SOAS University of London

Department of Religions & Philosophies, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

Introduction to the Study of Religions

Module Code:
Year of study:
Year 1
Taught in:
Full Year

This year long course introduces students to the academic study of religions by examining several theories of religion and the debates over the best methodologies for studying religions. We will begin by analysing the ideas published by some of the most influential thinkers in our field (e.g., Muller, Frazer, Tylor, Freud, Marx, Durkheim, Weber, Eliade, Geertz, Evans-Pritchard, among others) before moving on to assess the impact of the more recent introduction of gender-critical, postcolonial, postmodern, and poststructuralist approaches to the study of religions. The course will also provide an overview of some of the contemporary issues preoccupying the field, such as secularisation, the relationship between religion and politics, fundamentalism, postcoloniality, and the politics of knowledge production. Throughout the course, religion is approached as something polymorphic (i.e. it comes in many shapes and sizes) and multi-aspectual (presenting many different faces), woven into global and local life and thought as well as embodied in religious institutions, texts and images. The course integrates the exploration of different approaches, theories, methods, concepts and issues in the study of religions with the acquisition of undergraduate skills.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of the course, a student will:

  • have acquired a foundational knowledge and understanding of selected approaches, methods, theories and concepts in the Study of Religions;
  • Have a firm grasp of the key issues and debates (gender-critical approaches, postcoloniality, secularisation, postmodernism, etc.) pressing the contemporary academic field of Religious Studies;
  • be able to conduct academic research using books, journals, journal articles, websites and other sources of information relevant to religious topics including the theoretical ones studied in this course;
  • have acquired or enhanced undergraduate skills, in e.g. writing, critical thinking and argument;
  • have written in detail on at least two approved theoretical topics relevant to the course;
  • have engaged in balanced discussions on selected topics in tutorials;
  • have recorded and reflected upon her or his level of participation and extent of learning during the course.

Method of assessment

  • One essay (1,500 words) (15%)
  • One essay (3,000 words) (45%) 
  • Learning Journal (500 words x 4. 10% for each one = 40%) (Non Re-submittable)

Suggested reading

  • McCutcheon, Russell, ed. (1999) The Insider/Outsider Problem in the Study of Religions: A Reader, London and New York: Cassell.
  • Taylor, Mark, ed. (1998) Critical Terms for Religious Studies, Chicago and London: Chicago University Press.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules