Many disciplines have attempted to define the field of religion to give it a substantive and universal grounding. However, some of these definitions have been found to be compartmentalized and narrow. The different methods used to define religion include phenomenology, comparative religion, historical approach, sociology of religion, and philosophy of religion. However, phenomenology is the most thought-provoking approach in studying religion because it concerns itself with how individuals perceive reality.
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Difficulty in Defining Religion
Religion is a field whose definition has been dealt with by several disciplines because of its variations and diverse nature. Most of these disciplines have failed to define religion universally conclusively. Firstly, the lack of a substantive definition is due to the obscure nature in which it is defined. Most disciplines like sociology, theology, and philosophy do not address its subject matter and fail to distinguish it from other fields of study. Religion is defined in a vague manner that limits it to the belief in supernatural beings. The word “belief” is too vague to comprehensively be accepted as a universal definition because it isolates other disciplines that do not believe in higher beings. Secondly, there is also the issue of compartmentalization in defining religion. It is a result of considering only a single aspect in defining it. Most disciplines ignore the totality of human existence by compartmentalizing the definition of religion. The consideration that religion believes in higher beings ignores its multidimensional nature, which includes a mixture of attitudes, beliefs, gestures, emotions, and institutions. All these aspects are needed to explain the relationship between an individual with their reality.
Different approaches have been used to study religion, including phenomenology, sociology, and theology. However, the most thought-provoking approach to studying religion is phenomenology. It is an approach that concerns itself with individual conscious experiences and how they perceive reality. Therefore, the phenomenology of religion is used to study individuals’ various types of experiences, which are manifested in emotions, perceptions, desires, imaginations, wonder, and memory, among others. It is more concerned with an individual’s subjective experiences because it goes beyond questions such as whether there is a higher supernatural being or life after death (Primal Religions, n.d.). Instead, it deals with the occurrences of religious phenomena through experiences that apply to human reality.
The phenomenological approach studies how an individual perceives the meaning of reality rather than how it exists beyond their perception. It attempts to understand the feelings of an individual about a particular phenomenon. It is an approach that has several benefits that makes it different from others. First, it is a method that offers some unique perspectives of how individuals perceive reality as it occurs to them. It does not deal with things or aspects that occur outside of reality but with individuals’ perceptions of specific phenomena. Secondly, it offers us gainful insights and a more profound understanding of specific phenomena. It means that it studies real and not abstract things, which paints a clear picture in understanding how they exist. Finally, it provides impressive and rich data concerning specific phenomena (Editor, 2017). The fact that phenomenology deals with reality make it a source of accurate and detailed information.
The downsides of the phenomenological approach include subjectivity, bracketing, and bias. It is not easy to ascertain the validity and reliability of this approach because it is a subjective procedure. The approach mainly deals with individual perceptions of reality, which are, in most cases, full of prejudice and subjectivity. The lack of objectivity in this approach makes it challenging to determine its validity. Secondly, sometimes the approach can be full of bias toward the researcher, whose perceptions can be different from that of the research subject (Editor, 2017). Moreover, there can be interference when interpreting the acquired data, leading to many challenges when attempting to maintain a sound thesis.
It is difficult to define religion because of its variations and diverse nature. Most disciplines define it in a narrow and obscure manner by limiting it to a belief in higher beings. The definition is too narrow and ignores the relevance of the totality of human existence by considering only one aspect in its definition. However, the phenomenological approach has proved to be a thought-provoking approach in defining religion because it deals with individual perceptions of reality.
8 Advantages and disadvantages of phenomenological research (2017). Connectus Fund. Web.
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Phenomenology (n.d.). Primal Religions [MOOC]. In Approaches to Studying Religions. Sophia Learning. Web.