What is Religious Studies?

The term ''religious studies'' refers to the academic study of religion. The field of religious studies includes both comparing different religions and completing in-depth studies of a specific religion. Important aspects of religion that are part of a religious studies course include the religion's authoritative narrative, doctrines, rituals, structures or institutions, experiential components, and ethical tenets. Because of the pervasive nature of religious influence, religious studies frequently cross over into the territory of other academic disciplines, from archaeology, anthropology, and sociology to history, art, music, and architecture. Religious and cultural studies are closely linked; however, religious studies refer to a focused analysis of religion. Religious studies highlight individual religions and make comparisons between different religious systems.

A historical approach to religion, like an anthropological approach, studies the religious beliefs and rituals of a people group and the effects of these beliefs on their actions and broader societal characteristics. This is distinctly different from a theological approach to religion. While religious studies programs focus on the effect of religion on people, the theological study of religion is defined as the study of a god or gods. The theological study of religion seeks to discern the character, nature, and requirements of the religion's god.

Religious studies include the study of lost religions or religions with no living followers, such as some ancient religions found in historical documents. Religious studies also encompass currently active world religions. Students of religious studies often pursue graduate-level degrees as well. Potential career paths include clergy, charity administration, teaching, sociology, and media, among other options.

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Religious Studies Topics

Religious Studies Education Resources

Religious studies is a part of the social studies curriculum in many middle and high schools. In addition, most colleges offer a major in religious studies. For interested students, Study.com hosts a number of online resources, such as a college-level world religions course and humanities courses at both the college level and the elementary level. In addition, high school students can find study guides for the CLEP humanities test and the DSST world religions test. Pre-service teachers preparing for the MEGA social science test or the WEST humanities test can access specific subject-matter review modules.

For teachers, Study.com has a selection of lesson plans covering a broad range of world religions topics, as well as many other planning resources for social studies, humanities, or religious studies teachers.

Courses on the Study of Religion

The study of religion involves both comparative religious studies and the study of individual religions. Study.com has a college-level world religions course. Religious studies students also benefit from developing a broad understanding of the humanities. Study.com has online courses for both college and elementary students providing a comprehensive introduction to the humanities such as art, music, and architecture.

Religious Studies Test Prep for Teachers and Students

Religious Studies Test Prep

Students preparing to major in religious studies in college may choose to take examinations that provide them with course credit. The DSST Introduction to World Religions study guide provides an introduction to the study of religion and reviews key tenets of the world's major religions. Prospective teachers can also use Study.com's guides to prepare for important licensure exams such as the the MEGA Social Science tests. Test-takers will be well-prepared for these important tests after taking advantage of Study.com's preparation materials.

For Teachers

For teachers and parents

Religious Studies Education and Lesson Plans for Teachers

Elementary, middle, and high school teachers include various topics related to religious studies in their social studies curriculum. Study.com has a wide selection of lesson plans for teachers, focused on the various individual world religions. Available online teacher resources also include project ideas, essay ideas, and activities.

Lesson plans
  • World Religions Lesson Plans & Resources

    These lesson plans are designed for various grade levels and cover many religions such as Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Norse mythology. Resources include project ideas, essay prompts, and activities.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What can you do with a religious studies degree?

    A religious studies degree can lead to many possible career paths. Options include teaching, working within a place of worship, working with a religious charity organization, or working with the media. Some students who major in religious studies for their undergraduate degree go on to pursue other advanced degrees.

  • What is the difference between religious studies and theology?

    Religious studies focus on people and religion, exploring what people believe and how their beliefs affect their individual lives and the greater society. Theology, in contrast, is the study of a god or gods, including their character, nature, history, and requirements.

  • What do you learn in religious studies?

    Religious studies consider aspects of religion such as its history, beliefs, rituals, ethics, institutions, and guiding narrative. Religious studies programs include the study of both lost religions (with no living followers) and current world religions.

  • Is the study of religion a science?

    In religious studies, religions are studied in a systematic fashion, considering their attributes, their followers, and their effects on society. This objective study of religion can be considered a science and stands in contrast to the theological study of religion, which is the study of the character and attributes of one specific god within a religion.