The Study of Religion at Penn
“...it might well be said that one’s education is not complete without a study of comparative religion or the history of religion.”
United States Supreme Court Justices Clark and Goldberg
in Abingdon v. Schempp
The Department of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in a variety of specializations within the study of religion. With particular strengths in the study of Christianity, Judaism, African-American religions, Islam, and Buddhism, the department emphasizes descriptive, historical, critical and theoretical approaches to the study of religion. The department maintains close ties with a large number of other programs and institutes at the University of Pennsylvania and beyond, and provides students with access to a wealth of library, museum and linguistic resources. At the same time, Penn's Department of Religious Studies is a small body in which students receive a great deal of individual attention from faculty members and the opportunity to interact with students from diverse subfields. Within this context of extensive resources and personalized guidance, each student works with an advisor to design his or her own course of study.
The Department of Religious Studies has a number of advantages over many other undergraduate programs. First, our core faculty shares research foci and skills in the study of material culture (art, manuscripts, archaeology, inscriptions, and other primary historical sources). As experienced researchers in archives, museums, and in the field, we are well-suited to lead serious students in intensive research to better prepare them for graduate study which requires research and evaluation skills. Moreover, the Philadelphia area is the center for a number of archives and special collections which students can use firsthand. To this end, we continue to build on our existing relationships with the Penn Museum and local material culture collections in the religiously rich city of Philadelphia (as well as in New York City, Baltimore, and Washington DC). Second, in cooperation with the Penn Language Center and other departments, the core faculty can help majors gain a high degree of proficiency in both a classical and vernacular language. Majors are able to take multiple levels of many languages (see a partial list below) to help them do research in archives and in the field. Third, the department is highly interdisciplinary. There are almost thirty faculty members at Penn which are affiliated with the department. These affiliated faculty come from humanities, fine and performance arts, and social science departments. This allows us to welcome double majors in related fields l(such as Art History, Anthropology, Near Eastern Languages and Literatures, and many others). Of course, we are not only focused on majors who plan to go onto graduate study in Religious Studies. Indeed, our faculty has the breadth to help students learn about religion more broadly. Whether engaged in research or in introductory study. undergraduate majors are encouraged to consult experts from multiple fields. Fourth, the department has been a pioneer in the incorporation of computer technology in the humanities and creatively uses interactive video, discussion boards, immersive websites, and visually intensive lectures. Fifth, the core faculty members are all accomplished authors and translators. Each is committed to ensuring that our majors are highly skilled writers and critical thinkers.