Saturday, 25 June 2011


There is a crucial question about the study of religion. The question is “Is it possible to study religion scientifically?” Religion is a social phenomenon as are politics, economics, psychology, anthropology and the like. These social sciences can be studied scientifically, so can religion. Religion is a universal phenomenon and is the most important ingredient in the study of human life.

There are two approaches to the study of religion. These approaches are linked through the unbroken line of the two extremes. The first approach is normative and the other is descriptive. The normative approach is based on the criteria of what is true and good and what is bad, what one ought to do and ought not to do. This is based on the personal internal experiences of the religion founder or the messenger in contact with the divinity; the transcendental experience. This approach can be looked at two ways. The first one is theology, that is an attempt to give a systematic traditional expression of religious experience. In Islam it is called the “aqa’id”, something which must be accepted and believed. The second way is religious ethics or moral behaviour: how to act with one’s fellow man. The second approach is descriptive which is based on intellectual curiosity rather than on belief.

study of religion

There are a number of disciplines which will help in understanding religion. The first is the history of religion: looking at religious behaviour historically. The second is the psychology of religion: understanding the mental process and feeling of religious people, and the last is the sociology of religion: trying to understand how religious groups organized themselves, the role of religious institutions, religious leaders, law, and the state. Using the descriptive approach, it is possible to study religion scientifically.

(Adapted from a lecture by Prof. Dr. Charles J. adams)
Read also Rekonstruksi Makna Jihad

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