University of South Carolina

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Religious Studies: What to Expect

Religious Studies majors at the University of South Carolina will receive a high degree of individual attention, be exposed to challenging coursework, and work with outstanding faculty who present a wide range of methods and perspectives. As a Religious Studies major, you will take courses that emphasize writing and critical thinking through essay exams and research papers. You will develop key skills including analytical thinking, well constructed writing, and literacy in global perspectives. You may also have the opportunity to be a part of experiences beyond the classroom, including service learning opportunities or courses that involve travel.  As a Religious Studies major, you will be able to pursue some individual research such as the Magellan scholarship or internship opportunities. Studies majors can also choose to pursue an intensive track, which includes a senior thesis.

The following courses fulfill some of the course requirements for a Bachelor of Arts with a major in Religious Studies:

  • Introduction to Religious Studies
  • Old Testament
  • New Testament
  • Introduction to Islam
  • African-American Religious Experience
  • Faith, Doubt, and God
  • Literature and Film of the Holocaust
  • Religious of South Asia
  • Origins of Western Morality
  • Jewish Messiansim

Religious Studies majors who choose to pursue the intensive track, taking two additional courses  including a senior thesis, may be eligible for a degree with honors. A detailed list of degree requirements can be found in the Undergraduate Bulletin.

Enhancing your Experience

Study Abroad allows you to earn academic credits toward your USC degree while seeing the world! Overseas study can complement any academic program or major. Religious Studies majors have traveled to Turkey, Greece, and Israel to enhance their educational experience while at the University. While abroad, you will learn about world religions in a cultural context and develop self-reliance and global perspective. You may also choose to intern, volunteer, or conduct research abroad. You are encouraged to visit the Study Abroad Web site for more information on opportunities to broaden and extend your knowledge and perspectives. The Religious Studies newsletter (http://www.cas.sc.edu/relg/news/newslett.html ) tells stories  of Religious Studies majors who spent a summer abroad.
Student Organizations can be instrumental in helping you adjust to life on campus and network within your field. The University of South Carolina has a family of nearly 300 student organizations. You can get involved in more than 30 religious student organizations. We encourage majors to become involved in the American Academy of Religion or Society for Biblical Studies on the regional or national level which have student organizations. Getting involved in an organization that interests you can help you network, meet new friends, and develop leadership skills. You can also seek out volunteer opportunities that relate to your major. Find a student organization on campus that interests you!
Graduate School is one of many possibilities following graduation. Religious Studies majors typically pursue graduate programs in Religious Studies, Counseling, and Social Work; or may pursue advanced degrees in Anthropology, Literature, History, or Philosophy. Many Some graduates also go on to receive their Master of Divinity and Doctor of Divinity in Theology or Pastoral Ministry but there is great need for those who understand the complex meanings of religion in global contexts across many fields.
Distinguished Faculty of the Department can help enhance your overall academic experience while at the University. Dr. James Cutsinger is Professor of Theology and Religious Thought. He has received numerous teaching awards including the University’s Michael J. Mungo Undergraduate Teaching Award. Dr. Stephanie Mitchem is an internationally recognized scholar in the areas of women’s theology, healing and religion, and African and African Diaspora religions. Dr. Kevin Lewis is another outstanding faculty member and has published numerous works including “American Lonesomeness.” Dr. Lewis and his wife served as the start-up Principals for the University’s first residential college, Preston, from 1995-1998. Religious Studies majors will also be able to learn from two exciting new faculty who have joined the department: Dr. Katja Vehlow, teaching in the area of Jewish Studies and Dr. Erin Roberts, in Early Christian Thought. Both of these professors bring innovative and contemporary scholarship with strong interdisciplinary ties.
Departmental Scholarships may be awarded to outstanding students. The Department of Religious Studies offers a couple of scholarships each year. Religious Studies majors can compete for the Michael J. Mungo Pre-Seminary Scholarship for students planning to enter seminary, and the Rutledge Scholar Award given for a paper selected by faculty as the most outstanding.

Internship and Research Opportunities

Internships can be an important asset to your overall educational experience. Internship experiences often help you confirm your career interests, give you hands-on experience in a professional setting, help build your resume, reinforce what you’ve learned in class and can often lead to full-time employment. Likewise, pursuing professional research opportunities as an undergraduate student can also help enrich your academic experience while at the University. As an undergraduate student, you can work closely with faculty research mentors and explore a discipline that interests you. Both internship and research opportunities help you build a competitive edge in the job market.

As a USC student you will have numerous resources at your disposal to assist you with locating internship and research opportunities. The USC Career Center is the central location at USC for assisting students with internship preparation and finding an internship. In addition, be sure to visit your academic department as many programs offer supplemental internship guidance specific to your major. The Office of Undergraduate Research assists all USC undergraduates by providing research and scholarly experiences in their chosen fields.

