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Department of Comparative Religion

The Department of Comparative Religion equips students for work and leadership in a culturally diverse world. We build students' religious literacy—their familiarity with religious traditions that may inform the identities of their future colleagues and clients. We train students to engage empathetically with beliefs, values, and cultural practices that differ from their own. We teach students how to think critically about social issues and conflicts involving religion that intersect with the fields in which they will work.

What is comparative religion?

"Comparative religion" is one name for the field of scholarship within the arts and sciences that specializes in understanding religion; this field is also known as "religious studies." In this field, we examine religion as a dimension of human culture, using theories and methods common to other academic fields, such as history, sociology, anthropology, or literary and cultural studies.

Comparative religion is different from theology. Theology refers to intellectual traditions that develop within religions as members reflect on their own doctrines. To be trained in theology, you would attend a religious institution such as a seminary. Because Miami University is a state school, it does not have a program in theology.

Why Study Religion

Most students don’t arrive at Miami with plans to study religion; the possibility may have never even crossed your mind. There are three reasons why you should consider taking courses on religion as part of preparing for your career. Every semester, a few hundred Miami undergraduates take a course from the Department of Comparative Religion, mostly to satisfy requirements in the Global Miami Plan or CAS's College Requirement. A few dozen Miami students each year major or minor in Comparative Religion. Our majors usually combine their study of religion with a second major in another field.

Religion creates challenges and opportunities for professionals in many fields.

Religion impacts individuals and societies in many ways. It shapes law and politics; conflict and peace-making; ethnic and national identities; norms around gender, sexuality, and family; approaches to child-rearing, life transitions, and death; practices related to health, consumption, and finances; as well as art, literature, and media.

If you are preparing for a career that in any way involves people, it is likely that religion will somehow intersect with what you do. Consider these examples:

  • psychologists counsel individuals whose values and behavior are influenced by their religious backgrounds.
  • community leaders address religious tensions or conflicts within their community.
  • business owners and managers must consider how to respond to employees' requests for religious accommodations.
  • artistspublishers, and marketers have turned religious entertainment and products into multimillion-dollar industries.
  • health care providers are paying increased attention to how patients use religion or spirituality to cope with illness.
  • intelligence analysts and law enforcement confront the threat of violence by religious militants.
  • journalists need to explain the religious dimensions of political and social issues.
  • educators tackle the challenges of teaching a student body who subscribe to diverse religious worldviews and norms.
  • politicianslawyers, and advocacy groups advance competing positions in ongoing debates about religious freedom and discrimination.

Despite its importance as a social force, and therefore its relevance to many kinds of work, religion is a subject that people often feel ill-equipped to discuss in professional settings. You can be the person in the room who knows how to do that.

Studying religion prepares you to work in a diverse, globalized world

A Miami education is designed to promote competencies that employers have identified as critical for college graduates in today’s job market. One of these is intercultural competence.

In a survey conducted for the Association of American Colleges and Universities, 3 out of 4 employers said that college graduates need "intercultural skills and understanding of societies and cultures outside the U.S." As workplaces become more diverse and globalization makes the world smaller, you need to prepare yourself to engage effectively with people whose values or ways of seeing the world differ from your own.

Religion is a facet of cultural diversity. Courses in the Department of Comparative Religion strengthen your intercultural competence by equipping you to

  • identify ways that different religious traditions shape people's values and ways of living.
  • engage empathetically with viewpoints or worldviews very different from your own.
  • navigate unfamiliar settings or interpret unfamiliar practices through cross-cultural analysis.
  • discern and interrogate your own underlying assumptions or values by comparison to others'.
  • ask complex questions about cultural differences, and articulate responses that reflect appreciation for multiple perspectives.

You can select courses from our department to satisfy the Global Perspectives and Intercultural Perspectives requirements in the Global Miami Plan and the Diversity Requirement of the Farmer School of Business. One of our department's faculty members regularly leads a study abroad experience to the Arabian Gulf, where you can learn about the intersections of religion, social change, and business.

Studying religion at Miami makes you a better thinker, reader, writer, and researcher

All courses taught in the Department of Comparative Religion are designed to promote critical thinking, critical reading, and written communication—competencies that are high priorities for 21st-century employers, according to survey data from the Association of American Colleges and Universities. Many of our courses add a further important competency: inquiry and analysis.

This means that religion courses at Miami give you broadly applicable intellectual skills to take into your professional life. Can you foresee how these skills would be useful in your future career?

  • placing texts in contexts that illuminate their meaning
  • identifying implications, presuppositions, vested interests, or contradictions
  • synthesizing information to reveal insightful patterns
  • examining controversies and conflicts from multiple points of view
  • evaluating sources of information and the validity of arguments
  • deliberating with colleagues and providing them with effective feedback
  • persuasively supporting assertions with evidence and reasoning
  • identifying and clearly articulating questions, ambiguities, and problems
  • formulating and investigating hypotheses to solve problems
  • deploying relevant specialized vocabularies and theoretical frames
  • learning more about religious diversity in order to expand cross-cultural skills

In our department's courses, you'll work with typical college texts such as books and academic articles. But you'll also gain experience critically analyzing other forms of communication: articles from highbrow and popular periodicals, websites, videos, interviews, historical documents—even physical (non-verbal) communication.

Similarly, you'll gain experience in our department not only with the "standard" kinds of college writing assignments: summaries, short analyses or arguments, research papers, and the like. Your professor might ask you to create communication appropriate to a real-world setting: a professional blog post, a recommendation memo, a crowdsourcing pitch, an editorial, a magazine essay, a poster presentation, a conference paper, or a public relations campaign.

Finally, because we are a small department, students are able to work one-on-one with faculty to develop research projects that give them knowledge and experience for their careers. Read more: Opportunities for student research

Can you get a paying job with a degree in Comparative Religion?

