The relationship between philosophy and religion has varied throughout history from contentious and suspicious to charitable and curious, from dismissive and estranged to friendly and synonymous - among other descriptors. Regardless of the era, however, this relationship has always produced fertile ground for intellectual study.
The Interdepartmental Major in Philosophy and Religious Studies equips students with the methods, theories, and resources of philosophy, as well as with those of the world's great religious traditions. It offers you an excellent vantage point from which to consider questions about the nature of reality, knowledge, and ethical conduct - among other foundational questions regarding the human experience.
This major combines the resources of two of IU Bloomington's oldest and most celebrated departments to create an exciting and challenging program of study. This collaborative program prepares students to pursue a wide range of career paths. Through the study of formal logic, intellectual and religious history, value theory, and theories of reality, students develop the ability to analyze and critically evaluate arguments, think independently and creatively about problems, and write clearly and persuasively.
In addition to core requirements, majors choose from a diverse array of elective courses that address topics ranging from business and biomedical ethics to ancient Gnosticism and early Chinese religious traditions.
There are a variety of entry points to the PHIL/REL BA. For most students, course work begins in either Philosophy or Religious Studies at the 100 level. These courses are open to any student, without prerequisites, and satisfy various College and General Education requirements. A few examples include:
- PHIL-P 106 Problems of Philosophy provides a taste of central issues in philosophy.
- PHIL-P 141 Introduction to Ethical Theories and Problems provides an overview of major ethical theories, focusing on the rich historical and contemporary theories that aim to help us figure out what we should do, how we should live, and why.
- REL-R 133 Introduction to Religion explores the range of ways scholars think about religion in the field.
PHIL-P 106, PHIL-P 141, and REL-R 133 all emphasize learning to read carefully and critically, to think clearly and rigorously, and write precisely.
Other introductory courses are offered on a less frequent basis but also provide a good first step in the major.
Tracks and concentrations
By design, the B.A. Major in Philosophy and Religious Studies seeks to acquaint students with a wide range of topics and issues. Spanning two departments, the major does not have any official tracks or concentrations. Students often cluster their courses to suit their interests, developing an unofficial concentration. This may be especially useful if you are interested in going on to graduate school in Philosophy or Religious Studies.
Plan to meet with the Philosophy undergraduate academic advisor or the Religious Studies undergraduate academic advisor early and often to discuss your specific interests, developing a specialized route through the major requirements.
Upper level coursework
Students pursuing the degree are required to take REL-R 389 Majors Seminar in Religion and either PHIL-P 371 Philosophy of Religion or REL-R 380 Comparative Study of Religious Phenomena. It is recommended that you take these courses in your junior or senior year.
Many courses at different levels emphasize the same skills and even some of the same topics. The difference is the higher level of sophistication in upper-level courses.
300-level courses are the core courses for the degree. Students in the major take most of their electives at this level, providing an opportunity for you to explore and follow your interests. These courses emphasize student engagement with the course topics through critical papers.
400-level courses are small seminars that address more advanced topics or problems. They are intended to provide a capstone experience in which you work closely with a faculty member, developing a significant piece of philosophical or religious studies writing over the course of the semester. All majors are required to take at least two 400-level courses (one in Philosophy, one in Religious Studies), but many students take more.
Commonly pursued majors, minors and certificates
Coursework for the Interdepartmental Major in Philosophy and Religious Studies represents about one-third of your degree requirements. With the help of your academic advisor, you may be able to combine several areas of interest by adding additional majors, minors, or certificates. Recently, the most commonly paired majors have been: Cognitive Science, English, Economics, History, Political Science, Psychology, and Sociology.
Likewise, the most common minors are Business, Creative Writing, Cognitive Science, Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, Nonprofit Management, Political Science, and Sociology. Check your bulletin for more information about these minors
- Enhance your major
Working with faculty
When pursuing the Interdepartmental Major in Philosophy and Religious Studies, you have the opportunity to work with faculty who have expertise and experience in the field. Take advantage of office hours to talk with faculty in Philosophy and Religious Studies about your performance in class, the content of assignments, and how the course helps you work toward your goals.
Philosophy and Religious Studies faculty frequently work with dedicated students on independent studies courses, service learning projects, and teaching internships.
As your interests develop, you might want to take an independent readings course under the guidance of faculty. PHIL-X 490 Readings in Philosophy and REL-X 498 Individual Research in Religious Studies are popular options, providing students space for the intensive study of an author or topic of their choosing. Talk with the Philosophy academic advisor, Religious Studies academic advisor, or your instructors about this possibility.
