Religious studies

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Examples of symbols with religious connotations, from left to right
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Christianity , Judaism , Hinduism
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Islam , Buddhism , Shinto
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Sikhism , Bahaitum , Jainism

The science of religion is a spiritual science or cultural studies , the religion explored empirically, historically and systematically. In doing so, she deals with all concrete religions, religious communities, world views and ideologies as well as narratives of the past and present with religious connotations.

Their sub-disciplines include for example the comparison of religions or -komparatistik, the history of religion , phenomenology of religion , sociology of religion , psychology of religion , anthropology of religion , religion economy , Religionsgeographie u. a. There are points of contact with university theology in all theological areas: ecclesiastical, exegetical , systematic and practical. The subject of study in religious studies is also the internal systematics of various religions. New approaches are, for example, the so-called “applied” ( Wolfgang Gantke ) and “practical religious studies” ( Udo Tworuschka ).

What exactly "religion" is or what is defined as "religious" could only be determined provisionally so far (see definition of religion ). Religious studies usually work with working definitions ( heuristics ) that are tailored to their respective issues .

In German-speaking countries, the subject is often defined in more detail by attributes such as “general” or “comparative” and is often associated with the discipline of the history of religion. For example, the umbrella organization of religious scholars in Germany called itself the “German Association for the History of Religion” for 50 years and was renamed the German Association for Religious Studies (DVRW) in 2005 .

Religious studies research levels

Religious studies do not investigate the content of belief on the factual level, for example the search for transcendent truth . It arranges, classifies, compares and analyzes the manifestations and elements of different religions or religious narratives. Religious history work as well as qualitative and quantitative methods (e.g. through field research ) are essential foundations for this. Subsequent comparisons and analyzes are z. B. carried out with interdisciplinary methods; this includes cultural-theoretical , religious-sociological and religious-psychological approaches to the material.

On the other hand, religious philosophy and theology of religion are expressly not part of religious studies, as they contain normative elements. The philologies of languages ​​in which religious writings are written or in which religious life takes place play a major role ; for example, Greek , Latin , Semitic , Arabic , Sinology , cuneiform research , Indology . In addition, subjects that specialize in a single religion or a certain cultural area (often identical to the corresponding philologies) are important: Celtology , Judaism , Buddhist studies , Islamic studies , African studies , oriental studies , Tibetology .

Other subjects that are in interdisciplinary exchange with religious studies are history , archeology , folklore , ethnology / ethnology , anthropology and other cultural studies . Against the background of religious conflicts, there are also relationships to political science and questions of peace and conflict research . Neuroscience disciplines have also played a role since the 1990s .

Religious systematics are fundamentally part of the subject, not the method of religious studies. In the context of controversial approaches such as practical or applied or intercultural religious studies, religious actors also play a role as dialogue partners. At the same time, Christian theologies - like many other disciplines - use methods of religious studies as far as research into their historical foundations is concerned. As far as religious studies are located in theological faculties, it is often viewed as an auxiliary discipline in the sense of missiology , (comparative) religious history or in the service of universal theology.

One research focus at Heidelberg University is "Material Religion". The theoretical concept of "material religion" asks how religion materializes. This perspective looks at much more than just religious objects such as pictures, statues, religious everyday objects, cult facilities and buildings, or amulets and talismans. The approach of material religion is, in a much broader sense, about researching how religion occurs on a material level: The focus of attention is on the interactions between religious objects and environmental settings on the one hand and the actors on the other. The embodiment of religion in actions and rituals as well as the event of religion as a result of specific aesthetic, social, habitual and cognitive arrangements are examined.

Discipline history

Religious research in the religious studies sense arose during the modern Enlightenment , especially in England, the Netherlands, Germany and Scandinavia. The term was introduced by Friedrich Max Müller through his work Introduction to the science of Religion (1873), German edition: Introduction to Comparative Religious Studies (1874). It was not until the beginning of the 20th century that it established itself as an independent subject at universities ; in Germany for the first time in 1912 with the establishment of the Institute for Religious Studies in Leipzig. At first it was taught and operated in theological faculties . This goes back to the rector's speech by Adolf von Harnack in 1901. The first professor was the future Archbishop of Sweden and Nobel Peace Prize winner Nathan Söderblom .

