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... if I went back to college today, I think I would probably major in comparative religion, because that’s how integrated it is in everything that we are working on and deciding and thinking about in life today.

John Kerry, US Secretary of State, in his Remarks at the Launch of the Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives (August 7, 2013)

To think and do things that will really matter to society, scientists and engineers must understand human values. Religious values powerfully impact what matters to people, so understanding diverse religions will help you to be more effective in your career. Every science and engineering student at NC State could benefit from our Religious Studies courses.

Dr. Fred Gould, William Neal Reynolds Professor, NC State Department of Entomology and Co-Director of the Genetic Engineering and Society Program

Former students say that the NC State program in Religious Studies:
  • is all about critical thinking and making connections between and among groups;
  • is one of the hidden gems of NC State;
  • gives students the chance to work with instructors who are both leading researchers in their fields and dedicated teachers;
  • is a gateway for cross-cultural communication as well as for recognizing how to improve the world around us and help those in need.

See Comments by Former Students.


What is Religious Studies?

Why Study Religion?

What Can I Do with a BA in Religious Studies?

Career-Relevant Knowledge and Skills

Religious Studies at NC State


Religious Studies Prize

Comments by Former Students


What is Religious Studies?

Religious Studies is an interdisciplinary field that investigates human religious traditions in all their historical, cultural, and doctrinal complexity. It provides students with the opportunity to study the history, texts, and practices of well-known religions (such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), as well as those which are lesser known (such as Vodou or Wicca).

Rather than approaching religions from the standpoint of believers, Religious Studies investigates these complicated traditions of beliefs and practices from a neutral perspective, seeking to understand how they have come about, what they are made of, why their practitioners do what they do, and how they affect other aspects of culture and society.

Why Study Religion?

Religion is a major force in the human world:

  • It is a source of meaning, explanation, comfort, and guidance for the vast majority of the world’s population.
  • It fuels liberation and oppression, progress and persecution, cooperation and conflict.
  • It makes a big difference to the ways in which human beings approach the most important challenges that they face, including challenges arising from advances in science and technology, social and economic change, globalization, competition, infectious diseases, and natural disasters.
  • It has an enormous impact on national and international affairs.

The problems of humanity and human affairs cannot be understood or effectively addressed without an understanding of religion and its influence.

You don’t have to be religious to enroll in a course or program in Religious Studies. If you think that religion is interesting, puzzling, or important, then you have an excellent reason to do so.

Whatever their primary interests, students who take one or more courses in Religious Studies will enhance their understanding of humanity and human beings, and will be better placed to make sense of views and perspectives that they do not share.

Students who take a major or minor in Religious Studies are trained to interpret and evaluate different aspects of religion and religious traditions, and to think critically, constructively, and independently about important issues such as

  • the comparison of religious traditions,
  • the relationship between beliefs and practices,
  • the justification of religious beliefs,
  • the interpretation of sacred texts,
  • religious ethics, and
  • the role and impact of religions in modern societies.

They will develop their capacity to

  • understand, criticize and construct arguments about religions,
  • identify and engage major issues in the field, and
  • elaborate their ideas and present them in a clear, coherent and well-organized form (whether spoken or written).

For additional information, see:

Why study religion? (American Academy of Religion)
Why is it important to study the world's religions? (Mark Wallace, Swarthmore College)

Religious Studies Revival (Newsweek, September 2010)

The Top Five Reasons to Study Religion (Huff Post Religion, August 2015)

Your Favorite Classes (Slate, September 2015)

Religion and Diplomacy (America, September 2015)

What Can I Do with a BA in Religious Studies?

Students who complete the NC State BA in Religious Studies develop knowledge and skills that are useful for both work and further study. The program provides:

  • knowledge and skills that are useful for careers in many fields, including advertising, consulting, diplomacy, editing and publishing, educating the public, fund-raising, humanitarianism, journalism, marketing, museum projects, non-profit operations, public relations, public service, and the military;
  • solid foundations for professional training in fields as diverse as education, human rights, international studies, law, library science, management, medicine, ministry, public administration, and social work;
  • excellent preparation for graduate studies in the humanities and social sciences, including Anthropology, Cultural Studies, History, Political Science, Religious Studies, and Theology.