You can get involved in research as early as your first year. Many incoming freshmen apply to the Arts and Sciences Undergraduate Research Experience (ASURE) program. ASURE students experience project-based learning enhanced by a community of supportive faculty and peers. Choose an ASURE path in the arts and humanities, social and historical studies, or natural and mathematical sciences. Consider joining one that will deepen your skills and knowledge in an area related to your major or a different one to become a more well-rounded thinker.
The Philosophy and Religious Studies B.A. honors program offers outstanding majors the opportunity to explore the skills and independence needed to craft and complete advanced scholarly work. It culminates with the production of a formal written project and a defense before an honors committee consisting of faculty members from both departments.
Undergraduate scholarships and awards
Philosophy and Religious Studies B.A. students are eligible to apply for award and scholarship opportunities in both departments.
The Department of Philosophy rewards outstanding majors by selecting them as recipients of several awards and scholarships:
- Dona Roberts Biddle Scholarship
- Betty Neal Hamilton Academic Excellence Award
- Undergraduate Academic Excellence Award
- Undergraduate Ewing Essay Prize
The Department of Religious Studies offers these funding opportunities:
The IU Foundation offers a large number of scholarships to IU students based on a variety of criteria - check to see if you qualify
The Hutton Honors College maintains an extensive list of scholarships and grants offered by the Honors College and other providers. Hutton's scholarships and grants support international travel, enable thesis work, and help alleviate emergency financial need, among other functions.
If you are part of a religious organization, you might also see if it offers undergraduate scholarships or other forms of support for your studies.
Internships offer you a chance to develop both technical and transferable skills while making vital professional contacts with others in the field. Many students begin exploring internship opportunities, including overseas study programs with internships, as early as their first year.
Students wanting to apply their studies in a communal or public setting should consider doing an approved internship project through PHIL-X 497 Internship in Philosophy or REL-X 370 Service Learning in Religious Studies.
Learn more about internships, including the possibility of receiving credit, through the Walter Center for Career Achievement, where you'll find many resources for both domestic and international internships.
Foreign language study
The study of languages is important to students of philosophy and religion, especially if you wish to go to graduate school in either field. Proficiency in at least one foreign language is required for admission to some graduate programs in philosophy and religious studies. Regardless of minimum admission requirements, students in Ph.D. programs are often expected to develop proficiency in one or more foreign languages to aid in their dissertation research.
For these reasons, it is a good idea of undergraduate philosophy majors interested in graduate study to develop language skills as they progress through the program. Additionally, if you study your chosen language(s) through the third year level or higher, you may be able to count some of those courses toward your Philosophy and Religion B.A. degree. Consult the Philosophy academic advisor or Religious Studies academic advisor for more details.
As one of the premier institutions in the U.S. for the study of languages, IU Bloomington offers courses and resources in over 80 languages.
Below is a sampling of language study resources available to students at IU Bloomington.
- Arabic Flagship Program
- Center for Language Technology
- Chinese Flagship Program
- Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowships
- IU Language Workshop
- Language Tables
- Project GO
- Russian Flagship Program
Study abroad is an important part of undergraduate education in an increasingly interconnected world. Philosophy and Religious Studies students often pursue language study and other course work in a variety of overseas settings. Popular destinations for majors include:
- Australian National University in Canberra, Australia
- Copenhagen-DIS in Copenhagen, Denmark
- Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel
- Koç University in Istanbul, Turkey
- Paris-IES in Paris, France
- University of Bologna in Bologna, Italy
- University of Cape Town, South Africa
- University of Freiberg in Freiberg, Germany
- University of Madrid in Madrid, Spain
- University of Oxford - St. Anne's in Oxford, England
The College of Arts and Sciences also directly hosts a variety of study abroad programs, some even featuring IU faculty, that might be right for you. Learn more about study abroad opportunities and locations through conversation with Philosophy and Religious Studies faculty, your academic advisor, and through the Office of Overseas Study.
Participation in a student group is a good way to make connections between your coursework and co-curricular activities. Student organizations that are especially relevant to students in Philosophy include:
- Indiana University Journal of Undergraduate Research
- Philosophy Club
- Philosophy Department Undergraduate Advisory Board
- Women in Philosophy
The Undergraduate Religious Studies Association (URSA) is the official student group affiliated with the Religious Studies Department. This group organizes a variety of events throughout the year. Other student associations that can enrich your Religious Studies experience include:
Residential Programs and Services at IU offers a variety of Living Learning Communities and Thematic Communities, which allow students to select to live among peers with a common interest.
Explore beINvolved to connect with any of the 750+ student organizations that already exist, or to start a new one.
