A religion student standing in the corridor between Asia House and Bosworth Hall.
Program Overview


Exploring the meanings, rituals, and ethics of transcendence.

Photo credit: Jennifer Manna

Study The Complex Dynamics of Religious Culture and Thought

The first undergraduate program in the United States dedicated to the academic study of religion, Oberlin’s Department of Religion remains at the forefront of scholarship and teaching in the field. Faculty research and teaching areas range from Sufi poetry to environmental ethics, medieval medicine to contemporary politics, philosophical reflections to ritual performances, gender and bodies to translation and migration. Courses engage the history, practices, art, literature, social ethics, and belief systems of various traditions, East and West, ancient and modern. Drawing on a wide range of curricular pathways, religion majors at Oberlin develop deep multicultural awareness and effective research, writing, analytic, and problem-solving skills enabling them to succeed in a variety of professional fields.

An Inviting and Diverse Intellectual Community

Our faculty are scholars who devote their careers to making important contributions to their disciplines and to making a difference in their students’ lives through teaching and mentorship. Oberlin’s religion courses encourage students to think critically and charitably about religion and to develop the skills necessary to understand and communicate effectively across differences. Our curriculum affords an opportunity for concentrated learning in particular religious traditions and specific areas of religious thought and practice, while the department serves as a gathering place for students with diverse interests and backgrounds.

Oberlin’s annual Haskell Lecture Series in religion dates to 1899 and is considered one of the most distinguished lectureships in the United States
Learn more about past Haskell lectures

Religious Art at the Allen

Art plays an integral role in liberal arts learning at Oberlin. Religion classes often draw on the Allen Memorial Art Museum’s wide-ranging collection of religious art from Roman mosaics and Tibetan Mandalas to Renaissance oil paintings and contemporary artists’ reflections on the sacred.

A religious mosaic.
The Jacobs Prize annually awards $25,000 in funding to a graduating religion major for the best essay on the topic “Why is the academic study of religion important?”

Senior Capstones

Senior Capstone courses provide a culminating experience to the religion major. Students pursue faculty-mentored independent research projects within a collaborative cohort, honing transferable skills and enriching appreciation for the dynamics of knowledge production.

A group of senior religion majors.

Featured Courses

RELG 103

Religion and Violence

Religion and violence have often intersected, though often not in simple or straightforward ways. This course will examine categories and interconnections of religion and violence to provide a critical framework for investigating perpetuations of, sufferings of, and resistances to violence in various religious traditions. Examinations of these traditions in concrete historical circumstances will clarify, stretch, and challenge the theoretical and philosophical approaches. Though particular attention will be devoted to Christianity, examples will also be drawn from Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and New Religious Movements.

Taught by
Corey Barnes ’98
RELG 111

Faith and the Ballot Box

While Thomas Jefferson argued for a “wall of separation” between church and state, in reality, there has been a thoroughfare of exchange. This course traces the intersection of religion and politics historically and in current events. We will examine issues central to the 2020 presidential election such as immigration, mass incarceration, definitions of marriage and family, gun control, and religious freedom. When do candidates use religious language and to what effect? How does religious identity affect voting patterns? What is the significance of the 116th Congress being the most religiously diverse delegation in history?

Taught by
Cynthia (Cindy) Chapman
RELG 135

Devotion and Performance in South Asia

How does devotional literature and performance interact with and become shaped by social and historical circumstances in different South Asian traditions? In this course, students think comparatively about how South Asian Muslim, Sikh, and Hindu communities express devotion through literature and performance. We will learn to read, view, listen to, and critically engage with various genres of medieval and modern literature and performing and visual arts that express passionate devotion to diverse conceptions of the divine, as well as a range of emotions—fear, longing, liberation. We will be attentive to what is shared and distinct in articulations of devotion across traditions, periods, and regions.

Taught by
Emilia Bachrach
RELG 229

Religious Rituals in East Asia

Ritual has always played a central role in the religions of East Asia. In this course, students conduct case studies of ritual practices representative of each major tradition (Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism, Shinto), as well as several that defy neat categorization. We will study ritual as compelling practices through which religious actors have sought to transform self, society, and cosmos. Orthopraxy, performance, affect, and the body are some the key themes we’ll consider in our engagements with textual primary sources as well as video and audio recordings of rituals as performed and recreated in contemporary settings.

Taught by
Andrew Macomber

Student Profiles

Winner of the Jacobs Prize

Hayley Segall ’20, a religion major from Maryland, was awarded the Jacobs Prize for the study of religion. Segall will use the $25,000 award to support graduate studies at the University of Chicago Divinity School. After graduate school, she hopes to begin a career in interfaith dialogue and diplomacy.

Hayley Segall.

Critical Language Scholarship to Study Urdu

Katie Ryan-O’Flaherty ’19, a religion major and environmental studies minor, was awarded the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) to study Urdu in Lucknow, India. The CLS Program is a fully-funded summer program for American undergraduate and graduate students.

Katie Ryan-O’Flaherty.

From Oberlin to Indonesia

At Oberlin, Eli Fisher ’16, a religion major, played for the men’s lacrosse team, practiced tai chi with a local instructor, and organized concerts as a member of the Oberlin College Program Board. After graduation, he was awarded a Shansi Fellowship to teach English in Indonesia.

Eli Fisher.

Next Steps

Get in touch; we would love to chat.

The green area surrounded by King Building, Warner Center, and Peters Hall.
Photo credit: Yevhen Gulenko