The crisis of historicism after the First World War resulted in an appreciation of the history of religion as access to “universal” basic human characteristics. These were sought using approaches from the phenomenology of religion (see, for example, Rudolph Otto , Mircea Eliade ), but today they are considered deconstructed within the discussion of religious studies. From the problematization of the classical comparison of religions and the associated universalism of the definition of religion , the negotiation of the theory and methodology of religious studies , which continues to this day, has grown. In most universities it is therefore taught as a science that is independent of the theologies, which has resulted in its entry into the philosophical and cultural studies faculties.

Method of religious studies

In general, several lines of tradition can be identified within the existing religious studies. According to Hamid Reza Yousefi , they can be divided into two lines, which basically give different answers to the question of what religious studies is and what is not, a phenomenological and a philological direction. While religious phenomenologists do not disclose the category of the sacred and in fact practice a religious science of understanding, philologically oriented religious scholars distance themselves from this methodical form of activity and adhere to religious studies as a "pure" science. In order to reconcile these lines, Yousefi developed the concept of an intercultural study of religion. He is concerned with "the social mission of religious studies" and the answer to the question "why religious studies at all". He suggests a pluralistic combination of methods in which hermeneutic and empirical orientations interlock and build on one another.

A discourse-theoretical or genealogical approach according to Michael Bergunder is also possible. Building on discussions of semiotics and poststructuralism (see Michel Foucault , Ernesto Laclau ), Eurocentrism is assumed for the term “religion” and this term is examined in the context of a global history of interdependence ( orientalism , postcolonialism ).

Study of religious studies


In the last few years several centers for interdisciplinary research on religion have emerged in Germany. Religious studies can currently be used as an independent discipline. a. be studied at the universities of Bayreuth, Berlin (Free University), Bochum , Bremen, Erfurt, Frankfurt, Göttingen, Hamburg, Hanover, Heidelberg , Jena , Leipzig, Marburg, Münster, Munich, Potsdam and Tübingen. There are the following degrees in the subject:

In German university policy, religious studies is classified as a minor subject .


In Austria, religious studies can be studied in Vienna, Graz, Salzburg and Linz. In Graz it has been possible since the 2006/07 winter semester to complete a Master of Arts degree in religious studies, in Salzburg since the 2016/17 winter semester. In Vienna, the Catholic-Theological Faculty of the University has been offering this in cooperation with the Evangelical-Theological Faculty and other faculties since the winter semester 2008/09. The Master’s degree in Religion in Culture and Society at the Catholic Private University in Linz, which has existed since the 2015/16 winter semester , also focuses on religious studies.


Religious studies at Swiss universities is currently being expanded significantly. Religious studies with a German or French-language Bachelor's or Master's degree can be studied in Basel (German), Bern (German), Freiburg (German / French), Geneva (French), Lausanne (French), Lucerne (German). ) and Zurich (Ger.).

See also



  • Michael Bergunder : What is religion? Cultural studies considerations on the subject of religious studies . In: Zeitschrift für Religionswissenschaft 19, de Gruyter 2011, pp. 3–55.
  • Johann Figl (Hrsg.): Handbuch Religionswissenschaft. Religions and their central themes . Tyrolia / Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Innsbruck / Göttingen 2003, ISBN 3-7022-2508-0 .
  • Natalie Fritz u. a .: Visible religion. An introduction to religious studies . DeGruyter, Berlin 2018, ISBN 978-3-11-053670-6 .
  • Hans-Jürgen Greschat: What is religious studies? Kohlhammer, Stuttgart / Berlin / Cologne / Mainz 1988, ISBN 3-17-010023-8 .
  • Klaus Hock: Introduction to Religious Studies . Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 2002, ISBN 3-534-15081-3 .
  • Michael Klöcker, Udo Tworuschka (ed.): Practical religious studies. A manual for study and work (= UTB. 3165). Cologne / Weimar / Vienna 2008.
  • Axel Michaels (ed.): Classics of religious studies. From Friedrich Schleiermacher to Mircea Eliade . Beck, Munich 1997, ISBN 3-406-42813-4 .
  • Kristin Purfürst: Centers for Interdisciplinary Religious Research in Germany. In: Michael Klöcker, Udo Tworuschka (Hrsg.): Handbuch der Religionen (HdR). Loose-leaf publication with four additional deliveries per year, Landsberg / Munich since 1997, EL 27, 2011, Chapter I-9.3.
  • Michael Stausberg (Ed.): Religious Studies . de Gruyter, Berlin 2012.
  • Fritz Stolz : Fundamentals of Religious Studies (=  Uni-Taschenbuch . No. 1980 ). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2001, ISBN 3-8252-1980-1 .
  • Udo Tworuschka : Religious Studies . In: Ulrich Becker, Udo Tworuschka (Ed.): Ecumenism and religious studies . Calwer, Stuttgart 2006, ISBN 3-7668-3991-8 .
  • Udo Tworuschka: Religious Studies. Trailblazer and classic (= UTB. 3492). Cologne / Weimar / Vienna 2011.
  • Udo Tworuschka: Introduction to the History of Religious Studies. Darmstadt 2014.
  • Henning Wrogemann : Religious Studies and Intercultural Theology . Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, Leipzig 2020, ISBN 978-3-374-05492-3 .
  • Hamid Reza Yousefi (Ed.): Paths to the study of religion. An intercultural orientation: aspects, basic problems, supplementary perspectives . Traugott Bautz, Nordhausen 2007, ISBN 978-3-88309-376-5 .
  • Hartmut Zinser (Ed.): Religious Studies. An introduction . Dietrich Reimer Verlag, Berlin 1988, ISBN 3-496-00935-7 .
  • Hartmut Zinser: Basic questions in religious studies . Schöningh, Paderborn 2010, ISBN 978-3-506-76898-8 .

