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.
Majoring or minoring in Religious Studies can enrich and deepen your experience as a student in profound ways. It can expand your understanding of the world by exposing you to people from other cultures, and to what matters to them. It can give you an opportunity to develop (or test) your own understanding of life. It can be excellent preparation simply for living life in a pluralistic and multicultural society. It can even enhance your professional prospects: the study of religion can be excellent preparation for a variety of careers, such as law, teaching, counseling, business, journalism, politics, writing, medicine, and the arts.
Penn’s Religious Studies department is home to world-class scholars of religion who specialize in traditions from across the world and span Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism and many other religious communities. The faculty are warm and very approachable, and courses address a variety of fascinating topics like “God and Money” and “Gender, Sexuality and Religion.” The annual Boardman Program sponsors programs with guest speakers that add to the experience of being in the department; the department sponsors several essay contests; and there are opportunities to work with faculty on a one-to-one basis.
One great benefit of majoring or minoring in Religious Studies comes from the students themselves. Religious Studies students tend to be very interesting, multi-layered and thoughtful people, and becoming involved in the department is a great opportunity to meet them. We invite you to become a part of the Religious Studies community by focusing a part of your Penn education on a minor or major.
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."