Undergraduate Majors Booklet
"If I went back to college today, I think I would…major in comparative religion because that's how integrated [religion] is in everything that we are working on and deciding and thinking about in life today."
John F. Kerry, U.S. Secretary of State
Scroll down this page or choose a section.
- Know Your World
- What Is Religion?
- The Study of Religion at Iowa
- What can I do with a Degree in Religious Studies?
- Religious Studies Major
- Declaring a Major
- Major with Honors
- Minor in Religious Studies
- Minor in Religion & Media
- Declaring a Minor
- Transfer Credit
- Special Events
- Student Computer Lab
- Do you have more questions?
- Worksheet for the Major
- Faculty & Staff
Religion is in the news every day. Good news, bad news, you can’t avoid it. Some of us might like to ignore it, but ignoring religion only keeps us from being able to deal with it wisely.
Religion has a an impact on virtually every aspect of society, curlture, and personal life. It influences:
- International relations
- National and local politics
- Law and public policy
- Workplace dynamics
- Neighborhood interactions
- The production of culture
- Interpretations of history
- Struggles for social justice
- Perspectives on violence
- Attitudes toward nature
- Personal and social identitites
- The search for meaning & belonging
- Responses to suffering and death
This is a great question. The idea of religion is like a gem with many facets. As you rotate the gem, and each facet catches the light, a different aspect of religion shines through. If you keep turning the gem, you begin to see the big picture.
Religion can refer to many things: a historical tradition, an institution, a social movement, a collective way of life, a dimension of culture, a way of interpreting reality, a life philosophy, or an individual quest. Religion can reveal our common humanity and, at the same time, reflect our endless diversity.
Religions don’t stand still; they are always evolving. One of the most powerful factors driving religious change is doubt. For this reason, the study of religion includes the study of skepticism and disbelief. It also includes the study of the non-religions that have emerged in response to different religions.
Founded in 1927, the Department of Religious Studies was the first department at a public university in the United States to devote itself to the academic study of religion.
Today, we are a hub of multi-disciplinary inquiry into an array of religious ideas, experiences, texts, and practices. We are keen to interpret religion’s impact on public life, historically and in the contemporary world.
At the University of Iowa, you can study Islam; South Asian religions; Chinese Buddhism; Biblical and secular Judaism; ancient Mediterranean religions; Christianity in Europe and the U.S.; African American religions; Native American traditions; Latino/Latina religions; new religious movements; individual spiritual paths; and forms of religious questioning.
You can track the development of one tradition over time. You can examine interactions between different religious groups. You can analyze influential texts. You can explore the impact that religious stories have on people’s attitudes and behavior. You can analyze people’s arguments for and against religious belief and belonging. You can explore the transformations that are taking place in religion and society today, under the impact of digital social media. The possibilities are virtually endless.
One day you may need to work with people from different backgrounds and facilitate their cooperation. You may be charged with helping religious people in legal, medical, social work, business, or other settings. You’ll need to be comfortable with religious and cultural diversity in order to do your job well.
Our graduates have gone on to earn advanced degrees in many fields. They have chosen careers in teaching; marriage and family therapy; journalism and mass communication; law and human rights; medicine and nursing; dentistry; social work; banking; human resource management; radio and TV; and computer programming. They have worked for governmental and non-governmental agencies around the world.
The study of religion prepares you to do whatever you choose to do with greater flexibility of mind, more imagination, increased empathy, stronger communication skills, and the sort of intelligence our world really needs.
Each year, over a thousand students enroll in religious studies courses. Several of our courses fulfill requirements of the General Education program. After taking a course to fulfill a GE requirement, many students are so intrigued by the study of religion that they want to take more classes. Before they know it, they are close to fulfilling the requirements of the major.
Because the religious studies major is so flexible, many students add it to another major that they have chosen to pursue. This makes good sense. Let’s say you want to become a doctor or a nurse. How will you communicate effectively with people who make life and death decisions partly on the basis of religious convictions? You will be most helpful to them if you understand how religion operates in their lives.
