Requirements: Religious Studies

Humanities Division

We understand the study of religion as a crucial element in the larger study of culture and history. We consider the study of religion to be inherently interdisciplinary and a necessary component for intercultural literacy and, as such, essential to the liberal arts curriculum. Our goals include helping students to recognize and examine the important role of religion in history and the contemporary world; to explore the wide variety of religious thought and practice, past and present; to develop methods for the academic study of particular religions and religion in comparative perspective; and to develop the necessary skills to contribute to the ongoing discussion of the nature and role of religion. Our courses require no commitment to a particular faith.

Since the phenomena that we collectively call "religion" are so varied, it is appropriate that they be studied from a variety of theoretical perspectives and with a variety of methods. The diversity of areas of specialization and approaches to the study of religion among our faculty members ensures the representation of diverse theoretical and methodological approaches. Our courses investigate the place of religion in various cultures in light of social, political, historical, economic, philosophical, psychological and artistic questions. We encourage religious studies majors to take relevant courses in other departments. The religious studies department maintains close relationships with interdisciplinary programs including African diaspora studies, American studies, Asian and Middle East studies, environmental studies, international studies, and women's and gender studies.

The Kenyon College faculty voted to change from Kenyon units to semester hours. This change will go into effect for all students who start at the College in the fall of 2024. Both systems will be used throughout the course catalog with the Kenyon units being listed first.


The Curriculum

The curriculum mirrors the diverse areas of expertise of the faculty. We offer courses in Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, American religions, East Asian religions and South Asian religions. Religious studies majors are required to take courses in at least three of these areas. In our courses we emphasize work with primary sources, both textual and non-textual. To this end, students are encouraged to study relevant languages and to spend at least part of their junior year abroad in an area of the world relevant to their particular interests.

Our 100-level introductory courses are designed especially for students new to the study of religion. RLST 101, 102 and 103 are introductions to the discipline of religious studies. RLST 101 is a regular lecture/discussion class; RLST 102 covers the same material in the format of a seminar limited to first-year students; RLST 103, also a first-year seminar, covers equivalent material with a focus on religion, gender and sexuality. All other 100-level courses are introductions to distinct religious traditions or the religions of distinct geographic regions. Students who enroll in any one of these and wish to fulfill their humanities requirement with religious studies courses may do so by taking any other course in the department for which they are eligible.

Our 200-level courses are advanced courses in distinct religious traditions or the religions of distinct geographic regions. These courses further a student's understanding of a given religion or a given geographic area's religious life. Our 300-level courses focus on themes important to the study of religion or on influential theoretical and methodological approaches in the discipline of religious studies. Aside from those courses listing specific prerequisites, there is no required sequence in which our courses must be taken. However, we encourage those new to the study of religion to start with courses at the 100 level.

Requirements for the Major

Students majoring in religious studies are required to take a total of at least 10 courses. The courses should include the following:

I. Required courses for all majors

  • RLST 101, 102 or 103
  • At least one 200-level course
  • At least one theory/methodology course at the 300-level
  • RLST 490: Senior Seminar
  • Any other six courses in the department

II. Of the 10 courses required for the major, three should be courses covering distinct religious traditions or religions of distinct geographic regions. These courses may be drawn from any three of the seven areas listed below. They may be taken at the 100- or 200-levels.

  • Buddhism
    • RLST 160: Buddhist Thought and Practice
    • RLST 265: Zen Buddhism
    • RLST 272: Modern Buddhism
  • Christianity
    • RLST 120: Faith of Christians
    • RLST 123: Medieval Christianity
    • RLST 125: New Testament
    • RLST 217: Christianity in the Global South
    • RLST 219: Christian Mysticism
    • RLST 255: Parting of the Ways
  • Islam
    • RLST 140: Islam's Diverse Paths
    • RLST 285: Voices of Contemporary Islam
    • RLST 290: Seminar on Sufism
    • RLST 295: Islam in North America
  • Judaism
    • RLST 110: Creating Judaism
    • RLST 115: The Bible and Its Interpreters
    • RLST 165: Jew-ish in a Modern World
    • RLST 205: Jewish Magic, Mysticism, and Kabbalah
    • RLST 224: Jews and Empire
    • RLST 255: Parting of the Ways
  • American Religions
    • RLST 130: Religion and Society in America
    • RLST 135: African Spirituality in the Americas
    • RLST 242: African American Religions
    • RLST 252: Rastafari
    • RLST 280: Religion and Popular Music in the African Diaspora
  • East Asian Religions
    • RLST 166: East Asian Religions
    • RLST 265: Zen Buddhism
  • South Asian Religions
    • RLST 150: Hinduism in its Religious Context
    • RLST 160: Buddhist Thought and Practice

Senior Capstone

The Senior Capstone in religious studies consists of two components:

  • Senior paper: A 15- to 20-page paper on a religious studies related topic of the student's choosing. The paper is drafted as part of the "Senior Seminar" (taken during the fall semester of senior year) and then revised and submitted early in the spring semester. This paper forms the core of the student's presentation during the senior conference.
  • Senior conference: The conference consists of panels of students who discuss one another's senior papers. All departmental faculty attend the conference, and other students and guests may be invited. All attendees have a chance to engage in discussion with students on their senior papers.


Students with a minimum grade-point average of 3.33 overall and of 3.5 in religious studies courses are eligible to submit a proposal for an honors project. Honors candidates select a field of concentration entailing two courses of advanced research and writing under the supervision of one or more faculty members.

Requirements for the Minor

The religious studies minor is designed to expose students in a systematic way to the study of religion, while simultaneously giving them some degree of more advanced knowledge in at least one religious tradition. A total of five courses are required for the minor in religious studies. The following are the minimum requirements:

  • RLST 101, 102, 103 or one 300-level course, all of which serve to introduce students to multiple religious traditions as well as various theoretical and methodological approaches to the study of religion
  • Any other four courses in the department

There are multiple pathways to fulfilling the minor requirements. 

  • Students who desire to learn about a variety of religious traditions, themes and theoretical questions, can choose widely from the available course offerings. 
  • Students desiring to focus on a single religious tradition or geographic region, should arrange to meet with the relevant faculty to devise a course plan. Those who focus on one particular tradition or region are qualified to claim specialization (such as a minor in Jewish studies or American religions) on resumes/curriculum vitae. In these cases, a 100-level course in a tradition or region that the student is not specializing in may serve as a substitute for the 101/102/103 or 300-level course requirement. 

Transfer Credit Policy

A maximum of two courses taken abroad or as transfer credit may be counted toward major requirements. Religious studies majors who wish to use these courses to satisfy requirements for the major must discuss them with their advisor and department chair before taking the course. (For information on non-departmental courses that may count toward the religious studies major, consult the department chair.)