The field of religious studies engages enduring questions about religion and human society. It investigates religions and how they shape and are shaped by human cultures. The study of religion allows us to consider humanity in its quest for transcendence and communion with the divine. It permits us in turn to see what effect these desires have had on individuals and communities for good and sometimes for ill.
Religion is expressed in many forms throughout the world’s cultures, and the academic study of religion therefore requires multiple perspectives on the subject. Students of religion should know the historical development of specific religious traditions, understand and critically engage the ethical and intellectual teachings of various religions, and begin to make some comparative appraisals of the roles that religions play in different cultures and historical periods. Reflecting these multiple perspectives on religion, the courses offered through the undergraduate major in Religious Studies fall into three major groups:
Historical Studies in Religious Traditions: courses investigating the development of particular religious traditions, including their social practices, rituals, scriptures, and beliefs in historical context.
Constructive Studies in Religion: courses that investigate constructive or normative questions about the nature and conduct of human life that are raised by religious traditions, including work in philosophy of religion, ethics, and theology.
Cultural Studies in Religion: courses that introduce issues in the social and cultural contingencies of religious thought and practice by emphasizing sociological, anthropological, and literary-critical perspectives on religion and by raising comparative questions about differing religious and cultural traditions.
Students pursuing other majors are encouraged to take electives in Religious Studies. Particular courses in religious studies can complement programs in history, literature, philosophy, or sociology, to name just a few, providing a different window through which to look at the problems posed by these concentrations.
Those undergraduates desiring a sharper focus on issues of religion may choose to major in Religious Studies. The major exposes students to different sources, problems, and methodologies in the study of religion and allows them to explore one particular question in detail in a senior essay. It encourages cross-disciplinary approaches to the study of religion, including those that are historical, philosophical, theological, sociological, or literary-critical. It accommodates interests that can be descriptive, explanatory, or normative.