Religious Studies is a multi-disciplinary academic field that involves all scholarly endeavors that have to do with different religions, religious institutions, and religious believers, which are undertaken from a secular, third-party perspective. It is very important for a student of Religious Studies to understand at the onset how degrees in this academic field differ from degrees in Theology. In Religious Studies, the student is not assumed to be a believer in the religion being studied or in any religion for that matter. Rather, the student is assumed to be a secular observer and analyst, and is expected to take on an objective and highly pluralist point of view in dealing with each of the course subjects that are included in the prospectus.
This means that Religious Studies majors are required to rely not on the faiths bestowed upon them by their respective religious upbringings, but on logical, systematic, and critical skills in reviewing and synthesizing volumes of academic material and bringing together fresh ideas based on well-supported evidences. A commonality that a student in Religious Studies may notice among the different course subjects that he or she has or is currently is taking up is the prevalence of roughly the same written academic requirements. Religious studies course subjects all expect students to be able to critique, reflect, and discuss ideas and arguments drawn from different faiths and to be able to effectively compare and contrast such ideas without succumbing to personal religious biases. This is usually a challenging task, since one’s beliefs are often likely to cloud one’s objectivity in understanding the positions of different religious in conflicts that are participated in by one’s own faith. However, to understand the different stakes of different religious in these conflicts and to weigh these stakes fairly in such a ways as to be able to articulate reasonable conclusions is precisely the learning objective of many Religious Studies course subjects. Typically, the student would be expected to accumulate extensive knowledge about both popular and not-so-popular religious in the world throughout the course of his or her study. This requires rigorous determination as well as technical know-how in searching for reliable electronic and traditional texts. At times, course requirements may even impose upon the student to make travels to particular locations where the necessary information can be obtained. Aside from Religious Studies essays, reflections, and discussions needing extensively researched materials to accomplish, they are also highly also highly complex in the sense that the student is not expected to merely echo the text from the sources but to draw out fresh, underlying arguments from the synthesis of previous works.
Majors in Religious Studies typically focus on specific religions such as Christianity, Judaism or Islam, or in sets of religions observed in a particular geographic location such as Asian Religions or Middle Eastern Religions. Majors can also focus on particular time frames, such as Ancient Religions or Medieval Religions. There are also majors that focus on a particular aspect of religion such as Religious Institutions, Traditions, or Relics but stretch out across all religions in its scope.