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Study Religious Studies at Otago

In a world shaped by religion, and divided by religious conflict, the academic and scientific study of religion has never been more important.

In Otago’s Religion programme, you will critically examine religious beliefs and practices and their influence on human behaviour. You’ll investigate religion’s evolutionary origins, psychological underpinnings and historical development as well as its links with modern politics, law and social movements.

Looking beyond ‘mainstream’ religions, you’ll examine those new forms of spiritual practice that have emerged alongside the traditional religions. Religion approaches these phenomena with both critical spirit and empathy and offers explanations that believers might be reluctant to accept, while also attempting to understand the believer’s point of view.

Apply for the Bachelor of Arts (BA) through the Dunedin campus in 2021

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Apply for the Bachelor of Arts and Science (BASc) through the Dunedin campus in 2021

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Apply for the Bachelor of Arts with Honours (BA(Hons)) through the Dunedin campus in 2021

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Apply for the Diploma for Graduates (DipGrad) through the Dunedin campus in 2021

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Apply for the Master of Arts (Coursework) (MA(Coursework)) through the Dunedin campus in 2021

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Apply for the Postgraduate Diploma in Arts Subjects (PGDipArts) through the Dunedin campus in 2021

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Why study Religion?

Religion is as old as humanity itself. Despite the rise of science and modern technology, the majority of people in the world today are religious, and current demographic trends reveal that – as a whole – the world is becoming more religious. In order to understand humans, human history, and the contemporary world, we need to understand the multifaceted nature of religion and its place in human societies.

Religion offers you the opportunity to become familiar with religious movements, their history and the influence they currently wield. By studying religion, you will learn to enter empathetically into a world of thought that may be very different from your own, without losing the ability to ask critical questions about it.

Background required

Students of any religion, or none, are welcome. No previous qualifications are required, only a lively sense of curiosity and a willingness to grapple with important but difficult and contentious issues. It is possible to cross-credit previous study in Religion at another university.

Career opportunities

Religious Studies graduates can be found in many walks of life, including MP, UN adviser, lecturer, analyst, archivist, development organiser, and even a TV show host.

Our graduates have particular qualities valued by employers in many fields including:

  • Excellent critical thinking and writing skills
  • The ability to find information, analyse it in a logical and systematic manner, and communicate it clearly
  • Wide-ranging knowledge of both human history, culture and contemporary affairs
  • The ability to enter with empathy into the minds and hearts of others, to understand what motivates and shapes their behaviour.

Student exchange

You may be able to do part of your study overseas through the University’s extensive student exchange programme or as a postgraduate student. In the exchange programme you pay only your New Zealand fees and complete your qualification within the same timeframe as if you’d never been away.

Religion at Otago

There are two core first-year papers in Religion. The first introduces students to Hinduism and Buddhism. It examines Hindu mythology, the teachings of the Buddha, religious disciplines such as yoga and meditation, the expression of religious devotion in art and architecture, and the role of the two religions in contemporary political debates in Asia.

The second introduces students to the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It examines their origin in the land of Palestine, a cross-roads of ancient civilisation, and the way in which each tradition gradually took on its distinctive modern form. It discusses the ways in which all three faiths have responded to the challenges of modernity.

More advanced papers in Religion include Psychology of Religion, Zen Buddhism, Ancient Religion: Egypt to Mesopotamia as well as other courses which examine religion in connection with topic like science and magic, law and politics, or the human body.

How will I study?

Students enrolled in first-year courses in Religion attend two lectures each week as well as take part in small-group tutorial sessions. In addition to a final exam, there is internal assessment for each course. This normally involves one major assignment or essay, as well as other shorter assignments.

For those who cannot study on-campus, it is possible to take most Religion papers by distance study, regardless of where you live in New Zealand.

Study combinations

Since few areas of human life have remained untouched by religious influence, Religion combines well with many subjects in the Humanities. Human history has been profoundly shaped by religious beliefs and conflicts, while the study of literature and art is greatly enhanced by a knowledge of religious beliefs and symbols. Skills and insights are therefore readily transferable between Religious Studies and subjects such as Anthropology, History, Classics, Politics, and Philosophy.

