Phenomenology of religion is not keyed to offer explanations of religion, and especially not in naturalistic or social scientific terms. However, it is well equipped to offer an interpretation of religion, or of religious experience and consciousness. It is this interpretive function that should define phenomenology of religion, and which sets it apart from social scientific or naturalistic methods that seek to explain religion. The category of explanation is privileged by McCutcheon, Proudfoot, and others, and may be regarded as the style of analysis that characterizes a good proportion of social scientific work. An economist or sociologist may, for example, seek to explain why conservative or fundamentalist types of religious identification tend to increase in the face of economic hardship, globalization, or intecultural penetration. In this sense, “explanation” consists of proposing a causal relationship wherein certain observable, natural factors are identified as providing reasons for related religious phenomena.
By contrast, the phenomenologist of religion attempts to interpret or understand religion, which is to say that he seeks to disclose the meaning or meanings of it as they are constructed, perceived, and experienced within consciousness, or from the perspective of the religious subject. While this interpretive task is distinct from the explanatory one, it is not necessarily opposed to it, and may in fact represent a guide or aid in the explanatory endeavor.
[.... It is] an interpretive endeavor designed to disclose the meaning of religion, as understood and experienced from the perspective of religious consciousness."
Dec 11, 2012
An interpretive endeavor
Jason N. Blum, "Retrieving Phenomenology of Religion as a Method for Religious Studies," in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Dec. 2012: