Apr 19, 2024  
2020-2021 Interim Catalog 
2020-2021 Interim Catalog [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Religious Studies, B.A.

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Religious Studies

   Member of the Division of Humanities


Henry W. Morisada Rietz


Yujing Chen
Timothy S. Dobe
Caleb Iyer Elfenbein (also History)
Tyler Roberts
Elias Saba (also History)

When you study the world’s religious traditions, you learn about the histories, literatures, practices and beliefs that have shaped human societies. You study rituals and festivals that organize perceptions of time and place, disciplines that develop modes of attention,  and ideas of holiness, justice, love, and beauty through which human beings have expressed their highest ideals. You develop tools to understand the complex ways that people across history and around the world oppose oppression, justify violence, understand their bodies, and give meaning to their lives.  

While our faculty have expertise in particular religious traditions, we are also committed to the comparative study of religion. This means that we are interested in asking questions about the similarities and differences that appear in the history of religions, about historical interactions among religious communities, and about the nature of human religiosity in general. The comparative approach also supports the department’s long-standing interest in religious diversity and religious pluralism.

To understand religious diversity and pluralism and to be an informed citizen of the world, one needs a working knowledge of the religious traditions that inform people’s lives. Human interactions - whether they take place in a local medical practice or an international embassy, on the local school board or between international trading partners - are clarified and enriched when we understand whether, and, if so, how and why religious values orient the participants. Our students have many opportunities to study and reflect on religious traditions that shape the societies to which one belongs, as well as opportunities to understand the beliefs and practices of others. The Religious Studies curriculum is among the most international on campus with courses covering religious traditions and religious phenomena in Europe, the U.S., East Asia, South Asia, and the Middle East. Many of our majors study abroad during their time at Grinnell.

Religious Studies faculty encourage students to develop and pursue their own research interests and engage in independent study and Mentored Advanced Projects.  Examples of recent MAP topics include: Welfare and Community in Islam, Postmodern Philosophy and Theology, Baptism in Judaism and Christianity, and Possession and Mysticism.  

Finally, Religious Studies at Grinnell offers students the opportunity to engage both broadly and deeply in the liberal arts. Because religious traditions have touched every aspect of human cultures, our field draws from a wide variety of academic disciplines, such as anthropology, history, sociology, literary criticism, gender and women’s studies, and philosophy. And whether you are reading some of humanity’s most influential texts, exploring perennial questions of human existence, or reflecting on contemporary intersections between religion and society, our courses challenge students to develop skills in critical thinking and communication. Such skills, along with the breadth of knowledge and perspective gained in the study of world religions, prepare our majors for a full range of opportunities in life.

Major Requirements: A minimum of 32 credits

REL 101 REL 102 REL 103 REL 104 , REL 105  each serve as an introduction to Religious Studies and as a gateway to the major. Majors must take one of these courses and can count only one for credit toward the major.

Western Religions: 4 credits

Majors must take one course in Western religions from this list:

Asian Religions: 4 credits

Majors must take at least one course in Asian religions from this list:

Research Requirement: 4 credits

Majors must take at least one research-intensive course from this list:

Electives - 8 credits

With permission, up to eight of the 32 credits may be taken in related studies outside the department.

Additional Information

Application to the department for approval of credit toward the major for Grinnell courses not offered by the Religious Studies department or for courses taken at other institutions or through off-campus study programs needs to be made in writing in advance of taking the course. More information is available from the chair of the department.


To be considered for honors in religious studies, graduating seniors, in addition to meeting the department’s general requirements for the major, must achieve a minimum G.P.A. within the department of 3.7 and a cumulative G.P.A. of 3.50; produced scholarship judged excellent by members of the department; and demonstrated exemplary academic citizenship.

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