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.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

testimonial-image

“Since religion and faith are practiced in such wildly varying ways around the world, my background has helped me to adjust my viewpoint when working in a multicultural office, and also at competitions”


Miriam Jenkins

Religious Studies

Requirements

Religious Studies as a minor subject for a BA, MusB, BPA, BTheol, BSc, BCom, BEntr, 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 Commerce (BCom), Bachelor of Entrepreneurship (BEntr), 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

LevelPapersPoints
100-level

Two 100-level RELS papers

36

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

RELS papers

Paper Code Year Title Points Teaching period
RELS101 2024 Introduction to Judaism, Christianity and Islam 18 Not offered in 2024
RELS102 2024 Introduction to Hinduism and Buddhism 18 Semester 1
RELS110 2024 Introduction to the Scientific Study of Religion 18 Semester 2
RELS202 2024 The Religions of Southeast Asia 18 Not offered in 2024
RELS203 2024 Ancient Religion: Egypt to Mesopotamia 18 1st Non standard period
RELS209 2024 The Body in Asian Religions 18 Not offered in 2024
RELS214 2024 New Religious Movements 18 Not offered in 2024
RELS216 2024 Zen Buddhism 18 Not offered in 2024
RELS217 2024 Religion, Science, and Magic 18 Summer School
RELS220 2024 Representing Islam 18 Not offered in 2024
RELS225 2024 Science, Religion and Knowledge 18 Not offered in 2024
RELS226 2024 Mahayana Buddhism 18 Not offered in 2024
RELS227 2024 Buddhist Thought 18 Semester 2
RELS230 2024 Special Topic: Zionists, Fundamentalists and Liberals: Jews in the Modern World 18 Not offered in 2024
RELS231 2024 Special Topic 18 Not offered in 2024
RELS235 2024 Religion, Law and Politics 18 Semester 2
RELS236 2024 Buddhism, State and Society 18 Semester 1
RELS237 2024 Psychology of Religion 18 Summer School
RELS238 2024 Religion and Human Behaviour 18 Not offered in 2024
RELS239 2024 Religion and Identity 18 Semester 2
RELS240 2024 The Cultural Evolution of Religious Systems 18 Not offered in 2024
RELS241 2024 Religion, Conflict and Conspiracy Theory 18 Semester 1
RELS244 2024 Ancient Egypt: Magic and Mystery 18 Not offered in 2024
RELS302 2024 Religions of Southeast Asia (Advanced) 18 Not offered in 2024
RELS303 2024 Ancient Religion: Egypt to Mesopotamia (Advanced) 18 1st Non standard period
RELS306 2024 New Religious Movements 18 Not offered in 2024
RELS309 2024 The Body in Asian Religions 18 Not offered in 2024
RELS314 2024 Religion and Identity (Advanced) 18 Semester 2
RELS316 2024 Zen Buddhism 18 Not offered in 2024
RELS317 2024 Religion, Science, and Magic 18 Summer School
RELS320 2024 Representing Islam 18 Not offered in 2024
RELS325 2024 Science, Religion, and Knowledge (Advanced) 18 Not offered in 2024
RELS326 2024 Mahayana Buddhism 18 Not offered in 2024
RELS327 2024 Buddhist Thought 18 Semester 2
RELS330 2024 Special Topic: Zionists, Fundamentalists and Liberals: Jews in the Modern World 18 Not offered in 2024
RELS331 2024 Special Topic 18 Not offered in 2024
RELS335 2024 Religion, Law and Politics (Advanced) 18 Semester 2
RELS336 2024 Buddhism, State and Society (Advanced) 18 Semester 1
RELS337 2024 Psychology of Religion (Advanced) 18 Summer School
RELS338 2024 Religion and Human Behaviour (Advanced) 18 Not offered in 2024
RELS340 2024 The Cultural Evolution of Religious Systems 18 Semester 1
RELS341 2024 Religion, Conflict and Conspiracy Theory (Advanced) 18 Semester 1
RELS344 2024 Ancient Egypt: Magic and Mystery (Advanced) 18 Not offered in 2024
RELS490 2024 Dissertation 60 Not offered in 2024
RELS501 2024 The Evolution of Religion 30 Semester 2
RELS511 2024 Readings in Hindu Texts 30 Not offered in 2024
RELS521 2024 Readings in Buddhist Texts 30 Semester 1
RELS522 2024 Buddhist Visual Culture in Southeast Asia 30 Not offered in 2024
RELS523 2024 Key Debates in Buddhist Studies 30 Not offered in 2024
RELS531 2024 Pali for Postgraduates 30 Full Year
RELS532 2024 Sanskrit for Postgraduates 30 Full Year
RELS590 2024 Research Dissertation 60 Full Year, 1st Non standard period, 2nd Non standard period

More information

Contact us

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

Studying at Otago

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Regulations on this page are taken from the 2023 Calendar and supplementary material.

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