Essentialism or an Anthropological Approach: The Role and Function of the Scientific Study of Religion in a Historical Perspective

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The study of religion has its historical origin in the confessional education of religious functionaries, which has influenced the structuring of the study. The order of the topics studied has been, as a rule, first, languages relevant for the study of the normative texts, then the interpretation of these texts, followed by the historical development within the religion, its doctrines (systematic theology), and its practical application (ethics, practical theology). This order of the study is very relevant for priests, pastors, and preachers. It has a certain normative purpose. But it is problematic when the same structure is followed in the empirical study, description, and analysis of how religious tradition is selected and functions in the contemporary, modern, globalized society. A more appropriate structuring is a combination of psychological, sociological, and political approaches, taking into account that religions constitute very changing phenomena, that religious belonging is only one of an individual's many "identities," and that religious leaders and their pronouncements are not very representative for the actual functions of religion for the individual, the society, and the political life. The problematic is illustrated by a number of doctoral dissertations from the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Philosophy, Ethics and Religion


  • accommodation, authority, comparative religion, discourse, essentialism, flow, function of religion, ideology, knowledge, norms, perception, prognostic value, Schleiermacher, societal changes, structure of the, study of religion
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)301-320
Issue number2-3
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Publication categoryResearch

Bibliographic note

The information about affiliations in this record was updated in December 2015. The record was previously connected to the following departments: Centre for Theology and Religious Studies (015017000)