History of Religions

The History of Religions, as an area of research, encompasses all religious traditions throughout history and until the present. Historians of religion may study ancient religious texts as well as contemporary rituals; interview religious practitioners; and analyse questions of power, identity, meaning-making, gender, sexuality, violence, and politics. As a field, History of Religions is thus characterised by its broad span. The subject often shares theories, material, and methods with a number of other disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, such as sociology, classics, history, comparative literature, anthropology, history of ideas, linguistics, and gender studies.

Historically, research in History of Religions has mainly focused on non-Christian traditions. Today, however, the subject can also encompass the study of various forms of Christianity. History of Religions distinguishes itself from adjacent fields within theology and religious studies primarily through a concern with comparative perspectives and terminological issues. The subject is also grounded in a non-normative approach. Historians of religion treat religious doctrines and practices as social constructions, without making any judgments as to their truthfulness or validity. Thus, historians of religion study religious worldviews, utterances, and traditions as historically situated phenomena, which develop in interaction with other aspects of human social and cultural life.

As an area of research, History of Religions is traditionally characterised by two main and sometimes overlapping currents, of which the first is philological or textually-oriented, and the second is anthropological, and focuses on religious practitioners rather than source texts. History of Religions at Uppsala University also encompasses a comparative and phenomenological tradition, which is maintained through collaborative discussions and publications centring on themes that are central to many religious traditions.

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