Religious Studies



What is "religion?" At HWS, our definitions of the term and our approaches to its study vary. We bring historical, theological, philosophical, sociological, ethnographic, political, ethical, literary, feminist and psychological perspectives to the study of religion.

Religious Studies courses explore both the phenomenon of religion in general as well as specific religious traditions from around the world.

Religious Studies offers an disciplinary major, a B.A., and a disciplinary minor.


If you'd like to view a full listing of our course options in Religious Studies or any other subject, please visit the Online Course Catalogue.

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Requirements for the Major (B.A.)

disciplinary, 11 courses

One introductory religious studies course; two courses each from two concentrations—one in each concentration should be at the 200-level and the other at the 300-level or higher (one of these concentrations must be in a specific religious tradition); REL 461 Senior Seminar; three additional religious studies courses, at least two of which are outside the student’s areas of concentration; and two approved cognate courses from other departments or two other courses in the department. Cognate courses may be chosen from an accepted list or by petition to the adviser.

Requirements for the Minor

disciplinary, 5 courses

One introductory religious studies course; a 200-level course and a 300-level or higher course in one of the religious studies concentrations; REL 461 Senior Seminar; and one additional religious studies course.


Our students choose from a variety of introductory and advanced courses, each designed to provide students with an understanding of religion from multiple perspectives.

Below, you'll find a sampling of some of our most popular classes, as well as suggestions for making Religious Studies a part of your larger disciplinary experience at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.

REL 109 Imagining American Religion(s)


What does it mean to imagine an American religion? This course explores that question in two ways. One way is to work towards a definition of the terms in the title of this course: what is an “American”? What is “religion”? What does it mean to “imagine” these things? The other way we explore the question of American religion is to examine various attempts to make meaning in the United States. How do different social groups “imagine American religion”? Does that change and, if so, why and how? Why does it matter how people imagine American religion? (Salter, Henking, offered annually)

REL 279 Torah and Testament


How do we read sacred texts? How can they say anything to us today? This course introduces students to central texts of the Jewish and Christian traditions and key methods of reading/interpreting those texts. Through close readings of selected representative texts, we cover themes that may range from origins and cosmologies to liberation, freedom, law and morality. (Dobkowski, Salter, offered alternate years)

REL 321 Muslim Women in Literature


The question of what is intrinsically Islamic with respect to ideas about women and gender is important for understanding the position of women in Islam, and for distinguishing the religious element from socio-economic and political factors. The course sets in perspective the diversity of cultural manifestations which contribute to the complexity of Islam, through a selective exploration of literary works by both women and men. The writings contain political, social, and religious themes and reflect debates regarding the nature of society and the status of women, written primarily in the last 50 years. Readings include fiction, poetry, and non-fiction. (Anwar, offered annually)


Preparing Students to Lead Lives of Consequence.