Before the Common/Christian Era (BCE)

c. 1100sZarathustraAlso Zoroaster; Iranian prophet considered the founder of Zoroastrianism, to whom the composition of ancient hymns (gatha) are attributed.

c. 700sHomerMythic Greek poet to whom the major Western epics, the

Odyssey and the Illiad are attributed.

c. 700sHesiodGreek poet to whom the authorship of Works and Days and the Theogony are attributed.

c. 610-546AnaximanderPre-Socratic Greek philosopher known for his contributions in science and geometry.

c. 580-490XenophanesGreek philosopher and poet known for his critique of


c. 500sLaoziAlso Lao-tzu; Mythic Chinese philosopher; credited with the formulation of Daoist (Taoist) teachings; attributed with the authorship of the Daodejing (Tao Te Ching)

551-479KongziAlso K’ung Fu-tzu or Confucius; enormously influential Chinese teacher of social and ethical values; teachings contained in the Analects.

c. 549-477VardhamanaIndian teacher; known as Mahavira; associated with conveying the teachings of the Jains.

c. 490-410Siddhartha GautamaIndian teacher; known as the Buddha (Awakened One); associated with teachings for the ending of suffering and

the attainment of spiritual liberation (nirvana).

c. 400sValmikiIndian poet to whom the composition of the Indian epic, the Ramayana, is attributed.

c. 469-399SocratesGreek philosopher known for his teaching method of questioning students; teacher of Plato.

c. 427-347PlatoTremendously influential Greek philosopher; student of Socrates; thought contained in various texts known as dialogues, such as the Republic and the Timaeus.

c. 365-290ZhuangziAlso Chuang-tzu; Chinese Daoist (Taoist) philosopher whose unique genius accounts for the inner chapters of

the text that bears his name.

384-322AristotleEnormously influential Greek philosopher; student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great; made contributions in numerous areas, particularly logic, psychology, natural science, ethics, and poetics.

c. 300sEuclidGreek mathematician, whose influential work Elements forms the basis of classical (Euclidean) geometry.

Common/Christian Era (CE)

20BCE-50CEPhilo JudeausHellenic Jewish philosopher known for promoting the notion of interpreting scriptural accounts as allegories.

c. 7BCE-26CEJesus of NazarethJewish teacher (rabbi), designated by his followers as the Messiah or Christ; pivotal figure in Christian beliefs.

c. 150-250NagarjunaIndian-born philosopher; founder of the Madhyamaka school of Mahayana Buddhism; author of the Mulamadhyamakakarika (Fundamental Verses on the Middle Way).

354-430Augustine of HippoInfluential Christian Church father; known for his doctrine of original sin; author of City of God, On Christian Doctrine, and the Confessions.

538-597Zhiyi (Chih-i)Chinese founder of Tiantai (T’ien-T’ai) School of

Buddhism; known for harmonizing and systematizing the

vast corpus of Indian Buddhist literature into a unified

vehicle with the Lotus Sutra as the dominant text.

570-632MuhammadArabian prophet and founder of Islam; believed by Muslims to have received the instructions of Allah (God), contained in the Qur’an.

774-835 KūkaiTowering figure in Japanese religion and culture, also known as Kōbō Daishi; founded the Shingon school of Vajrayana Buddhism; as a young man, wrote an early work of comparative religion, Ten Stages of Religious Consciousness, which describes and ranks various Asian religious traditions.

c. 788-820ShankaraHindu philosopher, known for his doctrine of extreme non-dualism; wrote influential commentaries on the Upanishads, and the Bhagavad Gita.

980-1037Ibn Sina (Avicenna)Influential Muslim philosopher and physician from Persia.

1014-1020Kitab al-Shifa (Book of Healing)

1033-1109Anselm of CanterburyItalian theologian; influential early Scholastic known for his ontological argument for the existence of God.

1058-1111Al-Ghazali (Algazel)Persian Muslim theologian known for his contributions to the legitimacy of Islamic mysticism (Sufism); author of Tahafut al-Falasifa (Incoherence of the Philosophers).

c. 1100-1160Peter LombardFrench-Italian Scholastic theologian.

c. 1150Four Books of Sentences

1126-1198Ibn Rushd (Averroes)Spanish-born, influential Muslim philosopher/theologian, whose commentaries on Aristotle’s works contributed to the revival of secular thought in Christian Europe; author of Tahafut al-Tahafut (Incoherence of the Incoherence), a critique of a work by Al-Ghazali.

