Religious Studies B.A.

Do you wonder about how and why people are religious, or spiritual? Do you desire to understand what religion and spirituality are, in all their diversity, and how they relate to the rest of human life? Do you possess a keen interest in ethical questions and how to answer them? If so, majoring in Religious Studies may be right for you.

Students who pursue the Religious Studies B.A. degree explore several different religious traditions through the interdisciplinary study of texts, values, rituals, beliefs, and communities. You can also choose to delve more deeply into a single tradition or the study of ethics, politics, and philosophy. As a major, you learn how to make sense of religion as a key player in political, cultural, and economic life.

Religious Studies majors gain the skills and knowledge necessary to be thoughtful, informed citizens of our increasingly pluralistic world. Through your courses, you learn how to analyze various elements of religion, ask good questions, improve your writing abilities, and more. Collectively, these attributes enable Religious Studies majors to succeed after graduation in a wide range of careers and graduate programs.

The Department of Religious Studies, part of the College of Arts and Sciences, features faculty who are experts in religion and ethics and are deeply invested in their students' undergraduate educations.

For students who also have sustained interest in either Philosophy or African American and African Diaspora Studies, the department offers two interdepartmental majors with those programs. A minor in Religious Studies is also an option. Information about the interdepartmental majors and the departmental minor can be found in your bulletin.

Coursework

Getting started

Your starting point in Religious Studies is any 100 or 200 level REL-A, B, C, D, or R course of interest. REL-R 133 Intro to Religion will be of particular interest if you want to systematically explore the range of ways scholars think about religion.

Watch for COLL-C 103, COLL-C 104, or HON-H courses offered by Religious Studies faculty, since they too can usually count toward the major.

Tracks and concentrations

The Religious Studies major helps you develop a wide-ranging understanding of religion in a variety of contexts and traditions. This is why all majors are required to take at least one course from each of the subfields marked by the letters A, B, C, and D. No official concentrations exist for the major.

The degree offers flexibility in choosing courses, allowing you to personalize the curriculum. The academic advisor will help you select the best courses to suit your interests. While personalizing the major, you may wish to craft an unofficial concentration.

You can construct your unofficial concentration along several broad lines. Examples include:

  • A particular religious tradition, such as Christianity, Judaism, or Hinduism
  • A geographical area, such as the Americas or the Ancient Mediterranean
  • Ethics

It is advisable to take 4 to 6 classes in your unofficial concentration, comprising a mixture of courses covering breadth and depth in your chosen subject area. An example of a breadth class would be REL-A 250 Intro to Christianity. An example of a depth course would REL-B 414 Buddhist Philosophy in India.

Developing an unofficial concentration may be especially helpful for students interested in going on to graduate programs in religious studies.

Upper level coursework

Majors are required to take REL-R 389 Majors Seminar in Religion. The department generally recommends that students take this course in their junior or senior year.

Religious Studies majors must take additional upper level coursework at the 300 and 400 level. These predominantly discussion-oriented classes explore a topic or issue in depth. Upper level courses feature assignments that help you improve your writing, speaking, analytical, and interpretive skills.

If you are building an unofficial concentration, you might want to choose several upper level courses that fit your area of intellectual interest.

Commonly pursued majors, minors and certificates

Students pursuing the Religious Studies major often study other fields while completing their bachelor's degree. Work with the academic advisor if you wish to pair your Religious Studies B.A. degree with another course of study.

The most common majors pursued alongside Religious Studies are History, Political Science, Psychology, Philosophy, English, and Sociology.

Frequently completed minors include Spanish, History, Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, Hebrew, Biology, and Sociology. Check your bulletin for more information about these minors.

The Liberal Arts Management Program (LAMP), Political and Civic Engagement (PACE) and Jewish Studies are the primary certificates Religious Studies majors pursue.

Enhance your major

Working with faculty

When pursuing the Religious Studies B.A. degree, you have the opportunity to work with faculty who have expertise and experience in the field. Take advantage of office hours to talk with your instructors about your performance in class, the content of assignments, and how the course helps you work toward your goals. 

Religious Studies faculty frequently work with dedicated students on independent study courses, service learning projects, and teaching internships.

Students interested in a topic not covered through standard coursework or who want to go into greater depth in a subject should consider enrolling in REL-X 498 Individual Research in Religious Studies. REL-X 370 Service Learning in Religious Studies covers projects that involve work in a communal or public setting and related academic study.

