About the Major
The department offers a cross-cultural, interdisciplinary, and critical program that explores the variety of religious experiences and expressions. In addition to courses that demonstrate the power and limits of various critical approaches to the study of religion, the department provides opportunities to analyze practices of interpretation, systems of belief, and patterns of religious behavior; the history of religious traditions; the effects of religion in society; the ways religions can form collective identity through race, nationalism, gender and sexuality, class, caste, language, and migration; and various forms of religious phenomena such as myth, ritual, texts, and theological and philosophical reflection.
A range of courses is available to students interested in taking one or two courses. Clusters of courses can be devised in consultation with members of the staff for those who wish to develop a modest program in religion in support of another major. A student who chooses a double major must fulfill all requirements for the religion major.
The department offers four categories of courses through which students organize their curriculum of studies. Please note that some courses fit more than one category.
Introductory course. The department encourages the beginning student to take Introduction to the Study of Religion (RELI151). It serves as the most effective way to acquire broad knowledge about religion and the methods employed by scholars in the field of religious studies.
Historical traditions courses. Many offerings in the department deal with the historical content of the major religious traditions such as Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism, as well as the religions of Caribbean peoples. These courses examine the texts, histories, institutions, and rituals of these religions. In this category are both survey courses (generally numbered at the 200-level) and seminars (generally numbered at the 300-level). In the main, these courses have no prerequisites, though in some seminars, some background knowledge is assumed. To gain entry to these seminars, students are advised to check with the instructor with regard to what is expected. And, in general, courses that are not thematic-approach or method and theory courses are considered historical traditions courses.
Thematic-approach courses. These courses are designed to focus on the encounter of religious groups and their contemporaneous cultural settings within a defined social space past or present. They concentrate on the relationships between a particular religious formation and its larger social context, aiming to understand that formation's reflective, critical, and decisive interaction within, for, and/or against its context.
Method and theory courses. These courses review and critically analyze methods, theories, and strategies employed by scholars of religion.
The department's Majors Colloquium in Religious Studies (RELI398) is required of all majors and is to be taken in the junior year. The task of this course is to reflect upon the theoretical and methodological pluralism in the field of religious studies with the opportunity to apply these theories and methods to specific texts, concrete issues, or other cultural formations.
All majors are required to take Introduction to the Study of Religion (RELI151), in which they must earn a grade of B- or better. This introductory course is taught every semester. Majors are required to take it before the end of their junior year. It is strongly encouraged that students take (RELI151) in their first two years at Wesleyan.
To complete a major in religion, students are also required to take a minimum of 11 courses (10.25 credits) (with a maximum of 14, including thesis credits) numbered 200 or above.
The minimum of 11 courses (10.25 credits) will be distributed as follows:
- Four courses in two areas of historical traditions
- Two courses in thematic approaches
- Two courses in method and theory, one of which must be the Majors Colloquium in Religious Studies (RELI398)
- The additional courses may be taken in any of these areas at the student's option. Or, the student can include one Hebrew course (HEBR202 or higher).
(Please note that although some courses may fit more than one category, they cannot be included more than once in the overall count of courses taken.)
- .25 Capstone Symposium tutorial
The department enthusiastically encourages students to study abroad and will count up to two courses taken outside Wesleyan toward the major.
Assessment Portfolio and Capstone Symposium. During their time in the major, students assemble a portfolio of three or four papers (at least four pages in length each) that they have written in the department: one from the introductory course (RELI151), one from the Major's Colloquium (RELI398), and a third of their choice that was written in their junior or senior year. Taken together, these papers should give evidence of the development of the students' learning, as well as their command of critical, analytical, and interpretative skills.
In either the fall or spring term, all senior majors enroll in a .25 credit pass/fail tutorial, for which they will write a three- to four-page paper reflecting on the portfolio of papers they have assembled and perhaps on other work in the department. This paper allows students an opportunity to assess the arc of their intellectual development as a religion major. In the spring semester, faculty and senior majors will meet for a symposium discussion of these self-assessments, to be followed by a festive meal.
Religion majors with a B+ (88.3) average in the department may choose to write a senior honors thesis. Candidates for honors must submit to the department chair a two- to three-page proposal abstract and bibliography by the last Friday of April of their junior year. The proposal should be a description of the intellectual problem of the thesis and the method to be used (whether it will be historical, ethnographic, etc.). Students should list three faculty members who would make good thesis tutors, in order of preference. The department will determine which theses will move forward with which faculty and may reject some proposals. Students will be notified of the department's decision before classes end in May. A student must be general education stage 1 compliant by graduation to be awarded honors or high honors. High honors may be awarded after a student's work has been submitted for a departmental colloquium.