Phenomenological and Social Science Perspectives on Religion

The study of religion is one of the most challenging fields of study because it has figured so dominantly in history. The Levant region where the city of Jerusalem is located has for the past seven hundred years has been witness to how much religion can drive the destiny of civilizations. Thus religion is not just a belief system but is also social force that to this day can be a motivation for society and politics. Hebding and Glick cite that religion is a social phenomenon while at the same time a social construct (36).

Therefore, religion is created by man’s definition but at the same time religion defines how man lives in society. Therefore, to be able to fully understand religion, it must be studied in itself as well as in its significance and impact to society. Phenomenological Study of Religion The phenomenological study of religion can refer to the exploration of phenomena of the religion or how it develops and begins, or the intuitive experience of religion or by analyzing the existentialist elements of religion.

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Spiegelberg points out that phenomenology essentially limit the study to religion itself and the experiences or developments directly related to it (65). Thus the perspective is one that uses religion as the foundation, platform and result of the study. Phenomenological study of religion is approached fusing a first-person perspective and often is criticized by scientific approaches of study. A dominant feature of the approach is in the process of reasoning causality which is expressed psychological terms.

The approach also believes that if religious phenomena can not be understood or is beyond the realm of the physical experience and there are no proofs against it, then no legitimate judgments can be made as to whether they happened or exist (42-47). A phenomenological study of the origin of a religion will consider how the religion was formed and what the conditions of its formation were. The development of the belief systems and how it is communicated to followers comparatively with the other religions will also be studied.

The basis and form of its salvation theory will be studied with regards to the manner of salvation it presents and the mechanism by which followers are able to be saved. Social Science Perspectives From a social science perspective religion provides explanation for events in the social and physical world, provides justification for past, present and future events, is a basis of identification within a group, serves as basis for ethics, morality and social regulations, and provides personal emotional and spiritual support (346). It is considered as a vital component in any society defining and setting the limitations of the society.

Emile Dukheim summarizes these as the cohesive, revitalizing, euphoric and disciplinary and preparatory functions of religion in society (347). As can be seen form these observations of religion, social science perspectives of religion focus on the interaction of religion and society and how they mold each other (McGrath 112). Religion is studied by the manner which it affects social perceptions and how people interact in considering religion. The approach focuses on the operational influence of religion in how norms are constructed and developed such as in ethics, morality and decorum.

At the same time the approach also considers the manner by which society uses religion and its institutions. At the same time religion is a product of the people who belief in it. The practices and tradition that give identity to the religion are created form the practices and experience of the believers (Trigger 28). Thus, religion is a social experience and its practice has a social motivation whether it is an expression, a practice or the volition of doing something that is considered against the precepts of the religion (355).

For example, the ritual of baptism is common among many religion but from a social science perspective, each becomes unique because it is practiced in different ways by different religions. The difference in practice may come form what age the baptism should take place, the reason for the baptism or the consequences of not being baptized. Thus though the religious requirement of baptism may be common, what makes it specific to the religion is in its methodology.