Princeton University has long been committed to the idea that religion, like politics or art, is an important sphere of life and merits systematic attention within the curriculum. The primary responsibility for instruction in this area has, for more than half a century, been entrusted to the Department of Religion, which belongs to the Division of the Humanities. Our charge is to do our best to examine religious life, the diverse forms it has taken in different cultures and historical periods, and the questions it poses for theoretical, ethical, and political reflection. As a humanities department, we appeal to the same standards of historical and philosophical scholarship found in neighboring disciplines.
The major in Religion allows concentrators the opportunity to study diverse cultures, peoples, texts and ideologies. Some examples are African-American religions, the literature of Chinese and Japanese Buddhism, the Gnostic gospels, ancient Israel, modern Jewish thought , history and contemporary American religion , philosophy of religion , religious and philosophical ethics, political thought, gender and the body in American religions, and the roles of women in contemporary Muslim societies. Department requirements are designed to introduce the students to at least four major world religious traditions of the past and present and to various approaches to the study of religion.
The Religion Department differs from certain other contexts in which religion is studied, such as a seminary, where fellow inquirers might have reason to take more for granted. The Religion Department does not expect students to abandon their commitments or to pretend that they don’t have any while engaging in the academic study of religion. But we do expect students to reflect on those commitments critically–to become aware of what they are, how they might influence their findings, and why others might see fit to reject them.
The interdisciplinary nature of the Department and of its faculty, whose backgrounds and research interests in the study of religion include history, anthropology, philosophy, literature, politics and ethics, means that we tend to attract majors who are a diverse group. Despite a range of interests and approaches, the Department has a strong sense of community and collegiality that is actively fostered by faculty, staff and students, both undergraduate and graduate.