Home < Schools, Colleges, and Programs < College of Letters & Science < Majors, Certificates, and Concentration Programs < Religious Studies

College of Letters and Science

Religious Studies Program

Requirements for the Major
Honors in Religious Studies
   Introductory Courses
   Religious Traditions
   Approaches to Religion
   Capstone (Required) and General Courses
Course Descriptions


7143 Sewell Social Sciences Building, 1180 Observatory Drive, Madison, WI 53706; 608-265-1854; fax 608-265-1856; rsp@wisc.edu; religiousstudies.lss.wisc.edu/

Director: Tom DuBois, 1360 Van Hise, 1220 Linden Drive, Madison, WI 53706; 608-265-2090; tadubois@wisc.edu

Professors Bowie, Brantly, Brenner, Bühnemann, Chamberlain, Cohen, Dale, DuBois, Elder, Hardin, Hildner, Howard, Kornblatt, Koshar, Langer, Loewenstein, Miernowski, Murray, Nadler, Narayan, Numbers, Ohnuki-Tierney, Pekarsky, Phillips, Salomon, Schamiloglu, Schleicher, Schulenburg, Wandel, Winichakul, Wink, Wolf, Yandell, Zaeske; Associate Professors Allen, Davis, Gade, Hansen, Hsia, Livanos, Schweber, Shoemaker, Thal, Troxel; Assistant Professors Meulenbeld, Rosenblum, Shelef, Todorovic; Lecturers Mellor, Rosenhagen.

Undergraduate advisor and honors advisor in the major: Corrie Norman, 7139 Social Science Building; 608-263-1849; cenorman@wisc.edu

Faculty diversity liaison: program director

Religious studies investigates religious phenomena from within diverse disciplines in order to understand the roles that religion plays in human life. Students of religion use historical methods to understand how religions change in time; critical literary and philosophical approaches to understand religious ideas; aesthetic analysis to understand religious art; and social-scientific methods to understand religion as a component of society and culture.

Students earning a major in religious studies are expected to:

  • Examine a variety of the world's religious traditions.
  • Understand at least one tradition in depth.
  • Become familiar with the character of religion in such things as texts, rituals, social institutions and personal experiences.
  • Be conversant with and able to use different critical approaches to the understanding of religion.
  • Be able to express their own understanding of the subject and the received heritage of scholarship on the study of religion clearly in speech and writing.

Accordingly, a baccalaureate major in religious studies requires students not only to complete a series of courses, but also to acquire the skills to analyze religion and to communicate their findings cogently.

Requirements for the Major

To be accepted as a major in the Religious Studies Program, a student must file a campus transcript, major declaration form and a student information form (available on the program website) with the program administrator, after consulting with the undergraduate advisor. There are no prerequisites for declaring the major, but students are advised to consult with the undergraduate advisor as early as possible to plan their course of study so as to meet all requirements for graduation on schedule.

To earn a major in religious studies, students must complete at least 31 credits:

  • 3 credits in an elementary-level course in Abrahamic religious traditions, and 3 credits in an elementary-level course in Asian religious traditions.
  • 9 credits in one of eight categories of traditions plus 3 credits in each of two additional categories.
  • 3 credits in approaches to religion.
  • 7 credits in the capstone sequence: 3 credits in Religious Studies 600, taken ordinarily in the junior year, then (and only then) 3 credits in Religious Studies 697 and 1 credit in Religious Studies 695, taken concurrently with 697.

All students must fulfill the L&S requirement of at least 15 credits of upper-level work in the major completed in residence. Religious Studies courses numbered 206, 207, 227, 234, 235, 237, 251, 253, 257, 261 and all courses numbered 300-699, except 332, count toward this requirement.

