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What is Religious Studies?

Religious Studies

The mission of the Religious Studies department at Vanderbilt is first to be a community of scholars—teachers and students—who engage in cutting edge research and learning about the traditions, rituals, places, practices, and beliefs that give orientation to human life and that help communities to address the big questions that face us all.  Across the curriculum, we aim to educate students in the critical methods necessary for several tasks: recognizing both the integrity of diverse traditions as well as their adaptation and internal diversity; discerning and evaluating narratives about religion in public life; and identifying ways that religious traditions are intertwined with other aspects of human life, such as race, politics, health and healing, law, environmental concerns, etc. Religious ideas and worldviews are built into every human culture, evident from the magnitude of historical practices of statehood, colonization, and liberation movements, all the way down to personal ethical deliberations. 

The department offers a major in Religious Studies, a minor in Religious Studies, immersion opportunities, and an Honors track. Students are encouraged to link their study of religion with other disciplines, connecting potential career interests and concerns with the big questions the study of religion enables.  Wherever possible, the appropriate languages are strongly encouraged, complicating the student’s understanding in ways impossible by any other method.

Islamic Studies & Arabic

The Department of Religious Studies works closely with the interdisciplinary faculty and curriculum constituting the minors in Islamic Studies and Arabic. Core courses for Islamic Studies are provided through Religious Studies, and all Arabic language and literature offerings originate in the Department of Religious Studies.

Jewish Studies

The department cooperates with the Jewish Studies department, enabling students to concentrate in Judaism through cross-listed courses and shared faculty.

Asian Studies

The study of Asian religions in the Religious Studies department is strongly supported by the faculty and courses cross-listed in the Asian Studies Department on campus.

Graduate Department of Religion

All PhD faculty in Religious Studies participate in the Graduate School’s Graduate Department of Religion (GDR) in various ways, including advising MA and PhD students in the Graduate School, serving on committees, and offering graduate courses in various areas of concentration in the GDR (largely Historical Studies, Critical Studies in Asian, Islamic, and Jewish Traditions, and Christian Theology).  Religious Studies faculty also occasionally offer or co-teach courses for students in the Divinity School.

For more information on these various courses of study, please follow the links in the menu.