Skip Navigation
A Culture of Care >> Read Smith’s plans for the fall 2021 semester.

Religion

Collage of various religious images

Religion is deeply implicated in human culture, shaping morality and ethics, law and literature, politics and society. It is fundamental to civilizations worldwide, both premodern and modern, and it is never far from the front page of any newspaper. Our faculty and students are therefore eager to work in an interdisciplinary way to engage with economics, government, philosophy, psychology, sociology and other fields in their religious contexts.

Students of any religious affiliation, or none, can benefit from a course of study in religion. It is not unusual, however, for a student's interest in religious studies to be motivated by existential questions about human existence and the meaning of life. We believe there is no better way for a person to work out her own answers than by studying the distillations of insight found in the world’s religious traditions.

Announcements

Presentation of Major & Minor

If you're interested in learning about the Religion department and meeting the Religion professors and student liaisons, watch our recorded Zoom October 21, 2020 presentation of the major and minor meeting!  Use pass code =$@B9kc7

Requirements

To make sense of the complexity of religion one needs to consider a wide range of sources and to do so in a wide variety of ways. Scholars of religion are best served by being both multi-disciplinary and multi-methodological, drawing on paradigms from a host of academic disciplines—from the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences—and wisely choosing and using the right method for each source examined.

To this end, we want our students to learn something of the history of the academic study of religion as well as its many theories and methods, and also to be able to put this knowledge to use in their own research. This is our aim in Approaches to the Study of Religion (REL 200), which is a requirement for all our majors. We also encourage our majors to count one class toward their major that is taken outside of the Department of Religion yet is relevant to their course of study. This allows students to integrate insights from another department, and thus develop sophisticated methodologies tailored to their interests.

Students in our department should develop an understanding of religion that has both breadth and depth. They should learn the fundamentals and nuances of multiple religious traditions as a way to grasp the range of religious ideas and practices, and they should also develop a deep understanding of one religion, or one religious concept or ritual, as a way to grasp the particularities that religion can engender and the logic of these forms. Hence, we stipulate a breadth requirement, which obliges students to take courses across religious traditions, and a depth requirement, which has students develop a concentration. These requirements offer students complementary ways of understanding religion in its richness and diversity.

One way to access the depth of a religious tradition is through a departmental seminar, which is a requirement for all majors. Seminars offer students the opportunity to learn intensively. Students read primary and secondary sources, develop arguments about these materials in class discussion and in writing, and then conduct independent research as a way to explore a particular facet of religion in detail. Students who want to do additional specialized research can work with our faculty to develop either a special studies project or an honors thesis.

Another way to access the depth of a religious tradition is to read texts of that tradition in their original language, whether classical or modern, canonical or vernacular. To encourage this, we credit students who complete an advanced language class in which they read religious texts. Language study of this kind is especially beneficial for students who want to continue their studies at the graduate level. In fact, many of our students have gone on to get advanced degrees and have illustrious careers in religious studies or the ministry, as well as in a plethora of other fields.

We have designed the our curriculum to instill a range of skills in our students. We help them cultivate a methodologically sophisticated understanding of religion that is both broad and deep. To this end, our courses help students to understand religion’s role in history and current events; to consider religion’s claims to authority critically yet sensitively; to reflect on religion’s relationship to ethics and moral systems; to recognize religious diversity and develop a culturally sensitive and global orientation; and much more. In addition, our courses inculcate skills that are of fundamental importance to a liberal arts education: critical reading, cogent writing, and how to craft arguments, pursue independent research, engage in public speaking and dialogue, and synthesize the resources of multiple disciplines to pose and answer questions about complex phenomena.

Advisers: Lois Dubin, Jamie Hubbard, Joel Kaminsky, Suleiman Mourad, Andy Rotman, Vera Shevzov, Carol Zaleski

Requirements for Majors
10 semester courses are required, following the guidelines below. Courses counting toward the major may not be taken S/U.

Breadth 
Students will normally take five courses in the Department of Religion, one each from five of the following categories: (i) Philosophical, Theoretical, or Comparative; (ii) Biblical Literature; (iii) Jewish Traditions; (iv) Christian Traditions; (v) Islamic Traditions; (vi) Buddhist Traditions; (vii) South Asian Traditions; (viii) Religion in the Americas. Students may count one of the department’s broad-based introductory courses (e.g., REL 105, REL 106, or REL 108) as one of these five courses.

Colloquium 
Students will take Approaches to the Study of Religion (REL 200).

Seminar 
Students will take a seminar in the Department of Religion.

Concentration
Students will develop a concentration by taking three related courses (no more than one at the 100 level), defined by religious tradition, geographical area, discipline, or theme. Students will define their concentration in consultation with their adviser and then submit the required form to the department by the beginning of their final semester.
 