Honors in Religious Studies

To earn Honors in the Major in Religious Studies, students must:

  • Complete at least 36 credits in the major
  • Complete at least 21 credits in intermediate- and advanced-level courses
  • Earn a 3.5 GPA within the major and a 3.3 cumulative GPA in all work taken at UW-Madison at the time of graduation

Writing a thesis (Religious Studies 681/682, or Religious Studies 691/692) is recommended but not required.


A certificate in religious studies is available to all undergraduates and special students studying at UW-Madison. To be admitted for the certificate, students must have a faculty advisor, with whom they will develop their curriculum, and with whom they should continue to consult as they progress through their course work. Students apply by filling out a certificate declaration form and the L&S Major Declaration form, available on the program website, and submitting the completed forms to the program office. The certificate form must be signed by both the student's advisor and the undergraduate advisor. To earn the certificate, students must complete:

  • a minimum of 18 credits in religious studies courses
  • no more than 6 credits in elementary-level courses within religious studies
  • one course from among those offered in each of the three following topical categories: (a) approaches to the study of religion; (b) religious thought, texts, and expression; and (c) religion in historical, cultural, and social perspective
  • one course in at least two of the following breadth categories: Judaism; Christianity; Islam; South Asian traditions (except Buddhism); Buddhism; East Asian traditions (except Buddhism); Ancient, indigenous, and folk traditions; comparative traditions.

For complete information, including a list of courses in each category, contact the program office or see the website.


Courses are listed below according to the major requirements they fulfill. Check with the program office for information on specific courses.

Note: Because religious studies is an interdisciplinary program drawing upon many departments, some courses may have prerequisites in their home departments that must be fulfilled even though the prerequisites themselves have no bearing on progress within the religious studies major. Students are responsible for ensuring that they have met all the prerequisites to enter a course before they enroll in it.

1. Abrahamic Traditions

208 Foundations of Western Religious and Intellectual History
234 Genres of Western Religious Writing
271 Religion in History and Culture: The West

2. Asian Traditions

235 Genres of Asian Religious Writing
273 Religion in History and Culture: The East

The following course may be substituted for either A1 or A2 but not both:
261 Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion



1. Judaism

211 Introduction to Judaism
227 Introduction to Biblical Literature in English
237 Biblical Poetry in Translation
278 Food in Rabbinic Judaism
328 Classical Rabbinic Literature in Translation
332 Prophets of the Bible
346 Jewish Literature of the Greco-Roman Period
348 Literary Aspects of the English Bible [Old Testament]
372 Jews of Eastern and Central Europe
376 Ancient Jewish Psychology and Ethics
377 Jewish Cultural History [ancient and rabbinic
378 Jewish Cultural History [medieval and modern
417 History-telling in the Bible
435 Jewish Philosophy from Antiquity to the Seventeenth Century
446 Holy Places and Sacred Times in Rabbinic Literature
448 Classical Rabbinic Texts
475 Education and Jewish Civilization
529 Intellectual and Religious History of European Jewry 1648-1939
613 Jewish Law and Ethics in Comparative Perspective

2. Christianity

253 Literature in Translation: Dante's Divine Comedy
312 The Medieval Church
317 Medieval Social and Intellectual History, 400-1200
318 Medieval Social and Intellectual History, 1200-1450
325 Eastern Christianity/Russian Orthodoxy in Global Perspective
331 Science, Medicine, and Religion
333 Early Christian Literature: Matthew—Revelation
334 The Protestant Reformation
349 Literary Aspects of the English Bible [New Testament]
360 The Anglo-Saxons
361 Early Christian Literature: Pauline Christianity
366 Medieval Monasticism
434 Milton
437 Western Christianity from Augustine to Darwin
451 American Religious History to the Mid-Nineteenth Century
470 Religious Thought in Modern Europe
472 Early Christian Literature: The Gospels