For additional career information, see:

Where can I go with it? (American Academy of Religion)
Religious Studies: What can I do with this major? (University of Tennessee)
Careers in RELS (University of Oklahoma)

The Danger of Picking a Major Based on Where the Jobs Are (The Atlantic, June 2015)

Want to Work in Advertising? Try Majoring in Religion (University of Vermont)

Career-Relevant Knowledge and Skills

Many things that employers want a college education to emphasize are central to the NC State program in Religious Studies. These include:

  • societies and cultures outside the USA and global issues and developments (78% of employers);
  • ethical issues and public debates (87% of employers);
  • solving problems with people with different perspectives (91% of employers);
  • knowledge, judgment, and skills that support community and democracy (82% of employers);
  • written and oral communication (80% of employers);
  • critical thinking and analytic reasoning (82% of employers).

Source: Employer Priorities for College Learning and Student Success (American Association of Colleges and Universities, 2013), sections 5 and 6

Religious Studies at NC State

NC State offers a wide range of undergraduate courses in Religious Studies, all of which are open to all undergraduates. Almost all these courses satisfy one or more general education requirements, including requirements in Humanities, Global Knowledge, US Diversity, and Interdisciplinary Perspectives. Three courses are available to NC State graduate students in any field.

We also offer two programs: the BA in Religious Studies and the Minor in Religious Studies. These are top-quality programs that provide a well-balanced introduction to the field and also allow students to pursue special interests. Students who complete the BA are familiar with the history of the discipline, the basic features of multiple religious traditions, and the major theoretical and comparative issues in the study of religion.

Because we do not have a graduate program in Religious Studies, our main focus is on undergraduates. All our courses are taught and graded by highly-qualified faculty who are committed to excellence in undergraduate education.

The NC State faculty in Religious Studies is outstanding. Here are some highlights:

  • Two-thirds of the permanent faculty belong to the NC State Academy of Outstanding Teachers, and half have received Alumni Distinguished Undergraduate Professor Awards. In recent years, members of the faculty also received the College of Humanities and Social Sciences Outstanding Junior Faculty Award and the Alexander Quarles Holladay Medal (the highest award that NC State can bestow on a member of its faculty).
  • Members of the faculty have received the following prestigious scholarly honors and awards from other agencies or institutions: fellowships at the University of Pennsylvania and the Free University of Berlin, a Carnegie Scholars Program Fellowship, grants from the Templeton Foundation and the Triangle Center for Japanese Studies, and membership in Cohort III of the Mansfield Foundation's U.S.-Japan Network for the Future.
  • Members of the faculty make an ongoing contribution to the advancement of knowledge and understanding in Religious Studies, and have published many books, articles, encyclopedia entries, and reviews.


Senior Adviser in Religious Studies: Dr. Jason Bivins, Withers 447, 919-515-6102, jcbivins@ncsu.edu
Director of the Religious Studies Honors Program: Dr. Mary Kathleen Cunningham, Withers 347, 919-515-6105, mk_cunningham@ncsu.edu
Student Services Assistant: Ms. Stephanie Wilson, Withers 340, 919-515-6100, stephanie_wilson@ncsu.edu

Are you considering a Major or Minor in Religious Studies?

  • If you are now taking a course in Religious Studies, talk to your instructor.
  • Otherwise, contact Ms. Stephanie Wilson (see above).

Religious Studies Prize

The Religious Studies Prize in Honor of Professor W. Curtis Fitzgerald was introduced in 2010/11. The prize, which includes a cash award, is presented each Spring to the outstanding senior in Religious Studies. The winners have been as follows:

  • 2016: Zane Edwin Vermette
  • 2015: Sarah Michelle Adcock
  • 2014: Hunter Houston Ross
  • 2013: Amanda Margaret Jones
  • 2012: Allison Aurora DeLargy
  • 2011: Mary Catherine Hamner

