What you will study
This module offers students the critical tools to think about religion and gain a deeper understanding of its place in the modern world, asking three core questions: what is religion, how do we study religion and why should we study religion? It consists of four blocks of study, based on the key frames of places, practices, texts and experiences. Within this structure, it also offers in-depth engagement with three broad religious traditions – Christianity, Hinduism and Islam – as well as various forms of Indigenous religious traditions and contemporary spirituality. It will engage students with the study of religion in its social, cultural, geographical and historical contexts, exploring themes such as the internal diversity of religious traditions; their cross-cultural and transnational aspects; lived and material religion; and the fluid boundaries between the religious and the secular. It will equip students with a greater sense of religious literacy and vital skills which can be important for lifelong learning, careers and good citizenship.
The module begins with an introduction to the key questions: What is religion? How do we study religion? Why should we study religion? It then invites students to reflect on the category ‘religion’ in their own localities with an interactive activity called ‘Take a picture of religion’. The unit also gets students started with a Learning Journal, which they will develop as the module progresses.
Block 1: Places
The module then moves to explore the ways in which religions use, interpret and transform places and spaces. It begins with a case study of religious buildings in London, which includes a suite of 360 degree tours of these sites, and discusses the difference between ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’ perspectives on religion. It then examines mosques in a range of geographical and cultural contexts, and the role of mosques in local communities. Attention then turns to a whole continent, India, in order to introduce the religious traditions we call Hinduism, and the ways in which religion shapes understandings of geography and national identity. Finally, we return to cities, but move from buildings to streets and spaces in a case study on Christianity in the Philippines. Here students will encounter the theory of secularization, which is contrasted with the idea that religion is becoming more ‘liquid’ and adapting to contemporary circumstances rather than disappearing.
Block 2: Practices
In this block the module challenges the assumption that religion is primarily about internalised ‘belief’ by focussing on religion as it is practiced and lived – in a range of practices and rituals. This block furthermore provides a gentle introduction to theory, asking how ideas and theories may inform the observation and interpretation of religion as what people ‘do’. It begins with a unit about religion and food, asking ‘what does religion taste like?’ It then looks more closely at various practices associated with (Shia) Islam, (Nigerian) Christianity and (Swaminarayan) Hinduism in both their places of origin and the UK, revealing the diversity of practices within broader religious traditions and the ways in which beliefs and experiences are grounded in formal ritual and everyday life. The block considers the idea of transnational religion – and the flows and connections of religious traditions between different geographical and cultural contexts.
Block 3: Texts
This block addresses texts as a media for cosmologies, stories and doctrines. Texts are not only storehouses of information, but can be performed and are often material objects. A central theme is the diverse varieties of religious text: religious texts are not only the great canonical, written works of particular traditions, but come in a variety of forms, including oral narratives, buildings, devotional art and movies. The block begins with an exploration of the ways, some of them controversial, in which the Bible is interpreted by Christians and how this has changed through time. It then considers another foundational religious text, the Qur’an, and its organisation, interpretation and the way it is used in everyday life. The third unit explores Hindu temples as texts, followed by a case study on a specific branch of Hinduism, ISKCON, and how it has engaged with the translation and visual representation of its sacred texts. The final unit focuses on how sacred stories are transmitted in some Indigenous religious traditions through ritual performance and oral narratives. As a whole this block explores the variety of ways in which religious texts of many kinds can be ‘read’.
Block 4: Experiences
The focus of the final block is religious experiences. What is religious experience and how are religious experiences represented? It first introduces ideas and theories of religious experience, and how we can study and interpret the experiences of others, beginning with a case study of Cargo Cults. It then explores the auditory element of religious experience focusing on the question ‘what does religion sound like’? The links between religious experience, music and dance are developed with an exploration of mysticism in the Sufi tradition. The final chapter of the block explores the experience of pilgrimage, examining the variety of different experiences people have, in both religious and ‘secular’ sites, how pilgrimage has changed through time, and why it seems to be increasingly popular for a variety of religious, ‘spiritual’ and non-religious participants.
You will learn
- encounter religions in a diverse range of places, practices, texts and experiences.
- study key approaches and methods in the study of religion.
- develop essential cognitive skills.
- develop a range of key practical and professional skills.
Graduates who have studied Religious Studies are highly employable, offering multidisciplinary and inter-disciplinary skills, and detailed knowledge of diverse world views and issues. Graduates are able to critically analyse and evaluate issues from a variety of perspectives, drawing on practical experience and academic skills. This module also develops the ability to work independently and communicate to a variety of audiences.