Transformation of Social Scientific Theories of Religion: Past, Present, Future



Theories of Religion are generalizations about religion, traditionally stemming from the broad field of the social sciences. Theorists maintain that they are in a position to account for religion wherever and whenever it appears by typically tracing the origins and/or function of religion. The former in most cases refer either to the historical (when, how, and why religion as a phenomenon first appeared in human history) or the recurrent origins (when, how, and why religion appears every time it does so in human history). The latter – which is by far the most common ones, especially after the nineteenth century – address what religion does either to the person(s) or to society as a whole. Usually, scholars of religion tend to focus on the founding figures of the study of religion (such as, F. Max Müller, E. B. Tylor, J. G. Frazer, Mircea Eliade, and others), covering a period between the seventeenth and the twentieth centuries. However, today scholars have indicated that a broad variety of theoretical approaches to religion have been developed and propagated throughout the world and from within a number of disciplines, from Women’s and Gender Studies to the Cognitive Study of Religion, with many historically underrepresented groups voicing new perspectives on and theories of religion as a phenomenon across time and space. Scholars collaborating in this cluster address this foundational topic in the academic study of religion from within an interdisciplinary outlook that is not hooked on modernist views alone but expands into and also employs postmodern perspectives broadly defined.

Affiliated and Contributing Scholars



Advisory Board:

  • Sarah J. Bloesch, Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA
  • Mitsutoshi Horii, Shumei University, Japan and Chaucer College Canterbury, UK
  • Aaron W. Hughes, Department of Religion and Classics, University of Rochester, USA
  • M. Cooper Minister, Department of Religion, Shenandoah University, USA
  • Lukas Pokorny, Department of Religious Studies, University of Vienna
  • Hans Schelkshorn, Department of Intercultural Philosophy of Religion, University of Vienna
  • Benjamin Schewel, Centre for Religion, Conflict and the Public Domain, University of Groningen, Netherlands, and Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, University of Virginia, USA
  • Kevin Schilbrack, Professor of Religious Studies and Department Chair, Appalachian State University, USA
  • Will Sweetman, Professor of Asian Religions, University of Otago, New Zealand