What is Religious Studies?
Religious studies is an interdisciplinary field that investigates human religious traditions in all their historical, cultural and doctrinal complexity and their impact on all aspects of human affairs. It gives you the opportunity to study the history, texts and practices of well-known religions – including Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam – as well as lesser known religions, such as Vodou or Wicca.
Rather than approaching religions from the standpoint of believers, religious studies investigates these complicated traditions of beliefs and practices from a neutral perspective, seeking to understand
- how they have come about,
- what they are made of,
- why their practitioners do what they do and
- how they affect other aspects of humanity, culture, society and politics.
Why Study Religion?
Religious Studies Major Receives Udall Scholarship
Pippin Payne, a junior majoring in religious studies and mechanical engineering, is one of only 55 students in the nation to receive a 2020 Udall Scholarship.
Religion is a major force in the human world:
- It’s a source of meaning, explanation, comfort and guidance for the vast majority of the world’s population.
- It fuels liberation and oppression, progress and persecution, cooperation and conflict.
- It makes a big difference to the ways in which human beings approach the most important challenges that they face, including challenges arising from advances in science and technology, social and economic change, globalization, competition, infectious diseases and natural disasters.
- It has an enormous impact on national and international affairs.
The problems of humanity and human affairs cannot be understood or effectively addressed without an understanding of religion and its influence.
The critical thinking and – more importantly – sense of empathy that I developed through the major in religious studies are vital for anyone seeking to do work in a modern, globalized world.
Janneke Parrish, B.A. in Religious Studies (2013)
Whatever your primary interests, one or more courses in religious studies will improve your understanding of humanity and human beings, and will enhance your capacity to make sense of views and perspectives different from your own.
If you take a major or minor in religious studies you will be trained to interpret and evaluate different aspects of religion and religious traditions, and to think critically, constructively, and independently about important issues such as the comparison of religious traditions, the relationship between beliefs and practices, the justification of religious beliefs, the interpretation of sacred texts, religious ethics and the role and impact of religions in modern societies.
You will develop your capacity to understand, criticize and construct arguments about religions, identify and engage major issues in the field, and elaborate your ideas and present them – whether orally or in written form – in a clear, coherent and well-organized form.
For more information, see:
Must you be religious?
You don’t have to be religious to enroll in a course or program in religious studies. If you think that religion is interesting, puzzling or significant for an understanding of our world, that’s an excellent reason to do so.
Why NC State?
I will always be grateful to NC State’s religious studies program for the role it has played in my life and the central role it plays in the mission of a university to encourage critical thought and sustained reflection on the world around us.
Brian Collins, B.A. in Religious Studies (2001)
NC State offers a wide range of undergraduate courses in religious studies, all of which are open to students in all colleges regardless of their majors. Almost all these courses satisfy one or more general education requirements, including requirements in Humanities, Global Knowledge, U.S. Diversity and Interdisciplinary Perspectives. Several courses are available to NC State graduate students in any field.
We offer two programs: the B.A. in Religious Studies and the Minor in Religious Studies. Our top-quality programs provide a well-balanced introduction to the field and allow you to pursue special interests. You will become familiar with the history of the discipline, the basic features of multiple religious traditions and the major theoretical and comparative issues in the study of religion.
Our Faculty at Work
Religion and Politics in Japan: A Conversation With Religion Scholar Levi McLaughlin
Assistant Professor Levi McLaughlin reflects on the influence of religion on Japanese politics.
Because we do not have a graduate program in religious studies, our main focus is on undergraduates. All our courses are taught and graded by highly-qualified faculty who are committed to excellence in undergraduate education.
The NC State faculty in religious studies is outstanding. Here are some highlights:
Most of our permanent faculty have received outstanding teacher awards and half of them have be named as Alumni Distinguished Undergraduate Professors. In recent years, members of the faculty have received the College of Humanities and Social Sciences Outstanding Junior Faculty Award and the Alexander Quarles Holladay Medal (the highest award that NC State bestows on a member of its faculty).
Members of the faculty have also earned prestigious scholarly honors and awards from other agencies or institutions, including: fellowships at the University of Pennsylvania, the Free University of Berlin and the Israel Institute for Advanced Studies; a Carnegie Scholars Program Fellowship; grants from the Templeton Foundation and the Triangle Center for Japanese Studies; and membership in Cohort III of the Mansfield Foundation's U.S.-Japan Network for the Future.
Our faculty contribute to the advancement of knowledge and understanding in religious studies, and have published many books, articles, encyclopedia entries, and reviews.
Employers Seek Skills Developed by Religious Studies
91 percent of employers surveyed agreed that all students should learn how to solve problems with people whose views are different from their own.Read more survey results
What Can I Do With Religious Studies?
A major or minor in religious studies at NC State will help prepare you for both work and further study. The programs provide:
- knowledge and skills that are useful for careers in many fields, including advertising, consulting, diplomacy, editing and publishing, educating the public, fund-raising, humanitarianism, journalism, marketing, museum projects, non-profit operations, public relations, public service, and the military;
- solid foundations for professional training in fields as diverse as education, human rights, international studies, law, library science, management, medicine, ministry, public administration, and social work;
- excellent preparation for graduate studies in the humanities and social sciences, including anthropology, cultural studies, history, political science, religious studies, and theology.
For more information, see:
Consider Your Options
Studying religion can be valuable for students in all kinds of fields. Whether you’re studying a different subject at NC State and want to change majors or add a second major or a minor, or you would like to transfer from another institution or community college, we have options to suit you.
The religious studies program is one of the hidden gems of NC State.
Barry Chance, BA in Religious Studies, BS in Business Management, Minor in History, 2002