1135-1204Moses MaimonidesJewish theologian and philosopher; known for his formulation of a creed for Jews and for authoring the Mishneh Torah, a comprehensive study of Jewish law, as

well as the more philosophical Guide for the Perplexed,

which harmonized faith with reason and marked the apex

of Medieval Jewish theology and philosophy.

1222-1282NichirenJapanese Buddhist monk; known for advocating reverence

of the Lotus Sutra with exceptional polemical and

proselytizing zeal.

1225-1274Thomas AquinasItalian Dominican friar; exponent of Aristotelian philosophy; possibly the most influential of Catholic theologians.

1265-1274Summa Theologica

1266-1308John Duns Scotus    Influential Scottish theologian, known for his support of the Catholic doctrine of the immaculate conception of Mary, mother of Jesus, and for divorcing faith from reason.

c. 1288-1347William of OckhamEnglish scholastic philosopher, known for the doctrine of parsimony in the formulation of explanations and theories (Occam’s Razor).

1357-1419Tsong KhapaTibetan Buddhist systematizer, reformer, and theologian

who instituted rigorous standards of virtue, practice, textual

study, interpretation, and debate. His Great Exposition of

the Path integrated diverse teachings and offering guidance

for Buddhists’ daily life, philosophical perspective, and

ultimate religious aims.

1596-1650René DescartesFrench thinker; regarded as the father of modern Western philosophy.

1637Discourse on the Method

1641Meditations on First Philosophy

1643-1727Isaac NewtonEnglish physicist; known for his laws of motion and gravitation.

1687Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica


1711-1776David HumeScottish philosopher; known for his criticism of the argument for the existence of God based on the notion of intelligent design.

1779Dialogues concerning Natural Religion

1724-1804Immanuel KantGerman philosopher; known for contributions in metaphysics and epistemology.

1781Critique of Pure Reason

1749-1832J. W. von GoetheGerman intellectual who made major contributions to many fields including philosophy and literature.

1806Faust (Part I)

1832Faust (Part II)

1809-1882Charles DarwinEnglish naturalist known for his theory of biological evolution.

1859On the Origin of Species

1813-1855Søren KierkegaardDanish philosopher/theologian; known for his contributions to the notion of faith and to the philosophy of existentialism.

1818-1883Karl MarxPrussian-born, influential social, political, and economic theorist; considered the father of communist political philosophy.

1848Communist Manifesto (coauthored with Friedrich Engels)

1867-1894Das Capital (Capital) in three volumes.

1820-1903Herbert SpencerEnglish philosopher; coined the term survival of the fittest, to explain Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution; promoted the notion of the evolution of societies.

1823-1900F. Max MüllerGerman-born philologist, comparativist, and father of the scientific study of religion (Religionswissenschaft); specialized in Sanskrit; theorized on the origins of myths.

1879Sacred Books of the East (beginning of this massive, multi-volume project)

1832-1917E. B. TylorEnglish anthropologist; pioneer in the anthropological study of religion.

1871Primitive Culture

1842-1910William James American psychologist and philosopher who emphasized the value of immediate, personal, religious experience.

1891The Principles of Psychology

1902The Varieties of Religious Experience

1844-1900Friedrich NietzscheGerman philosopher known for his critique of religious morality.

1883-1885Thus Spoke Zarathustra

1886Beyond Good and Evil

1887On the Genealogy of Morals

1844-1912Andrew LangScottish folklorist who contributed to the development of the anthropology of religion.

1854-1941J. G. FrazerScottish mythologist; known for his contributions to the study of magic in various cultures.

1890The Golden Bough

1856-1939Sigmund Freud Founding father of psychoanalysis; indicated that religion provided benefits to civilization but ultimately is illusory, is akin to a childhood neurosis, and lacks scientific rigor.

1912-13Totem and Taboo

1927The Future of an Illusion

1939Moses and Monotheism

1858-1917Émile DurkheimFrench founder of the modern discipline of sociology; theorized on totemism as the earliest form of religion.

1912The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life

1858-1942Franz BoasGerman-born American; considered the father of American cultural anthropology.

1859-1919Shaku SōenJapanese Zen monk and abbot; known for his reforms, lay

students, and influence at the 1893 World’s Parliament of

Religions in Chicago.

1861-1947Alfred N. WhiteheadEnglish mathematician and philosopher; associated with the development of process philosophy.

