Undergraduate Program

During the Covid-19 campus closing, if you would like to sign up for a Religious Studies major or minor, please fill out a declaration form and forward to Justin McDaniel at jmcdan@sas.upenn.edu

Our Department is dedicated to the academic study of religion, offering courses in the fields of American religious history, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism, as well as introductory courses, comparative courses, and courses on methods and theories in the study of religion.  

Religion is a major aspect of every human culture. In all civilizations in the world, religion helps shape the institutions of law and government, influences family and parenting practices, plays a major role in attitudes toward medicine and science, and resonates in the creative work of artists and writers. At an individual and collective level, it helps provide answers to some of the biggest questions and dilemmas of human existence. The study of religion is a diversified and multi-faceted discipline focusing on the study of specific religious traditions and the general nature of religion as a phenomenon of human life, including the cultures around the world and ancient as well as modern, in an inquiry that involves a variety of textual, historical, phenomenological, social scientific, theological, philosophical and artistic methodologies.

Religion is, of course, a major source of controversy and inspiration in politics, art, economics, literature, and history. One cannot hope to understand on-going events in Middle-East politics, the Sri Lankan Civil War, recent insurgencies in Thailand, Indonesia, the genocide in Sudan, or even the electoral politics in America without knowledge of religion. Of course, the controversies over science and religion, as well as religion and law are often front-page news. Moreover, artists, musicians, filmmakers, and writers throughout history like T.S. Eliot, Dante, Toni Morrison, Tagore, Tupac Shakur, Euripides, Rumi, William Blake, Margaret Mead, John Updike, Yukio Mishima, Tolstoy, Leonard Bernstein, John Coltrane, George Lucas, Einstein, Gandhi -- among thousands of others -- have been troubled and inspired by their study of religion.

Simply put, it is impossible to be a well-informed student of the humanities and social sciences without a study of religion, and students would be well-served in their academic and later life by a systematic study of the role religion and its study plays in history, society and politics.

A brochure of course offerings for each semester is available at the Department office prior to preregistration for that semester. Courses are also posted online

Majoring in Religious Studies can be an excellent preparation simply for living life in a pluralistic and multicultural society. It can also provide excellent training for a variety of careers, such as law, teaching, counseling, business, journalism, politics, writing, medicine, and the arts. The department faculty seeks to develop in students a number of important, valuable, and transferable skills required by any profession or position. Our department encourages students to become well-informed and independent thinkers prepared to learn and engage in scholarly research techniques, including collection of information and distillation and analysis of data with the help of critical skills and methods. The major requires students to: pay close attention to the facts through careful and unprejudicial reading of texts, have an open attitude toward sources, and make close observation of individual and group behavior. Students also apply critical analysis and interpretation of the data, based on appropriate theoretical and methodological tools, and communicate findings and conclusions clearly and effectively through expository and analytical writing and oral presentation.

For more information on our department and the major and minor in Religious Studies, please feel free to contact our Undergraduate Studies Chair, Justin McDaniel.

I often say that if I headed back to college today, I would major in comparative religions rather than political science. That is because religious actors and institutions are playing an influential role in every region of the world and on nearly every issue central to U.S. foreign policy."

—Former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry
America Magazine, September 2015