Theology—the systematic study of the divine—has existed for many hundreds of years. Today it is typically understood to involve the training of religious leaders within particular religious traditions, preparing them adhere to and uphold clerical practices. Training in a seminary, monastery, or other divinity school tends to emphasize personal faith and one’s relationship to the divine.
In religious studies, these subjective influences may be in the background of your work, but the emphasis and end result are more analytical and objective. Scholars compare various religious practices and identities, consider their historical significance, and aim to understand beliefs in relation to each other. In religious studies, your base of inquiry is to examine these differences without showing preference to one particular belief system.
Students of religious studies use tools similar to those in other fields, including history, sociology, psychology, philosophy, anthropology, and theology. They develop strong analytical skills and are encouraged to think originally, as well as to empathize with people with a wide range of lived experience.
Academic work in religious studies involves methodologies similar to philosophy and literary criticism: critical thinking, discussion and debate, clear writing, and well-organized patterns of argument. As in anthropology, you consider community relationships, social storytelling, myth, ritual, and symbolism. As in sociology, you look at the impact of religion on social systems such as the family, law, or education. Your course of study gives you a depth and breadth of knowledge about religion without the expectation that you participate in—or advocate for—one particular form of faith practice.