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Religion in Five Minutes

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Religion in Five Minutes provides an accessible and lively introduction to the questions about religion and religious behaviour that interest most of us, whether or not we personally identify with -- or practice -- a religion. Suitable for beginning students and the general reader, the book offers more than 60 brief essays on a wide range of fascinating questions about religion and its study, such as: How did religion start? What religion is the oldest? Who are the Nones? Why do women seem to play lesser roles in many religions? What’s the difference between a religion and a cult? Is Europe less religious than North America? Is Buddhism a philosophy? How do we study religions of groups who no longer exist? Each essay is written by a leading authority and offers succinct, insightful answers along with suggestions for further reading, making the book an ideal starting point for classroom use or personal browsing.

Published: Aug 21, 2017

Book Contributors

Section Chapter Authors
Preface Aaron Hughes, Russell McCutcheon
1. Is everyone religious? Russell McCutcheon
2. Where does the word religion come from? David McConeghy
3. What does it take for something to be classified as a “religion”? Robyn Walsh
4. Can sports be a religion? Russell McCutcheon
5. What is the difference between religion and mythology? Russell McCutcheon
6. What is the difference between religion and philosophy? Nathan Dickman
7. What is the difference between a religion and a cult? Jason Blum
8. Do all religious adherents believe in the concept of a higher power? Steven Ramey
9. Do all religions have sacred books? Russell McCutcheon
10. Do all religions have miracles? Russell McCutcheon
11. How did religion start? Nickolas Roubekas
12. What is the function of religion? Rick Moore
13. What’s the difference between rituals and habits? Russell McCutcheon
14. Can I be spiritual but not religious? Michael Stausberg
15. Is atheism, or secularism, just another religion? Craig Martin
16. Why is religion so often involved in politics? Ian Alexander Cuthbertson
17. What is the oldest religion? Vaia Touna
18. How many religions are there? Michael Altman
19. How does religion spread and what is its appeal? Sarah Dees
20. Why do so many people believe that only one religion can be right? Nathan Dickman
21. If everyone worships a god, why are there so many distinctions in religions? Leslie Smith
22. Do people actually believe in their religious practices because they want to, or because of how they were raised? Nathan Colborne
23. Can people belong to more than one religion? Ann Taves
24. Who are the ‘Nones’ and why are they so important? Mike Graziano
The Religions
25. Are there any religions that do not have official leaders? Jason Ellsworth
26. Is it true that women play a lesser role in most religions? Leslie Smith
27. Why do women in some religions cover up their faces, or even their whole bodies? Leslie Smith
28. Why do people fight so much over their religious beliefs? Craig Martin
29. Is there a large difference between the main religions or do they just have minor variations on the same overall idea? Steven Ramey
30. Is Voodoo really a religion? Emily Crews
31. Why did Romans basically copy the Ancient Greek religion? Roger Beck
32. Is Satanism a religion? Nathaniel Morehouse
33. Who wrote the Bible? Steven Young
34. Do Jews believe in the afterlife? Aaron Hughes
35. Why don’t Jewish people believe that Jesus was the Messiah? Sheldon Steen
36. What are the main differences between Protestantism, Catholicism, and Greek Orthodoxy? Vaia Touna
37. Why did St. Paul write all those letters? Pat Hart
38. Why do some Christians use snakes in their worship? Brad Stoddard
39. What is “speaking in tongues”? Jennifer Eyl
40. Is it true that religions outside of Christianity have stories of a virgin mother, crucifixion, etc.? Robyn Walsh
41. Why do some Christians not acknowledge evolution? Arthur McCalla
42. Are Mormons Christians? Linh Hoang
43. What is biblical archaeology? Aaron Hughes
44. Is Europe less religious than North America? Julie Ingersoll
45. Were African slaves forced to become Christian when they got to plantations? Sarah Dees
46. Why are there so many radical Muslims in the world today? Matt Sheedy
47. What is the difference between radical and non-radical Muslims in terms of the types of Islam? Mushegh Asatryan
48. What does jihad really mean? Mushegh Asatryan
49. Are there similarities between Judaism, Christianity and Islam? Aaron Hughes
50. Is Sufism part of Islam? Aaron Hughes
51. What are the main differences between Sunni and Shia Islam? Aaron Hughes
52. Is there anything “African” about African American religion? Emily Crews
53. Are Eastern religions as connected to violence as Western religions seem to be? Jason Ellsworth
54. Do Native Americans worship nature? Sarah Dees
55. Is yoga religious? Steven Ramey
56. What is shamanism? Suzanne Owen
57. Is being a vegetarian a religious thing for some people? Jason Ellsworth
58. Isn’t Buddhism more of a philosophy than a religion? Nathaniel Morehouse
59. Why do the statues of Buddha sometimes depict him as being overweight? Kendall Marchman
60. I’ve heard the founder of Buddhism was Hindu—so how did the one develop form the other? Travis Webster
61. Are religions in Asia all connected in some way? Kendall Marchman
The Study of Religion
62. Where did the study of religion come from? Michael Stausberg
63. Who was the first scholar of religion? Michael Stausberg
64. Why is it important that we study religion? K. Merinda Simmons
65. Is there a difference between religious studies and theology? Jason Blum
66. What is exegesis? Aaron Hughes
67. What do you do when you do fieldwork in religion? Russell McCutcheon
68. In what ways can religion be legally discussed in US public schools? Mike Graziano
69. Do scholars of religion study texts or do they study the religion firsthand, like an anthropologist might? Richard Newton
70. Is it possible to study religion academically and still be religious? Richard Newton
71. Does the academic study of religion deny the existence of god? Blair Gadsby
72. Should the study of religions be mandatory in US schools? Julie Ingersoll
73. How do you study the religions of cultures that no longer exist? Vaia Touna
74. What is the cognitive science of religion? Robyn Walsh
75. Is the study of religion related to other academic disciplines? Jennifer Eyl
76. Why do we need the study of religion if we already have historians, anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists and folklorists? Paul-Francois Tremlett
77. Can’t I just learn about religion in my church, mosque, or temple? Brent Smith
78. Can one study one’s own religion objectively? Rebekka King
79. What is this CE and BCE dating system that I’ve seen used throughout this book? Aaron Hughes
The Future
80. What is the future of “religion”? Russell McCutcheon
81. What is the future of religion? Aaron Hughes
End Matter
Index Aaron Hughes


