What is the difference between religious studies and theology?

The essential difference between religious studies and theology is that religious studies examines religions more objectively and analytically from outside, whereas theology trains the student in the practices and beliefs of a particular religious tradition.

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In practice, religious studies and theology are often used as overlapping terms, with the former sometimes signifying a more modern approach. However, there is a difference in focus, which is suggested by the fact that theology is the older, more traditional term. Theology has been studied for thousands of years, generally within a particular religious tradition. Before universities were established, Christian theology was studied in monasteries, Jewish theology in synagogues and temples, and Islamic theology in madrasas. Theology as a discipline prepared religious leaders for their role in society, and inculcated the basic tenets of doctrine in all educated people.

Although theology is now studied as an academic discipline by students and scholars who have no personal religious faith (or, perhaps, a different faith from the one they study), it remains a thorough grounding in the history and doctrines of a particular faith, viewed from within. Religious studies is more likely to be a comparative discipline based on an anthropological examination of different religious practices. In religious studies, the student comes to any given religious tradition from outside, looking at the way the religion functions in society as well as the nature of its fundamental beliefs. Religious studies is a relatively new discipline which employs techniques not only from anthropology but also from textual criticism and philosophy.

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