While most Religion students take the subject as part of a general Arts degree, it is also very popular among students doing Commerce, Law, and the Sciences. Religion taken as a minor subject in another degree programme can add variety to that programme and broaden the range of subjects that can be included in your CV. It is also possible to take a minor in Buddhist Studies.

Further study

Postgraduate studies include master’s degrees by research or by coursework (either in Religion or in Buddhist Studies) and a PhD. Graduates in Religion who choose to go overseas have been accepted for postgraduate study at some of the world’s best universities.

Qualifications

Explore your study options further. Refer to enrolment information found on the following qualification pages.

Programme requirements

Bachelor of Arts (BA) majoring in Religious Studies

Level Papers Points
100-level

RELS 101 Introduction to Judaism, Christianity and Islam

RELS 102  Introduction to Hinduism and Buddhism

18

18

200-level

Three 200-level RELS papers

One of ANTH 225, ANTH 228, CHIN 241, DHUM 201, HIST 215, HIST 244, JAPA 243, or PHIL 229, may be substituted for one 200-level RELS paper

54
300-level

Four 300-level RELS papers

One of ANTH 325, ANTH 328, CLAS 342, HIST 308, JAPA 343, or PHIL 329, may be substituted for one 300-level RELS paper

72
Plus

198 further points; must include 54 points at 200-level or above.

Up to 90 points may be taken from outside Arts

198
Total   360

Bachelor of Arts with Honours (BA(Hons)) in Religious Studies

Papers
  • RELS 490 Dissertation

  • RELS 415  Method and Theory in the Study of Religion

  • Two further 400-level RELS papers

    An approved paper may be substituted for one 400-level RELS paper

Postgraduate Diploma in Arts Subjects (PGDipArts) in Religious Studies

The Postgraduate Diploma in Arts Subjects (PGDipArts) programme in Religious Studies is the same as the programme for the degree of Bachelor of Arts with Honours (BA(Hons)).

Master of Arts (Coursework) (MA(Coursework)) in Religious Studies

Papers
  • RELS 590 Research Dissertation
  • Two of:
    HUMS 501 Writing and Revision for Graduate Research
    HUMS 502 Research Methods in the Humanities
    HUMS 503 Key Debates in the Humanities

  • Further RELS papers at either 400- or 500-level worth 60 points.

Master of Arts (Thesis) (MA(Thesis)) in Religious Studies

Thesis
  • Thesis: RELS 5

Note: Students who have not completed a Bachelor of Arts (BA(Hons)) in Religious Studies or a Postgraduate Diploma in Arts Subjects (PGDipArts) in Religious Studies must complete the required papers for the BA(Hons) in Religious Studies prior to undertaking the thesis.

Minor subject requirements

Religious Studies as a minor subject for a BA, MusB, BPA, BTheol, BSc, BAppSc, BCom, BHealSc, BACom, BASc or BComSc degreee

Available as a minor subject for a Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of Music (MusB), Bachelor of Performing Arts (BPA), Bachelor of Theology (BTheol), Bachelor of Science (BSc), Bachelor of Applied Science (BAppSc), Bachelor of Commerce (BCom), Bachelor of Health Science (BHealSc), Bachelor of Arts and Commerce (BACom), Bachelor of Arts and Science (BASc) or Bachelor of Commerce and Science (BComSc) degree

Level Papers Points
100-level

RELS 101  Introduction to Judaism, Christianity and Islam

RELS 102  Introduction to Hinduism and Buddhism

18

18

Above 100-level

At least three RELS papers, including at least one above 200-level

One of ANTH 225, ANTH 228, ANTH 325, ANTH 328, CHIN 241, CLAS 342, DHUM 201, HIST 215, HIST 244, HIST 308, JAPA 243, JAPA 343, or may be substituted for one RELS paper

54

Total   90

Papers

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, a selection of on-campus papers will be made available via distance and online learning for eligible students.
Find out which papers are available and how to apply on our COVID-19 website

