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Understanding Religion

Let’s explore religion as a concept. Before sharing this definition, we ask that you reflect on your personal understanding of gender by answering the following questions:

  • Think of 5 – 10 things you notice in everyday life that is connected with religion. Examples could include churches, saying grace at meals, etc.).What do these things tell you about the communities we live in?

Religion can be many things to many people, but it can be defined as

1. the service and worship of God or the supernatural

2. commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance

3. a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices

Source: Merriam-Webster Dictionary

 Another distinction of religion that we should identify is a religious belief.

“A religious belief is defined as the attitude(s) toward a religion’s central articles of faith. One example of this is the Christian belief that Jesus is the son of God. While all religions have prescribed beliefs, not all individuals who identify with that religion adopt all of those beliefs. In 2020, 83% of the world’s population identified as following one of 12 major religions: Baha'i, Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Shinto, Sikhism, Taoism, and Zoroastrianism.”


The distinction between religion and religious belief is very important because it highlights the difference of religious thought within communities that share the same religious affiliation.

Let’s take some time to reflect on the religious belief below.

  1. How do your beliefs concerning religion affect your daily actions?
  2. What questions or thoughts do you have about other religions or religious beliefs?

This is not a list of resources but a guide for how to approach and use those resources to further your own education, understanding, and action.

Build your knowledge on this term. - become more educated/informed about a social issue, a community of people, the historical roots of systemic inequality, how systems and institutions reflect and maintain racial and socio-economic hierarchies, theory, data, and storytelling about an issue


Take a few minutes to review the definitions found in the Key Terms below.


Read the article, “What Does Religion Mean to You?” by The Talon.


Watch the CUT video, How People Pray. (7:54)

Watch TED Talk What it's like to be a Muslim in America — Dalia Mogahed

When you look at Muslim scholar Dalia Mogahed, what do you see: A woman of faith? A scholar, a mom, a sister? Or an oppressed, brainwashed, potential terrorist? In this personal, powerful talk, Mogahed asks us, in this polarizing time, to fight negative perceptions of her faith in the media -- and to choose empathy over prejudice. (16:16)

Increase proximity or engagement - have more personal experiences with the social issue or community you are learning about which, for those of us this may mean going outside of our own segregated communities where these issues have not been visible.

Drake Major and Minor in Philosophy and Religion

Campus Fellowship (CF)

Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship

Christian Pharmacists Fellowship International (CPFI)

DU Bulldog Catholic


Interfaith at Drake*

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IV)*

Lutheran Student Fellowship

Movement Ministry

The Salt Company

Engage in critical and continuous reflection - creating meaning from the knowledge and proximity through critical thinking that explores one's personal experience of and role in systemic inequality as well as one's understanding of what change could look like and how to do it as an individual and in community with others

On-going learning (especially in groups) can be a form of ongoing action. How can you learn more about the thing you are interested in? For instance, if you learned about police brutality, can you find some history of that issue in the United States or wherever you are?

  • Can you take a free online class or attend a public event about that issue?
  • Can you find another book, movie, podcast, etc. to consume to increase your understanding?
  • Can you find people working on this and join their movement? Can you volunteer?

Want to lead a discussion on this topic? Find the Facilitator's Guide here!





Key Terms

Agnosticism - A belief that the existence of God cannot be proven; that in the nature of things the individual cannot know anything of what lies behind or beyond the world of natural phenomena.

Atheism - A nonbelief in, or the positive denial of, the existence of a God or gods

Interfaith dialogue -  Refers to cooperative, constructive, and positive interaction between people of different religious traditions (i.e., "faiths") and/or spiritual or humanistic beliefs, at both the individual and institutional levels. It is distinct from syncretism or alternative religion, in that dialogue often involves promoting understanding between different religions or beliefs to increase acceptance of others, rather than to synthesize new beliefs.

Morality - The rightness of an act. The terms “moral” and “immoral” apply to acts, especially to the judgment received from tradition regarding certain acts, behavior, and (in some cases) thoughts and intentions as wrong. Moral wrong means that individuals who violate relevant norms should feel guilt, be reprimanded, and, in many cases, be punished by religious or secular law. What tradition declares right and wrong, however, has ever been open to challenge. Thus, a distinction must be made between beliefs by some—even a majority—that certain acts are morally wrong and what nontraditionalists may believe. To many individuals what is “moral” or “immoral” is clear. Usually, though not necessarily, this certitude is grounded upon religious teachings. “Morality” is the basis that leaders of various groups cite in seeking to censor what others seek to see or hear.

Monotheism - A belief or doctrine that there is only one God; Monotheism is also opposed to all systems of moral dualism, asserting the ultimate supremacy of good over evil. The Jewish, Muslim, and Christian religions are strictly monotheistic.

Religion - A code of belief or philosophy that often involves the worship of a God or gods. Belief in a supernatural power is not essential (absent in, for example, Buddhism and Confucianism), but faithful adherence is usually considered to be rewarded.

Religious Freedom - Freedom of religion is the political and philosophical idea that citizens should be able to follow any religion—or no religion—as they choose. Although the phrase "freedom of religion" dates back only a few centuries, the idea of freedom of religion first blossomed after the Protestant Reformation in Europe.

Secularism - A philosophical movement indifferent to or opposing religion. Secularism argues for strict separation between religion and government, education, and the law. Secularism rejects special considerations for religious institutions and practices. The provenance of U.S. secularism is the First Amendment in the Constitution that declares, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." 

Separation of Church and State - A political theory concerning religion, articulated in 1802 by U.S. President Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson wrote a letter to the Baptist Association of Danbury, Connecticut, explaining that the “establishment clause” of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution democratically built “a wall of separation between Church and State.” Jefferson wrote, “religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God,” and “the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions.” In consequence, the state shall not establish a church, nor privilege a church in matters of legislation.

Superstition -  A belief is superstition if it is held in the face of strong counter-evidence, based on fear, or based on an inadequate amount of evidence.

Theism - A belief in the existence of gods, but more specifically in that of a single personal God, at once immanent (active) in the created world and transcendent (separate) from it

Theology - A study of God or gods, either by reasoned deduction from the natural world (natural theology) or through divine revelation (revealed theology), as in the scriptures of Christianity, Islam, or other religions

Toleration -  The enduring of that which is deemed wrong or disagreeable. Toleration is distinct from respect. A person may tolerate what he or she respects and deems socially important or a person may tolerate what she does not respect. An example of the former might be a society which tolerates (does not prosecute) pacifists on the grounds that it is good for persons to follow their conscience even if that conflicts with the majority decisions of the society. Alternatively, someone may respect what they do not tolerate. 

Pagan - Usually, a member of one of the pre‐Christian cultures of northern Europe, primarily Celtic or Norse, linked to the stone circles and to an agricultural calendar of which the main festivals are the summer and winter solstices and Beltane, the spring festival. The term was and often still is used as a dismissive phrase, signifying ignorance or 'primitive' religion. It can cover a range of activities, largely agricultural and closely associated with the veneration of nature.



Bahmueller, Charles F. “Morality,” Salem Press Encyclopedia, 2019. EBSCOhost.

Goldmeier, Harold, EdD. “Secularism,” Salem Press Encyclopedia, 2020. EBSCOhost.

"Interfaith dialogue," Wikipedia.  

“Freedom of Religion,” Salem Press Encyclopedia, 2019. EBSCOhost.

Marty, Elsa J., and Charles Taliaferro. Dictionary of Philosophy of Religion. Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd. EBSCOhost

The Hutchinson Dictionary of World Religions. Helicon Publishing and RM Education PLC, 2005. EBSCOhost


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