User:LGreg/sandbox/Approaches to Knowledge (LG seminar 2020/21)/Seminar 18/History/History of religious studies

Defining religious studies edit

Seeing the variety and importance of religious beliefs and organizations around the world, we understand that religion has an important place in the lives of many people[1]. While the definition of "religion" is highly controversial, defining the study of religions is simpler. It is an academic field which seeks to explain religion in a neutral and objective way. According to the professor Russell T. McCutcheon of the University of Alabama, religious studies are an “anthropological enterprise” that is “primarily concerned with studying people, their beliefs, behaviors, and institutions”[2].

History of religious studies as a discipline edit

If people's interest in religion goes back a long time, studying religion is rather new. The modern study of religion began in the 19th century when the aim was to understand the nature and function of religion. At that time, most of the teachers taught subjects such as “the comparative study of religion” or “the history of religion”. They did not consider themselves as teachers of religious studies because their teaching focused on subjects related to religion but not centred on it[3]. If the interest was firstly about Western-Christianity, they gradually became interested in the study of others religions and non-Western religious texts[4].

During the second half of the 20th century, religious studies became a major academic field. In 1949, it was finally considered as a distinct subject when Geoffrey Parrinder became a lecturer in Religious Studies at the University College Ibadan[5]. The discipline then becomes common and in 1964, the American Academy of Religion was formed in order to gather scholars of this field and foster the study of religion. Indeed, this discipline lost popularity at the end of the 20th century, which is often attributed to the difficulty of teaching this subject in view of its interdisciplinary approach and multicultural perspective.

Future of the discipline edit

The study of religions seems to be moving towards a more multidisciplinary approach to the problems it raises to favor the utilitarian aspects of the discipline. The emergence of new religious movements is pushing the discipline to evolve which enhanced its popularity and thus suggests that it will increase.

References edit

  1. Fagan P. Why Religion Matters: The Impact of Religious Practice on Social Stability [Internet]. The Heritage Foundation. 1996 [cited 16 October 2020]. Available from:
  2. McCutcheon R. What is the Academic Study of Religion? – Religious Studies [Internet]. 2020 [cited 17 October 2020]. Available from:
  3. Capps W. Religious studies. Minneapolis: Fortress Press; 1999.
  4. Segal R. Study of religion - History of the study of religion [Internet]. Encyclopedia Britannica. 2020 [cited 18 October 2020]. Available from:
  5. Fagan P. Why Religion Matters: The Impact of Religious Practice on Social Stability [Internet]. The Heritage Foundation. 1996 [cited 18 October 2020]. Available from: