Professor Ian Reader
BA (Reading), MA (Bristol), PhD (Leeds)
Religion is an important field of study anywhere. There are many debates over what ‘religion’ is (or is not) and there are many different ways of understanding the term. Yet in whatever forms it takes or however one tries to define it, issues of commitment, belief and practice play significant roles in shaping identities, creating divisions and sometimes fostering better human interactions, as well as influencing politics, social structures and much else. One cannot properly fathom the human condition and human world, or specific societies and cultures without understanding how, in what ways and why people are motivated by religious feelings.
Why, for example, do people travel long distances to visit a place that is said to be ‘holy’? Why do some people commit terrible acts of violence yet see this as legitimated by their religious beliefs or see their acts as being done on behalf of a religion? Religion is so intrinsic to the ways people act and the ways societies have developed that to ignore it is to reduce our knowledge of the human condition in all its often strange but always diverse ways.
One of the biggest problems I see in the UK today is that it has become increasingly monolingual and insular in attitudes. We need to broaden our outlook and know about the rest of the world, since it is often developing in ways that will shape our future. I believe we have to constantly challenge ourselves and be on the look-out for new ways to do so- whether changing jobs regularly, travelling, learning new languages, shifting one’s research focus, engaging with different groups of researchers and fields of study. The biggest threat to us in academic terms is the potential for complacency.