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

Illustration of binary code tubingReligion 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

What Is Religion?

DiamondThis 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.


The Study of Religion at Iowa

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.


What Can I Do with a Degree in Religious Studies?

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.

Religious Studies Major and Double Major

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.

Declaring a Major

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 clasps@uiowa.edu.  Then stop by our main office at 314 Gilmore Hall so we can pair you with a professor who will serve as your advisor.

Major with Honors

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 religion@uiowa.edu for more information.

Minor in Religious Studies

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.

Minor in Religion & Media

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 email the main office (religion@uiowa.edu) or a professor (see the list of faculty, pages 14-15). You can also call the Religious Studies Office or stop by and ask to talk to a possible advisor. 

We encourage you to visit our home page: https://clas.uiowa.edu/religion/ or “like” us on Facebook.  

Declaring a Minor

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.

Transfer Credit 

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.

Special Events

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 website or Facebook page.

Student Computer Lab

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.

Worksheet for the Major

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. 

Religious Traditions

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:1021           Judaism: The Sacred and the Secular

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:1502           Asian Humanities: India

RELS:1506           Intro to Buddhism

RELS:1510           Past & Present of Chinese Religions

RELS:1610           Japanese Religions

RELS:1765           U.S. Latino Religions

RELS:2064           Tricksters, Fools, and Creators

RELS:2068           Jews in Popular Culture

RELS:2090           Issues in American Catholicism

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:4404            The Literature of Daoism

RELS:4768            Islamic Sects

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

Critical Issues

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: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:2121           The Bible and the Sacrifice of Animals

RELS:2260           Hard Cases in Healthcare: Life and Death

RELS:2272           Religion and Film

RELS:2289           Jerusalem: The Holy City

RELS:2351           Religious Thinkers of the West

RELS:2353           Love: Journey of an Idea Through Time

RELS:2356           Christianity & Enduring Human Experience

RELS:2486           Religious Coexistence in the Middle East

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:2883           Science and Christianity

RELS:2912           The Bible in Film: Hollywood and Moses

RELS:2930           Digital Media and Religion

RELS:2962            Islam in Public Sphere Art/Lit/Cult/Politics

RELS:2969            Quest III: Heroes Lovers and Knaves

RELS:2980            Religion & Contemporary Popular Culture

RELS:2986            Religion & Women

RELS:3020            Religion and Politics

RELS:3320            In Search of the Good Life

RELS:3360            Religion Beyond Reason: Emotion & Communication

RELS:3340            Recovering Eden: Afterlife Judaism/Xnty

RELS:3431            Gender and Sexuality in Asia

RELS:3448            Allure of Krishna: Sacred Sexuality in Indian Culture

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