Advanced juniors and seniors with interest in becoming educators might inquire about the REL-X 371 Teaching Internship. This option permits you to learn about the art of teaching in an applied setting.

The academic advisor can help you find the appropriate professor to lead your particular project.

Honors

Religious Studies majors often pursue departmental honors. Indeed, the department boasts one of the highest rates of students completing honors theses in the College. The faculty find supervising honors projects rewarding and are happy to work with you on your thesis.

Researching and writing an honors thesis offers high achieving students a way to deepen their command of an area of interest. Students are encouraged to develop and refine their research interests early in their study, selecting courses that will provide a strong foundation for the thesis. Completing an honors thesis is a particularly good exercise if you are considering graduate school.

Majors undertaking a thesis should consider applying for the undergraduate honors essay research grant.

Each year qualified majors are nominated by the department and inducted into Theta Alpha Kappa, the honors society for Religious Studies.

High achieving students may be recognized for Academic Excellence in the College of Arts and Sciences, or be eligible for admission to the Hutton Honors College.

Undergraduate scholarships and awards

Each year there are also two essay contests open to majors. The Bill Gallagher essay contest offers three cash prizes to recognize high quality undergraduate papers pertaining to the study of religion. If you are writing an honors thesis, you can also submit your work for the undergraduate honors essay contest.

The IU Office of Scholarships offers numerous awards. Other relevant scholarships and awards include:

The IU Foundation offers a large number of scholarships to IU students based a variety of criteria--check to see if you qualify.

Hutton Honors College maintains an extensive list of scholarships and grants, offered by the Honors College and other providers. Hutton scholarships and grants support international travel, enable thesis work, help alleviate emergency financial need, and so forth.

If you are part of a religious organization, you might see if it offers undergraduate scholarships or other forms of support for your studies.

Internships

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 freshman year.

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.

Students wanting to apply their studies in a public setting should consider doing an approved internship project through REL-X 471.

Organizations offering internships relevant to Religious Studies include:

Foreign language study

The study of languages is important to being a good student of religion, especially if you want to go to graduate school in the field. If you study your chosen language through the third year level or higher, you might be able to count some of those courses toward your Religious Studies major. Consult the 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 60 languages.

Below is a sampling of language study resources available to students at IU Bloomington.

Overseas study

Study abroad is an important part of undergraduate education in an increasingly interconnected world. Religious Studies students often pursue language study and other coursework through the following exchange programs: United Kingdom (Kent), Denmark (Copenhagen), Germany (Freiburg), Israel (Jerusalem), and South Africa (Cape Town). But these are by no means the only programs that may benefit you.

Learn more about study abroad opportunities and locations through conversation with Religious Studies faculty, your academic advisor, and through the Office of Overseas Study.

Advanced students interested in the religions of India might also check out the study abroad program offered by the International School for Jain Studies. It offers summer programs and often helps fund students. While this program does not count toward an IU degree, it could enhance your intellectual development.

If you are interested in ethics, you might want to check out the domestic summer program at Yale's Sherwin B. Nuland Summer Institute in Bioethics. This two month program for undergraduate and graduate students offers participants a variety of opportunities to explore bioethical issues, participate in a mini-conference, and network with people interested in the field.

Student groups

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. Joining is a great way to become more involved in the life of the department.

Other student associations that can enrich your experience include:

The Global Living Learning Center and Collins Living Learning Center are two of several Living Learning Centers on campus that are often of interest to Religious Studies majors.

Explore beINvolved to connect with any of the 750+ student organizations that already exist, or to start a new one.

Volunteer opportunities

There are numerous opportunities for volunteer engagement, allowing you to give back to your surrounding community while developing useful job skills. The organizations below can help you connect with others from the university and beyond.

Sign up to receive weekly emails from the Bloomington Volunteer Network to learn about local opportunities and organizations.

Professional organizations

Professional associations of interest to Religious Studies majors include:

Use the Indiana University Library system to search for Associations Unlimited, an online directory of associations, professional societies, non-profit organizations, and much more.

Build your skills

Through the major

The Religious Studies major provides you with a set of skills and qualities that are relevant and transferable to many areas of study and work. These include:

  • 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 and/or ethical systems
  • Global cultural competences: utilize knowledge of a variety of religions in multiple cultural settings to analyze actions and inform judgments
  • Methods of analysis: interpret information about religion through multiple disciplinary lenses
  • Research synthesis: gain skills to develop evidence-based arguments, assess the strengths of the arguments of others, and defend your own position
  • Communication: communicate knowledge (facts, concepts, arguments) about 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.

