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Religious Studies

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The Religious Studies major (27 credits) and minor (15 credits) offer Iowa State University students the opportunity to expand their knowledge about diverse religions in the United States and the world. The major and minor allow students to design their own unique program of study by taking courses that spark their interest. Religious Studies teaches students to explore religion objectively, critically, and empathetically. It equips students to apply academic theories and methods to understand how religions shape and are shaped by history, politics, culture, society, and human psychology. As their religious literacy increases, students will develop their own ideas about the nature of religion, life’s big questions, and the wide range of human ideas, practices, and motivations.

The major in Religious Studies provides both breadth and depth. The program’s 200-level courses introduce students to the academic study of religion, providing a foundation that students build on throughout their undergraduate career. In 300-level courses, students closely investigate particular traditions, topics, or themes. In the 400-level capstone class, students reflect on the knowledge and skills they have learned in order to produce a research project that contributes to the field of Religious Studies. Throughout their undergraduate career, students have opportunities to connect their program of study to their own professional and personal goals.

The Religious Studies program provides students skills relevant to building a career based on their interests and passions. Contrary to popular myths, employers in today’s modern workplace value college graduates with liberal arts degrees. In Religious Studies, these include the “hard skills” of writing, reading, and conducting organized research. Students also gain so-called “soft skills.” These include communication strategies, learning to adapt to new environments, and the capacity to work with and understand people from diverse backgrounds. The flexibility of these skills opens up a wide range of career paths. Religious Studies graduates pursue careers in non-profits, community organizations, and people-focused industries. They apply to graduate and professional schools in areas such as law, education, and ministry. A Religious Studies degree doesn’t just help students get a job. It helps them advance and grow, both professionally and personally, well into their lives.

Student Learning Outcomes

Upon graduation, students should be able to:

  1. Describe religious diversity in the United States and around the world, including diversity within traditions.
  2. Identify key beliefs, doctrines, practices, and expressions of multiple religions.
  3. Explain how religion has shaped and been shaped by human history, culture, and society, drawing on historical, cultural, and textual analyses.
  4. Distinguish between confessional and academic understandings of religion.
  5. Assess data produced by and about religious communities in an objective, critical, and empathetic manner.
  6. Create and convey original insights using effective reading, research, writing, and conversation skills.

Religious Studies - Undergraduate Study

Students pursuing a major in religious studies must complete a minimum of 27 credits, including the requirements below. Students may also choose to do a senior thesis under the supervision of a religious studies faculty advisor. This option may earn 3-6 credits toward the completion of the major.

One of the following introductory survey courses3
World Religions
Religion in America
Five of the following 300+ level courses15
The New Testament
Native American Religions
Africana Religions
Religion and Gender
Goddess Religions
Magic, Witchcraft, and Religion
Psychology of Religion
Cognitive Science of Religion
Philosophy of Religion
Religions of India
The Quran
Christianity in the Roman Empire
Religions of Ancient Greece and Rome
Religion and Politics
Catholic Social Thought
Seminar: Issues in the Study of Religion
Independent Study
Independent Study: Honors
Senior Thesis
Special Studies in Religious Research Languages
Capstone Course3
Theory and Method in Religious Studies
Minimum of 6 credits of elective Religious Studies courses6
Total Credits27

Students in all ISU majors must complete a three-credit course in U.S. diversity and a three-credit course in international perspectives. Check ( for a list of approved courses. Discuss with your advisor how the two courses that you select can be applied to your graduation plan. 

According to the university-wide Communication Proficiency Grade Requirement, students must demonstrate their communication proficiency by earning a grade of C or better in ENGL 250.

LAS majors require a minimum of 120 credits, including a minimum of 45 credits at the 300/400 level. Students must also complete the LAS College requirements, including the world language requirement.

Religious Studies, B.A.

ENGL 1503Religion Choice 300+3
LIB 1601World Language/Elective4
RELIG 205 or 2103Humanities Choice3
World Language/Elective4Social Science Choice3
Humanities Choice3Elective3
Math Choice3 
 17 16
Religion Choice 300+3Religion Choice 300+3
ENGL 2503Natural Science Choice14
Humanities Choice3Social Science Choice3
Natural Science Choice14Humanities Choice3
Social Science Choice3Elective3
 16 16
Religion Choice 300+3Religion Choice 300+3
Religion Choice 300+3RELIG 485 (offered odd-numbered years)3
 16 15
Religion Choice 300+3Elective3
 13 12

The program offers a minor that may be earned by completing a total of 15 credits in religious studies including either RELIG 205 World Religions or RELIG 210 Religion in America. Nine hours must be in courses at the 300 level or above (no more than 3 hours of seminar and no more than 3 hours of independent study). The minor must include at least 9 credits that are not used to meet any other department, college or university requirement.

Religious Studies - Graduate Study

Religious studies may be one of the three areas used for the interdisciplinary graduate studies master's degree.