Religion and the Liberal Arts – A Guide to Understanding the Study of Religion in the Context of a Liberal Studies Education

Religions of the world illustration

Religion is a personal, cultural, and societal way of explaining the world around us. It’s a topic that fits in well with a liberal arts education because it can be defined in many different ways:

Since the dawn of humans on earth we’ve used religion to understand our reality. To hunter gatherers religion involved animism, polytheism, and attempts to cure sickness.

Monotheism developed around the time of the first ancient civilizations, where rule was by a king who was seen as being endowed with his authority by God. In these times people used religion as a means for having a good harvest, avoiding sickness, and being successful in battle.

Today in the technological age when science can provide answers to many of humankind’s most pressing questions, religion still plays as a role that many cherish as a source of inspiration, hope, and ethics. It also provides a shared set of cultural guidelines and values.

The World’s Major Religions Through the Lens of the Liberal Arts

Kaaba in Mecca, Saudi ArabiaCurrently the population of the world is approximately 7.9 billion people. Of those:

Every one of these religions, as well as those not listed, have a long history and rich tradition of art, music, philosophy, and culture that can be best understood within the context of a broad liberal arts education.

History and the Liberal Arts Provide Details of Religious Persecutions

Just as religion has been endemic to humankind throughout history, so unfortunately has religious persecution. Times of religious persecution are usually well-chronicled among the believers who were wronged, with long memories of unresolved injustices lasting through the present.

History plays an important role in understanding past instances of religious persecutions and ensuring they don’t happen again. There are also strong cultural implications surrounding instances of religious persecutions; sometimes they’re even defining moments in a religion.

Religious cultural support helps to reign in feelings and emotions that might otherwise boil over. Because religion and culture are so intertwined, sometimes it’s difficult to separate the persecution of a religious group from the persecution of a cultural or ethnic group.

These are some historic and recent events of religious persecution that are best analyzed in the framework of a liberal arts education:

Understanding religious persecutions in their full context requires a liberal arts framework, and serves as an insurance policy that history will not repeat itself.

So-Called Religious Wars Gain Needed Depth with the Liberal Arts

The trope of the clash of civilizations and religious strife is popular, but it’s not necessarily accurate, as the liberal arts demonstrate with a full-spectrum approach.

Religion is often blamed for conflict when the underlying causes are just as much, if not more so, economic: