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

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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.

Structure of the Major

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  3 s.h.
    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  3 s.h.
    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.

Declaring a Major

To declare your major, visit the Academic Programs and Student Development office (located in 120 Schaeffer Hall) or email that office at clasps@uiowa.edu.  Alternatively, you may declare your major by emailing Kyle McEvilly at kyle-mcevilly@uiowa.edu.

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

Click here for full course requirements.

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 Kyle McEvilly, Senior Academic Advisor.

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 university 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. Michelene 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), and Ice Cream Socials.  For information regarding these events visit our Events page or Facebook.

Student Computer Lab

Visit our computer center on the third floor of Gilmore Hall, designed especially for students in Religious Studies.  Check 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. 

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 here). You may also email our Undergraduate Outreach Coordinator, Kyle McEvilly, Senior Academic Advisor at kyle-mcevilly@uiowa.edu

We encourage you to “like” us on Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/UIDeptofReligiousStudies/

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: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:2475       Islam in America

RELS:2552       Atheism, Agnosticism, & Religion

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:3055       Death, Dying & Beyond Asian Religions

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:3448       Allure of Krishna: Sacred Sexuality

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

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:1050        Big Ideas: Information, Society, Culture

RELS:1350        Intro to African-American Religions

RELS:1404        Living Religions of the East

RELS:1606        Civilizations of Asia: South Asia

RELS:1702        Religion in America Today

RELS:1725        Gender & Religions/Visual Culture: Korea

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:2333        Economics & Religion

RELS:2353        Love: Journey of an Idea Through Time

RELS:2420        Human Identity in Science Fiction

RELS:2486        Religious Coexistence in the Middle East

RELS:2510        Fed Up With Organized Religion

RELS:2540        The Walls Between Us/The Bible Defines the Other

RELS:2620        Politics, Sex, and the Bible

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:2855         Human Rights, Law, Religion & Culture

RELS:2912         The Bible in Film: Hollywood and Moses

RELS:2930         Digital Media and Religion

RELS:2980         Religion & Contemporary Popular Culture

RELS:2986         Religion & Women

RELS:3020          Religion and Politics

RELS:3333          Economics & Islam

RELS:3340          Recovering Eden: Afterlife Judaism/Xnty

RELS:3360          Religion Beyond Reason: Emotion & Communication

RELS:3431          Gender and Sexuality in Asia

RELS:3520           Dying for the Promised Land: Martyrdom

RELS:3550           Social Justice, Religion, & Spirituality

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:3644           Ghandi & His Legacy

RELS:3645           Buddhist Philosophy

RELS:3700           Nonprofit Organizational Effectiveness I

RELS:3701           Nonprofit Organizational Effectiveness II

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:4153           Magic Machines: Tech & Social Change

RELS:4730           Religion and Environmental Ethics

RELS:4741           Varieties of American Religion

RELS:4960           Individual Study Undergraduates

RELS:4970           Honors Tutorial

RELS:4975           Honors Essay