1929Process and Reality

1864-1920Max WeberGerman sociologist and political theorist on religion; especially well-known for The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, which emerged from publications in 1904-1905; also wrote The Religion of China and The Religion of India.

1868-1954Wilhelm SchmidtCatholic priest and anthropologist; known for his theory of original monotheism.

1869-1937Rudolf Otto German scholar of religion; used numinous to designate religious dimensions—including feelings of awe and terror—beyond the grasp of reason and scientific explanation.

1923The Idea of the Holy

1870-1966D. T. Suzuki Japanese scholar, and lay student of Shaku Sōen, who most influentially introduced Zen and related religious and artistic traditions from Japan to the West; wrote more than 100 books and lectured extensively in North America and Europe.

1938Zen Buddhism and Its Influence on Japanese Culture

1872-1970Bertrand RussellBritish mathematician and philosopher; major contributor to the development of analytic philosophy.

1910-1913Principia Mathematica (in 3 vols). Coauthored with A. N. Whitehead.

1875-1961Carl Gustav Jung Swiss founder of analytic (Jungian) psychology; evaluated religion more positively than Freud; notion of universal archetypes that emerge from a collective unconscious and the importance of individuation.

1938Psychology of Religion

1956Answer to Job

1958Psychology and Religion: West and East

1878-1965Martin BuberAustrian-born, Jewish philosopher.

1923Ich und Du (I and Thou)

1881-1955A.R. Radcliffe-BrownBritish social anthropologist, associated with structural functionalism as an approach to the study of societies and culture.

1952Structure and Function in Primitive Society

1884-1942B. Malinowski Polish-born anthropologist; known for his emphasis on fieldwork in the study of societies and their cultures.

1922Argonauts of the Western Pacific

1948Magic, Science, and Religion

1884-1976Rudolf BultmannGerman Lutheran theologian, known for his influential work in Biblical Studies.

1921History of the Synoptic Tradition

1886-1965Paul TillichGerman-American Protestant theologian, known for his emphasis on religion as that which is founded upon a human being’s ultimate concern.

1951-1963Systematic Theology (in 3 volumes)

1886-1968Karl BarthInfluential Swiss-born Protestant Reformed theologian.

1932-1968Church Dogmatics

1889-1951Ludwig WittgensteinAustrian philosopher; known for his contributions on the philosophy of language and on mind.

1921Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

1953Philosophical Investigations

1890-1950Gerardus van der Leeuw Dutch theologian and phenomenologist who studied many religious traditions while setting aside, or bracketing, specific truth claims of a particular religion or about the sacred.

1967Religion in Essence and Manifestation: A Study in Phenomenology

1901-1976Werner HeisenbergGerman physicist; known for the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle; awarded the Nobel Prize in 1932.

1902-1973E. E. Evans-PritchardBritish social anthropologist; contributed to functionalism linked to the interpretive approach.

1937Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande

1956Nuer Religion

1965Theories of Primitive Religion

1902-1994Erik Erikson German psychoanalyst and developmental psychologist; applied model of eight stages of a human’s life cycle to key religious figures; asserted religion could assist in adapting to each stage.

1958Young Man Luther: A Study in Psychoanalysis and History

1969Gandhi’s Truth: On the Origins of Militant Nonviolence

1904-1987Joseph CampbellAmerican intellectual; known for his work on comparative mythology.

1949The Hero with a Thousand Faces

1959-1968The Masks of the Gods (in 4 volumes)

1988The Power of Myth (with Bill Moyers)

1907-1986Mircea EliadeRomanian scholar of the history of religion at the University of Chicago; comparativist and phenomenologist who sought out manifestations of the sacred throughout the world’s religions and myths.

1959Sacred & the Profane: The Nature of Religion

1967From Primitives to Zen

1986Encyclopedia of Religion (ed., 16 volumes)

1908-1970Abraham MaslowAmerican humanistic psychologist; argued basic needs must first be met before motivation and opportunity for higher values can be realized; religious peak experiences and “self-actualization possible with development of higher needs.

1964Religions, Values, and Peak-Experiences

1908-Claude Lévi-StraussFrench anthropologist; pioneer of structuralism as an approach to study human social and cultural creations, such as myth and ritual.

