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What is the Socio-Historical Method in the Study of Religion?

Darren M. Slade

Vol. 2, No. 1

Spring 2020

Pages: 1-15

DOI: 10.33929/sherm.2020.vol2.no1.01


More from the Author



Darren M. Slade, Socio-Historical Method, Social-Scientific Study of Religion, Religious History, Biblical Criticism, Higher Criticism, Social History, Humanities

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Rational Faith.png

The purpose of this article is to answer what the socio-historical method is when applied to the study of religion, as well as detail how numerous disciplines (e.g. archaeology, anthropology, sociology, psychology, philosophy, theology, musicology, dramatology, etc.) contribute to its overall employment. In the broadest (and briefest) definition possible, a socio-historical study of religion coalesces the aims, philosophies, and methodologies of historiography with those of the social and cultural sciences, meaning it analyzes the interpretation and practice of religion through the lens of social/historical contexts, scientific discovery, and from within each faith tradition. The result is that the contexts surrounding a particular religion becomes the primary subject of study in order to better understand the origin, development, and expression of the religion itself. This article explains that the socio-historical study of religion is, in essence, an eclectic methodology that focuses on describing and analyzing the contexts from which the interpretation and practice of religion occurs. The goal is to examine how different aspects of a religion function in the broader socio-political and cultural milieu. Its most fundamental postulation is that the social history of a religious community affects how it interprets and practices their faith. By approaching religious inquiry from a socio-historical perspective, researchers are better able to recognize religion as a cultural and institutional element in ongoing social and historical interaction. Three sections will help to explain the socio-historical method: 1) a definitional dissection of the term “socio-historical”; 2) an elaboration of the principles inherent to the methodology; and 3) a case study example of the socio-historical method in practice.


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