Our department's graduates have gone on to work in a variety of fields: government and law, medicine and psychology, business, education, and non-profit work. Comparative Religion probably shouldn't be your only major. But there are many fields in which understanding how religion affects individuals and societies is a valuable asset. Combining the study of religion with another field gives you a distinctive skills set when you go on the job market.

1. Our department's majors have among the best rates of acceptance into law school and medical school.

Why would law schools and medical schools want students who double-majored or minored in religion? We'll let our department's graduates explain:

"Without the critical thinking and sort of texts I was required to understand in this department, I would never have been prepared for the challenges of law school. In addition, the study of religion has allowed me to interact more effectively with attorneys on the other side of issues and with clients from different backgrounds. I learned to articulate my opinions while being able to listen and learn from people I initially disagreed with."

--Amy Tumey

"Religion classes kept me balanced and well rounded. Minoring in religion gave me a unique perspective in medical school and now as a doctor. Interacting with patients is very much focused on the patient as a whole, including their religion, culture, what they think is important, and how they view the world and their own health. It all impacts their health and how well and in what way they can be treated."

--Laura Barczewski

2. A double major or minor in religion is a smart choice if you're seeking a career in business.

A study by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, titled "Raising the Bar: Employers' Views on College Learning in the Wake of the Economic Downturn," found that the overwhelming majority of employers are desperate to hire graduates who have "a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems."

Coursework in the Department of Comparative Religion is designed to develop precisely these skills, as these graduates attest:

"I always respond with this when asked about my field of interest in college: During the course of my studies in religion, I was able to polish critical reasoning, argument, analysis, and communication skills, both written and oral. These have served me very well in the unrelated field in which I currently am employed--manager of planning for a plastics compounder."

--Joe Brode

"My study of religion at Miami taught me skills for writing, critical research and critical reading which I've relied on throughout my careers. After a career of 15 years working in foundations, for the last 10 years I've had a successful consulting business."

--Ronald White

"I was a double major in Comparative Religion and Mass Communication, and discovered abundant cross-pollination among those fields. The academic study of religion at Miami enabled me to examine how people structure their values, beliefs, and aspirations. That has been an indispensable skill in my work today as a professional in marketing communications."

--Steve McFarland

3. Research confirms the financial value of the skills gained by religion majors and minors.

People often assume that majoring in a humanities field such as Comparative Religion leads to lower pay. But the opposite is true!

In a study released in January 2014, the Association of American Colleges and Universities and the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems analyzed Census Bureau data for three million U.S. residents.  The researchers found that "at peak earnings ages (56-60 years) workers who majored as undergraduates in the humanities or social sciences earn annually on average about $2,000 more than those who majored as undergraduates in professional or pre-professional fields."

These findings prompted Scott Samuelson to observe--in a Wall Street Journal op-ed titled "Would You Hire Socrates?"--that studying the humanities is "a good career move."

4. Miami University is an ideal place to gain these skills.

From a graduate:

"Minoring in religion gave me a unique perspective as a doctor.  Interacting with patients is very much focused on the patient as a whole—including their religion, culture, what they think is important, and how they view the world and their own health."

Laura Barczewski

A comparison of the minor and the major in Religion:
Minor Major
18 credit hours 42 credit hours
Gives you freedom to pursue your specialized interests after completing 9 hours of introductory coursework. Gives you freedom to pursue your specialized interests after completing 12 hours of introductory coursework.
Offers possibilities for interdisciplinary work, in the form of cross-listed courses and an option to complete 3 hours in another department. Is interdisciplinary by nature: A minimum of 15 hours must be completed in other departments.
Develops your marketable skills in writing, critical reading, critical thinking, analysis,and intercultural competence. Develops your marketable skills in writing, critical reading, critical thinking, analysis,and intercultural competence.
Exposes you, in a systematic way, to a diversity of religious traditions. Exposes you, in a systematic way, to a diversity of religious traditions.
Gives you a deeper introduction to two religious traditions (or religions from two regions of the world). Gives you a deeper introduction to two religious traditions (or religions from two regions of the world).
Formally introduces you to theories and methods for the study of religion. Formally introduces you to theories and methods for the study of religion.
Gives you opportunities to apply theories and methods to specific questions about religion in society and culture. Gives you opportunities to apply theories and methods to specific questions about religion in society and culture.
Provides a mentored senior research experience.
Is designed to work well as a second major, to complement a related subject area (international relations, psychology, social justice studies, etc.).

Most Comparative Religion majors are double majors. Some of those have minors, or even double minors, as well. We're proud of our students' strengths and ambitions! Here are some of the majors and minors that our students have pursued alongside religion. Note the range of professional interests with which the study of religion can be combined. What combination would serve your career goals?

"I'm a double major in religion and . . ."

  • Anthropology
  • Biology
  • Diplomacy and global politics
  • Economics
  • History</s
  • International studies
  • Media and culture
  • Music education
  • Political science
  • Premedical studies
  • Strategic communication
  • Women, gender, and sexuality studies
  • Zoology

"My major is religion. My minor is . . ."

  • Arabic
  • Family relationships
  • Film studies
  • French
  • History
  • International business
  • Linguistics
  • Management and leadership
  • Middle East and Islamic studies
  • Spanish

"My major is . . . My minor is religion."

  • History
  • Journalism
  • Kinesiology
  • Media and culture
  • Philosophy
  • Political science
  • Social work
  • Strategic communication
  • Zoology

Give to the Comparative Religion Department

Help us prepare the next generation of leaders in comparative religion —and our society as a whole. We have numerous scholarships, grants, and programs accepting contributions from donors like you.


Department of Comparative Religion

200 Upham Hall
Oxford, OH 45056