Comparative Study of Religion

Dr. Tamsin Jones, Director of Undergraduate Studies

The Comparative Study of Religion offers undergraduates access to a range of human experiences that have produced much of the greatest literature of the world, inspired its art and philosophy, and shaped its moral consciousness. The concentration trains students to think critically about religions in interaction with other cultural, historical, intellectual, and social phenomena. The concentration also provides students with a basic 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. To achieve its ends, the concentration stresses the acquisition of certain specific skills: (1) the arts of reading and interpreting texts; (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 a concentration plan under the supervision of the director of undergraduate studies and their adviser in consultation with appropriate members of the Committee on the Study of Religion. There are four options within the field: a focus on two religious traditions, a focus on a single tradition, a joint concentration with religion as the primary field of study, and 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 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

For students entering the College in Fall 2008 or later. Other students should refer to the Handbook for Students from the year in which they declared their concentration.

Non-honors: 12 half-courses / Honors: 14 half-courses

  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 98a, 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 average of B+ in the concentration.

    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 a 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

      • South Asian

    1. Language Instruction: A consideration in the evaluation of an honors thesis will be the ability of a student to demonstrate an awareness of primary texts in their original language. 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 texts they are reading are either from a religious tradition or relevant to the study of a religious tradition, beginning with the second term of a given language track.

    2. Pass/Fail: In addition to Religion 99a and 99b (see above), one half-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.

    3. 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 in Comparative Context

  1. General: Comparative and Methodological Studies: three half-courses.

    1. One half-course chosen from Religion 11-20.

    2. Religion 97 (one term).

    3. One other half-course.

  2. Tradition I: five half-courses.

    1. Four half-courses focusing on a particular era or cultural/geographical area important in the tradition.

    2. Religion 98a (one term).

  3. Tradition II: Four half-courses focusing on a particular era or cultural/geographical area important in the tradition.

  4. For Honors Candidates:

    1. Religion 99a and 99b.

Option B: One Major Tradition in Comparative Context

  1. General: Comparative and Methodological Studies: four half-courses.

    1. One half-course chosen from Religion 11-20.

    2. Religion 97 (one term).

    3. Two other half-courses, of which normally one considers a tradition other than the major tradition.

  2. Major Tradition: eight half-courses.

    1. Seven half-courses, of which normally three focus on a particular era or cultural geographical area important in the tradition.

    2. Religion 98a (one term).

  3. For Honors Candidates:

    1. Religion 99a and 99b.

Option C: Joint Concentration with Religion as Primary Field

  1. General: Comparative and Methodological Studies: three half-courses.

    1. One half-course chosen from Religion 11-20.

    2. Religion 97 (one term).

    3. One other half-course.

  2. Major Tradition: five half-courses.

    1. Four half-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 98a (one term).

  3. Other Field: At least four half-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 ordinarily 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 half-courses

  1. General: Comparative and Methodological Studies: three half-courses.

    1. Either one half-course chosen from Religion 11-20, Humanities 15, or the sophomore tutorial (Religion 97).

    2. Two other half-courses.

  2. Major Tradition: Four half-courses focusing on a particular era or cultural/geographical area important to the tradition.

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

A 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 Tamsin Jones (tamsin_jones@harvard.edu), director of undergraduate studies.

CORE AND GENERAL EDUCATION REQUIREMENTS

Non-exempt areas:

Exempt areas:

†Historical Study A

Foreign Cultures

†Historical Study B

Literature and Arts C

Literature and Arts A

Moral Reasoning

Literature and Arts B

ONE of the areas marked †.

Quantitative Reasoning

 

Science A

 

Science B

 

†Social Analysis

 

For more information on fulfilling the Core requirement, see the Core Curriculum Requirement.

All students—regardless of concentration—planning to graduate under the requirements of the Program in General Education must complete one letter-graded course in each of the eight categories in General Education. The Class of 2013 is the first to enter the College under these requirements. Students who entered Harvard College in September 2008 or earlier are expected to fulfill the requirements of the Core Curriculum, but will be permitted to switch to the Program in General Education if such a change is possible and advisable given their overall schedule and plan of study. For more information on the requirements of the Program in General Education and the possibility of switching to it, please see The Program in General Education in Chapter 2 and the General Education website.

ENROLLMENT STATISTICS

Number of Concentrators as of December

Concentrators

2004

2005

2006

2007

2008

Comparative Study of Religion

34

22

18

26

34

Religion + another field

10

6

4

2

1

Another field + Religion

8

9

6

4

3