The Study of Religion Online


Religion studies is a field that examines the diverse beliefs, practices, and traditions of humankind. It includes a wide range of perspectives and topics, from theism to paganism, shamanism to feminism. Whether you’re an expert in the subject or a curious newcomer, online learning offers many ways to explore the study of religion.

The word religion comes from Latin religio, a notion roughly equivalent to “scrupulousness” or “devotedness.” In western antiquity and in many other cultures, this feeling of devotedness or scrupulousness may have been associated with taboos, promises, curses, or even the threat of punishment. In some cases, such behavior was aimed at the gods; in others it was directed at other people.

Anthropologists, archaeologists, and paleontologists (those who study the culture and remains of prehistoric life) have found evidence of religious behavior dating back to the earliest periods of human existence. The anthropologist Mary Sullivan, for example, describes how Neanderthals carefully prepared and buried their dead—an activity that could be described as ritualized religious behavior.

While the scholarly study of religion has a long history, the modern configuration and institutional embodiment of the discipline are 20th century phenomena. Since that time, scholars have largely abandoned the classical assumption that a social kind has a specific essence. The study of religion has become increasingly polythetic in nature as one avoids the claim that any particular instance has a unique defining property that makes it distinct from all other instances.

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