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Cross-disciplinary courses are becoming more common in many tertiary institutions. This issue of CDTL Brief on Crossdisciplinary Teaching and Learning discusses issues that concern cross-disciplinary studies.

October 2006, Vol. 9, No. 5 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
Religion as a Heuristic Anchor: Studying the Various Interdisciplinary Approaches
Dr Julius Bautista
Visiting Fellow
Department of South East Asian Studies

XD2101 "Approaches to the Study of Religion" is a module that aims to introduce students to the history of religious studies through a review of the different ways religion has been understood and defined. Students are introduced to important writers associated with various disciplines in different weeks, and students must reflect on why different disciplines work in different ways.

My experience shows that most students enrolled in this module have fairly well-formulated opinions about religiosity, ranging from vehement faith to strong skepticism. Many students know that they are already 'part of' a religion, but few will have thought about religion as an academic enterprise. The first objective of XD2101, therefore, is to interrogate the very conditions by which 'religion' itself has been produced as a linguistic and discursive category in the academe. This involves, for example, examining the Judeo-Chr istian lineage of the term, and discussing whether or not a faith such as Buddhism or Hinduism can be situated within its discursive parameters.

The second main objective is to give students a straightforward introduction to the main features of social sciences disciplines thorough the lens of religion. The module is structured around a discussion of five or six individual theorists of religion, whose approaches to religion exemplify the wider disciplinary methodologies they employ. For example, we discuss Emile Durkheim and Max Weber according to their works on society and religion, as well as Sigmund Freud and James Frazer for psychology and anthropology respectively. Normally, the theorists studied in the module are 'founding fathers' of the discipline. It is an interesting part of the module to demonstrate that many disciplines in the social sciences, such as anthropology, philosophy and sociology, were founded by theorists who were very much concerned with religious topics.

The module, therefore, is by nature an interdisciplinary one. In addition to this, it is important to see the topic of religion as a common 'anchor' by which various social science methodologies can be compared with one another. The functionalist approach to religion by anthropologist Edward Tylor, for example, is contrasted with a view of religion as a case of universal neurosis, as exemplified by Sigmund Freud, or the focus on religion as societal cohesion exemplified by the work of sociologist Emile Durkheim. The fundamental basis by which the module is conceptualised is that 'religion' is an effective heuristic by which students can learn various disciplinary approaches and compare them with one another.

The module is a cross-disciplinary (XD) course that offers a foundation for the study of the world's religions. In this respect, it complements GEK1045 "Introduction to World Religions", a general knowledge (GEK) module taught in the first semester. The general aim of both the GEK and the XD modules (both foundational modules for a minor in religious studies) is to foster an academic environment in which students can learn and exchange ideas about religion in a spirit that is tolerant, open and lively. While the lectures and tutorials provide a basic, straightforward outline of each of the world's major faiths, the minor is designed so that students' personal ideas about religion can be brought to bear on current scholarship and research on religion.

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Religion as a Heuristic Anchor: Studying the Various Interdisciplinary Approaches
Teaching “Simplicity”
Cross-disciplinary Theories for Cross-disciplinary Teaching
Behavioural Studies in Real Estate: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Real Estate Education and Research