FAQs for Undergraduates

 

Do I need to be religious to study religion?

No, you do not need to be religious. We do not make any assumptions as to the beliefs of students or instructors. Nor do we teach theology—that is a separate discipline with its own integrity. As a religion department located in one of the most multi-religious and multi-cultural cities in the world, our undergraduate courses attract remarkably diverse students curious about religion and how to study it in university. Some students have grown up with religious traditions and may have gone to religiously-affiliated high schools. Many have no religious affiliation or background whatsoever. 

What kinds of subjects do you cover?

Our students learn how religion intersects with other categories of analysis and lived experience, including gender, race, sexuality, class, and ability. Courses focus on religion as it is expressed through scriptures, textual communities, material culture, popular culture, bodily practices, rituals, networks of kinship, relations to land, and systems of governance and economic redistribution. You might find yourself studying scriptural controversies, the role of religion in peacekeeping, or witchcraft. Titles of courses include ‘Conspiracies, Social Media, and the Rise of New Religious Movements,’ ‘It's the End of the World as We Know It,’ ‘Religion and Religiosity in Israel/Palestine,’ ‘Alt-Bible: What Could Have Been,’ ‘Evil and Suffering’, ‘Happiness,’ and ‘The Politics of Charity.’
 
We like to poll our students to find out why they take our programs, and in a recent survey the two most popular reasons were that courses were ‘interesting,’ and that they ‘challenge my assumptions and allow me to grow as a person.’ For some short films discussing the experience of studying religion at our Department please go to the DSR YouTube page.

Can I combine study of religion with a minor or major in a very different discipline?

Yes, students at the DSR combine study of religion with a wide range of subjects across the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Our courses cover a huge variety of historical and contemporary topics, and we discuss very different forms of knowledge, ranging from codified systems of religious belief, to spiritual convictions, to the assumptions behind natural scientific methods and languages. We also minimize prerequisites to encourage extensive engagement across the Faculty. 

What kinds of skills do I acquire in studying religion?

DSR students develop the skills to work with historical, textual, philosophical, ethnographic, and material culture methods. You learn how to assess texts and observe human behaviour; how to approach archives and think critically about both argumentation and evidence. Tutorials dedicated to developing writing skills have been developed in concert with the Faculty’s WIT Program (Writing-Integrated Teaching). Depending on the course, you might experiment with different kinds of writing (formal essays, diaries, short notes) but also other media (short films, multi-media presentations). 

Do you teach any languages?

Yes, we specialize in teaching Hebrew, Pali, Sanskrit, and Tibetan. We provide introductions as well as more advanced courses in each of these languages, and reflect on their cultural and religious as well as linguistic significance.

What opportunities are there for experiential, research, and community engagement?

The Department has an excellent record of providing “high impact” courses and opportunities for students in our programs, especially through our capstone and community-engaged learning courses, the Research Opportunity and Research Excursion Programs, the Dean’s International and Indigenous Initiatives Fund, the University of Toronto Excellence Award, and other special teaching initiatives from the Dean’s and Provost’s offices focused on online and experiential learning. We are keen to help students apply what they have learned about religion to contexts and settings outside the university, in preparation for either graduate school or future careers such as law, public policy, NGOs, social work, teaching, journalism, and community organizing.

How do you think about student experience at the Department for the Study of Religion?

We know that U of Toronto is a huge school and that St. George is a large campus. We are working to make our department into a community of students and researchers, where people might hang out even out of class time. We have faculty members dedicated to enhancing student experience, a space dedicated to UGs that can be booked for meetings, a lively coffee room, and an excellent student society. Please visit the Religion Undergraduate Student Association (RUSA).

How can I talk to someone with questions about the experience of studying at the Department of the Study of Religion?

You should feel free to contact Simon Coleman, Associate Chair (UG) (simon.coleman@utoronto.ca) or Phoebe To, our UG administrator (religion.undergrad@utoronto.ca). If you want to talk to an UG at the DSR, we would aim to put you in touch with someone who could share their experiences with you. 

How well-known is the Department for the Study of Religion?

The DSR is one of the best Departments for the Study of Religion in the world, with internationally-known scholars and a large array of doctoral and post-doctoral researchers. We make a strong contribution to the overall reputation of the University of Toronto.

"How do I enrol?"
If you're already a University of Toronto student, you can choose your program(s) of study on ACORN at the end of your first year.

"Can I enrol in Religion without being a University of Toronto student?"
Please apply to the University. You can apply to a program in religion at the end of first year.

"How do I audit a class?"
Please see our page on auditing undergraduate classes.

"How do I enrol in an independent study?"
If you're a religion specialist or major, you can enroll in an independent study course by contacting a faculty member and filling out a form.