The Finnish Society for the Study of Religion was founded in November 1963 to answer a growing interest in academic study of religion in the country. Research on religion was conducted widely in disciplines such as folklore studies, ethnology and sociology. Simultaneously, study of religion as a growing field had been granted status as an independent discipline, and Finnish researchers in the field were joining international scientific societies. The purpose of founding a society in Finland was to provide a national forum for researchers to come together and thus advance research on religion. The society would also represent Finland in the international umbrella organisation for scientific societies in the study of religion, the International Association for the History of Religions (IAHR). The society became an IAHR member in 1965.
The first president of the society was Martti Haavio. After him, the society has been chaired by Professor Lauri Honko, Professor Juha Pentikäinen, Docent Tore Ahlbäck, Professor Nils G. Holm, Professor Veikko Anttonen, Professor Tuula Sakaranaho, Professor Peter Nynäs and Docent Tiina Mahlamäki. The current president of the society is Professor Titus Hjelm.
The society’s journal, Temenos, was founded in 1965 following an initiative by Lauri Honko, who also became its first editor-in-chief. Temenos is the only international journal in study of religion in the Nordic countries, and from its founding its editorial board has included researchers also from other Nordic countries. The journal is funded through Nordiska Publikationsnämnden för Humanistiska Tidskrifter (NOP-H).
In 1987 the society proposed establishing a Nordic collaborative body for researchers in the study of religion, which led to the founding of a committee known as Nordiska Samarbetskommittén för Religionshistorisk forskning (NORREL).
The society has been active throughout its existence, organising events and also international conferences. The society has hosted the IAHR International Congress three times. The first, in Turku in 1973, was around the theme of Methodology of the Science of Religion. The second, in Helsinki in 1990, on Northern Religion and Shamanism. The third, in Turku in 1997, was organised in collaboration with the Donner Institute. The 1997 congress revisited the theme of the 1973 one and was titled Methodology in the Study of Religions.
In 2001 the society joined the European Association for the Study of Religions (EASR). At the time, the vice president of the EASR was Helena Helve, who was also a board member in the Finnish Society for the Study of Religion. The society hosted the 2005 conference of the EASR in Turku in collaboration with the Donner Institute. The theme of the conference was Exercising Power: The Role of Religions in Concord and Conflict.
In 2003 the society celebrated its 40th birthday with a seminar in Turku. The theme of the seminar was Theory and Method in the Study of Folk Religion, and it also included reflections on the society’s history and the status of the academic study of religion in Finland and the Nordic countries.
The society hosted the EASR conference for a second time in Helsinki in 2016, working in collaboration with the University of Helsinki, Åbo Akademi University, and the Donner Institute. The theme of the conference was Relocating Religion.
The society also helped organise the Research Conference in Theology and Religion in 2020 and 2022, in the latter year as the main organiser. The conference is a collaboration between Finnish scientific societies in the fields of theology and study of religion.