Religious studies is the academic field of multi-disciplinary, secular study of religious beliefs, behaviors, and institutions. It describes, compares, interprets, and explains religion, emphasizing systematic, historically based, and cross-cultural perspectives.
While theology attempts to understand the nature of transcendent or supernatural forces (such as deities), religious studies tries to study religious behavior and belief from outside any particular religious viewpoint. Religious studies draws upon multiple disciplines and their methodologies including anthropology, sociology, psychology, philosophy, and history of religion.
Religious studies originated in the nineteenth century, when scholarly and historical analysis of the Bible had flourished, and Hindu and Buddhist texts were first being translated into European languages. Early influential scholars included Friedrich Max Müller, in England, and Cornelius P. Tiele, in the Netherlands. Today religious studies is practiced by scholars worldwide. In its early years, it was known as Comparative Religion or the Science of Religion and, in the USA, there are those who today also know the field as the History of religion (associated with methodological traditions traced to the University of Chicago in general, and in particular Mircea Eliade, from the late 1950s through to the late 1980s). The field is known as Religionswissenschaft in Germany and Sciences des religions in the French-speaking world.
The term “religion” originated from the Latin noun “religio”, that was nominalized from one of three verbs: “relegere” (to turn to constantly/observe conscientiously); “religare” (to bind oneself [back]); and “reeligere” (to choose again). Because of these three different meanings, an etymological analysis alone does not resolve the ambiguity of defining religion, since each verb points to a different understanding of what religion is. During the Medieval Period, the term “religious” was used as a noun to describe someone who had joined a monastic order (a “religious”). Despite this change in meaning, it is important to note the term “religion” is primarily a Christian term. Judaism and Hinduism, for example, do not include this term in their vocabulary.
List of Universities those offer religious courses
The Yale Department of Religious Studies – http://religiousstudies.yale.edu/
University of Virginia – Religious studies – http://religiousstudies.virginia.edu/
Memorial University – Department of Religious Studies http://www.mun.ca/relstudies/about/
University of Pennsylvania – Department of Religious Studies http://www.sas.upenn.edu/religious_studies/
Brown University – The Department of Religious Studies – http://www.brown.edu/academics/religious-studies/