Why Study Religion? with Dr. James Padilioni, Jr.

Why Study Religion? is a video series in which the CSR asks its faculty, students, staff, and guests what is important to them about the academic study of religion and why more folks should consider pursuing it. Find out more about the Center and its initiatives HERE. To learn more about OSU’s Religious Studies Major, visit our website at THIS LINK.

Why does Dr. James Padilioni, Jr., Professor of Religion at Swarthmore College, think it’s important to study religion? Watch the video below to find out!

And don’t miss the opportunity to hear Dr. Padilioni’s talk, “‘When the Consciousness we Know as Life Ceases’: Zora Neale Hurston’s Hoodoo Multiverse” at the CSR conference, “The End of Life and What Comes Next: Perspectives from Healthcare, History, Anthropology, and Religion,” March 31-April 1. For more details and registration, check out our conference website: go.osu.edu/dyingwellconference.

Transcript: The best way I can answer the question “Why Study Religion?” is just by telling you why I study religion. So, for me the study of religion comes down to a question about meaning but also meaningfulness, moreso than just meaning—meaningfulness being the whole potential that we discover for meaning, and meaningfulness abounds.

So, what is meaningfulness? When I think of that in three different dimensions, there is the cosmic sense of meaningfulness, thinking of cosmogony, or creation stories, origin stories, myths, all of those questions—cosmology—these cosmic sensibilities of meaning and meaningfulness and pattern, structure. And also mystery, which is a running corollary to meaningfulness in religion for me. It’s also about cultivating this sense of wonder and mystery around the inability for meaning to present itself all of the time to us.

But another sense of meaningfulness that I find in the study of religion is in social meanings and social meaningfulness, the patterns that we discover and then create and recreate in kinship and in other forms of social relations: friendships and communities we belong to and the feelings of belonging or feelings of ostracization or outsider. All of that can be part of the study of religion and understanding how shared sensibilities, “the group mind,” comes together and understands itself and creates itself and doesn’t always understand itself, doesn’t always seek to create itself as a community Again all of those understandings can be part of the study of religion.

And then the last dimension of meaningfulness that I find in the study of religion pertains to the interior self and the interior meaningfulness of our life, of our sense of self, who we are as persons, who we are as human beings, but also and more importantly who we are in our human becoming. I think all of that is accessible to students, especially when they are studying religion in college because there are so many questions that you’re going to have as a young person anyway that will be boiling up and pushing and resonating against some of those same questions of the interior meaningfulness, the patterns that we create in our everyday life, the everyday rituals and habits and friendships and other relationships and chosen kinship networks that we associate with.

We can study both or all from the cosmic to the social down through the interior person and out again in the religious studies classroom. So, I think that the study of religion really offers students a whole cosmos worth of wonder.


Have questions about our upcoming conference? Interested in sharing with us what brought you to the academic study of religion? Send us an email at religion@osu.edu!

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