Religion is a complex topic that impacts the lives of nearly all people. There are more than 4,500 colleges in the United States that offer some level of academic study in religion or the academic field of Religious Studies. When choosing resources to teach students about religions, teachers should consider those that focus on the complexities and nuances of modern-day beliefs. Avoid textbooks that use a standard “dates and doctrines” approach; instead, seek out materials that provide rich details about religious practices, rituals, and traditions; and first-person accounts of life in different belief systems.
The term religion derives from the Latin religio, which approximates conscientiousness or a sense of obligation, or a devotion to a god or goddess. In western antiquity, it was common to find social groups that practiced different faiths; these groups could be rivals and might even be enemies. Thus, it is not surprising that the term came to refer to the shared activities and experiences that constituted a religion in a given place.
Today, the concept of religion is contested, and debates about its definition are ongoing. Two philosophical issues animate these debates: whether the concept can be understood as a social taxon with an essential essence, and how to define that essence. Monothetic and polythetic definitions are the two main approaches that scholars employ to sort out the features of religions. The main difference between them is that polythetic approaches recognize more properties whereas monothetic definitions fasten on a single property set.