Jul 13, 2024  
2013-2014 Academic Catalog 
2013-2014 Academic Catalog [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Religious Studies, B.A.

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Religious Studies

   Member of the Division of Humanities


Tyler T. Roberts


Timothy S. Dobe
Caleb H. Elfenbein (also History)
Edmund T. Gilday
Henry W. Morisada Rietz
Michelle Sorensen                     

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

The Department of Religious Studies is currently making a transition to a new set of introductory courses. In 2013-14, three introductory courses will be offered: in the fall, two sections of REL 111, which focuses on Religion in America and, in the spring, REL 195.01, Introduction to Judaism and Christianity and REL 195.02, Religion in East Asia. Each of these courses is designed to introduce students to the study of religion and each counts toward the introductory requirement for the major. In addition, REL 111 and REL 195.01 fulfill the “western religions” requirement for the major and REL 195.02 fulfills the “Asian religions” requirement.

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

Asian Religions: 4 credits

Take one course in Asian religions from this list:

Western Religions: 4 credits

Take one course in Western religions from this list:

100 Level Course: 4 credits

  • One 100-level course
  • 4 credits
  • REL 195A - Introductory Special Topic: Bodies and Souls: An Introduction to Judaism & Christianity 4 credits (offered Fall 20912, Spring 2013, Spring 2014)
  • REL 195B - Introductory Special Topic: Christianity, Hinduism and Islam in India 4 credits (offered Fall 2012)
  • REL 195C - Introductory Special Topic: Religion in East Asia 4 credits (offered Fall 2012)
  • Note: a maximum of 8 credits of 100 level work may count toward the major.

300 Level Requirements: 8 credits

Complete both of these requirements:

Electives - 12 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 listed under the religious studies rubric, and 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.


To be considered for honors in religious studies, graduating seniors, in addition to meeting the College’s general requirements for honors and the department’s general requirements for the major, must have achieved 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.

Religious Studies Course Descriptions


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