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The Modern Theories

Seth Kunin

Paperback i (Printed to Order)

A comprehensive and approachable introduction to social scientific theories of religion as they have developed in the twentieth century.

In the first section the groundwork is laid for the theories developed in the twentieth century, introducing the significant thinkers who have established some of the main avenues of discussion including Marx, Durkheim, Weber, Freud, Jung, and Otto.

The second section introduces the main approaches of the social scientific disciplines that study religion: sociological, psychological, phenomenological, feminist and anthropological.

The third section puts religion under the microscope, examining constituent elements such as ritual, symbolism and myth.

Throughout the author shows that theories and definitions need to be questioned and problematised, and concludes with suggestions for how new definitions of religion might be framed to provide more culturally sensitive and open-ended ways of understanding.

The introduction of key issues and thinkers in modern theories of religion make this an ideal text for all Religious Studies students.

Selling Points:

  • includes the four main modern approaches to religion - anthropological, sociological, psychological and feminist
  • each chapter includes an ethnographic case study to exemplify the issues raised
  • covers key themes such as symbolism, myth, ritual, theories of embodiment, identity, boundaries, Marxism, Feminism, ethnicity, science, and New Religious Movements


Section One: Setting the Agenda
Chapter 1: Karl Marx and Cultural Materialism
Chapter 2: Émile Durkheim and Functionalism
Chapter 3: Max Weber and Joachim Wach
Chapter 4: Sigmund Freud and the Psychological Tradition
Carl Gustav Jung
Joseph Campbell
Chapter 5: Rudolf Otto: The Idea of the Holy
Section Two: Continuing the Discussion
Chapter 6: Sociology, Methodological Atheism and Secularization
Chapter 7: Psychological Approaches
Chapter 8: Phenomenology and History of Religion
Chapter 9: Feminism, Gender and Religion
Chapter 10: Anthropological Approaches to Religion
Chapter 11: Some Final Words (interim)
Section Three: Taking the Discussion in Different Directions
Chapter 12: Ritual and Religious Experience
Chapter 13: Symbolism
Chapter 14: Myth
Chapter 15: Last Words

About the Author

Seth Kunin is Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at the University of Durham. He is author of Religion: The Modern Theories (EUP, 2003).


This introductory textbook is both challenging and rewarding. In summarising a great number of theories and interpretations of religion it covers in three parts a wider span of academic disciplines than is usually the case … Not only is the book useful as an undergraduate text, available as a skeleton of reliable proportion on which class and teacher can work together but many a new postgraduate would do well to read it for an overview of religious studies.
- Douglas J. Davies, Professor in the Study of Religion, University of Durham
This volume should serve as a splendid textbook for an undergraduate course in religion but Kunin's writing also makes it eminently accessible to the sophisticated lay reader. All in all this is a significant contribution to the field and a major contribution to the teaching of religion.
- Neil Gilman, Professor of Jewish Philosophy, Jewish Theological Seminary, New York