Religious Studies (Religionswissenschaft)
Religious Studies is an academic discipline on its own. It aims to scientifically understand and explain religions around the world both in past and present times.
Religious Studies is not theology, even though it is often mistaken for it. Often, there appears a fundamental misunderstanding, what Religious Studies is as discipline. Like theologies it focuses on religion - but it does so without any religious convictions and applies different methods and research questions. Religious Studies on the other hand focuses on the human and social dimension of religions. This academic discipline is not about proving the existence of god(s) and other transcendent beings or detecting and proclaiming the one and only true religion. Religious Studies is about a social-scientific understanding of religions.
In German, this discipline is called Religionswissenschaft, literally the ‘science of religion’. The objects of its research are empirical data obtained by a variety of academic approaches. Humanities, social sciences and even natural sciences provide methodological tools used in the Religious Studies research.
Religious Studies deals with religion as a social fact and part of human interaction. People believe (or do not believe) in a realm beyond and perform certain practices according to what they believe. These beliefs affect the social world; conversely, people’s social environment also affects what they believe (or do not) and how they act. The focus of Religious Studies is therefore on rituals, communities, politics, ideas, materials and techniques that form religions. It is the understanding of religion as a social fact – both in past and present – that makes it observable from a social-scientific perspective.