Religion is a fundamental part of human culture and, as such, it is important to study. The National Council for the Social Studies encourages students to learn more about this subject in order to develop well-rounded and tolerant citizens.
The term religion was adapted from the Latin word religio, which approximates “scrupulousness,” “conscientiousness”, or “devotedness.” It has been used to describe religious beliefs and practices of all kinds across cultures.
Many scholars use a polythetic definition of religion, treating it as an aggregate class of beliefs and practices that are present in multiple cultures. Others define it functionally, using it to name a set of beliefs and practices that generate or sustain social cohesion or provide orientation in life. Regardless of which definition one uses, there is a large number of religious beliefs and practices that do not fit into either of these categories.
The study of religion has drawn on the methods and approaches of history, philology, literary criticism, sociology, anthropology, philosophy, and psychology, among other disciplines. No single discipline has been able to fully capture the complexity of this phenomenon, and there is no consensus as to how best to understand it. Even so, many scholars agree that there are certain characteristics that all religions have in common: