Religion, Comparative Study of

Religion is momentous, controversial and influential.  Religious commitments and institutions are cited daily as sources of the very best and worst in individual, political and communal life.  A glance at the news and a look at history make it clear that there has never been a greater need for close study and understanding of the world’s religious traditions in order to better understand global cultures and current events, to interpret history and literature intelligently, and to develop a more penetrating sense of our shared humanity.  Although human beings have always practiced what we now call “religion,” the term itself is a modern category.  The undergraduate concentration in the Comparative Study of Religion at Harvard--founded in 1974--is relatively new.  Given the staggering range of religious phenomena throughout human history and across the world, the study of religion has developed into the most interdisciplinary of undergraduate concentrations, bringing together humanistic and social scientific methods.  Students and scholars approach religion through the varied disciplines of philosophy, history, sociology, political science, anthropology, literary and scriptural interpretation and cultural studies.         Department Website

Harvard’s concentration in the Comparative Study of Religion is a vibrant community comprised of students who are deeply committed to their work, and the nation’s most distinguished teaching faculty in the study of religion. Students interact regularly with faculty and graduate students who share their interests. The program provides students with an understanding of the religious traditions of the world through study of sacred texts and rituals; philosophy, literature and theology; and the lived experiences and history of participants in the tradition. Courses engage life’s biggest questions including the meaning of life and death, humanity and divinity, good and evil, sacrifice and community. Course work exposes students to central concepts in the field such as god(s), ritual, gender, authority, orthodoxy, scripture and prophecy.  Anthropological, historical, philosophical, phenomenological, sociological and literary approaches open religion to closer analysis and deeper understanding.