Relevant courses outside the Department of Religion
Students may count one course outside the Department of Religion, including a language course, as long as it is relevant to their religion major in terms of content or method.

Students are also encourged to take religion courses throughout the Five Colleges and to study abroad. With the approval of the department, such courses may count toward the major.

Forms

Advisers: Lois Dubin, Jamie Hubbard, Joel Kaminsky, Suleiman Mourad, Andy Rotman, Vera Shevzov, Carol Zaleski

Requirements for Minors
Five semester courses are required. Courses counting toward the minor may not be taken S/U.

Breadth 
Students will normally take three courses, choosing one each from three of the following eight categories: (1) Philosophical, Theoretical or Comparative; (2) Biblical Literature; (3) Jewish Traditions; (4) Christian Traditions, (5) Islamic Traditions; (6) Buddhist Traditions; (7) South Asian Traditions; (8) Religion in the Americas. Students may count one of the department’s broad-based introductory courses (e.g., REL 105, REL 106, or REL 108) or the majors colloquium (REL 200) as one of these three courses.

Elective
Students will take one course of their choosing in the Department of Religion.
 
Seminar 
Students will take a seminar in the Department of Religion.

Advanced students in Religion—normally senior majors who have had four semester courses above the introductory level—may arrange for special studies with faculty members. These courses can be for 2–4 credits, and for a semester or a year. Topics and logistics are worked out with the designated faculty member, and must be submitted to the department for approval.

REL 400 Special Studies
2–4 credits
Offered both semesters each year

REL 408d Special Studies
8 credits
Full year course

Majors in the Religion are encouraged to apply to the departmental honors program and pursue a significant research project of the student's own design. Students in the honors program develop, research, write and defend a thesis in close consultation with a faculty mentor. To apply to the honors program, a student must have a minimum GPA of 3.4 for courses in the major and a minimum GPA of 3.0 in overall coursework through the student's junior year. For more information, contact the director of honors.

Director: Vera Shevzov

430d Honors Project
8 credits
Full year course


Courses

For this year's fall semester Religion courses, see the Smith College Course Search.

For this year's spring semester Religion courses, see the Smith College Course Search.

 

You can use the Course Search to view past Religion courses by semester going back to 2004. A document list of Religion courses offered since 2007 is also available.

Events

Over the years, Religion has hosted many of the major religious thinkers and scholars of the world. Some of the past speakers and events include:

  • “John Henry Newman and G.K. Chesterton: Reflections of a Biographer,” a lecture by Ian Ker, Oxford University
  • “The Other in the Hebrew Bible,” a lecture by John J. Collins, Yale University
  • “‘Lost’ Between Memory and History: Writing the Holocaust for the Next Generation,” a lecture by Daniel Mendelsohn, award-winning author and critic
  • “Love of God, Love of Neighbor: Martha and Mary in the Middle Ages,” a lecture by Amy Hollywood, Harvard University
  • The Shaping of Many Islams: Struggle Over Authority Between God, Texts and People, an international seminar
  • Buddhism in Mongolia: Rebirth and Transformation, an international seminar
  • “The Bhakti Movement: India's National Religion in Text and Image,” a lecture by John Stratton Hawley, Barnard College
  • A visit by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso

 

 

 

""
Julia Batson ’23

Julia (she/her) grew up in a secular Jewish household, and has always been fascinated by the intricacies and effects of religion. After a particularly excellent World Religions class in her senior year of high school, Julia knew she wanted to continue to study the subject in college. Her interests lie with religion in America, its history, and its role in colonialism and expansion efforts. When she's not studying, Julia can be found rowing on the Connecticut River with the Smith College crew team. She plans to make her study of religion a lifelong journey, but especially hopes to continue her studies in an academic setting post-graduation.

Headshot of Phoebe Rendon-Nissenbaum ’22 with her dog
Phoebe Rendon-Nissenbaum ’22

Phoebe was raised in a secular Jewish household and did not know much about religion until she got to college. However, her interest in religion soon grew from her love of literature, and in her first semester she decided to take classes in the religion department as a way of contextualizing her literary studies, which she realized were almost inseparable from religious study. Now, as a religion and English double major, her focus is on the impact of religion on cultural stories and art and the influence of stories on the evolution of religion. She plans to continue on to do a doctoral program in religious literature in some form after she graduates from Smith.

Current Newsletter

Get updates from our faculty, learn about upcoming courses, celebrate our graduates and alums, and learn about the Senior Mug project.

Religion Department Newsletter June 2021

 

Contact

Department of Religion

Wright Hall 106
Smith College
Northampton, MA 01063

Phone: 413-585-3662
Fax: 413-585-3248

Administrative Assistant: Phoebe McKinnell