Prospective Students | Religious Studies

Prospective Students

What is Religious Studies?

“Our aim is to help students learn to analyze and to think, write, and speak clearly. If you are interested in exploring what really matters to people, both historically and in the contemporary world, this is the major for you.”

Dr. Charles Orzech,
Former Department Head

A major in Religious Studies is both exciting and practical. Religion is a key component of every culture, and a major in Religious Studies involves wide-ranging reading in literature, history, politics, and social systems. Religious Studies not only prepares students for graduate study and teaching in the field, or for professional service within religious organizations, it also provides skills that lead to careers in a wide variety of areas.

As a major you will study the history of your own and others’ religious traditions, rituals and social practices; the political, cultural, and economic impact of religion; and the varieties of religious ethics. You will also learn to read critically, write persuasively, and speak with force.The Department teaches courses on such traditions as Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Shinto, and Taoism. Historical studies include courses about religions of Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and America. Theoretical studies include courses on religious philosophy, religious ethics, and theology, as well as political, social, and psychological approaches to religion. Cultural studies include courses that investigate the role religion plays in politics, economics, social movements, and the arts and sciences.

The Department of Religious Studies:

  1. Delivers rigorous training for majors, second majors, and minors in Religious Studies that will enable students to advance to graduate study, in the field and cognate fields, or to positions in primary and secondary education.
  2. Provides a solid foundation in Religious Studies as a core discipline of the Liberal Arts for all College and University students.
  3. Supports key University and College programs including the Honors Program, Freshman Seminars, Communication Across the Curriculum, Residential College, Women’s Studies, African-American Studies, and International Studies.
  4. Provides an exemplary learning environment where its students develop the ability to analyze data critically, express ideas clearly and effectively in speech and in writing, and to cultivate attitudes of tolerance, inquiry, and understanding in the best tradition of the Liberal Arts.

Learning Goals for the Religious Studies Major

On completion of the major students will:

  • have knowledge and understanding of at least two major religious traditions and be able to relate those traditions to their historical and cultural contexts.
  • have detailed familiarity with major theoretical issues in the study of religion and be able to articulate how theory shapes the study of religion.
  • have an ability to critically analyze data and apply major theories of religion to specific traditions, rituals, and social movements.
  • have a working knowledge of the history of the study of religion.
  • have a solid foundation for participating in Religious Studies as a discipline in the liberal arts.
  • have proficiency in written, oral, and visual communication and have an ability to transmit knowledge through current technological means.
  • have an ability to conduct research individually and collaboratively.
  • have an ability to manage and organize activities to achieve designated outcomes.
  • have an ability to take their knowledge base and apply it to novel situations and settings.

With regard to the goals of clear analysis, writing, and speaking, department courses focus strongly on the close reading and analysis of texts and the understanding of the social, political, and religious contexts of those texts. Our classes involve substantial written and spoken participation and virtually all upper-division courses are writing intensive. The department also plans to offer a number of speaking intensive courses as well.