The field of religious studies occupies a paradoxical position within the liberal arts. The liberal arts have traditionally avoided religion, and religion has too often been illiberal. The discipline of religious studies, however, has in recent decades become perhaps the most exciting and interdisciplinary of fields in the academy. Committed to understanding a subject that challenges boundaries, definitions, and methodologies, students of religion acquire a broad appreciation of the varieties of human experience across cultures and centuries. Students explore the intimate connections between systems of ritual, narratives, beliefs, ethical codes, and social and political structures. In addition, they often find unexpected commonalities across traditions, as well as challenges to modern understandings of the world and their place in it.
The interdisciplinary Religious Studies program teaches that intellectual inquiry need not be the enemy of faith and that understanding different systems of belief and practice can nurture one’s spiritual capacities. But students also learn that what may be a source of wisdom and light in theory has often caused enormous suffering in practice. In seminars, students and faculty explore important questions of belief and action while studying visionaries, laypeople, and critics from many times and places.
Religious Studies offers courses in world religious traditions, with a particular commitment to biblical and South Asian traditions, religion in America, and the place of religion in modern societies. Courses involve a variety of disciplinary perspectives and methodologies and encourage collaboration with other areas of study. The integrative courses foster this focus on multiple ways of knowing and methods of inquiry in related fields. Students acquire a deep sense of the interconnections between systems of thought and practice, both past and present. They learn to approach other traditions with critical respect and to pose the same questions about human destiny in their own traditions.
By the end of the junior year and in consultation with the chair, each student defines a field of special competence (e.g., religion and social change, religious art, Buddhist studies, anthropological approaches to religion, Jewish studies, women and religion, and mysticism and philosophy). Before graduating, students must complete three courses relevant to this field. These courses need not be in Religious Studies. For example, a student whose field of special competence is religion and film can satisfy this requirement with film courses from Culture and Media; another student who focuses on religion in the Americas can satisfy the requirement by taking courses in the history or literature of the Americas.
Students interested in Religious Studies within the context of a Liberal Arts degree (BA or BS Liberal Arts) can work with their advisor and the program director to design a course sequence. An example of a self-designed major can be found on the Curriculum page. Students
not majoring in Liberal Arts can minor in Religious Studies.