Plan of study

Plan of study

An Introduction to the Department of Religion Curriculum

The Religion Department'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 also encouraged to conduct their studies by exploring one or more zone of inquiry. These are focus areas that integrated in the departmental curriculum and 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 both a foundation in the study of religious traditions in 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 College's Core curriculum and in related departments. Many religion courses are listed in the College'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, 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 should first arrange to meet with the Director of Undergraduate Studies. All students are then allocated a faculty adviser, and must submit a copy of the Declaration of Major form to the director of undergraduate studies. After agreeing upon a plan for the major or concentration, students must obtain final approval and confirmation from the Director of Undergraduate Studies.

Required Courses

While each student's plan of study is distinct, majors and concentrators typically begin their work in the Department with a gateway course (1000-level) and introductory level courses (2000-level). These include courses introducing students to theoretical and contemporary topics in the study of Religion, as well as courses on the history, philosophy, texts, and practices of religious traditions. Students deepen their knowledge of religion by way of thematic and topical issues, traditions, and interdisciplinary methodological issues in intermediate lecture courses (3000-level) and seminars (4000-level). They are encouraged to plan a course of study that will establish depth in one topic or tradition (for example, philosophy, mysticism, or Buddhism) as well as breadth across disciplines and regions. All majors and concentrators enroll in “Theory” (RELI UN3199) anytime after their freshman year.  Many students pursue independent research or an honors thesis guided by a faculty member in the Department in their final year of study.

Theory (formerly Juniors Colloquium)

All students in the Religion Department are required to take RELI UN3199. This course, offered annually, surveys important theoretical and methodological approaches to the academic study of religion. The colloquium also provides a valuable opportunity to interact with other majors and concentrators in your class.

Departmental requirements

Important notes for all students in the Religion Department

  • Only one three-point “Guided Readings and Research” course may be counted for departmental credit. 
  • Courses may not be counted to fulfill the requirements of more than one department’s program requirements, with the following exception: Courses may be counted to fulfill both departmental requirements and the Global Core requirement.

Degree requirements

Students are encouraged to declare their major/concentration by the end of the sophomore year or the beginning of their junior year. Prospective majors and concentrators should first arrange to meet with the Director of Undergraduate Studies (DUS). To ensure compliance with degree requirements, majors must meet with the DUS at least annually.

For a major in Religion

Program of study

All majors are encouraged to pursue both depth and breadth by constructing a program of study in consultation with the Director of Undergraduate Studies. The program should include courses in a variety of religious traditions. Students who write a senior thesis may include a term of individually supervised research as one of the courses for their major.


For the major the following 9 courses are required:

  • 1 gateway course (1000 level)
  • 2 introductory courses (2000 level)
  • 2 intermediate courses (3000 level)
  • 2 seminars (4000 level)
  • 1 additional course at any level
  • RELI UN3199 Theory (formerly Juniors Colloquium)


Program of study

To be planned in consultation with the Director of Undergraduate Studies and with a member of the faculty in an area in which the student has a particular interest. The program should include some study in a breadth of religious traditions.


For the concentration the following 7 courses are required:

  • 1 gateway course (1000 level)
  • 2 introductory courses (2000 level)
  • 2 intermediate courses (3000 level)
  • 1 seminar (4000 level)
  • RELI UN3199 Theory

Senior thesis and departmental honors

Majors in the Religion Department are encouraged to write a thesis in their final year of study. Many students choose to write a senior thesis in order to pursue an advanced topic in greater depth or to work on a particular area of interest with a professor of their choosing. This opportunity is available to all students who major in the department, regardless of grade-point average, and serves for many as the capstone experience of their undergraduate career.

Students interested in writing a thesis must submit an application to the Director of Undergraduate Studies no later than the spring of your junior year. The application must include both a prospectus for the paper and a letter of support by a religion faculty member who will direct the thesis. The prospectus (5–7 pages) should detail a research program and the central question or questions to be pursued in the paper, your preparation for pursuing this thesis, and a proposed timeline. The primary advisor of the thesis must be a member of the Religion Department faculty. Students approved to write a thesis should register for Religion UN3901, with their thesis advisor.

Every student who receives the mark of “distinction” on her or his senior thesis and who maintains a departmental grade-point average of 3.66 or above will be considered for departmental honors. Writing a senior thesis qualifies you for consideration for departmental honors but does not assure it. In most years, only 10 percent of majors receive departmental honors.