There is no doubt that many modern societies have become more secular, particularly over the last two centuries. But religion is still everywhere we turn: it persists in individual beliefs, in neighborhood communities, in the ethos of nations, and on a global scale. Religion remains a fundamental aspect of human experience.
Scholars differ about what religion is exactly, but most would agree that the vast majority of humankind participates in activities that we would call "religious." Even in "secular" societies like many European nations and the United States, religion still plays a profound role. In America, for example, a substantial majority of people (often over 90%, depending on the survey) proclaims a belief in God, and a significant majority participates in religious services on a regular basis. Political leaders in the United States often espouse their religious views openly, arguing that religion is an important part of the national ethos, and a significant portion of the voting public clearly supports this view. On another level, many people reject "religion" but call themselves "spiritual," which suggests that religious values (as interpreted by the individual) still play a significant role in many people's lives. Even in the secular Western world, religion remains a powerful social and cultural force, turning up everywhere, even in places where we least expect to find it.
In addition, the "modern West" is increasingly open to global influence, and we find that the rest of the world also takes religion very seriously. Encounters between cultures and religions take place everyday in businesses, schools, and neighborhoods. Wherever we turn, we confront a striking diversity of religious perspectives openly expressed in our multi-cultural world.
In response, religious studies has always attempted to promote understanding across cultural and national boundaries. These days, the ability to understand the religious beliefs of others is crucial for successfully making our way in life, no matter what path we choose.