Chair, Professor WILLIAM R. DARROW

Professors: BUELL*, DARROW, DREYFUS***. Assistant Professors: HAMMERSCHLAG, JOSEPHSON, SHUCK**. Harry C. Payne Distinguished Visiting Professor in Liberal Arts: AL-AZM. Visiting Assistant Professor: GUTSCHOW**. Croghan Visiting Professor: GAGER§. Bolin Fellow: HIDALGO.


The major in Religion is designed to perform two related functions: to expose the student to the methods and issues involved in the study of religion as a universal phenomenon of psychological, sociological, and cultural/historical dimensions; and to confront students with the beliefs, practices, and values of specific religions through a study of particular religious traditions. It is a program that affords each student an opportunity to fashion his/her own sequence of study within a prescribed basic pattern constructed to ensure both coherence and variety. It consists of at least nine semester courses as follows:

Required sequence courses

Elective courses

Five additional courses in Religion are to be selected in such a way that at least one course is taken in both the Western and non-Western traditions. Students will construct their sequence in consultation with departmental advisors and subject to their approval. In order to achieve a deep coverage of a particular religious tradition or set of related problems in the study of religion, students are urged to select three electives that together have some kind of coherence, be it cultural, historical, or topical. Related courses from other departments or programs may be included among the three courses, and the point of coherence can be the subject of research papers in the senior seminar.

Students are advised to elect additional courses in related fields (e.g., psychology, sociology, anthropology, art, history, philosophy) in order to gain a clearer understanding of the social and cultural contexts in which religions appear.

For those who wish to go beyond the formally-listed courses into a more intensive study of a particular religious tradition, methodological trend, or religious phenomenon (e.g., ritual, symbol-formation, mysticism, theology, etc.), there is the opportunity to undertake independent study or, with the approval of the department, to pursue a thesis project.

The value of the major in Religion derives from its fostering of a critical appreciation of the complex role religion plays in every society, even those that consider themselves non-religious. The major makes one sensitive to the role religion plays in shaping the terms of cultural discourse, of social attitudes and behavior, and of moral reflection. But it also discloses the ways in which religion and its social effects represent the experience of individual persons and communities. In doing these things, the major further provides one with interdisciplinary analytical tools and cross-cultural experience and opens up new avenues for dealing with both the history of a society and culture and the relationships between different societies and cultures. What one learns as a Religion major is therefore remarkably applicable to a wide range of other fields of study or professions.


The degree with honors in Religion requires the above-mentioned nine courses and the preparation of a thesis of 75+ pages with a grade of B+ or better. A thesis may combine revised work done in other courses with new material prepared while enrolled either in Religion 493-W31 or Religion W31-494. Up to two-thirds of the work in the thesis may be such revised work, but at least one-third must represent new work. The thesis must constitute a coherent whole either by its organizing theme or by a focus on a particular religious tradition. Candidates will also be expected to present the results of their thesis orally in a public presentation. Students who wish to be candidates for honors in Religion will submit proposals and at least one paper that may be included in the thesis to the department in the spring of their junior year. Students must normally have at least a 3.5 GPA in Religion to be considered for the honors program.

The chair will serve as advisor to non-majors.


The Williams College Religion Department encourages potential majors to study abroad in order to enhance their education and gain international perspectives on religious studies. There are many excellent study abroad opportunities offering students a variety of possible experiences: among them cultural immersion, field work, intensive language learning, independent study, participation in another educational system. Many of our majors study in the Williams College Oxford Program, but our majors also regularly pursue a semester or year-long study in other programs.