Can religion be considered a category of analysis in academic investigations? The non-subjective sciences seem easy to excuse, while the arts seems easy to include. The middle that interests me are the various branches of social sciences.
Qualitative investigations have a number of different tools at their disposal. One popular approach is to view knowledge as a multi-faceted crystal (Richardson, 2003). This encourages an unlimited degree of personal reflection. In practice, researchers can either try to portray an issue's interesting complexity, they can probe a few different avenues of perspective, or they can boldly explain relevant factors. Picking relevant categories for analysis is a reflexive process. It is tied to the meaning the author and readers give to, and can make from, the category of investigation. However, some categories, more than others, tend to illuminate the trees hidden by the forest. I think religion is increasingly becoming one of these torches.
There is no question that religion is a fundamental aspect of human behaviour. There is also no question religious tendencies can produce their own substantial momentum. Somewhere between the product and the seed lies individual influence. During biographical investigations the utility of religion as a category is obviously graduated. However, the slope, while slippery in places, is usually not avoided. In organizational investigations, however, religion as a category of investigation is rare to non-existent. There are some exceptions (Demerath, Hall, Scmitt & Williams, 1998). Quasi-religious and para-religious views emerged investigating religion's soft boundaries. The company as a quasi-religious unit is an application of this investigation.
For religion to be an appropriate category of analysis in social science investigation, I believe, it should be limited to the level of group dynamics in an environment that has a robust culture, moralistic imperative and has demonstrated change resiliency. I believe formal education fits this bill quite nicely.
Demerath N., Hall, P, Schmitt, T., Williams, R. (1998). Sacred Companies: Organizational Aspects of Religion and Religious Aspects of Organization USA: Oxford Press.
Richardson, L. (2003). Writing: A method of inquiry. In N. Denzin & Y. Lincoln (Eds.)
Collecting and interpreting qualitative materials (pp. 499-541). USA: Sage.