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Why not ‘World Religions’?
Why not ‘World Religions’?

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Why not ‘World Religions’?


You’ve probably heard the term ‘World Religions’. You may have come across it in documentaries, newspapers or textbooks. Perhaps you’ve even done a course at school or university called ‘Introduction to World Religions’, or something similar. The idea that there are five or six ‘major’ or ‘world’ religions is so common that it seems natural to us today.

But have you stopped to think about what it means? What makes something a World Religion? Why do we group some religions – almost always the same five – in this way?

In this short course, you’re going to do just that. You’ll look at the potential issues with classifying religions like this, and why scholars are increasingly moving away from talking about World Religions. You’ll even brainstorm a few alternative models.

Along the way, you should begin to get a new perspective on how our ideas about religion, and religions, are tangled up with lots of other ideas, and when those ideas change (like if one group has the right to dominate others) our ideas about religion can change too.

Interested in taking your learning further? You might find it helpful to explore the Open University’s Religious Studies courses and qualifications [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

Resources for teachers

There are discussion questions and a classroom activity suggested at the end of this course.