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Theories and Methods in the Study of Religion: Home

A research guide for those taking the introductory course in Religious Studies at NYU, or for those seeking to incorporate the academic study of religion into their research.


This online research guide is intended as an aid for those taking the course “Theories and Methods in the Study of Religion,” which is taught every fall by the Religious Studies Program at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and is a required course for an undergraduate major or for a master’s degree. This guide may also be helpful for those looking to connect their research in other disciplines to the study of religion as a social scientific category.

Need More Info?
Please see the above tabs for more information about various information and resources. Specific information is provided about the major approaches to religion—just select one of the approaches from the dropdown menu labeled "Approaches to Religion." You'll also find information about important dictionaries and encyclopedias, indexes, and browsable journals, as well tips for finding books and some suggestions for further reading.

Development of 'Religion'
“Theories and Methods in the Study of Religion” traces the development of the study of the phenomenon of religion as a social scientific category, from the Enlightenment to more contemporary approaches. Similarly, this research guide will provide resources to some of the most important themes, theories, and methods that have shaped the way religion has been understood and interpreted as an object of study in the West. Such frameworks include sociological, psychological, anthropological, and phenomenological approaches.

Defining and Redefining
The course—along with much scholarship on religion in the secular academy—proceeds from the assumption that religion is not a static entity with a universal definition, but rather is a term born of comparison and study, and one that is open to frequent reinterpretation, contestation, and redefinition. In his essay, “Religion, Religions, Religious,” eminent scholar Jonathan Z. Smith provides a history of the many ways in which the term "religion” has been defined and redefined. This essay can be found in Critical Terms for Religious Studies, edited by Mark Taylor, available both as an online reference material and as a physical book.



This research guide was authored by Fred Folmer, a graduate of the dual masters' degree program, with an M.A. in religious studies from NYU and an MLS from Long Island University.  Subsequent additions by Evelyn Ehrlich and W. Gerald Heverly, the current librarian for Religious Studies.  You can contact him at or (212) 998-2515.