Student Spotlight

Religious Studies and History major Erik Grayson had the opportunity to conduct research through a Magellan Scholars Award. During his summer research experience, Erik visited a Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and modern ecumenical monastery to conduct a comparative study of monastic seclusion. “I am exploring how monastic faith communities maintain traditional boundaries and doctrine in an increasingly mobile and technologically invasive society,” he said. As a double major, Erik was able to combine his religious and history studies through his senior seminar, a course exploring the University of South Carolina’s early history in slavery. His research focused on former South Carolina College’s, as the University of South Carolina was originally named, president and theologian, James Henly Thornwell. President Thornwell is well-known today for his biblical defense on slavery. “It is important for students to be aware of our state and university’s history to better inform our future decisions,” Erik said. “I have thoroughly enjoyed my studies of religion and history. Both of these focuses of study will prepare me for graduate studies in seminary, but also have real bearings on my present extracurricular activities.” Erik is very involved on campus, serving as a student leader in campus ministry and local church activities.  Through his research experience, Erik believes he has “been able to contribute new insights to Bible studies, leadership, worship, and service and mission projects.” Erik plans to attend divinity school to pursue a call to the ordained ministry following his graduation at the University of South Carolina. “My studies at the University of South Carolina have helped shape me as a future professional and have positively influenced my activities as a student.”

Career Opportunities

Religious Studies majors might pursue careers in education or ministry, but the study of religion brings more opportunities than just those paths. Students may use their degrees to shape a career in law, anthropology, or international studies. Graduates in Religious Studies find their education providing unique insights and global understanding which makes them valued employees in many businesses and organizations. Recent graduates of USC Religious Studies have gone on to work for international relief organizations, schools, and law enforcement.

You can find more information about career options in the US Department of Laborís Occupational Outlook Handbook.

The USC Career Center offers numerous resources which provide more information about career opportunities for students in this major. Once admitted, a Career Development Coach is available to help you assess your interest areas, make decisions about your career path, and identify the experiences and skills that will help you accomplish your goals. Spur Connections will help you locate mentors from among USC alumni, employers and community members who can provide insights based on their careers and experiences. Early planning and preparation are keys to success.

Alumni Spotlight

Cannon Fulmer graduated suma cum laude from USC in 2008 with a double major in History and Religious Studies. He then entered the MA graduate program in Religious Studies and is receiving his Masters degree in August of 2011.  Cannon said that in considering what direction to take when he got his BA degree, he felt that an MA in Religious Studies would be more applicable in the job market. He was interested in studying Christian theology in more depth and also saw the study of Islam in particular as having real practical value in whatever type of work he might pursue. Working toward these goals, Cannon took courses in Islamic studies and worked as the teaching assistant for the professor of Islamic studies during his graduate program. In 2010, while completing his MA degree, Cannon applied to the Columbia police department and entered the police academy.  He had an interest in working for a government agency in some capacity and heard that the police department was hiring.  After successfully completing his training at the academy, he was hired with the police force. He says that he has found his studies in religious studies have given him a wider perspective in his work, the ability to think about things from different points of view. He finds he appreciates the wide diversity in other people’s outlooks.  And the skills of critical thinking and the ability to accomplish difficult goals, which he has developed in Religious Studies, will serve him well in whatever career path he pursues. Cannon enjoys his work with the police department and can see himself working in law enforcement or other government work into the future. He also thinks about possibly going on to further graduate studies at some time. He feels that he is capable of entering any number of fields of employment but that his religious studies background gives him a unique value in whatever type of employment he enters. He sees his knowledge of diverse religious traditions as an advantage in any work environment in which he may find himself.

About the Department of Religious Studies

The Department of Religious Studies at the University of South Carolina offers interdisciplinary approaches to the academic study of religious beliefs and practices, through a variety of theories and methods. The focus of study incorporates connections with literature, history, philosophy and anthropology.  Many different religious traditions are studied with attention to religious beliefs and practices in their historical, cultural, and philosophical contexts. Various ways of studying the phenomenon of religion –  psychological, linguistic, and anthropological –  are also addressed.  Religious Studies majors can specialize in theology and religious thought or religion and contemporary culture; they can explore ancient religious traditions or the major world religions. The Department of Religious Studies is in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Points of Pride

  • Dr. Vehlow (in 2010) and Dr. Lewis (in 2011) were both awarded Arts and Humanities Grants from the USC Provost Office.
  • Dr. Cutsinger was the 2011 recipient of the Michael J. Mungo Teaching Award.
  • Dr. Mitchem was invited to present research at the 2011 Gender, Religion, and Human Rights Conference in Linkoping, Sweden.
Additional Resources.
Religious Studies Website
College of Arts and Sciences Website
University Career Center
Undergraduate Bulletin