Religion in Five Minutes is an excellent collection of the questions so many people have but never dare to ask—journalists, policymakers, practitioners, and, yes, also students of religion. The answers given by well-known experts in the field are straight to the point, candid, and accessible. Browsing through this book will make readers eager to spend more than five minutes on the fascinating and enigmatic thing we call 'religion'.
Kocku von Stuckrad, Professor of Religious Studies, University of Groningen, the Netherlands

Religion in 5 Minutes presents a new way to gain a comprehensive grasp of the complex and fascinating field of Religious Studies. By answering 81 sincere and direct questions of students in short, eloquent texts devoid of jargon, the book makes decades of academic research and theory accessible to everyone. Here is a text that will not only be very useful to beginning students but will also help scholars and researchers explain their work more precisely and effectively.
Naomi Goldenberg, Professor of Classics and Religious Studies, University of Ottawa

At last! At last! The perfect resource I never dreamed of having in one convenient place has come along. I get dozens of these questions each time I teach a class, and now I have an informative, scholarly, reliable source that also happens to be thoroughly inviting to students. I plan to assign this book in both introductory and more advanced courses. This is hands down a ‘must-have’ for every Religious Studies department but, more importantly, every school, hospital or healthcare center, government office and definitely newsroom should have a copy on hand. Beautifully executed and brilliantly conceived, this is so much more than simply a handbook. Each article also provides a robust springboard into higher-level meta-conversations about why students are asking these particular questions and how and why they (and many others) frame ‘religion’ in the manner that they do.
Sarah McFarland Taylor, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Northwestern University