"What do we mean by 'religious thought'? Despite fairly widespread misperceptions to the contrary, religion is not the same thing as philosophy. That is, it is not exclusively a matter of understanding. Most of the time our religious identity is tied up in how we live our lives, the rituals we engage in, the holidays we celebrate, and the ways we comport ourselves in the world. Most religious people are not theologians; they are content to live with a less than complete understanding of the ideas or doctrines associated with their faith tradition. But sooner or later most of us come to a point when we wish to have a deeper understanding of the religious way of life we participate in. As often as not, this curiosity is stimulated by the need to justify or explain our faiths to others. Those are the times we turn to the expertise of religious thinkers whose role it is to take the religious tradition we are part of and 'make sense' of it, for ourselves and others.
Why Bother with Religious Thought?
"As citizens of a global village we regularly encounter people of different religious backgrounds than our own. They are our neighbors, our friends, perhaps even members of our extended families. We encounter different religious traditions in the news reports that stream into our homes, on the streets of our cities, and in our schools and places of work. Often something about those other religious traditions piques our curiosity, or becomes essential to making sense of an event in our world. At these times, too, we need the expertise of religious thinkers to help us understand the teachings of religious traditions other than our own.
"None of us can be full participants in our own traditions or be fully informed members of our new planetary society without a deeper understanding of the contents of our various traditions. It may even be that to live a fully engaged human life, we need to devote time to understanding what the very phenomenon of 'religion' itself is all about."