Comparative Study of Religion

Professor Courtney Bickel Lamberth, Director of Undergraduate Studies

The Comparative Study of Religion engages enduring questions about religion, human society, and the meaning individuals and communities make in life. The concentration trains students to think critically about religions in interaction with other cultural, historical, intellectual, and social phenomena.  Central problems in a wide range of fields—economics, government, sociology, history, and many others—can only be adequately addressed 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 history, 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 duties 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 time. The program engages a wide range of approaches to the study of religion--humanistic and social scientific--including historical studies, ethnographic studies of contemporary communities, psychology of religion, and close examination of classic texts from major religious traditions. Additionally, courses from other departments can often be counted for credit toward the concentration.

Students in the concentration develop an understanding of one or two of the major religious traditions of the world through study of sacred books, rituals, and symbols; philosophy and theology; and the lived experiences and history of participants in the tradition. The program stresses the acquisition of certain skills: (1) the arts of reading and interpreting texts, practices and societies; (2) clear writing (essays are a substantial part of the requirements of the sophomore and junior tutorials); and (3) an understanding of the basic modern literature on the theory of religion and of the methods of the study of religious phenomena.

Concentrators draw up an individual concentration plan of study under the supervision of the Director of Undergraduate Studies, their concentration adviser, at times also in consultation with appropriate members of the Committee on the Study of Religion. There are four options for a concentration: (A) a focus on two religious traditions (or one tradition and one thematic focus), (B) a focus on a single tradition, (C) a joint concentration with religion as the primary field of study, and (D) a joint concentration with another field as the primary field of study. All four programs involve required general, methodological, or comparative courses outside of the major religious tradition(s) being studied. These courses provide analytical tools and knowledge of other traditions that enable students to think with comparative and theoretical imagination about diverse phenomena in religion. Concentration credit for study abroad is possible; students interested in such credit must petition the Committee on the Study of Religion, through the Director of Undergraduate Studies.

OPTIONS

    1. Two major traditions, or one tradition and one theme, in comparative context
    2. One major tradition in comparative context
    3. Joint concentration with religion as the primary field.
    4. Joint concentration with another field as the primary field.

REQUIREMENTS
Non-honors: 12 courses (48 credits) / Honors: 14 courses (56 credits)

  1. Required courses: These vary with the option chosen, as detailed below under each of the four programs.
  2. Tutorials: The tutorial program under each option is integrated closely into that program of studies as detailed below. In Options A, B, and C the required tutorial courses are as follows:
    1. Sophomore year: Religion 97, tutorial seminar (one term), required. Letter-graded.
    2. Junior year: Religion 98r, an individual or small-group tutorial, required. Letter-graded.
  3. Honors Candidates
    1. Thesis: To be eligible to write a thesis, a student must maintain a minimum GPA average of B+ in the concentration through the first term of the junior year.
    2. Senior Seminar: Religion 99a and 99b (two terms), required only of students writing a thesis. Graded SAT/UNS.
  4. Other Information:
    1. Traditions: The "tradition" can be either a major religious tradition, such as Judaism, or an historical complex, such as East Asia. The traditions listed are those for which there are ordinarily sufficient resources at Harvard. Other traditions may be possible, depending upon the availability of faculty and course offerings:
      • Ancient Near Eastern and Israelite
      • Buddhism
      • Christianity
      • East Asian
      • Greek, Hellenistic, Roman
      • Hinduism
      • Islam
      • Judaism
      • Modern West/Religions of the Americas
      • South Asian
    2. Thematic foci:
      • Religion and Gender
      • Religion and Society
      • Philosophy of Religion
      • Religion and the Arts
    3. Language Instruction: In the evaluation of an honors thesis, the student’s ability to demonstrate an awareness of primary texts in their original language, when such considerations are relevant to the development of the thesis project, is ordinarily a consideration. Honors candidates are thus advised to study the language(s) they will need to interpret texts from the tradition(s) they choose. In general, students may count language courses towards concentration credit when the primary texts they are reading in the course are either from a religious tradition or relevant to the study of a religious tradition, beginning with the second year of a given language track.
    4. Pass/Fail: In addition to Religion 99a and 99b (see above), one course taken Pass/Fail at Harvard can be counted for concentration credit. A relevant Freshman Seminar may therefore be counted for concentration credit, pending approval by the Director of Undergraduate Studies. Consult with the Director of Undergraduate Studies regarding Pass/Fail credit for courses taken abroad.
    5. Joint Concentration: The Comparative Study of Religion may be combined with another field in the overall framework of a joint concentration. Ordinarily, students wishing to combine Religion as the primary field will do so in the context of Option C. For rules governing joint concentrations involving Religion, consult the Director of Undergraduate Studies.

