Religion

Academic Department Introduction

The study of religion at Wellesley is historically grounded and deeply interdisciplinary. Many of our courses explore the texts and contexts associated with major religious traditions: Buddhism, Hinduism, the religions of China and Japan, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Other courses adopt thematic and theoretical approaches. Conceiving of religion as a central element in human culture, we study the complex intersections among religion and the visual arts, architecture, music, theater and dance, politics and government, law and ethics, popular culture, philosophy, and science. In addition, our students engage in explorations of social justice—from perspectives drawn from inside and outside religious traditions.

The department works closely with several related programs, including the programs in East Asian studies, Jewish studies, Middle Eastern studies, and South Asia studies. Every member of the department is affiliated with at least one interdepartmental program, and we frequently collaborate in guiding students’ work, programming, and special events.

Learning goals

  • Describe and interpret one of the great religious traditions or a central theme in two or more traditions.

  • Analyze and assess sacred texts and religious writings, including their specialized rhetoric, forms, and contexts.

  • Identify and think critically about the roles of religion in historical contexts and intersections of religion with other cultural phenomena.

Programs of Study

Religion major and minor

Students employ critical methods used in contemporary scholarship on religion.

Course Highlights

  • An introduction to the history and concepts of monsters and monstrosity. We will apply readings in literary and cultural theory to case studies drawn from biblical literature and iconography from the ancient Middle East and Mediterranean myths and cosmologies, Victorian-era gothic novels, and contemporary popular culture to study monstrous beings from the earliest examples until the present. We will center questions concerning the human creation (and fear) of monstrous beings, the cultural specificity of terror, the social significance of monsters, and how the history of monsters informs, and has been informed by, the ancient world. No previous knowledge of the Bible, literature, or monsters is required or presumed. (CPLT 112Y and REL 112Y are cross-listed courses.)
  • There is a deep crisis of values at the heart of contemporary culture in the United States. On one hand, the nation is unquestionably committed to the principle of radical individualism, marked especially by free-market capitalism, consumerism, and increasingly violent libertarian politics. On the other hand, increasing competition and diversity require principles of the common good to sustain the cultural coherence, social media, and environmental stability necessary for civil society to function effectively. This course will investigate the conflict between these two sets of values through theoretical readings and the inspection of public life in the United States in the twenty-first century. It asks whether there ought to be any constraints on individualism that can be justified by an appeal to the common good and, if so, what those constraints should be. (AMST 234 and REL 231 are cross-listed courses.)

Research highlights

  • Stephen Marini stands at a chalkboard and lectures.

    Professor Stephen Marini and student interns completed a three-year digital humanities mapping project in which they compiled a census of all religious congregations in colonial and revolutionary America from 1725 through 1790 and prepared this data for mapping.

  • James Kodera speaks while seated.

    Professor T. James Kodera’s research focuses on Watsuji Tetsuro’s work on Dogen (1200–1253), a Zen monk/priest who brought the Soto (Chinese: Ts’ao-tung) School of Zen out of China. Watsuji was a 20th-century Japanese philosopher, ethicist, and cultural historian whose book, Shamon Dogen, was instrumental in securing Dogen’s status in the larger intellectual world in Japan.

  • The cover of the book "Medieval Muslim Mirrors for Princes: An Anthology of Arabic, Persian and Turkish Political Advice."

    Professor Louise Marlow’s recent publications include Medieval Muslim Mirrors for Princes: An Anthology of Arabic, Persian and Turkish Political Advice (Cambridge University Press, 2023). Her current research explores translations between Arabic and Persian in 14th-century Iran.

Opportunities

  • Elisabeth Luce Moore ’24 Summer Research Internships in Religion

    Students conduct research on a project proposed by individual Religion Department faculty members. Typical projects include bibliographic research, online database investigations, archival work in campus and local libraries, special computer work such as mapping, and, occasionally, translation.

  • Severinghaus Summer Internship Program in Ministry/Human Services

    Funding from the department enables students to engage in research or hands-on work through unpaid positions with domestic or international humanitarian or social action agencies, charitable or religious organizations, or policy-based institutes. Recently funded projects include work with the Asian & Pacific Islander Coalition on HIV/AIDS, the Holocaust Museum LA, the Street Child Project, and Wheelchairs of Hope.

Beyond Wellesley

Beyond Wellesley

The intellectual breadth and depth of religious studies help prepare our graduates for graduate-level education in many fields, including business, law, medicine, and public service, and for many careers. Recent graduates have found employment in the nonprofit/NGO sectors, investment or portfolio management, K–12 and other types of education, the performing and fine arts, social assistance, journalism, and media and publishing.

For more

Our newsletter

Published annually, our department newsletter features recent or upcoming classes, students’ first-hand accounts of summer internship experiences, interviews with faculty and alums, and more.

Department of Religion

Address
Founders Hall
106 Central Street
Wellesley, MA 02481
Contact
Louise Marlow
Department Chair