Comparative Study of Religion

Recent global and national political events reinforce the fact that the study of religions is vital to understanding the world. Central problems in a wide range of fields—economics, government, sociology, ethics, history, and many others—can be adequately addressed only by taking religion into account. Competency in religious studies indicates the ability to think critically and with historical and cultural learning about the complicated place of religious imagination, motivation, and memory in national and international affairs. Such skills have become one marker of an educated person, who is appropriately prepared for the responsibilities and pleasures of democratic citizenship and leadership.

The Committee on the Study of Religion offers courses on religious traditions from around the world and across history, from ancient to contemporary periods. We also offer a wide range of approaches to the study of religion, including ethnographic studies of contemporary communities, philosophy of religion, historical studies, and close examination of classic texts from major religious traditions. Additionally, courses from other departments can sometimes count for credit toward a secondary field.

Like the concentration, the secondary field requires a combination of a) focused work in one area (a religious tradition, historical complex, or approved theme); and b) comparative or methodological courses that provide a broader framework for considering the tradition on which a student will focus.

Possible focus areas include religious traditions of the world (such as Buddhism or Islam), historical complexes (such as religion in the Modern West or South Asian Religion) or approved thematic approaches (such as Religion and Social Science, Religion, Gender and Sexuality, or Religion and the Arts). Approved thematic areas depend on available faculty and course offerings.

REQUIREMENTS: 6 courses (24 credits)

Two general, methodological or comparative courses. At least one of these must be an approved introductory course (ordinarily but not always numbered Religion 11-20) or the sophomore tutorial (Religion 97).

Four courses in one tradition or area of inquiry, as approved by the Director of Undergraduate Studies.


Students may count one non-letter-graded course taken at Harvard for secondary field credit. Courses from study abroad, Harvard Summer School, or other Harvard schools may be counted toward the secondary field, with the approval of the Director of Undergraduate Studies. The decision whether to grant students pursuing a secondary field in religion preference in access to seminars will be left to individual professors.


Students interested in pursuing a secondary field should contact the Director of Undergraduate Studies, Courtney Bickel Lamberth (617-495-2085;