3. Islam

205 The Making of the Islamic World: The Middle East 500-1500
206 Introduction to the Qur'an
217 Islamic Mystical Poetry in Translation
257 Literatures of Muslim Societies in Translation
357 Literatures of Muslim Societies
370 Islam: Religion and Culture
379 Islam in Iran
439 Islamic History from the Origin of Islam to the Ottoman Empire
444 Introduction to Sufism
459 Islamic Culture: Meanings and History
614 Social Structures of Muslim Societies
618 Political Islam

4. South Asian Traditions (except Buddhism)

251 Civilizations of India—Classical Period
274 Religion in South Asia
355 Hinduism
367 Jainism: Religion of Non-Violence
402 The Thought of Gandhi
416 Introduction to Religions of South Asia
422 Hinduism and Religions of Modern South Asia
463 Introduction to Indian Philosophy
551 Religious and Love Poetry in Mediaeval Hindi
620 Studies in Religions of Asia
623 Yoga: Methods and Goals
625 Sanskrit and Asian Cultures
634 Social Structure of India

5. Buddhism

364 Introduction to Buddhism
421 Survey of Tibetan Buddhism
423 Buddhist Iconography
425 Readings in Chinese Buddhist Texts
426 Readings in Chinese Buddhist Texts
427 Readings in Japanese Buddhist Texts
428 Readings in Japanese Buddhist Texts
436 History of Chinese Buddhism
438 Buddhism and Society in Southeast Asian History
453 Buddhist Ethics
455 History of Japanese Buddhism, 550-1333
456 History of Japanese Buddhism, 1333-1965
466 Buddhist Thought
461/471 Topics in Contemporary Buddhism
503 Survey of Buddhist Meditational Literature
525 Intermediate Readings in Chinese Buddhist Texts
526 Intermediate Readings in Chinese Buddhist Texts
527 Intermediate Readings in Japanese Buddhist Texts
528 Intermediate Readings in Japanese Buddhist Texts
553 Ritual in Buddhist Life
576 Buddhism and Literature
592/3 Buddhist Doctrinal Systems
621 Buddhism in the History of South and Southeast Asia
650 Proseminar in Buddhist Thought
660 Proseminar: History of Buddhism and Buddhist Social Institutions
670 Proseminar: The Culture of Buddhist Tibet

6. East Asian Religious Traditions (except Buddhism)

340 Introduction to the I-Ching: Book of Change
350 Introduction to Taoism
363 Introduction to Confucianism
477 Portraiture in Premodern China
478 Art and Religious Practice in Medieval Japan

7. Ancient/Indigenous/Folk Traditions

342 In Translation: The Mythology of Scandinavia
351 Religions of the Ancient Near East
352 Shamanism
359 Myth
375 Civilization of Ancient Egypt
464 Goddesses and Feminine Powers
517 Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean
517 Ancient Religion and the Early Church
537 Ancient Religion Tutorial
666 Anthropology of Shamanism and Occult Experience

8. Comparative Traditions

151 The Bible in the English Tradition
309 The Crusades: Christianity and Islam
368 The Bible in the Middle Ages
369 Ethnic and Minority Religions in America
420 Hinduism and Islam in Medieval South Asia
622 Cross-Cultural Spread of World Religions
624 Meditation in Indian Buddhism and Hinduism
626 Gods and Goddesses of South Asia


343 Anthropology of Religion
374 Rhetoric of Religion
465 Religion in Politics
479 Ritual and Ritual Theory
501 Philosophy of Religion
502 Special Topics in the Philosophy of Religion
516 Religion and Public Education
615 Sociology of Religion
616 Problems and Methods in the Study of Religion

1. Capstone Courses

600 Religion in Critical Perspective
695 Research Colloquium
697 Independent Research for Majors

2. General Courses

200 Introductory Topics in Religious Studies [Humanities]
201 Introductory Topics in Religious Studies [Social Sciences]
400 Topics in Religious Studies [Humanities]
401 Topics in Religious Studies [Social Sciences]
681/82 Senior Honors Thesis
691/92 Senior Thesis
699 Directed Study