Academic Program

Religious Studies is a humanistic and social-scientific discipline that provides windows onto a wide range of cultural phenomena and contemporary social questions. It explores religion as a foundational element in all cultures while drawing together – and providing opportunities to sharpen one’s skills in – multiple methods of study, including those associated with history, literature, ethnography, political science, anthropology, sociology, critical race theory, philosophy, psychology, natural sciences, critical gender theory, cultural studies, and theology. Majors and minors are encouraged to explore how their studies in other fields intersect with religious studies questions, concerns, and methods.

Religious studies majors work closely with members of the department in designing their program of study and their thesis project. Although the Senior Research Seminar and Thesis are the only courses required of every major, all majors a) take courses at the introductory, intermediate, and advanced levels; b) gain breadth and depth in their understanding of a variety of religious traditions and practices; and c) develop skills in a wide array of theoretical and methodological approaches to the study of religion. The department strongly encourages study abroad, and students may petition to count up to two credits earned abroad toward the major or minor. More information on the religious studies curriculum is available on the website (

Major Requirements

The religious studies major consists of ten courses (eleven for honors candidates).

1) Two courses in theoretical and/or comparative studies of religion. The courses that satisfy this requirement provide an introduction to the study of religion within a particular disciplinary context (e.g., Greco-Roman religions, philosophy of religion, psychology of religion, sociology of religion, anthropological approaches to the study of religion, religion and civil rights), or provide comparative studies of multiple religious traditions and/or multiple approaches to the study of a single tradition.

Courses that satisfy this requirement include the following:
Any 100-level course in religious studies or cross-listed in religious studies, which should be taken before the senior year.
FYS 445. The Nature of Spirituality.
INDS 200. Women's Movements and Religion across East Asia.
GS/RE 207. Eve, Adam, and the Serpent.
CM/RE 218. Greek and Roman Myths.
INDS 221. Venice to Tokyo: Religion and Trade along the Spice and Silk Routes.
AA/RE 233. Literary Representations of the Africana Religions.
PL/RE 260. Philosophy of Religion.
GS/RE 311. Buddhism and Gender.
PSYC 311. Psychology of Religion.
AS/RE 351. Religion and International Development across South Asia.
ES/RE s25. Food and the Sacred.

2) One course from each of four areas of study (for a total of four courses; courses that are listed in more than one area cannot be counted twice). By taking courses in a variety of religious traditions, time periods, and geographic locations, students begin to develop cultural literacy across a wide range of world religions, even as they hone their understanding of the methodologies and theories common to religious studies. Each faculty member highlights different methods and theories in the courses they offer; by studying with different faculty in the department, students develop breadth in their working knowledge of the field, as a whole, and intersectional understandings that complicate conventional definitions of "religion" and "religious" identities.

Area A: Judaism and Christianity. Courses in this area explore Jewish and/or Christian traditions within one or more historical contexts and in conversation with biblical or other sacred texts. Some courses are scripture-focused, such as Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and New Testament; others are more wide-ranging and thematic. Courses that satisfy this requirement include:

GS/RE 207. Eve, Adam, and the Serpent.
CM/RE 235. Introduction to the Hebrew Bible.
CMRE 236. Introduction to the New Testament.
CM/RE 238. Jews and Judaism in Antiquity.
AV/CM 251. The Age of the Cathedrals.
AV/CM 252. The Art of the Middle Ages.
INDS 301Y. The Spanish Inquisition.
REL 303. Seminar in Biblical Criticism.
GS/RE 310. Gender, Race, and Judaism.
REL 313. Human Suffering: Job, Genesis, and Revelation.
GS/RE 322. Gender, Race, and Power in Christianity.

Area B: Islam. Courses in this area explore the history, social practices, and beliefs found among Muslim communities around the world. Some courses offer an introduction to sacred texts and cultural practices, while others are oriented around specific themes such as material culture and the arts, cultural exchange between medieval Catholic Christendom and Islam in the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean, and contemporary politics. Courses that satisfy this requirement include:

REL 112. Introduction to Islam: Religion, Practice, and Culture.
REL 120. Muslims, Christians, and Jews.
INDS 200. Women’s Movements and Religion across East Asia.
INDS 221. Venice to Tokyo: Religion and Trade along the Spice and Silk Routes.
CM/RE 264. Islamic Civilization: Politics, History, Arts.
AM/RE 272. Islam in the Americas.
HI/RE 320. Religion and Government in the Middle East: Colonialism to the Arab Spring.
AS/RE 351. Religion and International Development across South Asia.

