Faculty of PhilosophyReligious Studies

Students of religious studies analyse religious ideas, practices and materialities from an empirical-cultural perspective and attempt to understand them in their respective historical, cultural and societal contexts.

The religious studies programme at Heidelberg University focusses on the history of religions as well as on current developments associated with religions. Teaching and research in the department is conducted according to an approach grounded in cultural studies. It considers religious ideas, practices and materialities as a product of history that are understood in their respective historical, cultural and societal contexts. The general history of religions and individual religious periods and regions as well as current religious developments are taken into equal consideration in research and teaching.

Special Features and Characteristics

The Institute for Religious Studies focusses on Zoroastrianism, historical and current developments in Europe, Japan and the USA, transformations of Buddhism and religious-analogous developments in popular cultural and marketing. The department regularly offers lectures and courses on these topics as well as on regionally and topically related fields of study.  

In addition, students can choose from a wide range of interdisciplinary lectures and courses in religious studies. For example, students can attend lectures and courses of neighbouring disciplines, such as Japanese studies, transcultural studies, classical Indology and others over the course of their degree programme. The diversity of lectures and courses offered in the neighbouring disciplines enables students to acquire knowledge and skills of regional, historical and theoretical areas that are not the main focus of the research and teaching at the Institute for Religious Studies. 

Students enrolled in the Bachelor’s or Master’s programme can acquire general knowledge of religions and how to study them or gain in-depth knowledge of their own research interests and individual areas of specialisation thanks to the broad range of regionally and religion specific lectures and courses, the broad range of different theoretical approaches and the option to acquire language and methodological skills.

Research

The main research interests at the Institute for Religious Studies are the regional religious histories of Europe and the USA, religious traditions in pre-Islamic Iran as well as ancient and especially current Japanese religious history. 

Furthermore, research at the department also focusses on the consequences of religious medialisation, modern research into rituals and the analysis of transformation in Buddhism in a global context. Other special fields include the investigation of religions in the realm of the Internet, digital games and other areas of popular culture. 

The following two insights are taken into account in current religious research: 

  • On the one hand, religious beliefs and practices are not static or unchangeable. Instead, they are subject to constant changes both in history and in individual biographies. 
  • On the other hand, religions are not only spaces of intellectual realisation; they are also transmitted via senses through e.g. rituals or specific design, material or aesthetics. 

Therefore, the theoretical specialisations at the Institute for Religious Studies are based on theories regarding individual religiousness and the dynamics of rituals, on ‘two-tier religious studies’, transculturalism as well as on new paradigms and approaches of the so-called “material religion” (religious aesthetics) and marketing/branding theories (religious economics).

Occupational Areas

Graduates of religious studies programmes do not have fixed occupational profiles. However, the societal and political relevance of religious studies enables graduates to find work in many different areas such as  

  • public religious consulting institutions 
  • adult education 
  • journalism 
  • publishing 
  • tourism/tour guiding 
  • exhibition and congress organisation 
  • museums  
  • research  

The choice of career depends mainly on the graduates’ personal interests and individual foci. Internships during the course of study can help students choose future careers and also improve employability.

Insights

I enjoy studying Religious Studies as the subject is so diverse and can be combined with all versions of cultural studies. No matter whether that be legitimisation of sovereignty in politics, tourism financing for pilgrimage sites or post-mortality concepts in computer games – everyone can satisfy their research interests in Heidelberg.

David Kelly, 29, Religious Studies, 9th semester Bachelor

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