No one is unaffected by religion. That is why religion research papers are often assigned in courses at the college level that range from world history to religious studies. People’s actions around the globe are affected by religion and their religious beliefs. The ascetic anchorite who leaves society and attempts to live his/her life wholly in conformity with the will of God is an obvious example of the way in which religion can affect a life. But even the most worldly, urbane, and cynical of atheists cannot remain wholly beyond the influence of religion. For religion pervades everything around us. Ethical norms, aesthetic standards, modes of feeling and thought—in the formation and evolution of all of these, religion has played its role.
Religion reaches into all areas of life. In our own country, as in many others, religion mingles with politics. During the most recent presidential election an exit poll determined that there was a statistically significant correlation between church-going and support for George Bush: the Wall Street Journal reports that of those who stated that they attended church more than once a week, 63% voted for Bush; of those who stated that they never attended church, 61% voted for Gore (A6). Religion, even in the relatively secular West, plays an enormous role in politics. It plays an even greater role in such countries as Israel, Iran, Saudi Arabia, India, and Afghanistan.
A class in world religions is a valuable tool that can be used to understand differences in societies and in individuals as well. It is also, in my opinion, a valuable tool in reaching an understanding of oneself. It is a good thing for one to be exposed to a large and rich array of human beliefs; it enables one to see one’s own beliefs in a broader context.