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Social Studies

What Is Religion, Anyway?

In this one-time course, students will discuss the concept of "religion" from a secular, academic perspective.
55 minutes
per class
Meets once
year olds
learners per class
per learner

How does a "One-Time" class work?

Meets once at a scheduled time
Live video chat, recorded and monitored for safety and quality
Great for exploring new interests and different styles of teachers

How Outschool Works

Available Times

Pacific Time

Wed, Sep 28

Meet once (1 day)
6:00 – 6:55 AM

Wed, Sep 28

Meet once (1 day)
1:00 – 1:55 PM
Don't see a time that works for you?


Class Experience

Students will improve their critical thinking skills and widen their understanding of world religions.
I have a PhD in Religion. This course is based on an activity I have led students in at Georgetown University, Syracuse University, and LeMoyne College. 
There will be a handout students can print out before the class if they wish to do so. Students should also have paper and pen/pencil to write during the class.
55 minutes per week in class, and maybe some time outside of class.
Parents should note this is a secular course, NOT a theology class and students must be respectful of a wide range of ideas about religion. 

We will refer to a list of definitions of religion that includes the following:


Emile Durkheim
". . . a unified set of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden, - beliefs and practices which unite [into] one single moral community, all those who adhere to them . . ." 

Clifford Geertz
 ". . . (1) a system of symbols which acts to (2) establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by (3) formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and (4) clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that (5) the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic . . ."

J. Van Baal and W.E.A. Van Beek
 ". . . all explicit and implicit notions and ideas, accepted as true, which relate to a reality which cannot be verified empirically . . ."

Paul Tillich
 ". . . the state of being grasped by an ultimate concern . . ." 

J. Z. Smith
". . . while there is a staggering amount of data, phenomena, of human experiences and expressions that might be characterized in one culture or another, by one criterion or another, as religion — there is no data for religion. Religion is solely the creation of the scholar’s study. It is created for the scholar’s analytic purposes by his imaginative acts of comparison and generalization. Religion has no existence apart from the academy . . ."

Karl Marx
" . . . the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people . . ."

Alfred North Whitehead
". . . what the individual does with his own solitariness . . ."

Robert Bellah
". . . a set of symbolic forms and acts that relate man to the ultimate conditions of his existence . . ."

Peter Berger
 ". . . the human enterprise by which a sacred cosmos is established . . ."

Charles Long
". . . For my purposes religion will mean orientation-orientation in the ultimate sense, that is, how one comes to terms with the ultimate significance of one’s place in the world . . ."

David V. Barrett
 ". . . a social construct encompassing beliefs and practices which enable people, individually and collectively, to make some sense of the Great Questions of life and death . . ."

Scholarly Sources Used to Prepare this Activity:

Berger, Peter L. The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion. Garden City, N.Y. :Doubleday, 1967.

Boer, Roland. “Religion is the Opium of the People.” Culture Matters. (Accessed 6 Sept 2022)

Carls, Paul. “Emile Durkheim.” The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (Accessed 6 Sept 2022).

Geertz, Clifford. “Religion as a Cultural System.” In Anthropological Approaches to the Study of Religion. London/New York, 1966.
(This can be read online at

Long, Charles H. Significations: Signs, Symbols, and Images in the Interpretation of Religion. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986.

Smith, Jonathan Z. Imagining Religion. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982.


Airen Hall
Lives in the United States
Lifelong learner and passionate teacher ready to explore the world with you!

About Me

I'm an arts & humanities girl at heart! I love reading and writing, learning about the world, and creating beautiful things. I teach a range of courses: history, writing, geography, art, the academic study of religion, and more. I am also open to... 
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