The study of religion is not an activity that can be done carelessly or without thought. Bruce Lincoln emphasizes that the word “of” implies ownership when used between two nouns. Therefore the ‘study of religion’ means that the noun ‘study’ is the method used and that religion is the “object of the study.” Serious study requires a person to think long and hard about topics. Thoughtful inspirations or arguments can be made to other people later, after internally digesting the information. The purpose of the class is to understand religions well enough to discuss them and write about them.
Another important point to keep in mind is that “critical inquiry” means not making judgment about other people’s religion, but instead to keep an open mind is needed to really understand religion. Buddhism is an example of an eastern religion with beliefs unfamiliar to most western Christians. In Buddhism suffering is a disease but not a “truth claim” or what in western religion is called a “creed”. Other parallels can be identified as well.
The Buddhist “sūtras” are “discourses” in collections as Buddha had shared them. The scholar Richard Gombrich notes that studying the ancient use of words shows that sūtra may be related to the word from Sanskrit sūkta. Sūkta means “something well said.” The comparison of the historical use of words shows that religious practice is concerned with a careful definition of words.
Buddhism was born in India but then the practice moved further east, leaving India approximately 500 years ago. The global impact of Buddhism from ancient times is great, because, according to L. S. Cousins over fifty percent of the world population now lives where Buddhist teachings were “dominant.”
In this class the study of religion will be taken very seriously. Language will be used to understand more about religious traditions. Geography will be an aspect for studying religion. Lincoln’s Thesis for Methods emphasizes critical inquiry for the study of religions and can be used as guide for the class.
Gethin, Rupert. The Foundations of Buddhism. UK: Oxford University Press, 1998.
Lincoln, Bruce. “Theses on Method.” Method and Theory and the Study of Religion. 8.3, 1966, 225-227.