The religious studies major requires a total of 30 s.h.
This includes 6 s.h. of required courses and 24 s.h. of electives, as indicated below.
RELS:1015 Religions in a Global Context
- This gateway course is an introduction to the study of the world’s religions, to be taken at a student’s earliest opportunity.
RELS:4950 Senior Seminar
- This capstone course is offered each spring semester. It is ideally to be taken during the senior year, but may be taken during the junior year.
- at least 6 s.h. must be at the foundational level, 1000-1999;
- at least 9 s.h. must be at more advanced levels, 2000-4999;
- the other 9 s.h. may be at any level.
Scroll down for a full list of our courses, and click here for the current course listings.
Simply visit the Academic Programs office (120 Schaeffer Hall) and file a declaration of major form. You can also declare your intention via an email to email@example.com. Then stop by our main office at 314 Gilmore Hall so we can pair you with a professor who will serve as your advisor.
You can earn a B.A. with Honors with a 3.5 or better GPA in your Religious Studies courses, with a 3.33 Iowa GPA (overall), and by investing an additional 3 s.h. in a guided research project, bringing the total Religious Studies credits to 33.
If you are eligible and interested in the university-wide Honors at Iowa Program, you can opt into that program by formally accepting the invitation to join. Participation in the Honors Program offers many benefits: tickets to special events, access to otherwise unavailable resources, and the chance to participate in the research work of a major university. Visit Honors at Iowa to learn about the UI Honors Program.
You may also like to join our local chapter of Theta Alpha Kappa, the National Honor Society for Religious Studies. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
This minor provides the opportunity to explore, from a variety of perspectives, how millions of the world’s inhabitants make sense of their lives and structure their societies.
The minor in Religious Studies requires a minimum of 15 s.h. of Religious Studies courses, including 12 s.h. completed through the University of Iowa. It also requires the following course work:
- At least two foundation courses numbered 1000-1999: 6 s.h.
- At least two courses numbered 2000-4999: 6 s.h.
- An additional course at any level: 3 s.h.
Students who pursue a minor are encouraged to include
RELS:1015 - Religions in a Global Context, and they are welcome to take
RELS:4950 - Senior Majors Seminar.
This minor focuses on the dynamic ways in which religion and media influence each other. It also delves into the impact of emerging digital technologies on both the practice and the study of religion.
- 18 s.h., including 12 s.h. chosen from select courses at the UI
- At least 6 s.h from Communication Studies
- At least 6 s.h. from Religious Studies
- Minimum g.p.a. of 2.00 in courses completed for the minor
Visit our website for full course requirements.
Do you have more questions?
Our professors and staff are eager to connect with you. Please feel free to stop in or email the main office or a professor (see listing below).
We also encourage you to check out our Facebook page and "like" us so you can stay up to date on department news and events.
Log into MyUI and click on the minor in Religious Studies. With a minor you won’t automatically be assigned an advisor, so if you would like advising please contact the Religious Studies office.
The Department of Religious Studies wants to do everything we can to ensure a smooth transition from one institution to another. The study of religion can take different forms at different schools, and not all of these approaches are appropriate to a public universities such as Iowa. However, up to 15 s.h. in Religious Studies coursework from another accredited college or university can be applied toward the B.A. degree at Iowa. Please contact Dr. Pesantubbee, Director of Undergraduate Studies if you wish to transfer credits.
Every year the Department of Religious Studies organizes public events, from lectures by visiting scholars, to presentations by current faculty, to informal colloquia where faculty and graduate students present work-in-progress. You are encouraged to attend these events, which provide rare opportunities to learn about new developments in the study of religion before they enter the mainstream of the classroom and print media. The department also hosts fun events for majors and minors during the year including Student Movie Nights, Triv-U-Lation (similar to Trivial Pursuit), an Ice Cream Social, and a Student Video Contest. For information regarding these events visit our Events page or Facebook.