1958Anthropologie Structurale (Structural Anthropology)

1962Pensee Sauvage (The Savage Mind)

1964Cru et le Cuit (The Raw and the Cooked)

1979Myth and Meaning

1915-2006Abe MasaoWritten Masao Abe in Western convention. Japanese Zen Buddhist philosopher (member of the Kyoto School of Philosophy) and influential contributor to interfaith dialogue.

1985Zen and Western Thought(ed. William LaFleur)

1995Buddhism and Interfaith Dialogue (ed. Steven Heine)

2003Zen and the Modern World (ed. Steven Heine)

1917-1992David BohmAmerican physicist and philosopher associated with concepts such as the implicate order of reality, which is seen as a holomovement.

1980Wholeness and the Implicate Order

1991The Undivided Universe : an Ontological Interpretation of Quantum

1920-1983Victor TurnerScottish-born American anthropologist; known for his theoretical contributions on rites of passage.

1967The Forest of Symbols

1969The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-structure

1921-2007Mary DouglasBritish social anthropologist; known for her contributions on the interpretation of symbols and values through category analysis.

1966Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo

1970Natural Symbols: Explorations in Cosmology

1922-John HickAmerican theologian; known for his writings on the philosophy of religion.

1980God Has Many Names

1923-René Girard French scholar; asserted violence and the sacred are inseparable: both originate in mimetic desire and the power and function of sacrificing a scapegoat to unite the group and stave off uncontrolled violence, which could otherwise tear society apart. 1977Violence and the Sacred

1926-2006Clifford GeertzAmerican anthropologist; regarded as the father of interpretive anthropology.

1960The Religion of Java

1973The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays

1927-2001        Ninian SmartScottish scholar of religion; encouraged imaginative empathy in the exploration of religion, which is identifiable through multiple dimensions: perspectives, rituals, beliefs, myths, ethics, institutions and experiences.

1969The Religious Experience of Mankind

1989The World’s Religions

1928-Mary DalyFeminist theologian and philosopher; prefers the self-descriptive terms radical and lesbian; known for her criticism of Christianity as a religion that cannot be adequately reformed to make it suitably egalitarian and inclusive for women.

1968The Church and the Second Sex

1973Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation

1976Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism

1998Quintessence:Realizing the Archaic Future

1929-Peter BergerAmerican sociologist and theologian.

1967The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion

1932-Alvin PlantingaAmerican philosopher/theologian; Christian apologist.

1977God, Freedom, and Evil

2000Warranted Christian Belief

1935-2003Edward W. SaïdPalestinian-American scholar; known for theory of orientalism; regarded as the founding figure of postcolonial theory.


1981Covering Islam: How the Media and the Experts Determine How We See the Rest of the World

c. 1935-Rodney StarkAmerican sociologist of religion

1985The Future of Religion (coauthored with W. Bainbridge)

1996The Rise of Christianity

c. 1935-Jonathan Z. SmithAmerican historian of religion; known for his theorizing on ritual, and the discipline of religious studies.

1978Map is not Territory: Studies in the History of Religion

1982Imagining Religion

1987To Take Place: Toward Theory in Ritual

1936-Rosemary R. RuetherChristian feminist theologian.

1983Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology

1938-E. Schüssler FiorenzaCatholic feminist theologian.

1984In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins

1939-Fritjof CapraAustrian-born physicist and philosopher, known for his speculations on the similarities between modern physics and ancient Eastern religious worldviews.

1975Tao of Physics

1940-Wendy Doniger American historian of religions; known for her work on comparative mythology, particularly from Hindu Sanskrit texts.

1973Asceticism and Eroticism in the Mythology of Siva

1975Hindu Myths: A Sourcebook

1980Women, Androgynes, and other Mythical Beasts

This is a list of influential texts and seminal figures who have shaped religious studies from millennia ago to the present. The list includes early theologians and philosophers as well as contemporary secular scholars of religion. Although the list does not strive to be comprehensive, we do want it to be broad and helpful to a wide range of students and scholars. The initial list comes from our book, Introduction to the Study of Religion (Routledge 2008), but we intend to continue to expand it substantially. Please suggest additional entries for influential people and texts (this can be done by clicking on the Comments & Contributions bar). The chronology can be searched or navigated by selecting eras of time from along the top of this frame. We will also provide a pdf of the full chronology, which can be downloaded from this page (the pdf will not always be as current as the site itself).





*Circa (Latin for around or about) here abbreviated as c., is used to indicate approximate dates.

*Books are given with their original date of publication (where known) and their title in English (on its own or following the original) even for cases where an English translation was not published until later.


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