Paper code Year Title Points Teaching period
RELS101 2021 Introduction to Judaism, Christianity and Islam 18 points Second Semester
RELS102 2021 Introduction to Hinduism and Buddhism 18 points First Semester
RELS202 2021 The Religions of Southeast Asia 18 points Not offered, expected to be offered in 2024
RELS203 2021 Ancient Religion: Egypt to Mesopotamia 18 points 1st Non standard period
RELS209 2021 The Body in Asian Religions 18 points First Semester
RELS214 2021 New Religious Movements 18 points Summer School
RELS216 2021 Zen Buddhism 18 points Second Semester
RELS217 2021 Religion, Science, and Magic 18 points Not offered, expected to be offered in 2024
RELS220 2021 Representing Islam 18 points Not offered, expected to be offered in 2024
RELS225 2021 Science, Religion and Knowledge 18 points Second Semester
RELS226 2021 Mahayana Buddhism 18 points First Semester
RELS227 2021 Buddhist Thought 18 points Not offered, expected to be offered in 2022
RELS230 2021 Special Topic: Zionists, Fundamentalists and Liberals: Jews in the Modern World 18 points Not offered, expected to be offered in 2024
RELS231 2021 Special Topic 18 points Not offered, expected to be offered in 2024
RELS235 2021 Religion, Law and Politics 18 points Second Semester
RELS237 2021 Psychology of Religion 18 points Summer School
RELS238 2021 Religion and Human Behaviour 18 points First Semester
RELS239 2021 Religion and Identity 18 points Not offered, expected to be offered in 2024
RELS240 2021 The Cultural Evolution of Religious Systems 18 points Second Semester
RELS241 2021 Religion, Conflict and Conspiracy Theory 18 points First Semester
RELS302 2021 Religions of Southeast Asia (Advanced) 18 points Not offered, expected to be offered in 2024
RELS303 2021 Ancient Religion: Egypt to Mesopotamia (Advanced) 18 points 1st Non standard period
RELS306 2021 New Religious Movements 18 points Summer School
RELS309 2021 The Body in Asian Religions 18 points First Semester
RELS314 2021 Religion and Identity (Advanced) 18 points Not offered, expected to be offered in 2023
RELS316 2021 Zen Buddhism 18 points Second Semester
RELS317 2021 Religion, Science, and Magic 18 points Not offered, expected to be offered in 2023
RELS320 2021 Representing Islam 18 points Not offered, expected to be offered in 2024
RELS325 2021 Science, Religion, and Knowledge (Advanced) 18 points Second Semester
RELS326 2021 Mahayana Buddhism 18 points First Semester
RELS327 2021 Buddhist Thought 18 points Not offered, expected to be offered in 2024
RELS330 2021 Special Topic: Zionists, Fundamentalists and Liberals: Jews in the Modern World 18 points Not offered, expected to be offered in 2024
RELS331 2021 Special Topic 18 points Not offered, expected to be offered in 2024
RELS335 2021 Religion, Law and Politics (Advanced) 18 points Second Semester
RELS336 2021 Buddhism, State and Society 18 points Not offered, expected to be offered in 2024
RELS337 2021 Psychology of Religion (Advanced) 18 points Summer School
RELS338 2021 Religion and Human Behaviour (Advanced) 18 points First Semester
RELS340 2021 The Cultural Evolution of Religious Systems 18 points Second Semester
RELS341 2021 Religion, Conflict and Conspiracy Theory (Advanced) 18 points First Semester
RELS436 2021 Buddhism, State and Society 20 points Not offered, expected to be offered in 2024
RELS490 2021 Dissertation 60 points Not offered, expected to be offered in 2024
RELS501 2021 The Evolution of Religion 30 points First Semester
RELS511 2021 Readings in Hindu Texts 30 points Not offered, expected to be offered in 2022
RELS521 2021 Readings in Buddhist Texts 30 points Not offered in 2021
RELS522 2021 Buddhist Visual Culture in Southeast Asia 30 points First Semester
RELS523 2021 Key Debates in Buddhist Studies 30 points Not offered, expected to be offered in 2024
RELS531 2021 Pali for Postgraduates 30 points Full Year
RELS590 2021 Research Dissertation 60 points 1st Non standard period, 2nd Non standard period

Key information for future students

Contact us

Email religion@otago.ac.nz
Website otago.ac.nz/religion