Option A: Two Major Traditions, or One Tradition and a Thematic Focus, in Comparative Context

  1. General: Comparative and Methodological Studies: three courses.
    1. One course chosen from Religion 11-20, or a suitable alternative with the approval of the DUS.
    2. Religion 97 (one term).
    3. One other course outside the student’s Major Tradition.
  2. Tradition I/Theme: five courses.
    1. Four courses focusing on a particular era or cultural/geographical area important in the tradition, or four courses sharing a thematic focus.
    2. Religion 98r (one term).
  3. Tradition II: Four courses focusing on a particular era or cultural/geographical area important in the tradition.
  4. For Honors Candidates: Religion 99a and 99b.

Option B: One Major Tradition in Comparative Context

  1. General: Comparative and Methodological Studies: four courses (16 credits).
    1. One course chosen from Religion 11-20, or a suitable alternate with the approval of the DUS.
    2. Religion 97 (one term).
    3. Two other courses, of which normally one considers a tradition other than the major tradition.
  2. Major Tradition: eight courses (32 credits).
    1. Seven courses, of which normally three focus on a particular era or cultural geographical area important in the tradition.
    2. Religion 98r (one term).
  3. For Honors Candidates: Religion 99a and 99b.

Option C: Joint Concentration with Religion as Primary Field

  1. General: Comparative and Methodological Studies: three courses (12 credits).
    1. One course chosen from Religion 11-20, or suitable alternate, with the the approval of the DUS.
    2. Religion 97 (one term).
    3. Two other courses outside of the student’s Major Tradition and/or methodological approach.
  2. Major Tradition: five courses.
    1. Four courses focusing on a particular era or cultural/geographical area important in the tradition. For thesis writers, one of these courses will be Religion 99a.
    2. Religion 98r (one term).
  3. Other Field: At least four courses. As all joint concentrators must write a senior thesis, one of these courses will typically be Religion 99b, although in some instances, a senior tutorial in the other field may be substituted for Religion 99b or combined with it. One term of junior tutorial in the other field is often required. Precise course requirements are subject to concentration requirements of the department or committee that administers the program in the other field.

Option D: Joint Concentration with Another Field as Primary Field
7 courses (28 credits)

  1. General: Comparative and Methodological Studies: three courses
    1. Religion 97 (one term).
    2. Two other courses, at least one of which is outside the Major Tradition.
  2. Major Tradition: Four courses (16 credits) focusing on a particular era or cultural/geographical area important to the tradition. Religion 98r is strongly recommended.

ADVISING

Each student will be assigned a concentration adviser who will meet with the student at the beginning of each term and, when occasion warrants, to assist with the student’s concentration plan. In most cases the concentration adviser will also serve as the special field adviser who counsels the student on issues related to the major tradition(s). When these two advisers are not the same, a special field adviser will be appointed in addition to the concentration adviser.

For up-to-date information on advising in the Comparative Study of Religion, please see the Advising Programs Office website.

RESOURCES

Faculty members from many Faculty of Arts and Sciences departments and from the Divinity School share in the teaching and administration of the concentration. For study resources concentrators draw not only upon the collections at Widener Library, the Fogg Art Museum, and the undergraduate libraries, but also upon the Andover-Harvard Library at the Divinity School and area studies libraries, such as the Harvard-Yenching and Tozzer libraries.

HOW TO FIND OUT MORE

The Handbook for Concentrators and names of current concentrators willing to discuss the program are available at the office of the Study of Religion, 302 Barker Center. For more information, contact the Director of Undergraduate Studies, Courtney Bickel Lamberth.

ENROLLMENT STATISTICS
Number of Concentrators as of December

Concentrators 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
Comparative Study of Religion 34 30 29 23 20 13 12 16 19 17
Comparative Study of Religion + another field 1 3 2 3 2 1 2 1 2 2
Another field + Comparative Study of Religion 3 3 2 3 4 6 5 5 3 3