Religious diversity is a major part of our global community, with more than 6.2 billion people identifying as religious in some way. Educators need to be prepared for students of all backgrounds and faiths. While it is not always easy, learning about a religion’s history and core beliefs, as well as current events and holidays, can be an interesting and rewarding class project. Likewise, having an open and respectful conversation with someone of another faith can be very enriching for both students and teacher alike.
It is often assumed that the definition of “religion” is a universal one, appearing in every culture on earth. But that is not the case. Several scholars have tried to define the concept of religion using different methods. In a psychological approach, researchers investigate the mental processes that influence the formation and maintenance of religion. These include Sigmund Freud (Oedipus Complex, Illusion), Carl Jung (Universal archetypes), Erich Fromm (Desire, Need for Stable Frame), Gordon Allport (Mature and Immature religions), William James (Personal Religious Experience), Rudolf Otto (Noncognitive experience), and others.
Sociological approaches attempt to understand how religions have a life of their own, shaped by the forces in the social environment that surround them. Emile Durkheim’s version of the concept, for example, defines religion as whatever system of practices unites a group of people into a moral community, whether those practices involve belief in unusual realities or not. Other sociologists have used a more functional definition, dropping the substantive element, and simply describing religion as a set of practices that generate social cohesion or provide orientation in life.