The student of religion faces a number of challenges on embarking upon the close examination of any given religion. We firstly need to question and maybe even dismiss our own assumptions, prejudices and perhaps even attitudes, in order to gain the fullest picture of the religion we wish to study. There will also be the need to consult others and gather evidence in order to further our own understanding, and with such a variety of
evidence both academic and religious, who do we believe? We also, as with other studies need to attempt to define our area of study, this itself presents a challenge; with so many 'religions' to consider how do we put our definitions to the test and how conclusive can we deem our results to be?
On beginning our study, firstly we need to ask ourselves, why we are making this study? Is it to better understand the world we live in, or is it to find religion ourselves or enhance the belief that we already have? The question of whether a persons existing religious beliefs may affect the way they treat the beliefs of others does need to be asked.
To cite a rather exaggerated example, a Southern Baptist in America embarking upon a study of Islam may have difficulty dismissing the words of one of its churches prominent figures, Jerry Vines, who claimed Mohammed, the Islamic prophet and founder of the church of
Islam, was 'a demon possessed paedophile' (1). Although this example is extreme it does go some way to highlight the difficulty that someone with strong religious convictions may have in accepting the belief systems of others.
We also need to bear in mind the question of 'who' should study religion, I was raised within a strict Roman Catholic family, and whilst I...