We have a great computer center on the third floor of Gilmore Hall especially for undergraduate and graduate students in religious studies. You can check your e-mail, tap into helpful library resources, do some online reading, or check course web pages. The room is available for your use whenever the building is open.
There is also a large and comfortable atrium on the third floor of Gilmore Hall, which is a great place to read.
Student: __________________________ Advisor: __________________________
Additional Majors or Minors? __________________________________
- RELS:1015 Religions in a Global Context 3 s.h.
- RELS:4950 Senior Seminar 3 s.h.
6 s.h. (at least) at foundational level, 1000-1999
9 s.h. (at least) at advanced levels, 2000-4999
9 s.h. (additional) in any level.
TOTAL (30 hours required) 30
Honors Essay RELS:4975 3
TOTAL FOR HONORS STUDENTS: 33 33
Courses in Religious Studies are organized under two general headings: Religious Traditions and Critical Issues. Students can take any combination of courses they like.
Courses in this category generally focus on religious traditions or movements in historical perspective, within particular geographical areas or across regions. They may address foundational stories of creation and cosmic order, archeological findings, the compilation and interpretation of revered texts, religious doctrines, social norms, rituals and practices, or conflicts and schisms.
RELS:1000 First-Year Seminar
RELS:1001 Judaism, Christianity & Islam
RELS:1070 Intro to the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament
RELS:1080 Intro to the New Testament
RELS:1113 Gateway to the Bible
RELS:1130 Intro to Islamic Civilization
RELS:1225 Medieval Religion and Culture
RELS:1250 Modern Religion and Culture
RELS:1323 Life in the Biblical World
RELS:1410 Intro to Indian Religions
RELS:1430 The Bible: Frequently Asked Questions
RELS:1502 Asian Humanities: India
RELS:1506 Intro to Buddhism
RELS:1510 Past & Present of Chinese Religions
RELS:1610 Japanese Religions
RELS:1620 Bhagavad Gita: India’s Greatest Teaching
RELS:1765 U.S. Latino Religions
RELS:2041 Understanding “The Muslim World”
RELS:2064 Tricksters, Fools, and Creators
RELS:2068 Jews in Popular Culture
RELS:2182 Ancient Mediterranean Religions
RELS:2225 Messianic & Apocalyptic Bible Prophecy
RELS:2320 Jesus & The Gospels
RELS:2361 Middle East & Mediterranean Alexander-Suleiman
RELS:2674 You Are What You Eat: Food/Belief/Identity
RELS:2700 Sacred World of Native Americans
RELS:2877 Sport and Religion in America
RELS:2947 Quest II: Sex, Love, and Death
RELS:3003 Classical and Hellenistic Periods I
RELS:3103 Biblical Archaeology
RELS:3105 The World of the Old Testament
RELS:3129 Native American Prophets and Prophecy
RELS:3190 Medieval-Modern: Birth of Protestantism
RELS:3243 Pagans & Christians: The Early Church
RELS:3245 Mythology of Otherworldly Journeys
RELS:3247 Banned from the Bible: Pseudepigrapha
RELS:3375 Birth of the Holy Land: Ancient Mid East Art
RELS:3385 Early Modern Catholicism
RELS:3524 The Devil in Judaism and Christianity
RELS:3655 Zen Buddhism
RELS:3660 Japanese Religion and Thought
RELS:3666 History of Rel/Spiritual Practice: Yoga in Asia
RELS:3704 Egyptian Art
RELS:3716 Greek Religion and Society
RELS:3834 Arab Spring in Context: Media
RELS:3845 Islam in Africa
RELS:4001 Biblical Hebrew I
RELS:4002 Biblical Hebrew II
RELS:4155 Religious Conflict/Early-Modern Period
RELS:4181 Special Topics in Western Religion
RELS:4352 The Dead Sea Scrolls
RELS:4870 Islamic Cultural Presence in Spain
RELS:4893 Classic Arabic: Vocab, Syntax, & Grammar
RELS:4960 Individual Study Undergraduates
RELS:4970 Honors Tutorial
RELS:4975 Honors Essay
Courses in this category generally focus on ideas, arguments, or problems, often with reference to influential texts or oral traditions. They may explore religious perspectives on the nature of reality or the meaning of life. They may focus on issues of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, class, globalization, human rights, or law and politics.
