Religion is one of the most powerful, pervasive, and diverse aspects of the human experience. It is an integral part of the world’s cultures and has had a significant impact on global politics, economics, social institutions, and everyday life for billions of people. The National Council for the Social Studies has long led the call to include the study of religion in the curriculum in ways that are constitutionally and academically sound. The study of religion prepares students to critically engage in a pluralistic, peaceful democracy, by understanding the deepest values, social identities, and aspirations of people from around the globe and within their classrooms.
The word religion is taken from the Latin religio, meaning “scrupulousness” or “devotedness”. It was used in Western antiquity to distinguish a class of practices that were often linked by taboos and commitments to gods or the community. In the modern era, the concept of religion has come to be used as a taxon for social types, and this use has raised two philosophical issues that are likely to arise for other abstract concepts that sort cultural forms, such as “literature” or “democracy”.
The first issue concerns the notion that there is something intrinsically universal about the practice of religion. Those who have worked on the theory of religion have generally been inclined to argue that there is no need to treat religion as a pan-human phenomenon, and that, in any case, the definitions of what is or is not a religion are arbitrary.