About Us

221 Arts & Science Building, Columbia, MO 65211-7090 / 573-882-4769
  • About the Department

    Religious Studies focuses on forms of religious life and religious expression, even as it asks what religion is and explores the history of thinking about what is included in the category of religion.

    Religious Studies investigates basic issues about human experience, surveying and analyzing how people have understood, shaped, and expressed what it means to be human.

    Religious Studies challenges students' abilities to understand and interpret texts and practices from a variety of cultural sources and historical settings.

    The Department of Religious Studies is dedicated to the study of religion in its various historical, cultural and social contexts. Created in 1981 as part of the humanities division in MU's College of Arts and Science, the nationally acclaimed program developed without formal ties to particular religious traditions or institutions. As part of a state university, the department created an innovative structure that has received national recognition for its originality and excellence.

    The program incorporates the study of three modalities of religion--the religions of Indigenous Peoples throughout the world, traditions tracing their origins to the Ancient Near East (primarily Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), those stemming from the Asian traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Shinto, and Daoism--in a coherent and integrated program. These are by no means the totality of traditions, institutions, practices, ideas, and phenomena encompassed by the term "religion," but these modes offer a starting place for the academic study of religion and its transformations in a global context.

    The focus of curriculum is the exploration of religion in human life rather than the study of one or two specific traditions, and the belief that such exploration can only be carried out in a comparative framework. One consequence of this structure is that the department has been able to contribute significantly to multicultural, international and interdisciplinary programs on this campus.

    Our curriculum fills a number of general education requirements in the University, and our classes appeal to a wide range of students with diverse majors. Students from disciplines as varied as English and Biology, History and Chemistry, Sociology and Engineering all find something interesting in the academic study of religion that relates to their chosen field. A number of our core faculty and adjuncts are affiliates in other departments. Many of our courses are cross-listed with other departments, and Religious Studies majors often major in another subject as well.

    Courses in Religious Studies train students in critical thinking, reading, writing; communicating and articulating an argument or point of view; researching and evaluating sources; and planning and undertaking projects. Students learn methods for thinking about and engaging with religious and cultural phenomena. Humanities and liberal arts majors gain excellent skills and training that are transferable to other areas and professions. Our majors have pursued successful careers in such fields as law, journalism, business, social work, politics, education, ministry, medicine, and counseling.

    Our MA program also has strong ties to other programs across campus. MA and PhD students from disciplines such as History, Sociology, English, Folklore, Classics, Anthropology, Theater, and Journalism often take part in our graduate seminars, and Religious Studies graduate students find value in the graduate courses offered by a variety of disciplines. Our MA students have gone on to PhD programs in Religious Studies, Anthropology, and Area Studies, as well as into areas of law, journalism, business, ministry, education, and library and information sciences.

    For more information about the Religious Studies Department or Program please contact us:

    • Department of Religious Studies
    • University of Missouri-Columbia
    • 221 Arts and Science Building
    • Columbia, MO 65211-7090
    • phone: 573-882-4769
    • fax: 573-882-4495
    • email: rsinfo@missouri.edu
  • History of the Department

    • Dec. 1978
    • A&S faculty recommend addition of a Department of Religious Studies. The resolution advocates a national search for a chair, and normal procedures for approval of curriculum.
    • 1980
    • Search Committee for Chair of Department formed.
    • Aug. 1981
    • Jill Raitt hired as Department Chair.
    • Aug. 1982
    • Three more regular faculty added to department in the areas of South Asia, Indigenous Religions, and Biblical Studies.
    • Aug. 1985
    • Fifth faculty position added: religion in America.
    • Sept. 1985
    • UM Board of Curators approves degree program for BA in Religious Studies.
    • July 1986
    • BA program approved by Commissioner of Higher Education under authority of the State of Missouri's Coordinating Board for Higher Education (CBHE).
    • Dec. 1986
    • First BA in Religious Studies awarded.
    • Winter 1992
    • First department meeting to plan MA program.
    • Aug. 1994
    • Sixth faculty position added.
    • Winter 1996
    • MU Graduate Faculty Senate approval of plans for MA program.
    • Summer 1996
    • MA proposal sent to CBHE by Chancellor and Provost.
    • Winter 1997
    • Final approval of MA program by CBHE.
    • Aug. 1998
    • Seventh faculty position in department: East Asian religions
    • Aug. 1998
    • First students enroll in MA program in Religious Studies.
    • May 2000
    • First MA in Religious Studies awarded.
    • April 2001
    • Twentieth anniversary celebration in honor of retirement of Jill Raitt. Jill Raitt Fund for Opportunities for Excellence established.
    • Jan. 2002
    • Department moves to new Religious Studies Suite in 221 Arts & Science Building.
    • April 2003
    • Center for Religion, the Professions, and the Public established as a Pew Charitable Trusts Center of Excellence.
    • Feb. 2004
    • Department hosts the Moving Boundaries: American Religion(s) Through the Louisiana Purchase conference.
    • April 2008
    • First Annual Distinguished Lecture on Religion and Public Life
    • Aug. 2011
    • Eighth faculty position added: Islam