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Why Study Religion

Scholars study religion because we are fascinated by human beings. We seek insight into what people believe; what they desire from life; why they act as they do; how they understand and cope with calamity and suffering. For this reason, a scholarly focus on religion fosters an understanding of the human condition as well as the history of human culture. The study of religion is a scholarly field dedicated to problems, questions, and frames for intellectual attention regarding how human beings inhabit their social and cultural worlds.

FAQ about the Study of Religion major and minor

What are some of the program's best features?

  • The curriculum follows an interdisciplinary and comparative approach to the study of religion.
  • The list of electives is long and varied.
  • The major and minor complement other humanities degrees such as Anthropology and History.
  • The program's flexible structure makes it possible to double major.
  • Lower-division preparation is not required.
  • Core and affiliate faculty have diverse research interests.
  • An honors program is offered for students who excel in the major.
  • Study abroad is encouraged.

Is the program primarily for students with religious training?

No. All UCSD students have an equal claim on the program, regardless of their personal religious commitments. The name of the program tells it all. The program's courses present "religion" as a subject matter for study, an object for scholarly investigation. Program learning objectives and courses are neither religious nor confessional.

The Study of Religion does not promote or endorse either religious belief itself or the views and practices of any particular religious tradition, nor does the program promote or endorse an anti-religious agenda.

What subjects do the courses cover?

Courses typically investigate one or more religious traditions, including Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Taoism, as well as smaller, local and transnational traditions from around the globe. Such courses explore religions in terms of their literatures, rituals, symbols, myths, histories, doctrines, art, or politics. The program also offers courses that make a critical inquiry into the category of "religion" itself. To appreciate the breadth of the program's offerings, refer to the program's course catalog.

The Religion program offers courses in so many different fields. How do I choose?

One hallmark of UCSD's Program for the Study of Religion is flexibility. Because the subject matter is so very broad, and because students have such a wide diversity of backgrounds, interests, and goals, the program has chosen to impose few requirements upon its majors and minors. One size fits all does not work here. As a general principle, the program advises students to take courses that interest them. Beyond that—especially for students who want to chart a complete course of study ahead of time—we strongly encourage you speak with the program's faculty advisor or undergraduate coordinator.

Many departments at UCSD offer courses on religion. Why should I major or minor in religion?

Departmental majors tend to place heavy emphasis on a single type of scholarly method, or single type of source material, or single culture. However, because religion appertains to the fullness of the human world, the study of religion requires a scholar to adopt tools and methods from a wide variety of academic disciplines. At UCSD the Program for the Study of Religion is interdisciplinary and cross-cultural. The program allows students fascinated by humanity's core questions to pursue their intellectual passion from as many perspectives as possible, without any specific disciplinary or methodological bias. Students have the opportunity to be sociologists, political scientists, anthropologists, or psychologists. They may focus on history, literature, art, and philosophy. This kind of breadth and freedom is not available in most departments.

Tell me more about the faculty.

The program has an interdepartmental structure. Approximately fifty faculty are affiliated with the program, belonging to the departments of Anthropology, Communications, Ethnic Studies, History, Judaic Studies, Literature, Philosophy, Political Science, Sociology, and Visual Arts. There are also two core faculty members—Dayna Kalleres, Babak Rahimi—who have been hired to administer the program, advise majors/minors, and teach core courses. Professor Kalleres is an expert in early Christianity. Professor Rahimi is an expert in Islam. Professors Kalleres, and Rahimi are all available to advise students seeking advice about the program.

Do you offer a Master or PhD program in religion?

Not at this time. Check our Resources page and the University of California's degree search database for a list of graduate programs in religion.

Let's be practical. What can I do with the major?

Fifty years ago, you might have graduated from UCSD, gotten a job with a large corporation, and then worked your way through that same corporation for the rest of your life. That was the American dream. Now, unless you go into a specialized professional field—like becoming a doctor or professor—it is highly unlikely that you will work for just one company or be expected to make your living using a single skill set or body of knowledge. This is why the study of religion is actually a practical major for students who choose to major in the humanities but who are also concerned about future employment.

The study of religion as an academic field focuses on a set of problems, questions, and frames for intellectual attention about how human beings inhabit their social and cultural worlds. Thus it encourages students to pursue a wide diversity of academic methodologies. Religion majors tend to be self-motivated, broadly learned, and intellectually dynamic. Because majors and minors become fluent with wide-ranging approaches to knowledge, they are well prepared to enter a wide variety of professional tracks.

Students have pursued graduate education and careers in fields as diverse as Religious Studies, Public Policy, and Cognitive Psychology. One student became the religious affairs liaison for a California State Representative. Others have become lawyers, journalists, teachers, electrical engineers, physicians, and artists. Students who pursued the Study of Religion as a second major or a minor, particularly those whose first majors were highly technical (engineering or medicine, for example), were pleased by the intellectual breadth they gained through learning about religion.

And then there is the increasing recognition the value of a humanities degree in STEM fields. Here are a couple of examples:

Why this tech CEO keeps hiring humanities majors (Fast Company)

Microsoft's president says liberal arts majors are necessary for the future of tech (Business Insider)