RELS:1000 First-Year Seminar
RELS:1010 CLAS Master Class
RELS:1050 Big Ideas: Information, Society, Culture
RELS:1350 Intro to African-American Religions
RELS:1404 Living Religions of the East
RELS:1702 Religion in America Today
RELS:1810 Longing for Freedom
RELS:1903 Quest for Human Destiny
RELS:1997 Harry Potter: Mystery & Magic of Life
RELS:2080 Public Life in US: Religion and Media
RELS:2087 Narnia & Beyond: Writings of CS Lewis
RELS:2090 Issues in American Catholicism
RELS:2110 Diverse American Religions: Gender/Sexuality
RELS:2260 Hard Cases in Healthcare: Life and Death
RELS:2265 Hard Cases Healthcare: Ethics at the Beginning of Life
RELS:2272 Religion and Film
RELS:2289 Jerusalem: The Holy City
RELS:2353 Love: Journey of an Idea Through Time
RELS:2486 Religious Coexistence in the Middle East
RELS:2620 Politics, Sex, and the Bible
RELS:2540 Conflict and Identity in Western Religions
RELS:2720 Religion and Ethnic Conflict Middle East
RELS:2730 African American Islam
RELS:2771 Sexual Ethics
RELS:2775 The Bible and the Holocaust
RELS:2778 Am Indian Women: Myth, Ritual, and Sacred Power
RELS:2791 Religion & Social Life
RELS:2834 Philosophy of Religion
RELS:2852 Women in Islam and the Middle East
RELS:2912 The Bible in Film: Hollywood and Moses
RELS:2930 Digital Media and Religion
RELS:2969 Quest III: Heroes Lovers and Knaves
RELS:2980 Religion & Contemporary Popular Culture
RELS:2986 Religion & Women
RELS:3020 Religion and Politics
RELS:3360 Religion Beyond Reason: Emotion & Communication
RELS:3340 Recovering Eden: Afterlife Judaism/Xnty
RELS:3431 Gender and Sexuality in Asia
RELS:3520 Dying for the Promised Land: Martyrdom
RELS:3572 Comparative Ritual
RELS:3575 East Meets West: West Reception of Eastern Religions
RELS:3580 Religion and Healing
RELS:3582 Enlightenment: Texts on Religious Realization
RELS:3645 Buddhist Philosophy
RELS:3700 Nonprofit Organizational Effectiveness I
RELS:3701 Nonprofit Organizational Effectiveness II
RELS:3711 Religion and Women
RELS:3714 Anthropology of Religion
RELS:3745 20th C African-Am Religion: Civil Rights to Hip Hop
RELS:3808 Malcolm X, King & Human Rights
RELS:3855 Human Rights and Islam
RELS:3976 American Indian Environmentalism
RELS:4124 Digital Archaeological Modeling
RELS:4133 Special Topics: Islamic & Middle East Society
RELS:4153 Magic Machines: Tech & Social Change
RELS:4560 Native American Women & Religious Change
RELS:4730 Religion and Environmental Ethics
RELS:4741 Varieties of American Religion
RELS:4748 Religious Rhetoric: God and US Politics
RELS:4920 Native American Women & Religious Change
RELS:4939 Controversial Religions in US History
RELS:4960 Individual Study Undergraduates
RELS:4970 Honors Tutorial
RELS:4975 Honors Essay