Wed 11 Jan 2006
We established this course a long time ago, but I was the first to teach it, and I wanted the course title to be a question. I wanted to imply that what we would do is to raise questions and look for answers, rather than that I would stand at the front and tell students what religion is.
I began to study religion as part of a personal search for truth when I was a teenager. I eventually took so many courses in Religious Studies at Brown University that I got a major in the subject. I hadn’t intended to have anything to do with the subject professionally.
At Brown I probably would have said that religions are systems of beliefs. Two years in India, one in the 80’s and one in the 90’s, changed my view. I think that such a definition is Euro-centric and Christo-centric; it puts the rational schematizing which is what we mean by “theology” at the center of religion. That’s not true for most people in most places and most times.
So, in my own “What is Religion?” course, I like to answer the question by emphasizing how most people have experience of religion (and religious experience)– through their senses and bodies in general. So I will answer, “Religion is seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, acting, and thinking.”