Why study world religions?
It's impossible to wander through any of the major art museums in the world and fail to recognize that the sculptures, paintings, figurines, pottery, and statues beg an understanding of world religions. The stories, beliefs, hopes, dreams, fears, and deepest convictions of peoples throughout history have been captured visually in art and intellectually in sacred texts. These faith traditions have shaped human history in multiple ways - political, military, social, cultural, and intellectual.
Studying world religions enables the student to integrate the accumulated knowledge of the centuries into a holistic understanding of human societies. Sociology, literature, history, political science, anthropology, and art all draw on religious contexts to give a fuller dimension to their own disciplines.
In generations past, foreign cultures and religions were rarely encountered. They remained two-dimensional descriptions in textbooks. Today we may sit in class next to a Muslim, work with a Baha'i, and travel through India; the woman in line next to you at the grocery store may be a Buddhist or a Wiccan. In a world where technology has made multicultural and interreligious contact commonplace, we all need to be prepared to live as neighbors with those of different faiths. Integrated markets and cultures demand the sensitivity and mutual respect that comes with understanding of belief systems.
Students of world religions are prepared to work side-by-side with people of different faith traditions in the larger efforts shared by all faiths. Every religion instructs its faithful in ethics of compassion, personal integrity, and social responsibility. Finding common ground and working together toward the needs of the community is made possible through a fuller vision of world religions.