Courses in the Department of Religious Studies enable students to understand the complex nature and role of religion in human societies. In addition to building basic fluency in a range of religious traditions and communities, students will develop an ability to answer the following kinds of questions: How do people conceive of religion? How does religion orient meaning-making about the world and the transcendent? How does religion structure and shape communities? How does religion interact with material, social, economic, and political conditions? How is religion expressed within and across time and place and how does it travel?
Courses familiarize students with the variety of critical approaches scholars employ when studying religion, including literary studies, history, anthropology, sociology, gender studies, etc. Students discern the advantages and limitations of each approach and learn to identify the most beneficial approach (or combination of approaches) when studying different topics or issues.
By cultivating complex and nuanced perceptions of religion and by cultivating a range of methodological and theoretical skills, students are primed to conduct in-depth independent research—culminating in the Senior Comps project—and students become informed, critical individuals who are able to contribute to constructive public discourse about religion.
Majors and minors in the department develop critical habits of mind and a strong set of transferable skills that prepare them for a range of post-graduate options. Recent graduates have received prestigious fellowships (such as the Fulbright), have attended graduate school in a range of fields, and have pursued a variety of professions, including law, medicine, business, social services, government, and religious vocations.
A total of ten courses (40 units) in the department of Religious Studies are required for the major. Majors are required to take the following two required courses and an additional 32 units of RELS electives.
- RELS 250 Critical Approaches to the Study of Religion (4 units), to be completed by the Spring of the Junior year, offered every Spring semester and
- RELS 490 Senior Seminar (4 units), to be taken in the Fall semester of the Senior year
The flexibility of the major enables students to pursue a curriculum customized to their individual interests. Some RELS majors opt for a program that is broadly conceived, seeking exposure to a variety of religious traditions and studying religion through a variety of methodologies. Other students choose to specialize in one religious tradition, or in one approach to the study of religion. Other students prefer our interdisciplinary major (see below), which enables them to pair RELS courses with courses in another department, discipline, or area of specialization. All students in the department work collaboratively with their advisor to devise a personalized curriculum that matches their intellectual interests and goals.
We strongly encourage majors to take courses in other disciplines – such as art history, music, politics, literature, and history – that will enrich their understanding of how religion is conceived, articulated, and practiced.
We also strongly encourage RELS students to engage in sustained language study that will inform their coursework and comps research in the department.
Finally, we strongly encourage students in the department to participate in international programs, especially in locations where they have the opportunity to study religion in situ. Students planning to study abroad should be aware that RELS 250, which should be completed by the end of the Junior year, is only offered in the Spring semester. So, if they have not completed the course in the Sophomore year and they wish to study abroad, they should do so in the Fall semester of their Junior year.
When appropriate, one course from another department or from an international program may be applied toward the major.
Religious Studies is an intrinsically interdisciplinary field of study, so this major allows students to partner with other departments or disciplines. Moreover, this major allows students to pursue a course of study tailored to their unique intellectual interests.
A total of twelve courses (48 units) are required for the Religious Studies major with an interdisciplinary focus: the following two required courses (8 units):
RELS 250 Critical Approaches to the Study of Religion (4 units), to be completed by the Spring of the Junior year, offered every Spring semester and
RELS 490 Senior Seminar (4 units), to be taken in the Fall semester of the Senior year
along with an additional six courses (24 units) of RELS electives, and four courses (16 units) from another department, discipline, or area of specialization. At most two of these courses can be double-counted for another major/minor.
For instance, a student interested in the presence of religion in literature or a student interested in the sociological study of religion may draw on courses offered by the English or Sociology departments. Other students may be interested in a regional focus or a theoretical focus and may draw on courses spread across departments. For example, a student interested in Asian religion may need to take courses from the Language, History, and Art History departments, while a student interested in Postcolonial Theory and religion may need to take courses from the History, Philosophy, and Critical Theory and Social Justices departments.
Students who are interested in a Religious Studies major with an interdisciplinary focus will work with an advisor to propose their particular focus and four courses related to their disciplinary, regional, or theoretical interests. Proposals must include an intellectual rationale for the course selection. The proposal should be submitted to the department no later than two semesters prior to the semester of graduation, and at least two weeks before Advising Week. Any changes made to one’s focus must be made by the week prior to registration in the semester before graduation.
On the advising form assigned to students when they declare a major in the department, RELS+X majors must indicate their interdisciplinary focus and courses from other departments they are considering as part of their major.
A maximum of two courses can be double-counted with another major or minor.
RELS+X majors must submit a Transfer Credit & Course Substitution Form with a list of their Interdisciplinary Electives by the end of the second semester of their junior year.
Honors in the Major
Honors is awarded to students who have demonstrated excellence in the discipline of Religious Studies. In the spring semester, the Religious Studies faculty will review the seniors’ record in the department and makes its determinations based on achievement in coursework, sophistication of the comprehensive project, and contribution to the intellectual community.
A total of five courses (20 units) in Religious Studies are required for the minor. Minors must take RELS 250, which is offered every Spring semester, and may choose four additional RELS electives.
The flexibility of the minor enables students to pursue a curriculum customized to their individual interests. Students are welcome to seek advice from department faculty when designing their personalized minor curriculum.
Students majoring in Religious Studies will satisfy the second-stage college-wide writing requirement by demonstrating advanced writing proficiency in the RELS 250 course, which is offered every Spring semester and should be taken by all RELS majors by the Spring of their Junior year. One assignment in the course will be assessed according to a departmental writing rubric.
In the rare instance that a student does not take RELS 250 by their Junior year, they must submit an equivalent paper that will be assessed using the department’s advanced writing proficiency rubric.
Students who do not meet the minimum writing proficiency at this stage will, at the discretion of the Chair, be expected to submit another equivalent essay for review or take WRD 201.
While courses in the major are intended to introduce students to a range of religious traditions and to orient students to a variety of approaches by which scholars study religion, the comprehensive project gives students the opportunity to select a research topic of particular interest to them and to pursue that topic in much greater depth than course work allows. Work on the comprehensive project will further cultivate and assess the skills that ground the discipline: critical reading, research and methodological abilities, analytical thinking, creativity and inventiveness, and effective writing and oral communication.
In the spring semester of their junior year, students will meet with Religious Studies faculty to talk about potential topics and about preliminary research they will conduct over the summer. In the fall semester of their senior year, students enroll in RELS 490, which guides students through the research and drafting of the project and which provides students with feedback on work in progress. Although there is no class associated with the comprehensive project in the spring semester, students are expected to continue to revise and polish their papers until the due date. Also in the spring semester, students will present their research orally to the campus community.
Once the comprehensive projects are submitted, the Religious Studies faculty assess the papers and oral presentations, awarding them one of the following marks: Pass with Distinction (PD) is awarded to exceptionally sophisticated work that surpasses the departmental standards, Pass (P) is awarded to work that meets departmental standards, and Fail (F) for work that fails to satisfy departmental standards.