Religion Major Requirements

The program in the study of Religion at the University of Rochester offers two majors – Religion and Religion Politics & Society -- that enable students to explore the history, literature, material culture, and practices of religion in both the past and the present.  Additionally, the study of religion at Rochester takes seriously the manifold and complex ways in which religion is embedded in human culture and society; students are challenged to explore the ways in which religion both shapes and is shaped by other aspects of human experience, such as those related to gender, sexuality, medicine, politics, law, art, performance, nationalism, violence, peace, and ethics.  Inherently interdisciplinary, students of religion will draw on a range of interpretive methods and analytical disciplines as they develop their understanding of religion.

Seminars, reading courses, study abroad options, and the senior tutorial allow intensive study of particular topics. Students also may enroll in selected courses at Colgate Rochester Divinity School/Bexley Hall/Crozer Theological Seminary and take advantage of its distinguished theological library.

Below is information on:

General Major Requirements

The stuff we call “religion” permeates our world in powerful, subtle, violent, and creative ways. Now, as in the past, religions bind communities across time and space, illuminate souls, foster relationship between beings seen and unseen, and shape human understandings of good and evil. Drawing on the discipline’s rich toolbox of diverse theoretical and methodological approaches, the religion major trains students to critically analyze religious thought, practice, and sociality.

The program is divided into two tracks: “Religion” and “Religion, Politics, and Society.” These tracks share intellectual foundations and curricular requirements, and they have porous boundaries, but they represent distinct points of emphasis.

Shared required courses between the two tracks include:

A Course focused on a Foundational Text:

  • RELC 101
  • RELC 102
  • Quran
  • Mahabharata
  • BhagadVita

A Course focused on an overview of a particular religious tradition:

  • RELC 103
  • RELC 104
  • RELC 104
  • RELC 106
  • RELC 107

Theory and Method in the Study of Religion (typically taken in Fall of Junior year):

  • RELC 293W

Senior Seminar or Senior Thesis:

  • RELC 389W or RELC 383W


The Religion major focuses primary on religion texts and the history of traditions and it foregrounds the interpretive, historical, and theoretical approaches that form the bedrock of the scholarly study of religion. Required coursework fosters deep, critical engagement with religious scriptures, rituals, arts, and contemplative techniques– as well as diverse intellectual tools for approaching religion as an object of study. In their six electives, students may choose to hone their expertise in a particular religious tradition, but they are also encouraged broaden their field of inquiry across time, space, and tradition.  Students should select their electives in consultation with their major advisor in the department.

This track includes course offerings such as:

  • Muhammad and the Qur'an
  • Visionaries, Mystics, Saints
  • Medicine, Magic, and Miracles
  • Death, Dying, and Beyond
  • Dante's Divine Comedy



Via creeds, rituals, and narratives, religion is constitutive of normative social structures and of movements that seek to subvert, dismantle, a reimagine these social structures. The “Religion, Politics, and Society” track trains special attention to religion’s social and political aspects, particularly in the contemporary world. Students in this track explore how drawing on religious traditions people  shape and reshape social orders and the visions of justice, sovereignty, and personhood that naturalize—or seek to de-naturalize these social orders. Coursework here often intersects with concerns central to FDI, SBAI, anthropology, and political science.

In addition to the four required courses listed above, students choosing to major in Religion, Politics, and Society are

Also required to take:

An Introductory Course:

  • RELC 100: Religion, Culture, and Society:  An Introduction to the Study of Religion

For their five elective courses, students “Religions, Politics, and Society” track includes course offerings such as:

  • Womanist Religious Rhetoric
  • Religion and Violence
  • Not Cults: New Religious Movements East and West
  • Incarceration Nation
  • Isreal/Palestine
  • Civil Disobedience

Regardless of track, the religion major is structured to give students maximal agency in bending their coursework toward their interests, while also instilling fluency in the methods and theories scholars use to understand religion in all its fascinating complexity.


COMPARISON of the two possible majors:



Focus on texts and traditions, history and literature of major world religions

Focus on the intersection of religion, primarily but not only in the contemporary world, with other reams of society.

10 courses

10 courses


  • Course focused on a text/s
  • Course focused on a tradition
  • RELC 293W
  • RELC 389W or 393W


  • RELC 100
  • Course focused on a text/s
  • Course focused on a tradition
  • RELC 293WRELC 389W or 393W


  • Chosen in consultation with major advisor
  • Students may choose to focus on a particular tradition, but no more than 3 electives may have a singular focus on the same tradition.


  • Chosen in consultation with major advisor
  • Students should select courses that explicitly focus on the intersection between religion, politics, and other realms of society and culture.


Honors in Religion

This program is open only to students who have a superior academic record, are prepared to pursue an advanced research project, and are capable of high quality independent work.

The honors sequence culminates in the successful completion and defense of a senior thesis. Typically, students undertake the senior thesis for honors after completing an independent study as preparation in a previous semester.

