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    Understanding religion’s purpose

    Dr. Hillary Rodrigues, professor and Chair of Religious Studies at the University of Lethbridge, is interested in how people answer the big questions — why are we here, what is our purpose and how do we lead meaningful lives?

    To find the answers, humans have long turned to religion. But more recently, Rodrigues says, a growing number of people in Western society are looking to a modern form of non-dual spirituality to provide meaning and direction in their lives.

    “Increasingly, people aren't raised with religion. They still have big questions, though. They want to go on a deep spiritual quest, but don't want to be involved in a particular religion,” says Rodrigues.

    Whereas dualism-based religions, such as Christianity and Islam, believe the world consists of two opposing forces — for instance, good versus evil — non-dual spirituality questions such distinctions. This concept, which has roots in the ancient Eastern religions of Hinduism and Buddhism, posits that everything in the universe is connected.

    From this perspective, people can free themselves of worry and disillusionment in two ways. First, by discovering the causes of individual desires and suffering, and second, by recognizing spiritual connections to other people, the planet and a higher power.

    While some researchers have studied the teachers of non-dual spirituality — one example is author Eckhart Tolle — Rodrigues is especially curious about the movement's seekers. With seed funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, he and his team of student research assistants have begun exploring why people are drawn to non-dual spirituality.

    The research, Rodrigues says, is enriching his knowledge of religion and its purpose. In turn, he's sharing those ideas with students in his classes and seminars.

    “It is not easy to conveniently pigeon-hole the human religious response,” Rodrigues says. “These are complex issues. My goal in examining religion is to explain it to others so we can better understand the world and each other.”

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