Area C: Asian Religions. Courses in this area explore religious traditions that originally developed in Asia, including Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, Hinduism, Jainism, Shinto, Sikhism, and others. These traditions are examined through their lived components, material culture, sacred texts, and doctrinal systems, both contemporary and historical. Some courses trace the historical developments of religious communities from their inception to the present day, including in global contexts. Courses that satisfy this requirement include:

FYS 289. The Life of the Buddha.
REL 110. Death and the Afterlife: Bodies and Souls in Comparative Perspective.
AS/RE 155. Introduction to Asian Religions.
INDS 200. Women’s Movements and Religion across East Asia.
AV/AS 243. Buddhist Arts and Visual Cultures.
AV/AS 247. The Art of Zen Buddhism.
AV/AS 248. The Art of Rock-Cut Architecture in Asia.
AS/RE 249. The Hindu Tradition.
AS/RE 250. The Buddhist Tradition.
AS/RE 251. Religions of Tibet.
AS/RE 308. Buddhist Texts in Translation.
PHIL 310. Buddhist Philosophy.
GS/RE 311. Buddhism and Gender.
AS/RE 348. Epics of Asia: Myth and Religion.
AS/RE 351. Religion and International Development across South Asia.
AS/RE s28. From Shangri-la to Radical Dharma: Buddhism in North America.

Area D: American Religions/Religion in America. Courses in this area do one or both of the following: a) examine the wide range of specific religious traditions practiced in the United States of America (indigenous, Protestantism, Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and a host of new religious movements such as the Shakers, Mormons, Christian Scientists, Nation of Islam, Transcendental Meditation, and Scientology) and/or b) explore the social, political, and cultural factors, conditions, events, debates, and controversies that shape and influence the formation, practice, and experience of religion in the American context. Courses that satisfy this requirement include:

FYS 152. Religion and Civil Rights.
REL 216. American Religious History, 1550-1840.
REL 217. American Religious History, 1840-Present.
REL 247. City upon the Hill.
REL 255. African American Religious Traditions.
REL 270. Religion and American Visual Culture.
AM/RE 272. Islam in the Americas.

3) Two 300-level seminars. Religious studies seminars are limited-enrollment, discussion and research-based courses that enable students to explore religion with greater depth and nuance than is often possible in lecture-format or introductory courses. Courses that satisfy this requirement include all 300-level religious studies courses.

4) REL 450. Senior Research Seminar. The Senior Research Seminar serves as a culminating course for students majoring in religious studies. It provides a small group setting in which students write and discuss a series of essays on a topic of their choice as a way of reviewing various methods, theories and approaches to the study of religion that they have learned over the course of their major. Through weekly meetings, discussions, written peer reviews of one another’s research, bibliographical work and writing, the seminar enables students to recognize themselves and each other as emerging scholars within the field of religious studies.

5) REL 457 or 458 (senior thesis) or both REL 457 and 458 (honors thesis). The thesis represents a capstone academic experience in a religious studies major’s scholarly career at Bates. Each student develops a thesis topic in consultation with one or more members of the religious studies faculty and, after completing preliminary research on that topic, determines the method(s) by which to explore and frame a thesis on the topic. Further information about the religious studies thesis requirement may be found under the Thesis menu on the religious studies homepage.

Pass/Fail Grading Option

Pass/fail grading may not be elected for courses applied toward the major.


The minor in religious studies consists of six courses, which must normally be specified prior to the start of a student's senior year. These courses are to be selected according to the following guidelines and in consultation with a member of the department faculty who is chosen or appointed as the student's departmental minor advisor: a) one course from requirement 1, above (theoretical and/or comparative studies of religion); b) at least one 300-level seminar; c) four courses across at least two Areas of Study (A, B, C, and D, above), in religious studies.

Pass/Fail Grading Option

Pass/fail grading may be elected for only one course applied toward the minor.