the study of comparative religion began with the Greek historian XENOPHANES in the sixth century B.C. when he observed that Thracians and Ethiopians both depicted their GODS after their own image. Although writers like SAINT AUGUSTINE made some acute observations on the differences between religions it was not until the THEORY of EVOLUTION gained popularity in the late nineteenth century that the serious study of comparative religion began. Under the influence of DARWIN, various scholars discovered what they believed to be evolutionary links between different religions. Max MULLER, E. B. TAYLOR and Sir James FRAZER were among the founders of the "new" science. In Britain the study of non-CHRISTIAN RELIGIONS tended to be linked to the needs of empire and had a more ANTHROPOLOGICAL bias than the theologically orientated Americans. In Germany it was the history of religions in an essentially evolutionary and HEGALIAN framework which predominated.
   During the 1960s comparative religion, renamed "RELIGIOUS STUDIES," became a popular course in many American universities and the great increase in Asian immigration encouraged this trend. At its crudest, comparative religion teaches that all religions are essentially equal and originate from one underlying reality. Thus the TEN COMMANDMENTS, SERMON ON THE MOUNT, the FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS of BUDDHISM and HINDU teachings derived from the BHAGAVAD-GTA are sometimes seen as being essentially the same.
   One fundamental problem for the more popular forms of comparative religion is that upon closer study the teachings of the major world religions are at least as different as they are similar. THERAVDA BUDDHISM presents a strong argument against the crudest forms of comparative religion because of its rejection of the importance of BELIEF in GOD, or Gods, and denial of the existence of an individual self. Similarly many religions, like ISLAM, do not separate religion and politics as JUDAISM and CHRISTIANITY do. The rise of new religious movements in Western society, often called CULTS, emphasizes the inter-connectedness of the world. Today, for the first time since the Roman Empire, Western Christians live in a religiously plural world. See
   E. J. Sharpe, Comparative Religion
   A History; Ninian Smart, Reasons and Faiths; H. G. Coward, Pluralism
   Challenge to World Religions; J. H. Bavinck, The Church Between Temple and Mosque; and Hendrik Kraemer, World Cultures and World Religions.

Concise dictionary of Religion. 2012.

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