University of Minnesota
Religious Studies
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Track I: Religion, Culture, and Society

Description of the Track I Major

This track is ideal if you wish to study religion broadly or as a social and cultural force. 

  • It emphasizes the methodologies of the humanities, social sciences, and arts. 
  • It addresses questions of expression, psychology, theology or religious thought, as well as public and social policy and the political contexts and ramifications of religion.

This track provides a solid foundation for careers serving diverse communities in public arenas, as well as graduate study in the arts, humanities, or social sciences, or in theological or seminary programs.

Requirements of the Track I Major

Completion of preparatory coursework plus a a minimum of 31 credits.

Be sure to discuss your course selection plans with a religious studies advisor or the director of undergraduate studies. Your major advisor gives final clearance (final approval) of your courses. Clearance is required for graduation.

Required Preparatory Coursework

  • RELS 1002 Introduction to the Study of Religion (3 credits). This course introduces you to some of the central concerns, problems, materials, and methods of studying religion. 

Or

  • RELS 1001 Introduction to World Religions (3 credits). This course introduces you to major religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Or

  • One of the following courses:
    • RELA 1001 - Introduction to the Religions of the World
    • JWST/ CNES/RELA 1201 - The Bible: Context and Interpretation
    • CNES 1082 - Jesus in History
    • ALL 1275 - Buddhism in East Asia
    • CNES 1001 - World of the Bible
    • RELA 1035 - Introduction to Christianity
    • AMST 1011 - Religions and American Identity in the United States, From World War II to the Present
    • JWST 1034 - Jewish History and Civilization

NOTE:  The purpose of the preparatory course requirement is to ensure that you have been introduced to the academic study of religion and understand how it is different from the confessional study of religion you may have experienced in your own family or religious institution. 

Major Coursework

A minimum of 31 credits at the 3xxx level or above, to include:

  • RELS 3001 - Theory and Method in the Study of Religion: Critical Approaches to the Study of Religion (3 credits)
  • Religious Traditions. 1 course each in two different religious traditions (6 credits): Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, a Native American tradition, Zoroastrianism, other.
  • Contexts of Religious Life. 2 courses in socio-cultural contexts of religion (6 credits).  These can be courses in, for example, history, sociology, or anthropology of religion, taken in any appropriate department. Many courses can fulfill this requirement. Following are just a few examples:
    • Anth 3045 - Religion and Culture
    • Soc 4309 - Religion and Public Life in the U.S.
    • Hist 3491 - Islam in the Catholic Age
    • ArtH/CNES 5252 - History of Early Christian Art in Context
    • ALL 3373 - Religion and Society in Imperial China. [This is NOT an exhaustive list]      
  • RELS 4951W - Major Project Seminar (4 credits).  To be offered every spring.  Advanced juniors may be admitted by permission of advisor. We combine Track I and Track II students in the same seminar with the expectation that their respective strengths will complement each other and enrich the senior project experience. 
  • 4 elective courses in an area concentration linked together geographically, chronologically, thematically, or methodologically (12 credits).  These courses should be carefully selected with and approved by the major advisor.

NOTE:  If the area concentration is on a particular tradition, the courses selected for the “Religious Traditions” requirement above must be different from the area concentration tradition.

NOTE:  Courses used for the Religious Traditions or the Contexts of Religious Life requirements cannot be used to fulfill this requirement.

For sample area concentrations, see below.

Sample Track I Concentrations

The following sample area concentrations are intended only to provide a sense of the range and diversity of concentrations that will be allowed. 

Historical, Area, and Chronological Concentrations

You may combine courses examining the religious traditions and their socio-cultural contexts in specific areas of the globe—e.g., East Asia, South Asia, the Middle East and Mediterranean Area, Europe, the Americas, etc.—during specific time periods—e.g., religion in antiquity, religion in Europe in the late modern world, etc.  Focus might be on a particular community united by religion in a particular region, or on a religious community in diaspora. Another alternative would be courses that investigate the intersections among two or more traditions in a particular location or at a particular time.

Thematic Concentrations

You may combine courses focused on a specific theme or inquiry within a specific religious tradition or across traditions.  For instance, such focus might be on the role of race, ethnicity, gender or class; on artistic or material expression; on views of death or suffering across traditions; on religious violence; on religious thought and science or the environment; on religion and political or public life.