Department of Religious Studies

Frequently Asked Questions

Answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about studying Religious Studies.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Why should you concentrate in Religious Studies?

The academic study of religion allows you to develop an understanding of societies and cultures throughout the world by exploring religious thought and practice in various historical, geographic, and political contexts.  True: much of what you can study in Religious Studies also comes into view through studies other concentrations, such as History, American Studies, Classics, and International and Public Affairs.  But in Religious Studies, concentrators develop significantly deeper and more complex understandings of the public and private concerns that the study of religion brings especially into view - including understanding of self, community, good, evil, authority, and inequality. 

Equipped with interdisciplinary skills of interpretation and analysis, students learn how political affairs, institutions, conflicts, and social spheres commonly recognized as secular have taken shape through the formation and transmission of religious beliefs, behaviors, values, and rituals.  These skills include: close analysis of texts, images, artifacts, artistic works, and other social data; synthesis of research through written and verbal expression; interpretation of the past and contemporary social issues and communities. 

Do I need to be personally religious to study religion?

No!  Religious Studies is not the kind of religious education you would receive at a religious institution. You study religion to understand the world and human society.  Look at any nes outlet today, and you will almost always find issues involving religion.  Debates in the United States over same-sex marriage and ongoing conflict in the Middle East provide just two examples.  To understand these issues, you have to consider how people understand themselves, engage others, and make their way in the world.  The academic study of religion allows you to consider these issues - and more! - both in the past and present. 

What can I do with a concentration in Religious Studies?

You can do anything! Some students begin their undergraduate studies planning to find the most "useful" concentration.  But what does that mean? You should recognize that many people concentrate in the humanities (e.g., English) or humanistic social sciences (e.g., History) before successful careers in business, medicine, law, politics, and more. This is because fields like Religious Studies focus above all on teaching you how to use interdisciplinary methods and ways of thinking to consider complex ethical issues, social problems, and historical patterns.  This is useful knowledge.  Also: a concentration in Religious Studies can complement concentrations in the physical and social sciences.

Does the concentration in Religious Studies have required courses?

Our undergraduate concentration requires 9 courses overall, including 2 required courses.  Those are RELS 1000 (Theory and Method in the Study of Religion), usually taken in the junior year; and 2) RELS 1995 (Capstone Seminar), which students ordinarily take in the senior year.  Unlike a typical course that asks student to engage new material, the Capstone Seminar is primarily a venue for senior concentrators to reflect on their concentration and next steps through conversation and the creation of capstone projects that build on the interests and expertise they have developed over the course of their studies. 

Does the concentration in Religious Studies require concentrators to declare a track or official area of focus?

No, not exactly.  While some concentrations require you to commit early in your concentration to a particular track, we invite students to regularly reflect upon and articulate their primary scholarly interests and questions.  Students begin this process in their declaration form, and revisit their answers in meetings with their concentration advisor.  This process of regular reflection allows students to develop a courses of study around an unofficial area of focus that develops over time.  By senior year, concentrators ideally have a strong sense of the preoccupations that have guided their course of study and that will shape their capstone projects or honors theses. 

Can courses from outside Religious Studies (i.e., not cross-listed) count toward the concentration?  How are those courses approved?

Yes,  As many as two courses from outside the department (i.e., neither cross-listed with Religious Studies nor taught by a faculty member in Religious Studies) can count toward the concentration.  To have a particular course approved, concentrators present the courses' syllabus and discuss its content with the Director of Undergraduate Studies. Students must demonstrate how the course relates to the unofficial area of focus that they have developed and discussed with their concentration advisors.