College of Arts & Sciences

Department of Theology and Religious Studies

Curriculum for Religious Studies Majors

Religious Studies is devoted to the study of religion as a fundamental human phenomenon. Its scope is broad, encompassing in principle all forms of religious experience, belief and practice in whatever contexts they are found. Religious Studies is non-confessional in the sense that it is not committed in advance to any religious (or indeed, non-religious) worldview or doctrine. Religious Studies as we understand it neither endorses a naïve objectivism in the study of “facts” divorced from values nor elevates a single theological, philosophical or scientific principle or program to the level of an unassailable norm. Rather Religious Studies is intentionally eclectic and open-ended, drawing upon the full range of methods available to the academic study of things human, from philosophy or literary theory, for example, to cognitive science and evolutionary psychology. It is united only by its subject matter, religion as a fundamental (albeit contested) dimension of human experience.

After completing the Religious Studies concentration in the Theology major, students will be equipped to:

  • Articulate the difference between religious studies as an academic discipline and confessional approaches to the study of religion including the advantages and limitations of the religious studies approach.
  • Evaluate some of the most influential methods used in the study of religion and apply them in the study of particular cases.
  • Understand at least two religious traditions beyond an introductory level, including their histories, beliefs, practices and contemporary expressions.
  • Understand the historical nature of religious texts and traditions, and the tensions that exist between the realities of religious change and the needs of religious identity.
  • Recognize and think critically about some of the general features typical of most if not all religions, such as conceptions of deity, forms of religious community, forms of ritual practice, types of religious experience, ethical norms, etc.
  • Identify and describe the embeddedness of religion in society and culture, as well as the religious dimensions of social, political and cultural phenomena not conventionally identified as “religious.”
  • Apply the tools of religious studies to understanding the nature of religious conflict.

Religious Studies Major Program of Study

GEP Common Courses (See Curricula): six Signature courses

GEP University Distribution (See Curricula): eight variable core courses, three integrative learning courses and 3 overlay requirements. These latter may or may not require students to take an additional course.

GEP Foreign Language
No foreign language unique to the department is required. But it is recommended that students consult with their advisors to fulfill the GEP foreign language requirement with a language relevant to their religious or theological interest.

GEP Integrative learning
Students in the Religious Studies Concentration must strengthen their skills in the study of religion by taking three complementary courses in other departments in the College of Arts and Sciences. Students have considerable flexibility in choosing these courses because familiarity with a wide variety of issues, methods, and tools is vital to the academic study of religion. Students must choose three courses from the following categories, with no more than two coming from any one department. These three courses may be drawn from any program and or department that focuses on:

1. Cultural and historical contexts of various religious traditions, such as Ancient Studies, Asian Studies, Classics, Fine Arts, History, Latin American Studies, and Political Science;
2. Methodologies that are applied in the study of religion, such as Biology, Economics, Philosophy, Psychology, and Sociology;
3. Research tools that are employed in the study of religion, such as Computer Science, Mathematics, and Foreign Languages.

Courses used to satisfy the Integrated Learning Requirement may not fulfill a GEP Common Core or Variable Core Requirement. Students should consult with their advisors to determine what courses are best suited to their own interests in Religious Studies when choosing the courses needed to satisfy the integrated learning requirement. 

Major distribution: Ten courses distributed as described below. At least eight must be at the 200-level or above. GEP courses will be used to partially satisfy the major concentration.

1-6. Non Christian Religions, six courses
7. THE 154 Faith, Justice and the Catholic Tradition (part of the Signature Core in the GEP)
8. Institutional Identity Course: New Testament, History of Christianity, Systematic Theology, or Ethics; one additional course at any level
9. REL 495 Theories and Methods in the Study of Religion
10. Religious Studies Elective: any course in THE or REL at the 200-level or above

Among the ten courses above, one must be explicitly comparative in scope (i.e., not tradition specific), and one must concentrate on a South or East Asian religion. Graduating seniors must demonstrate that they have completed at least one significant research paper in Theology or Religious Studies.