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Study of Religions

Graphic element for the subject of the Study of ReligionsWe live in a time when religion is discussed, analysed, criticised or defended every day in the public arena. Mass media often use religion to help explain different social phenomena, and political discussions often cite religious arguments in a way that many find surprising.

About the Study of Religions

As a result of the demographic development in Europe over the past few decades, European societies are now much more multi-religious. Not least, the increased presence of Islam and Muslims has presented new challenges to the lifestyles espoused both by European societies and different Muslim doctrines.

In general, this new situation is under-researched and, accordingly, there is a great need for academic-level instruction and research in the Study of Religions. How do representatives of different religions deal with the contemporary mix of lifestyles and world views? What does the presence of strongly religious groups mean for countries, including Sweden, where the dominant culture is highly secular? Do new religious forms emerge? Are hybrid forms created? What importance do rituals, languages and beliefs assume in these situations? How is an established tradition re-interpreted when everything around it seem to be in a state of transition?

The Study of Religions is concerned with these issues. Our starting point is an academic, non-confessional and reflective perspective. Building on this foundation, the student seeks to describe, analyse and interpret different religious views, expressions and actions. This requires a combination of empathy and critical thinking, so the Study of Religions includes both social science and humanistic perspectives. Because the student often studies traditions that are not her or his own, it is particularly important to be aware of what might influence one's own opinions and interpretations. The Study of Religions thus becomes a balancing act in which one's own way of seeing things is tested in a constant interplay between one's "own" and "foreign" or "different" perspectives. Because religion is so often closely interwoven with politics, ethics, lifestyle and culture (including art and music), the Study of Religions becomes a means of studying social rituals, culture and everyday life.

Religious Pluralism

The Study of Religions at Södertörn University focuses on the religious pluralism of our times from a global perspective. We are especially interested in religious forms which are anchored in Christianity and Islam. Today, it seems more important than ever to understand religion in its global context. Our goal is to describe and understand the steadily shifting and multi-religious reality in which we live - in Sweden, around the Baltic Sea, and in Europe as a whole. We are also very interested and involved in non-European conditions and historical perspectives.

The study of contemporary religious pluralism requires familiarity with empirical reality. Our research projects and academic programmes are designed to be socially relevant. We focus on real people. This means we are interested not only in a religion's leading representatives, but also in ordinary people who practise, interpret and criticise the religious traditions they call their own. Religion can be many different things to these people; it can constitute a political position, a lifestyle, an identity, a cultural burden that one would like to discard or a toolbox full of ideas and methods that can be used to deal with life's difficulties. Many people now live in a field of tension, created by the conflict between a traditional way of life and the expectations of modern society, where religion often gains in importance. When the old order is questioned, established religions face great challenges but, in times of conflict, religious identities are often strengthened; political demands that are presented in a religious parlance can easily be conceived as either especially powerful or particularly manipulative. Religions can then contribute to preserving traditions and power structures, but they can also function as motors for political change. The modern world provides multiple examples of this.

The goal of those studying religion at Södertörn University is to draw close to this multi-faceted religious reality through research and education. This requires theoretical reflexivity and a readiness to constantly question accepted categories and perspectives.

We concentrate on the religions of Christianity and Islam, as the largest world religions both geographically and numerically. We also have several prominent thematic specialisations. Two of our important areas of specialisation, the didactics of religion and religious journalism, derive from our participation in the vocational training of future journalists and teachers. A third, central theme is the politics of religion, that is, the study of questions that illuminate religion's political importance.