The Department of Religion

at Williams College

About the Religion Major
The major in Religion is designed to perform two related functions: to expose the student to the methods and issues involved in the study of religion as a universal phenomenon of psychological, sociological, and cultural/historical dimensions; and to confront students with the beliefs, practices, and values of specific religions through a study of particular religious traditions. It is a program that affords each student an opportunity to fashion his/her own sequence of study within a prescribed basic pattern constructed to ensure both coherence and variety. It consists of at least nine semester courses as follows:

Required sequence courses

Religion 101: Introduction to Religion

Two seminars, one that explores a central topic of contemporary critical inquiry in the study of religion (courses numbered 270-299) and one that explores a body of theory in the study of religion (courses numbered 301-309) Note: WGST 402 will count as a 300-level seminar for the Religion major in 2009-2010.

Religion 401: Issues in the Study of Religion

Elective courses

Five additional courses in Religion are to be selected in such a way that at least one course is taken in both the Western and non-Western traditions.

Students will construct their sequence in consultation with departmental advisors and subject to their approval. In order to achieve a deep coverage of a particular religious tradition or set of related problems in the study of religion, students are urged to select three electives that together have some kind of coherence, be it cultural, historical, or topical. Related courses from other departments or programs may be included among the three courses, and the point of coherence can be the subject of research papers in the senior seminar.

Students are advised to elect additional courses in related fields (e.g., psychology, sociology, anthropology, art, history, philosophy) in order to gain a clearer understanding of the social and cultural contexts in which religions appear. For those who wish to go beyond the formally-listed courses into a more intensive study of a particular religious tradition, methodological trend, or religious phenomenon (e.g., ritual, symbol-formation, mysticism, theology, etc.), there is the opportunity to undertake independent study or, with the approval of the department,
to pursue a thesis project.

The value of the major in Religion derives from its fostering of a critical appreciation of the complex role religion plays in every society, even those that consider themselves non-religious. The major makes one sensitive to the role religion plays in shaping the terms of cultural discourse, of social attitudes and behavior, and of moral reflection. But it also discloses the ways in which religion and its social effects represent the experience of individual persons and communities. In doing these things, the major further provides one with interdisciplinary analytical tools and cross-cultural experience and opens up new avenues for dealing with both the history of a society and culture and the relationships between different societies and cultures. What one learns as a Religion major is therefore remarkably applicable to a wide range of other fields of study or professions.