My friend Brian Gerald wrote a blog post that responded to the ever popular question, "What do you do?," in which he responds with a better question: "What are you doing with your life?" These questions got me to thinking about how often I am asked these very questions when I meet new people, or even when I'm catching up with old friends. When I respond that I work with religious communities and that my research in school is focused on religion, I'm often met with puzzling looks. I am then asked another question: "Why religion?"
Through different cases I end up encountering this question a lot in many different variations such as, Why do people care so much about religion?, Why are people religious?, Why do you talk about religion?, and so on. I am determined then to answer the pressing question, Why is religion important?
I am answering this question by answering why it is that I choose to study and talk about religion. Hopefully through this we can arrive at a better understanding of why religion is such a hot topic to many people. Simply put, religion is relevant. Through a global perspective, I believe that it is difficult to interpret global events today if we do not have a grasp on the role of religion in society. The fact that cultures and groups fight over religion and are willing to defend their beliefs to the death makes religion worthy of critical engagement.
Instead of expressing an intolerance for those that posses religious beliefs outside of our own, focusing on religious views enables us to understand and appreciate one another better. As June O'Connor so eloquently puts it, "The inevitable differences among us will be better informed, more justly understood, and hopefully, more effectively negotiated, we believe, because we have taken time seriously to examine one another's religious heritages. This sort of understanding in turn will enable us to take action together on concerns and crises shared in common."
By shifting the question from "Why religion?" to asking ourselves ourselves how religion impacts the lives of the people around us and what religion actually does for them, I think we open our minds to different perspectives. In turn, by focusing on what other people believe, it gives us an opportunity for self-relfection to examine what our own beliefs and ideologies are.