Religion majors take at least eight courses in Religion.

Majors in Religion are expected to achieve expertise in three areas of the field:

  • First, they are expected to gain close knowledge of a particular religious tradition, including both its premodern  and modern forms, in its scriptural, ritual, reflective, and institutional dimensions.
  • Second, all majors are expected to gain more general knowledge of at least one other religious tradition beyond their area of focus. Ordinarily, this requirement will be met by one or two courses.
  • Third, all majors are expected to gain a general knowledge of the theoretical and methodological resources pertinent to the study of religion in all its forms. 

A religion major must take at least two courses at the 100-level, two courses at the 200-level, and one course at the 300-level in order to fulfill the requirements of the major. Among these, the Department requires two courses:

  • Religion 111, “Introduction to Comparative Religion,” introduces students to the study of comparative religion by teaching them how to engage in fruitful and meaningful comparative work across religious and cultural traditions. (In certain circumstances and with Department approval, majors may substitute alternative coursework for this requirement.)
  • Religion 210, "What is Religion Anyway? Theories and Methods in Religious Studies,” introduces the major theories about what religion is and how to study it.

The Department strongly encourages majors to take both required courses early in their course of study, and, ideally, no later than their junior year.

To complete the rest of their eight courses of the major, students, in consultation with their advisors, choose courses that aim at mastery in the three areas described above. 

Courses at the 100-level introduce traditions and comparative work and are an ideal way to begin the study of religion. Courses at the 200-level are also open and accessible to students new to the academic study of religion, but they either focus on the study of a particular theme across religious traditions or they offer deeper engagements within a particular tradition, region, or time period. Courses at the 300- level are in-depth research seminars, close readings of particular figures, texts, or schools, or courses with a specific cross-disciplinary focus. Special topics courses at the 400-level are available for advanced students.

The Department strongly recommends language study and studying abroad where they are appropriate to the student’s area of focus. Up to two courses in study-away programs, other departments at Amherst, and in the Five Colleges may count toward the Religion major if approved by the faculty. 

Comprehensive Exam

All majors are required early in the second semester of the senior year to take a comprehensive examination. The senior Religion exam requires students to engage with a recently published monograph that addresses fundamental concerns in religion and society. The exam process involves: a) reading the book over the winter break; b) an essay of 2,000 words evaluating the monograph’s strengths and weaknesses (interpretation, method, evidence, etc.); c) a conversation with the Religion department faculty and other seniors regarding the text and the student essays. When possible, the author of the book joins the conversation.