There are numerous opportunities for volunteer engagement, allowing you to give back to the local community while developing useful job skills. The organizations below can help you connect with others from the university and beyond:
- Bridges: Children, Languages, World
- Habitat for Humanity Monroe County
- IU Corps
- Middle Way House
- Monroe County History Center
- VITAL - Volunteers in Tutoring Adult Learners
- Women Writing for (a) Change Bloomington
Sign up to receive weekly emails from the Bloomington Volunteer Network to learn about local opportunities and organizations.
In the United States, the premier organization for philosophers and philosophy students is The American Philosophical Association. Likewise, the American Academy of Religion is the premier organization for religious studies scholars and students. The following professional associations of invite undergraduates to consider membership:
- The American Society for Bioethics and Humanities
- The American Society for Aesthetics
- Ancient Philosophy Society
- Association for Practical and Professional Ethics
- The International Association for Philosophy and Literature
- Philosophy of Education Society
- Philosophy of Science Association
- Society of Biblical Literature
- Society for Philosophy and Psychology
- Society for Women in Philosophy
- Build your skills
Through the major
The B.A. in Philosophy and Religious Studies provides you with a set of skills and qualities that are relevant and transferable to many areas of study and work. These include:
Central philosophical topics: Develop a basic understanding of fundamental issues in moral and political philosophy, epistemology, and metaphysics. Have an understanding of how Western philosophy developed, including substantive knowledge of some key figures in ancient and modern philosophy.
Expertise in religion: Understand and describe several features of religion as manifested in multiple traditions; evaluate the category of religion and, if desired, develop a depth of expertise in one or two traditions.
Global cultural competence: Utilize knowledge of a variety of philosophical and religious traditions in multiple cultural settings, to analyze actions and to inform judgments.
Analytical writing: Be able to write clear, well-organized, cogent essays that argue persuasively for a thesis.
Argument: The ability to read complex texts closely and with sensitivity to their historical and philosophical context; describe accurately and sympathetically the position of the author; identify the main argument for the position; and critically evaluate the argument and position.
Formal logic: Learn and apply some of the basic principles of deductive logic to formalize and evaluate arguments.
Creative critical inquiry: Develop the capacity to engage in philosophy and religious studies in an open-minded, non-dogmatic way, offering and accepting criticism without personalizing it, and tolerating uncertainty.
Communication: The ability to communicate knowledge - facts, concepts, arguments - about philosophy and religion, both orally and in writing, with experts and non-specialists.
Through a College of Arts and Sciences degree
Your coursework provides many opportunities to develop the following five foundational skills that will serve you well in every career path:
- Question critically
- Think logically
- Communicate clearly
- Act creatively
- Live ethically
These foundational skills will aid you in landing your first job and advancing professionally throughout your working life. Not only are these the skills that employers say they value most in the workplace, they provide the best preparation for lifelong success in a world of complexity, uncertainty, and change.
Skills desired by employers
Each year, the National Association of Colleges and Employers asks employers what key skills and qualities they are looking for in recent college graduates.
The following are some of the most commonly desired attributes across many employment sectors:
- Problem-solving skills
- Ability to work in a team
- Written and verbal communication skills
- Leadership skills
- Strong work ethic
- Analytical and quantitative skills
- Ability to take Initiative
- Being detail oriented
- Demonstrating adaptability
- Technical skills relevant to the field
- Interpersonal skills
- Computer skills
- Organizational ability
As you explore various career fields, pay attention to specific job descriptions and requirements. If there are areas where your skills or knowledge are lacking, talk with your academic advisor and career coach about how you can develop in those areas while you are at Indiana University.
- Launch your career
Plan your search
The Walter Center for Career Achievement offers job search resources, career courses, job fairs, information about internships and full-time jobs, and help with social media networking through professional organizations. Get advice about how to write your resume, ask for letters of recommendation from faculty and workplace supervisors, and prepare for job interviews, too.
Explore and enroll in Career Communities to learn more about industries relevant to your interests. These offer unique information about each field, including alumni spotlights, opportunities and resources, and in-person events.
Maximize your career preparation with a career course. Majors in the B.A. in Philosophy and Religious Studies should consider enrolling in ASCS-Q296 College to Career II: Navigate Your Arts and Sciences Experience. The section dedicated to Arts and Humanities provides the opportunity for you to explore the relationship between your field of study and life after graduation, while developing an academic and career development plan for post-collegiate success. If you are considering continuing your studies after graduation, you may wish to enroll instead in the section dedicated to graduate school preparation. Regardless of the section you select, you will leave the class with your resume, a cover letter or personal statement, and a LinkedIn profile ready to go!
