Why Religious Studies?

Why Religious Studies?

Taking a Religious Studies course in college may not be what you think it is. The academic study of religion rests on the distinction between learning about religion as a field of scholarly inquiry (e.g., its history, literature, culture, etc.) and being religious. That is, you do not have to be religious to take religious studies courses!

The academic study of religion emerged out of the Enlightenment when all manner of ideas came to be questioned for the first time. The academic study of religion offers students an opportunity to delve into larger sociological, anthropological, historical, and literary questions like:

  • the origins of religious movements,
  • the controversies between and within religious movements,
  • the ways religious literature reflects and constructs belief,
  • the intersections of religions with politics, economics, ethics, language, and gender/sex,
  • how religious belief affects views and practices of medicine

Here is a short summary of the field of religious studies, and here is a quick answer to what you can do with a religious studies major/minor, and how our classes prepare you for the job market—in whatever field you choose. 


The Department of Religious Studies at the University of Richmond invites you to explore your world and/or past worlds through the lens of religion. We’re excited to meet you!

Don't take our word for it! Here are some reflections from religious studies alumni:

Jonathan Gandara, ’22

“Religious studies introduced me to so many different forms of storytelling that I did not get in my English major. I read ancient texts that were filled to the brim with religious ideas and concepts, some of which I recognized but many I did not. Generations of people once found meaning and truth in these stories which, sometimes thousands of years later, I had the privilege to experience as well. By studying these texts, I too found deep meaning within them, and in this way, I felt united with the people who came before me. Studying the history and literature of religions opened a new frontier of academic curiosity. After only one class in the department, this subject became all I could think about, and I knew it was to be my primary major.”

Ashley Appolon, ’21

“Religious studies taught me how to have a flexible mindset and how to dig deeper when it comes to learning about people, societal positions, and relationships. I work a lot with people and in a company that tries to work outside of traditional practices. Religious studies gave me the tools to navigate such a field. I love how the courses teach you to adopt a wholistic mindset when analyzing complex history and relations. Religion is not a one-dimensional category and it’s not fixed to one place or one group. I learned how religion is a trace element in every society, community, government, the list goes on.”

Keely Harris, ’21

“I think that religion actually has a huge bearing on people's ethical decisions, even if they are not distinctly religious. So much of history has been shaped by religion and it's important that we remember that as society turns more and more secular. Religion should not be discounted as a discipline that can be learned through other subjects like history, but itis a discipline studied in its own right because of its significance in driving people's decisions politically, economically, or otherwise.”

Liz Narwold, ’21

“I took my first religious studies class during my first semester at UR. At the time, I had no idea how much of an impact it would make on my college experience. I learned how religions shape the way communities perceive the world and by doing so I developed the ability to understand and appreciate different perspectives. Throughout these classes, I've also developed an array of skills beyond the scope of my science classes. My professors in the religious studies department helped me become proficient in analyzing complex material and forming strong arguments while giving me the freedom to pursue my unique interests. I'm so grateful to be graduating with a major in religious studies and will definitely take everything I've learned into the future with me.”

Robin Akers, ’19

“Religious studies courses are diverse, allowing me to explore my interest in the interactions between religion and history, ethics, gender, and sexuality. The supportive faculty has aided me in my journey to think deeply, ask difficult questions, and examine the things we often take at face value. In my religious studies courses, I gained powerful interpretive and analytical tools that I have applied to other academic areas, as well as to my understanding of the way religion colors our everyday experiences in the world.”

Rachel Levy, ’03

“My classes in the religion department taught me to write well and to organize big ideas. The coursework gave me a window into people's lives, perspectives, challenges, and mindsets across time and place.”

John Hill, ’02

“My classes in religious studies prepared me well for both graduate school (M.Div. at Emory University) and for my career. I gained important knowledge and insight about my own faith tradition as well as others. I learned how to think critically about the Bible and my theological heritage while still honoring it. I was challenged to think about various aspects of my religious tradition in new and different ways, gaining a deeper appreciation and cultivating a desire to learn and explore more. These lessons carry forward today and are an essential part of my work as a pastor as I lead a community of faith full of people with questions and curiosity. Working with people of other (or no) faith traditions is also a significant part of my work, and the appreciation I gained for other traditions as a religious studies major is invaluable.”