reference books

  • HD Betz et al. (Ed.): Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart (= concise dictionary for theology and religious studies. 8 volumes, 1998-2005). 4th edition. Mohr-Siebeck, Tübingen, ISBN 3-16-146941-0 .
  • John Bowker (Ed.): The Oxford Lexicon of World Religions . Fischer-Taschenbuch-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2003, ISBN 3-596-15740-4 (English: The Oxford dictionary of world religions . Translated by Karl-Heinz Golzio, the translator has also noticeably edited the German edition).
  • Hubert Cancik , among other things (ed.): Handbook of basic concepts for religious studies . 5 volumes, 1988-2000. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart, Berlin, Cologne, ISBN 3-17-010531-0 .
  • Lindsay Jones et al. (Ed.): Encyclopedia of Religion . 2nd, completely new edition. 15 volumes. Macmillan Reference USA, Thomson Gale, New York, u. a. 2005, ISBN 0-02-865733-0 .
  • James Hastings : Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics. T&T Clark, Edinburgh 1908.

Web links

Wiktionary: Religious Studies  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations




  1. a b Michael Bergunder: What is religion? Cultural studies considerations on the subject of religious studies. In: Christoph Auffarth et al (Ed.): Journal for Religious Studies . No. 19 . de Gruyter, Berlin 2011, p. 3-55 .
  2. ^ Material religion. In: Institute for Religious Studies. Heidelberg University, February 19, 2020, accessed on February 23, 2020 .
  3. ^ Adolf von Harnack: The task of the theological faculties and the general history of religion. Speech at the memorial ceremony of the founder of the Berlin University King Friedrich Wilhelm II. In the auditorium of the same on August 3, 1901 given by Adolf Harnack. Berlin 1901. Reprinted in: speeches and essays. Volume 2. Giessen 1905. pp. 159-178.
  4. Hans G. Kippenberg: The discovery of the history of religion. Religious Studies and Modernity. CH Beck, Munich 1997, p. 183-187 .
  5. ^ Hugh B. Urban: Making a Place to Take a Stand: Jonathan Z. Smith and the Politics and Poetics of Comparison. In: Method & Theory in the Study of Religion . No. 12 . Brill, Leiden 2000, p. 339-378 .
  6. Hamid Reza Yousefi: Intercultural Religious Studies . In: Hamid Reza Yousefi et al (ed.): Paths to the study of religion. An intercultural orientation. Aspects, basic problems, additional perspectives. Traugott Bautz, Nordhausen 2007, p. 21-48 .
  7. ^ Institute for Religious Studies. Heidelberg University, February 18, 2020, accessed on February 23, 2020 .
  8. Religious Studies - Theological Faculty. Retrieved November 22, 2016 . Student Council for Religious Studies Jena. Retrieved February 17, 2010 .
  9. see page of the small subjects for religious studies, with an overview of the specialist locations
  10. Comparative Cultural and Religious Studies (BA). Retrieved May 15, 2018 .
  11. BA cultural studies with a focus on religion. Retrieved May 15, 2018 .
  12. Small subjects: religious studies on the Kleine Fächer portal , accessed on April 23, 2019.
  13. ^ Religious Studies Salzburg. Retrieved January 21, 2017 .
  14. Study courses at the Catholic Private University Linz. Retrieved February 28, 2018 .