The study of religions focuses on the ethics and spiritual traditions of people as part of culture and society, both in the past and the present. Research in the field utilises the approaches and research methods of anthropology, history, cultural studies, psychology and sociology, among others. Research data can be collected by researchers themselves, based on interviews, surveys and field work. On the other hand, existing textual material is also used. Research methods vary from qualitative to quantitative.
The focus of the study of religions can be on, for example, rituals, texts and institutions, or contemporary questions of society and ethics, such as multiculturalism and environmental matters. The discipline does not rank religious groups, but produces scientific knowledge of traditions and phenomena related to religion, and increases understanding of religion as a complex concept that does not originate in any individual religious tradition.
Religion as a tradition
The study of religions specialises in past and present religious traditions throughout the world, regardless of whether they are established and institutional religions or popular forms of religiousness based on customs. The formation and development of religions and ethics, as well as their interaction with the surrounding culture and society comprise an interest area approachable, for example, by examining changes in religious traditions in multicultural societies.
Religion as a phenomenon
The study of religions is not limited to the study of individual traditions, but is interested in religion also from a wider perspective as a universal human phenomenon. Through comparison, the study of religions aims to build understanding of the similarities and differences between religious traditions, as well as describe the status of religion as part of cultures and societies. Furthermore, the discipline examines broad phenomena including rituals, myths and experiences, as well as the standing of religion in everyday and public life.
Religion as a concept
The concept of religion and its use as a research tool and as part of public debate comprise another central research focus in study of religions. The specificity of the concept of religion to individual cultures compels the scholar to question its suitability to the analysis of foreign cultures and societies, and the grounds on which religion can be regionalised. At the same time, the discipline examines the lines between religiousness and irreligiousness, or religion and the secular in research and the various institutions of the surrounding society.