A Guide for the Perplexed

What courses should I take?

The curriculum in Religious Studies is designed to allow students the maximum flexibility in pursuing their interests, while at the same time providing a strong academic foundation in the study of religion as a scholarly discipline. Many students develop their initial interest in Religious Studies as a result of taking HUM 124: The Ancient World, in which they encounter the religious history of ancient India, the story of the Buddha and Mahavira, the religious cultures of ancient Israel, and the origins of Christianity. In HUM 214, students discover the influences of Christianity on medieval European culture, survey the beginning of Islam and the Caliphates, and explore developments in South Asia.

Since the Humanities core courses provide all UNC Asheville students with some degree of religious literacy, the introductory course offered by the Religious Studies faculty – RELS 200: Introduction to the Study of Religion – seeks instead to equip students with some of the analytical tools that scholars use to study religion as an academic subject. Students read and discuss selections from classical theorists such as Rudolf Otto, Mircea Eliade, and Sigmund Freud as well as more contemporary issues that reflect feminist, postcolonial, and "non-western" critiques of what we classify as religious beliefs and behaviors.  Students also explore categories such as sacred space and time, myth and text, ritual, and morality. All students who are interested in declaring a major or minor in Religious Studies should plan to take RELS 200 as one of their first RELS courses.

Because religion encompasses such a wide variety of phenomena that can be approached from so many methodological perspectives such as history, philosophy, literature, or the social sciences, there are few required courses within the thirty-six hours of course work expected of majors.  Students majoring or minoring in Religious Studies may take a variety of departmental offerings or even take courses outside of the department designated as "approved electives" for Religious Studies credit. The only requirement is that three additional hours of course work must come from each of the three distribution areas: Religions and Western Culture, Religions of Asia and Africa, and Interdisciplinary Approaches to Religion. See the UNC Asheville course catalog for more specific information, including a list of the departmental courses and approved electives that fulfill these distribution requirements.

There are two capstone courses that all majors are required to take: RELS 398: Theory and Method in the Study of Religion, which fulfills the major and information literacy competencies and prepares them for RELS 492: Senior Seminar in Religious Studies.  Students should complete RELS 492 during the fall semester prior to their anticipated graduation date.  Both capstone courses are open to any students meeting the prerequsites and/or by permission of the instructor.  For more information, refer to the Capstones page in the Curriculum menu. 


Studying Religion in Asheville

When Travel and Leisure magazine in 2013 named Asheville one of the top ten college towns in the U.S., it neglected to mention the wide variety of religious practice in the area that makes the city and the region a living laboratory for studying religion as it is lived within a multitude of communities.  From the impressive Roman Catholic Basilica of St. Lawrence in downtown Asheville to numerous Buddhist retreat centers in the surrounding countryside; from Wiccan and Celtic circles to various chanting and meditation groups, Asheville offers a diversity of religious life that is unusual for a town its size.  Special Collections in Ramsey Library holds many archival materials, including a significant collection of manuscripts and publications that document Jewish life in western North Carolina.  A few hours away are the rapidly expanding Hindu, Jain, and Islamic communities of Charlotte and Atlanta.  And for many students, the mountains and other scenic wonders of western North Carolina offer their own type of sacred space.