The Major in Religious Studies

The Department of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania offers a major that is flexible and can be tailored to your interest and to work in tandem with other majors and minors, If you are interested in majoring in Religious Studies, begin by contacting the Undergrad chair to learn more about the faculty and courses and to work out a plan for the major. The current Undergrad Chair, Professor Steven Weitzman, can be reached at

A Religious Studies Major requires twelve courses drawn from the Religious Studies department or from courses in other departments approved by the Undergrad Chair for credit toward the major.

Many departments and programs offer courses that may be relevant for the Religious Studies major including Ancient History, Art History, Classical Studies, East Asian Languages and Civilizations, South Asia Studies, Jewish Studies, History and Sociology of Science and Medicine, and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, among others. Study abroad courses are encouraged but not required. The Undergrad Chair will help you develop a plan tied to your own interests.

There are many pathways through the major, but here are some guidelines that all students should follow:

  1. A major should involve coursework in at least two different religious traditions to allow for a broader comparative perspective on religion.


  1. Three courses should be at the beginner level (courses numbered 0000-1999). These tend to be broad introductions to religious traditions like Islam, Buddhism or Christianity, thematic courses, Franklin Seminars and other courses meant for students who are new to the study of religion.


  1. Three courses should be at the intermediate level or higher (courses numbers 2000 or higher). These are more focused courses and tend to be smaller.


  1. In addition to the intermediate courses, one additional course should be a seminar led by a Religious Studies faculty member (courses numbered 2000 or higher and identified as seminars). Such courses are discussion-based and usually lead to a research paper or project.


  1. To complete the major, a student must enroll in a course entitled “The Culminating Experience” (RELS 4999) an independent studies course taken with a faculty member in the department. This is an experience where you read, study and converse together with the professor, culminating in a project—a research paper, a presentation, a documentary or some kind of creative work that builds on what you have learned in this course and in your Religious Studies education generally. Students typically fulfill the “Culminating Experience” requirement in their final year and will be asked to make a brief presentation of their projects at a year-end awards ceremony.

Language and Study Abroad. The department recognizes how important language and cultural immersion are to the understanding of religion. With the approval of the Undergrad Chair, you may count up to two language courses toward the major provided that you can show how they are relevant to the study of religion. In general, the department will not count languages courses like German, French or Spanish. The idea is to focus students on the study of language study specifically relevant for the study of religion (Quranic Arabic, biblical Hebrew, Sanskrit, etc.). The department encourages study abroad, and such courses may be counted toward the major provided they are focused on the study of religion and have the approval of the Undergrad Chair.

To become a Religious Studies major, please see the Undergraduate Chair. Students will be asked to submit a petition to major or minor in the Religious Studies, using a form that can be found through Path@Penn or via

A Religious Studies Major requires twelve courses including (not in addition to) a Religious Studies seminar and the Culminating Experience independent studies course (see below).  A typical course of study will include:

  • 3 entry-level courses (courses with course numbers between 0-1999)
  • 3 intermediate or advanced courses (2000 or higher)
  • 1 Religious Studies Seminar in addition to the intermediate/advanced courses
  • 1 Culminating Experience Independent Studies course (or the two-course honor thesis sequence)
  • 4 elective courses in Religious Studies


Honors Thesis

In lieu of the Culminating Experience course, a student may opt to write an honors thesis under the supervision of a faculty member. This process entails two courses, an independent studies course followed in the next semester by an honors thesis course, to be taken in addition to the 12 courses required for the major (In other words, if you commit to writing an honors thesis it will take 13 courses to complete a Religious Studies major with honors)

To receive Honors, you must have at least a high B in the concentration and at least a high B on the honors thesis. The Undergraduate Chair must approve any proposal to undertake Honors requirements beyond the regular major.


Beyond teaching students about religion in classroom or tutorial settings, the department also seeks to foster a sense of community among its undergraduate students. If you would like to become a member of the Religious Studies Undergraduate Advisory Board, or to discuss other ways to connect to others in the department, please be in touch with the Undergraduate Chair.

Also note that the Religious Studies department host a chapter of Theta Alpha Kappa, an undergraduate honors society in Religious Studies that is affiliated with the American Academy of Religion. For more information about the society and the opportunities it offers, see

After graduation, majors will be given the option to participate in an Alumni Survey on a regular, ongoing basis. This is a questionnaire which asks alumnae and alumni to evaluate their experiences in the program in the context of their "real-world" experiences.