This is one of the reasons why studying 'religion' as a major at university involves studying not only religious traditions that are familiar, but also prominent ones from other cultures. Understanding about religions is important, whether one is planning for a career in medicine, politics, law, business, or something else.

The study of religion at Butler University cultivates many skills that will serve students well in any career they happen to pursue, such as critical thinking, textual analysis, debating skills, curiosity, open-mindedness, ethics, decision making, and understanding other cultures and ways of life.

Why should you study religion at Butler University? We have an entire page dedicated specifically to that question!

Careers for religion majors

Of course, it goes without saying that the study of religion is also a great way of preparing for graduate study at seminary or for other vocations of a religious nature. The diversity of texts, traditions, historical study and approaches to religion taken at Butler will provide students of any religious tradition with the general grounding they need to go on to further studies for ministry, teaching, social service and other careers in religion. Recent Butler graduates have enrolled in graduate programs at Duke, Vanderbilt, University of Chicago, Boston University, Christian Theological Seminary, and Lexington Theological Seminary. Butler University offers an advising program for students preparing for ministry.

While a natural degree for students headed for theological school, the religion major is chiefly a liberal arts degree. It emphasizes basic skills of critical thinking, reading, writing-skills that will serve graduates pursuing careers in business, government, or the nonprofit sector, or students attending professional schools. Secretary of State John Kerry recently said that, if he went back to college, he would study comparative religion.

A grant from Lilly Endowment enabled us to create the Butler Center for Faith and Vocation, a comprehensive career-counseling center for students interested in religion. The Center offers assistance and a variety of programs not just for students planning to pursue theological studies but for those who wish to link their religious interests with other career goals. Click here to visit the website for the CFV.

Reasons for studying religion are many, and at Butler University, you will find programs and a selection of courses that will help you prepare to think about matters pertaining to religion and spirituality in a serious and thoughtful way.

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