Professor Andrew Dawson
BA Hons (Manchester), STM (Chicago), MA (Liverpool), DPhil (Oxford)
Why study religion? Well, there’s no better time to study religion than our current period. Despite popular opinion and the supposed secularization of modern society, the religious landscape is buzzing with issues, developments and debates which touch on the heart of what it means to be human in our increasingly industrialised, technologically advanced and globally connected world. From new and alternative religions, through indigenous traditions to religious fundamentalisms, the contemporary religious terrain is awash with things to study, engage and puzzle over.
My approach to teaching religion uses what is often termed an ‘agnostic methodology’. First and foremost, this approach makes no assumptions about those who study religion. Agnostic, atheist or believer can equally engage in the academic study of religion. Second, this approach does not aim to establish truth or falsity but concerns itself with analysis and reflection upon the beliefs, practices and contexts which combine to form a religious worldview. Through this approach, I encourage religious believers to reach a point of critical distance from which they can study religion in a manner which meets prevailing academic standards and disciplinary expectations. At the same time, I encourage those of an agnostic or atheistic persuasion to reach a point of empathetic understanding from which they are able to engage religion with an awareness of and appreciation for its beliefs, practices, contexts and human followers. In short, whatever your background, commitments and concerns, if you’re open to developing the critical empathy needed to get the most out of studying religion, then you’re ready to delve into this vibrant and interesting subject.