Religious Studies

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Book Chapter

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Publication Title

The Routledge Handbook of Contemporary Jewish Cultures


Religion cuts across every layer of human experience. Whether conceived as an expression of ultimate meaning, a binding social force, a physiological impulse, or a set of beliefs and practices, the study of religion engages multiple disciplinary lenses to reveal the variety and complexity of religious expression in human life. Indeed, religion is perhaps best described as an "inter-discipline," a field of study that relies on the complementarity of a wide array of methodologies.

In the words of Wendy Doniger, scholars of religion work with a rich "tool box" of methodological lenses. In her work on the study of myth, Doniger argued that religionists must carry "as wide a range of tools as possible, and reach for the right one at the right time... [and] take responsibility for choosing the 'right one' on each separate occasion, rather than choosing a single one, once and for all as a matter of principle" (Doniger 1980). When Doniger offered this metaphor in the 1980s, a religious studies toolbox might have included theology, history, sociology, or psychology, among other disciplinary lenses. Today, in response to an increasingly interdisciplinary and multicultural academy, that toolbox has expanded to include the diverse methods of literary or postcolonial theory, gender studies, cultural anthropology, queer theory or even neurobiology.


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