The job market
The employment outlook for students with a Philosophy and Religious Studies B.A. is promising. Most discover that the skills they have gained from the study of Philosophy and Religious Studies uniquely prepare them for a wide variety of careers. Many individuals pursue graduate or professional studies.
Initial and long-term destinations for graduates include positions in many job sectors: civil and public service, politics, law, medicine, teaching, government, communications, research and religiously affiliated areas.
Students majoring in Philosophy and Religious Studies can become researchers, lawyers, professors, physicians, social workers, authors, clergy, administrators, teachers, counselors, managers, public policy analysts, as well as a whole host of other jobs and careers.
Want to see where your fellow majors go right after graduating from IU? Check out the Walter Center’s First Destinations survey!
Need more ideas? The Occupational Outlook Handbook from the Bureau of Labor Statistics offers career information about hundreds of occupations.
Talk with the Philosophy faculty, Religious Studies faculty, academic advisor and career coach and talk to students currently in the program to gain insights into the career paths taken by graduates with a Philosophy and Religious Studies B.A.
Post-graduate short-term experiences
After graduation, a short-term experience or internship can help you make connections, gain life skills, and assess your interest in future careers. Talk with your career coach and use these and other resources to find opportunities that are a good fit with your educational experience and career goals. The beginning of your post-graduate career might be an ideal time to explore an international internship or other short-term experience through organizations such as these:
- American Red Cross
- Global Experiences
- U.S. Department of Education
- U.S. House of Representatives
Fellowships for post-graduate study
Fellowships are temporary opportunities to conduct research, work in a field, or fund your education. Most opportunities can be found through universities, non-profits, and government organizations.
Resources for finding fellowship opportunities include:
- Cultural Vistas Professional Fellowships
- Franklin Research Grants
- Fulbright Grants
- IU Fellowships and Awards
- Jacob K. Javits Fellowship
- Lewis and Clark Fund for Exploration and Field Research
- Phillips Fund Grants
Graduate and professional study
When applying to graduate or professional schools, you'll need letters of recommendation from faculty members who are familiar with your work. Make a practice of attending office hours early in your academic career, get to know your professors and discuss your options for advanced study in the field.
A Philosophy and Religious Studies B.A. will also prepare you for entry into graduate programs in a wide variety of fields, such as education, ethics, law, medicine, business, religious studies and, of course, philosophy.
With careful planning, and in consultation with the Health Professions and Prelaw Center, you could also prepare to enter law school, medical school, or other professional programs.
Students who pursue graduate studies in Philosophy and Religious Studies have gone into careers with top academic and research institutions, education, local, state and federal government, non-profit organizations, media, business and private entrepreneurship, and the military and intelligence communities.
You might consider these Indiana University graduate opportunities:
- Department of English
- Department of Religious Studies
- Department of History
- School of Education
- School of Social Work
- Maurer School of Law
- O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs
- College + Kelley
The College of Arts and Sciences has thousands of active alumni.Check out the College Luminaries program, which connects students with the College's most influential, successful, and inspiring alumni.
Join the Walter Center Success Network to remain in touch, network directly with College of Arts and Sciences Alumni, and let others know where your path takes you.
Is it for you?
The B.A. in Philosophy and Religious Studies attracts students from a variety of backgrounds and interests. They typically have some of the following qualities:
- Desire to learn and think critically about religious traditions
- Interest in developing a broad skillset, applicable to any number of careers that employ analytical skills, intellectual discipline, and facility in considering issues from diverse viewpoints
- Fascination with religious practices, movements, and ideas in the present and the past
- Interest in wrestling with ethical questions covering medicine, the environment, and other issues related to public life
- Open-minded, with the ability to offer and accept criticism, and the capacity to tolerate uncertainty
- Curiosity about other cultures, both domestic and foreign
- Willingness to ask challenging questions and to be challenged intellectually
Philosophy and Religious Studies are central to a liberal education that provides both breadth of understanding and versatility in employing ideas. Acquaintance with the great literature in these disciplines is invaluable to understanding history and culture. Together, the two departments offer a wide variety of courses, relevant to almost anyone's particular interests.
Additionally, philosophy makes an excellent undergraduate major for students going on to certain careers, typically involving graduate study. These include law, fields relating to social policy and public affairs, church leadership, and business administration.
Indeed, training in philosophy and religious studies is relevant to any career in which analytic and synthetic skills are required. Such training provides the flexibility and perspective needed in a rapidly changing world.
Contact the Philosophy undergraduate academic advisor or the Religious Studies undergraduate academic advisor and schedule an appointment to explore your options. Complete information about the requirements of the major can be found in the College of Arts and Sciences Bulletin.
- Department website
- Advisor email address