The Department of Religion's curriculum is designed to engage students in critical, comparative, and interdisciplinary exploration of religious life. The faculty's research and teaching build upon the shared understandings that religion continues to be a central and influential component of human life, society, and politics—and that, furthermore, religious transmission and authority are constantly being shaped in dynamic interactions with other religious traditions, societies, and cultures. Courses and seminars in religion teach students how to analyze and investigate religious texts, histories, beliefs, bodies, and communities using a variety of disciplinary and methodological approaches.
Students are encouraged to conduct their studies by exploring one or more zones of inquiry. These are focus areas integrated in the departmental curriculum that complement the tradition-based approaches. They provide broad and alternative frames that aim to identify problems, chart trajectories cutting across different field specialties, and set parameters for theoretical and methodological questions. The zones are: Time (History, Modernity), Transmission (Tradition, Memory, Institutions), Space (Place, Geography, Virtual Space), Body (Materiality, Mind, Bio-ethics), and Media (Transportation, Information, Communication).
Majors and concentrators in religion gain a foundation in the study of religious traditions in both historical contexts and zones of inquiry, all grounded in theoretical and methodological debates that shape academic and public discussions about religion. Lecture courses, seminars, and colloquia are designed to balance students’ growing understanding of particular religious topics, dynamics, and traditions with intensive engagement with critical theoretical, political, and philosophical debates. Students are encouraged to pursue a course of study in which they develop breadth and depth, as well as the tools and expertise to pose (and even answer) necessary questions about religious phenomena of the past or present.
As the study of religion is truly interdisciplinary, students find their work in the department enhanced by their coursework in the University's core curriculum as well as related departments. Many religion courses are listed in the University's Global Core requirement, and numerous religious works are central texts in Literature Humanities and Contemporary Civilization. Majors and concentrators are required to take courses outside of religion in related fields to expand their vision of approaches to religion.
In addition, the University's wide offerings in the languages of various religious traditions (including Arabic, Chinese, Greek, Hebrew, Japanese, Persian, Latin, Sanskrit, and Tibetan) augment many students' abilities to conduct research in religion. Students likewise are actively encouraged to explore the world-renowned archival resources within Columbia's libraries (including the Rare Book and Manuscript Room, the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, and the C.V. Starr East Asian Library), and to explore and investigate the equally wide range of living religious communities represented in New York's global neighborhoods.
Prospective majors and concentrators should first arrange to meet with the Director of Undergraduate Studies. All students are then allocated a faculty adviser, and must officially declare their major or concentration with Columbia College or the School of General Studies. After agreeing upon a plan for the major or concentration, students must obtain final approval and confirmation from the Director of Undergraduate Studies.