The following example illustrates the different between an independent study or senior project in religion, and the honors-level senior project:

  • RELC 391: Independent Study—"Islamic Mysticism and the Arts," "Readings in Liberation Theology," "Sephardic Judaism"
  • RELC 393: Senior Project—"The Poetry of Rumi," "Catholics on A.I.D.S.," "Iranian Jewry"
  • RELC 392: Honors Research + RELC 393: Senior Project—"Rumi's Concept of Hell," "Pavlo Frere and the Literacy of Liberation," "Iranian Jewry in New York"

Criteria for Honors in Religion

  • An overall GPA of at least 3.0 (B)
  • A departmental GPA of at least 3.7 (A-) by the start of the seventh semester or senior year
  • Eight credits of honors coursework* with a grade of B+ or higher
  • RELC 391: Independent Study or RELC 392: Honors Research (with a B+ or higher)
  • RELC 393: Senior Project
  • A successful oral defense of the thesis

*Honors courses: RELC 293: Theories of Religion, RELC 391: Independent Study, and RELC 392: Honors Research

Requirements and Deadlines

Steps for completing RELC 391: Independent Study/RELC 392: Honors Research:

  1. Find a faculty member who is willing to serve as the adviser for course
  2. Enroll in RELC 391: Independent Study or RELC 392: Honors Research, usually in the fall semester of senior year.
  3. As part of RELC 391 or 392, prepared an outline of research for the thesis and complete a substantial bibliographical essay in consultation with the thesis adviser.
  4. Write a brief proposal describing the thesis project.
  5. Secure the recommendation and signature of a thesis adviser, indicating his or her endorsement of the project.
  6. Submit: 1) the proposal; 2) the bibliographical essay, and 3) the advisor’s recommendation to the chair of the department.
  7. The chair will forward this material to the Honors Review Board, which will approve it, approve it subject to modification, or reject it. 
  8. After approval, the chair will appoint a second reader.
  9. Enroll in RELC 393: Senior Project for the next semester.

The deadline for application to the Honors program is December 15 for students who plan to graduate at the end of the following spring semester.

Steps for completing RELC 393: Senior Project:

  1. Arrange a meeting with the second reader to discuss the proposed project.
  2. Prepared a substantial outline of research for the thesis in consultation with and approved by the thesis adviser (complete by the end of the second week of the spring semester).
  3. Complete the final draft of the thesis by the end of the twelfth week of classes (normally the second week in April).
  4. The student should complete the thesis under the supervision of both readers.
  5. Students must provide both readers with drafts of the thesis and subsequent suggestions by the readers must be taken into account.
  6. The student will schedule an oral defense with the two readers. This must be held before the end of the reading period at the end of the semester.
  7. The readers will make a recommendation to the chair as to whether honors should be awarded.
  8. The chair will contact students prior to graduation to inform them if the degree will be awarded with honors.
  9. Student will receive a grade and credit for the Senior Project if the honors designation is denied.
  10. Students should provide each reader and the department office with a copy of the final accepted version of the thesis within 48 hours after the defense.

Senior Project in Religion

RELC 393: Senior Project

Students who choose to take RELC 393 conduct advanced or specialized work, in close consultation with a faculty member.

In the Senior Project, students:

  • Design a research proposal
  • Assemble a bibliography of the relevant literature
  • Read, think, and consult with a faculty adviser
  • Write a senior thesis paper

This course provides students an opportunity to pursue independent research on a topic of their choosing. In their senior year, these students develop and defend answers to a question in their chosen topic.


The senior thesis is not an honors thesis; it is an assignment required of all religion majors who do not take RELC 389.

It may be helpful to think of the senior thesis as an independent study during which a paper is written. The main difference between these courses is that the senior thesis requires more preparation in previous coursework and a paper.

The following examples should help to distinguish between the two courses in terms of their increasing specificity or depth:

  • RELC 391: Independent Study—"Islamic Mysticism and the Arts," "Readings in Liberation Theology," "Health and Medicine in India," "Sephardic Judaism"
  • RELC 393: Senior Project—"The Poetry of Rumi," "Catholics on A.I.D.S" "Ayurveda Medicine Within Hinduism," "Iranian Jewry"

The senior thesis will be graded by the student's adviser. There is no requirement concerning the length of the senior thesis; some have been as short as fifteen or twenty pages.

The Two-Semester Option

Students can devote two semesters to researching and writing their senior thesis. In this case, students should register for RELC 392: Honors Research in the fall of the senior year and RELC 393 in the spring.

Since the two-semester option is an elective, students can choose to register for RELC 393 without first taking RELC 392.

Schedule and Mechanics

Steps for completing RELC 393: Senior Project:

  • Find a faculty member to serve as the adviser of your senior thesis
  • Prepare a brief, written, preliminary proposal* of your thesis project, and get permission from your adviser to proceed (due December 15, senior year)
  • In consultation with your adviser, prepare a bibliography for your project and a revised version of your proposal (due second week of the spring semester)
  • Submit two typed copies of your completed thesis to your adviser (due the Friday before the last day of classes)

*Students will likely need to revise this proposal as work on the thesis proceeds.

Your adviser may set other deadlines throughout the semester for a more developed proposal, expanded bibliography, outline, first draft, etc.