Your academic advisor and career coach can also help you find ways to strengthen and deepen the knowledge you already have, becoming more prepared for whatever path you select after College.

Launch your career

Plan your search

A good starting point for exploring your career options is an appointment with your career coach.

The Walter Center for Career Achievement offers job search resources, career courses, job fairs, information about internships and full-time jobs, and help with networking through social media and professional organizations. Get advice about how to write your resume, ask for letters of recommendation, 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.

You might want to take a career course to help you maximize your time at IU. Religious Studies majors should consider taking ASCS-Q 296 College to Career II: Navigate Your Arts and Sciences Experience. This course will teach you how to successfully market your qualifications gained from your liberal arts education, achieve career-related goals, and plan for life-long career development.

The job market

Religion is a powerful force that continues to influence the economic, political, social, and cultural lives of nations worldwide. The positive employment outlook for Religious Studies majors reflects this fact.

Knowledge of religion and how to think about it critically and constructively positions you to launch a post-graduation life in business, politics, education, student ethics, international relations, cultural exchanges, or other occupations--in any context where an understanding of how religion affects people is important.

Religious Studies majors become community developers, diplomats, international security personnel, student affairs professionals, human resources specialists, policy developers, marketers, public relations professionals, publishers and editors, and fundraisers.

Students who have majored in Religious Studies at IU now hold many positions in the U.S. and abroad, including:

  • Marketing specialist
  • Research analyst in commercial real estate
  • Librarian
  • Realtor
  • High School teacher in a private school
  • Interfaith minister
  • Social worker
  • Lawyer
  • Elementary literacy tutor
  • Chaplain
  • Analyst at the U.S. Department of State
  • Police officer
  • Town clerk and treasurer
  • Publicist for a legal group
  • Genetics counselor

The Religious Studies department maintains a more extensive list of positions held by its alumni. Talk with Religious Studies faculty, the academic advisor, career coach and other students to gain insights into the career paths taken by graduates with this degree.

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.

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 following resources can be of assistance to you if you are interested in teaching English abroad, further honing your language, teaching, and communication skills:

Using these and other resources, your career coach can help you find a valuable short-term experience, whether in the United States or abroad.

Fellowships for post-graduate study

Fellowships are temporary post-graduate opportunities to conduct research, work in a field or fund graduate school. Most opportunities can be found through universities, non-profit, and government organizations.

Good resources for finding fellowship opportunities include:

Graduate and professional study

When planning to apply to graduate school or advanced professional study, you will need letters of recommendation from faculty members who are familiar with your work. Your instructors encourage you to take advantage of office hours throughout your academic career, to explore topics of interest and discuss your options within the field.

Students with the Religious Studies degree have enrolled in graduate programs in a wide variety of fields at Indiana University and other institutions. These include Religious Studies, Medical School, Social Work, Library Science, Comparative Literature, English, History, Public Affairs, East Asian Languages and Culture, Near Eastern Languages and Culture, Higher Education and Student Affairs, Human Geography, Jewish Studies and Law School.

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 programs in the health professions.

Students who pursue graduate studies in Religious Studies have gone into careers with top academic and research institutions, non-governmental organizations and non-profits, the military and intelligence communities, state and federal government, journalism, and various branches of business.

Alumni connections

Talk with Religious Studies faculty, the academic advisor, career coach and other students to gain insights into the career paths taken by graduates of this degree.

The IU College of Arts + Sciences has thousands of active alumni. Check out the IU 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 + Sciences Alumni, and let others know where your path takes you.


Is it for you?

The major in Religious Studies attracts students from a variety of backgrounds and interests. They typically possess some of the following qualities:

  • Desire to learn and critically think about religious traditions
  • Fascination with religious practices, movements, and ideas in both the present and the past
  • Interest in wrestling with ethical questions concerning medical practices, the environment, and other issues related to public life
  • Awareness of international issues in an increasingly globalized world
  • Eagerness to understand a variety of cultures around the world as well as better understand culture in the United States
  • Willingness to ask challenging questions and to be challenged intellectually

Learn more

Contact the Religious Studies 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
reladv@iu.edu