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Religious Studies

This guide provides an overview of resources for the academic study of religion.

Phenomenological Approach

Though it has been the subject of intense critique by many scholars, phenomenological approaches to religion—sometimes called "comparative" or "experiential" approaches—are nonetheless an important part of the history of the discipline in the secular academy. The approach considers religion to be an irreducible phenomenon existing transculturally and transhistorically.

Early representatives of the phenomenological approach include two figures from the nineteenth century, the German Protestant theologian Friederich Schleiermacher and the American  philosopher and psychologist William James.  They were followed in the early twentieth century by Protestant theologian Rudolf Otto, who developed a theory to account for the experience of the sacred.  Arguably the most significant figure in the phenomenological approach is Mircea Eliade, who was active later in the twentieth century.

The approach does not lack critics, however.  Richard King, for instance, offers an important critique of the phenomenological school of thought.  Another well known critic is Wayne Proudfoot.