Comments by Former Students

  • We live in a world where being aware of and understanding differences in beliefs and viewpoints is essential. Religious Studies provides an avenue by which we can better understand each other and start to see the world from a more inclusive perspective. It is a gateway for cross-cultural communication as well as for recognizing how to improve the world around us and help those in need. The firm grounding in Religious Studies that I received at NC State prepared me well for my MSc in Human Rights and International Politics, which I am now using to try to make a positive difference in the world. The critical thinking and – more importantly – sense of empathy that I developed through the major in Religious Studies are vital for anyone seeking to do work in a modern, globalized world.
    Janneke Parrish, BA in Religious Studies, BA in Philosophy, Minor in Middle East Studies, 2013
  • I entered college thinking I wanted to be a veterinarian. I applied for and was accepted into NC State’s Jefferson Scholars Program, a dual-degree program between Agriculture & Life Sciences and Humanities & Social Sciences. I knew that I would take a BS in Animal Science, but needed a humanities major. I chose Religious Studies, which allowed me to delve academically into my faith and learn about its past and some of its present. It also gave me the opportunity to broaden my religious education to faiths outside of my own. This has been particularly useful in that I work with many international students in my field. I got my PhD in Genetics (focusing on swine genetics) and worked with Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Jews, etc. Having the Religious Studies background allowed me to better understand where they were coming from. The Religious Studies classes, particularly the upper level classes, definitely encourage critical thinking, which is important in any field. If I had to choose a humanities major all over again, I would still choose Religious Studies. It was a wonderful major.
    Jennifer Young, BA in Religious Studies, BS in Animal Science, 2007
  • I entered NC State as a Business Management major with an intent to go on to seminary after graduation. I did not know that State offered a Religious Studies degree, but when I saw a 400-level seminar on Dietrich Bonhoeffer was being offered my sophomore year I begged my way into the class without any of the pre-requisites. At the end of the semester, I decided to add a Religious Studies major as well. The Religious Studies program is one of the hidden gems of NC State with top-notch, accessible professors and small classes that allow you to customize your experience. State did a good job of preparing me for the MDiv degree that I pursued after graduation and I still rely on things that I learned there including from that Bonhoeffer seminar.
    Rev. Barry Chance, BA in Religious Studies, BS in Business Management, Minor in History, 2002
  • Many people think my Religious Studies degree will benefit me most by making me aware of different religious traditions around the world. While I agree that the program has given me a much broader and more informed understanding of the variety of different expressions of religiosity, it has also given me much more. The field is all about critical thinking and making connections between and among groups. By majoring in Religious Studies, I have been able to hone that skill so much so that I can apply it in nearly every aspect of my life. I now look at situations from many perspectives and try to understand how different groups work together in the ways they do. The ability to think critically and attend to details is the most important aspect of my degree that I will take into the future, regardless of where I end up.
    Amanda Jones, BA in Religious Studies, BA in Psychology, Minor in Linguistics, 2013
  • It only took one class to convince me to add Religious Studies as a second major, which turned out to be one of the most important decisions of my life. My time at NC State gave me the chance to work with instructors who were leading researchers in their fields as well as dedicated teachers, all of whom I still have a relationship with today. When I graduated and went on to pursue my PhD at the University of Chicago, I was surprised to find myself as well prepared with regard to religious studies theory and methodology as my peers who were coming from top-ranked private institutions. I will always be grateful to NC State’s religious studies program for the role it has played in my life and the central role in plays in the mission of a university to encourage critical thought and sustained reflection on the world around us.
    Brian Collins (Drs. Ram and Sushila Gawanda Chair in Indian Religion and Philosophy, Ohio University), BA in Religious Studies, BA in Psychology, 2001
  • Although I was a pre-med major (zoology) as an undergraduate at NC State, I took several classes in Religious Studies.  Following medical school, I embarked upon a career in Infectious Diseases and tropical medicine research. I've had the opportunity to work and live in Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and South America. In each setting, I have found that I reflect back on the lessons from my Religious Studies classes almost as frequently as I do the lessons from my Public Health or Medicine classes. Religion is almost always a cornerstone of cultural development. The faculty at NC State helped me to begin to understand and appreciate other religions, the ways in which their tenants affect behaviors and attitudes, and ways to respectfully address those beliefs while trying to shape behaviors. Furthermore, faith and hope seem to be a universal response in the setting of suffering.  A critical self-examination of my own faith and beliefs, initiated by classroom assignments and discussions at State but still carried on daily, has helped me to support my patients within their faith context, hopefully providing them comfort while staying true to my own beliefs. I often think about and credit the wonderful teaching in Religious Studies, which both led me to a better understanding of both my Christian faith and an appreciation of the faith of others, as I work to develop mutually respectful relationships with my colleagues and patients.
    John W. Sanders, BS in Zoology, 1987, MD MPH&TM, U.S. Navy Captain (retired), Professor of Medicine and Chief of the Section on Infectious Diseases, Wake Forest University School of Medicine