Interdepartmental Major: Ancient Religion and Society

What is the Interdepartmental Major (IDM) in Ancient Religion and Society?

This interdepartmental major (IDM) between the Religious Studies and Classical Studies Departments is for students with interests in the various ways that religion informed the development of history and society and thought in the ancient Mediterranean, particularly as it is manifested in the Greek and Roman traditions. There, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and the extraordinary variety of pagan religious cults and ritual practices intersected with each other as well as with myth, magic, and other expressions of humanity’s relationship to the divine. While students in Religious Studies often look to the Greco-Roman context for social and cultural background, there is almost no aspect of the Greco-Roman world that classicists can understand without grappling with the fundamental place that religion held.

The IDM provides an opportunity for the two disciplines to provide each other with rich context, support, and technical skills, to yield a depth of understanding of the religious experience that is more than the sum of their parts. The IDM differs significantly from a Religious Studies major in its emphasis on the socio-cultural and political and intellectual histories of Greece and Rome, the optional focus on an ancient language as a fundamental for the major, and the focus on Greek and Roman literature and material culture. The IDM differs significantly from a Classical Studies major in its emphasis on religious traditions and the themes and methodologies that characterize the contemporary study of religion.

Why take the IDM in Ancient Religion and Society?

Core parts of the research and coursework in a Religious Studies Department involve texts, buildings, and artifacts, particularly those in the Jewish and Christian traditions, that reside in an ancient historical, social, intellectual, and literary culture that is usually considered the focus of a Classical Studies Department. Likewise, the classical era (especially the Hellenistic and Imperial periods) contains hugely important texts and archeological remains, again mostly but not exclusively Jewish and Christian, that are downplayed or even ignored in preference to literary or non-religious narratives. In the 1st and 2nd centuries CE, for example, Classicists look to the likes of Tacitus, Pliny, Martial, Plutarch, Lucian, Galen, Dio, Aristides, Fronto, and the Greek novels, while scholars of religion focus on writings such as the Pauline letters, the gospels, Justin Martyr, Ignatius, Irenaeus, Clement, Philo, the novelistic Joseph and Aseneth and Acts, Apocalypses and other early Christian Apocrypha. Yet these all existed in the same time, and many in the same place! Recent developments in ancient Mediterranean studies are increasingly focusing on this problem, or rather opportunity, and this major is then a way for a student to travel down a leading-edge path through this interdisciplinary study of the ancient world.

Required courses in the Religious Studies Department:

  • Seven Religious Studies courses, of which at least five must be numbered 200 or above.
  • At least one course must be on a religious tradition outside the Mediterranean. The following courses satisfy this requirement: REL 110, 120, 160, 165FS, 175,176, 219S, 242, 321S, 322, 323, 323S, 325S, 373S, 374S, 375, 376, 380, 384S, 386S, 388S.
  • Required course: REL 101 (Introduction to Religious Studies).

Required courses in the Classical Studies Department:

  • Option 1 (historical emphasis): CLST 283 and 284.
  • Option 2 (language emphasis): One year of classical Greek or Latin at or above the 250-level.
    • Note: The two options may not be combined (e.g., CLST 283 and Lat 252 does not satisfy the requirement)
  • At least 2 courses that focus on Classical Civilization as it relates to ethics, myth, religions, or socio-cultural components broadly foundational for the study of religion. (The following courses satisfy this requirement: CLST 208, 264, 268S, 271, 312S, 354, 360.)

In either department:

  • One course as a small-group learning experience. This may be the CLST capstone course, or an independent study or honors project in either department.