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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Explore your study options further. Refer to enrolment information found on the following qualification pages.
- Bachelor of Arts (BA)
- Bachelor of Arts and Commerce (BACom)
- Bachelor of Arts and Science (BASc)
- Bachelor of Arts with Honours (BA(Hons))
- Diploma for Graduates (DipGrad)
- Postgraduate Diploma in Arts Subjects (PGDipArts)
- Master of Arts (Coursework) (MA(Coursework))
- Master of Arts (Thesis) (MA(Thesis))
Bachelor of Arts (BA) majoring in Religious Studies
RELS 101 Introduction to Judaism, Christianity and Islam
RELS 102 Introduction to Hinduism and Buddhism
Three 200-level RELS papers
Four 300-level RELS papers
198 further points; must include 54 points at 200-level or above.
Up to 90 points may be taken from outside Arts
Bachelor of Arts with Honours (BA(Hons)) in Religious Studies
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
Master of Arts (Thesis) (MA(Thesis)) in Religious Studies
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
RELS 101 Introduction to Judaism, Christianity and Islam
RELS 102 Introduction to Hinduism and Buddhism
|Above 100-level|| |
At least three RELS papers, including at least one above 200-level
|Paper code||Year||Title||Points||Teaching period|
|RELS101||2020||Introduction to Judaism, Christianity and Islam||18 points||Second Semester|
|RELS102||2020||Introduction to Hinduism and Buddhism||18 points||First Semester|
|RELS202||2020||The Religions of Southeast Asia||18 points||Summer School|
|RELS203||2020||Ancient Religion: Egypt to Mesopotamia||18 points||1st Non standard period|
|RELS209||2020||The Body in Asian Religions||18 points||First Semester|
|RELS212||2020||Love and Heroism: Religions of South India||18 points||Not offered, expected to be offered in 2021|
|RELS214||2020||New Religious Movements||18 points||Not offered in 2020|
|RELS216||2020||Zen Buddhism||18 points||Not offered in 2020|
|RELS217||2020||Religion, Science, and Magic||18 points||Second Semester|
|RELS220||2020||Representing Islam||18 points||Not offered, expected to be offered in 2024|
|RELS225||2020||Science, Religion and Knowledge||18 points||Not offered in 2020|
|RELS226||2020||Mahayana Buddhism||18 points||Not offered in 2020|
|RELS227||2020||Buddhist Thought||18 points||Second Semester|
|RELS230||2020||Special Topic: Zionists, Fundamentalists and Liberals: Jews in the Modern World||18 points||First Semester|
|RELS231||2020||Special Topic||18 points||Not offered, expected to be offered in 2024|
|RELS235||2020||Religion, Law and Politics||18 points||Not offered in 2020|
|RELS237||2020||Psychology of Religion||18 points||Summer School|
|RELS238||2020||Religion and Human Behaviour||18 points||First Semester|
|RELS239||2020||Religion and Identity||18 points||Second Semester|
|RELS302||2020||Religions of Southeast Asia (Advanced)||18 points||Summer School|
|RELS303||2020||Ancient Religion: Egypt to Mesopotamia (Advanced)||18 points||1st Non standard period|
|RELS306||2020||New Religious Movements||18 points||Not offered in 2020|
|RELS309||2020||The Body in Asian Religions||18 points||First Semester|
|RELS312||2020||Love and Heroism: Religions of South India||18 points||Not offered in 2020|
|RELS314||2020||Religion and Identity (Advanced)||18 points||Second Semester|
|RELS316||2020||Zen Buddhism||18 points||Not offered in 2020|
|RELS317||2020||Religion, Science, and Magic||18 points||Second Semester|
|RELS320||2020||Representing Islam||18 points||Not offered, expected to be offered in 2024|
|RELS325||2020||Science, Religion, and Knowledge (Advanced)||18 points||Not offered in 2020|
|RELS326||2020||Mahayana Buddhism||18 points||Not offered in 2020|
|RELS327||2020||Buddhist Thought||18 points||Second Semester|
|RELS330||2020||Special Topic: Zionists, Fundamentalists and Liberals: Jews in the Modern World||18 points||First Semester|
|RELS331||2020||Special Topic||18 points||Not offered, expected to be offered in 2024|
|RELS335||2020||Religion, Law and Politics (Advanced)||18 points||Not offered in 2020|
|RELS336||2020||Buddhism, State and Society||18 points||Not offered, expected to be offered in 2024|
|RELS337||2020||Psychology of Religion (Advanced)||18 points||Summer School|
|RELS338||2020||Religion and Human Behaviour (Advanced)||18 points||First Semester|
|RELS436||2020||Buddhism, State and Society||20 points||Not offered, expected to be offered in 2024|
|RELS490||2020||Dissertation||60 points||Not offered, expected to be offered in 2024|
|RELS501||2020||The Evolution of Religion||30 points||First Semester|
|RELS511||2020||Readings in Hindu Texts||30 points||Second Semester|
|RELS521||2020||Readings in Buddhist Texts||30 points||1st Non standard period|
|RELS522||2020||Buddhist Visual Culture in Southeast Asia||30 points||First Semester|
|RELS523||2020||Key Debates in Buddhist Studies||30 points||Not offered, expected to be offered in 2024|
|RELS531||2020||Pali for Postgraduates||30 points||Full Year|
|RELS590||2020||Research Dissertation||60 points||1st Non standard period, 2nd Non standard period|