The Department of Religious Studies at UCSB is unique among California universities, state universities, and colleges. The courses it offers address the critical issues relating to the subject of religion in its many facets: historical, cultural, literary, aesthetic, sociological, experiential, and philosophical. In introductory and advanced courses, its faculty—respected in their fields nationally and internationally—regularly teach about the religions of the world, and about the complex relationships between religion and politics, society, war, and everyday life. It is the oldest and largest department in the University of California system to offer B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees in Religious Studies.
The Department of Religious Studies at UCSB houses the prestigious Capps Center for the Study of Ethics, Religion, and Public Life; maintains close ties with the Center for Middle East Studies; boasts several endowed chairs located within it–the XIV Dalai Lama Chair in Tibetan Studies, the Virgil Cordano Chair in Catholic Studies, and the Tipton Distinguished Visiting Chair in Catholic Studies. The department teaches a plethora of research languages, including Arabic, Targumic, Aramaic, Coptic, Hebrew, Hindi, Pali, Persian, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Syriac, Tibetan, and Turkish; oversees, besides its undergraduate major in Religious Studies, undergraduate minors in American Indian and Indigenous Studies and in Jewish Studies; and offers Ph.D. students the opportunity to choose program emphases in Ancient Mediterranean Studies, Cognitive Science, European Medieval Studies, Feminist Studies, Global Studies, or Translation Studies to add to their degree.
All students who take a religious studies course learn both to appreciate the importance of religion to human thought and creativity, and to judge its character and historical impact in cultural context. Moreover, they discover how the critical study of religion leads to increased understanding of the relationships among the various fields of knowledge that constitute the humanities and social sciences. A departmental major gains sound general knowledge about religion East and West, ancient and modern. Careful selection of upper-division electives allows the undergraduate major to pursue a concentration in a variety of religious traditions. Students also become familiar with the ideas and methods employed in the critical study of religious phenomena. Enterprising students can qualify for a double major in religious studies and some other major field such as English, history, anthropology, political science, philosophy, art, or economics.
The bachelor of arts degree in religious studies is a solid liberal arts degree, providing graduates an excellent basis from which to pursue careers requiring imagination, problem-solving and communication skills, and awareness of human diversity. International studies and graduate work in the humanities and certain areas of the social sciences are other strong possibilities. Students with a bachelor’s degree in religious studies who are interested in pursuing a California Teaching Credential should contact the credential advisor in the Graduate School of Education as soon as possible.
Religious studies majors are encouraged to meet with the department’s undergraduate advisor periodically for assistance in planning their curriculum. Also, the department chair and other faculty are available to consult about programs and academic plans. The department provides an information sheet for undergraduate majors, an up-to-date major requirement list, and a description of courses to be offered each quarter.
Many of the greatest ideas and writings concerning the study of religions, or of a religious character, were formulated in languages other than English. Majors are strongly urged to acquire proficiency in one or more European (e.g., French, German, Spanish, Greek, Latin) or non-European (e.g., Chinese, Japanese, Hindi, Arabic, Hebrew, Sanskrit) languages. Election to the Phi Beta Kappa honor society requires proficiency in one foreign language, usually demonstrated by completion of the fifth quarter or its equivalent. Students should consult with their departmental advisor to select the most appropriate language. (Languages taught in the department of Religious Studies include Arabic, Coptic, Hebrew, Hindi, Pali, Persian, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Syriac, Targumic Aramaic, Tibetan, and Turkish.) Also, majors should seriously consider participating in the university’s Education Abroad Program, particularly in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America.
Undergraduate majors in religious studies may be able to fulfill some of their major requirements through the Travel Study Program in Turkey offered by Summer Sessions each year and directed by Professor Christine Thomas. The two courses offered through this program are Religious Studies 128A, Religion and Spirituality in the Roman Empire, and Religious Studies 128C, Sacred Geography of the Ancient Mediterranean.
The Department of Religious Studies offers honors sections in some of the lower division religious studies courses. Upper division College Honors Program students may design their own contract courses and independent studies with religious studies faculty. Candidates for the religious studies honors program must be in residence at UCSB for at least one year (three quarters) as religious studies majors, have a cumulative grade-point average of 3.5, and a grade-point average of at least 3.75 in religious studies courses. During their senior year, these honor students work closely with department faculty to prepare an honors thesis (RGST 195). Honors program students receive the award of Distinction in the Major upon graduation.
Religious Studies majors with junior or senior status, who have achieved at least a 3.5 GPA in their religious studies coursework, are eligible for induction into Theta Alpha Kappa, the national honor society in religious studies.
The Edward C. Truman award is presented annually to a freshman, sophomore, or junior student who is deemed outstanding by the Department of Religious Studies and the UCSB Affiliates.