About the Major

The Religious Studies Department offers students the opportunity to develop skills in critical and creative thinking, analysis, and research through the study of diverse religious traditions. Our courses explore the texts, objects, spaces, and lived experiences connected with religious traditions and cultures, as well as the art, films, and other forms of cultural expression that represent them.

Students Will Learn To:

  • Examine different approaches to the academic study of religions
  • Analyze diverse sets of evidence including both primary and secondary sources
  • Critically analyze the category of “religion”
  • Communicate clearly, coherently, and effectively

A Sampling of Courses

Kilwa (trade city)

Pirates, Ports, and Piety: Religion Across the Indian Ocean World

Long before the modern rise of globalization, the Indian Ocean world was defined by the movements of itinerant merchants, saints, pilgrims, and adventurers across the political boundaries of empires and kingdoms. What role did religion and the bonds of faith play in empowering the kinds of mobility and circulation characteristic of the Indian Ocean? This course will use the ports of south India and Sri Lanka as launching points to trace the circulation of religious objects, people, and ideas across the Indian Ocean.

Explore these select courses:

This course explores a variety of roles religion has played in American culture(s) and some of the ways that American culture has influenced Americans’ religious practices. We will focus on three areas: identity (Americanism), politics (Ballots), and economics (Consumption). In particular, we will consider how religion is involved in the construction of American identity and the exclusion of some people from American polity; how religion is (and is not) intertwined with our political system; and how religion affects – and is affected by – Americans’ economic practices

Jews’ relationship to mass media has long been stereotyped and misunderstood. This course raises questions about race, ethnicity, and modern media by exploring the intersecting developments in mass media – including publishing, photography, film, and television – with Jewish history in Europe and the United States. How and why did media industries offer Jews social mobility? How do different media enable assimilation, passing, or stereotyping? How and when have Jews used visual media to assert their identity, including by aligning with other minorities and outsiders? Topics include print culture in Eastern Europe; the Yiddish avant-garde; Jewish Hollywood; Zionist aesthetics; photojournalism and the Holocaust; and Jewish photographers in the Civil Rights Movement. 

Taking a broad, inter-disciplinary approach, students become familiar with issues facing contemporary American Indian communities. Confronted with unprecedented political, environmental, and cultural challenges, Indians continue to mobilize ancient values to effectively reimagine and reshape them for the contemporary context. Drawing from historiography, literary analysis, and knowledge of current Indigenous leaders, we examine how relationality, resilience, adaptability, and revitalization are informing Native-led social movements while also reconnecting American Indians to their spiritual foundations in times of turmoil and difficulty. Students will have opportunities to engage in discussions with Native spiritual and cultural leaders and will also present their own research projects.

Buddhism is often presented as a rational and spiritual philosophy that does not promote either sociopolitical engagements or ritual practices. Questioning this protestant/text-based understanding of Buddhism, this course will examine Buddhist engagements with trade and mercantile communities, state and imperial powers, and ritual and devotional practices in premodern India. Learning about the everyday life of Buddhist monasteries offers insights into today’s connections between religious, economic, and government life.

How do humans prepare to die? What happens to the soul after death? What techniques are used to achieve immortality or better afterlife? Examines death and the afterlife from medical, philosophical and religious perspectives, focusing on Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam.

Meet Our Faculty

Sarah Griffis

Visiting Assistant Professor of Religious Studies


history of early Christianity; New Testament; early Christian martyrdom; ancient Christianity in a Jewish and Greco-Roman context; ancient reception of the classics

Quincy Newell

Walcott-Bartlett Professor of Humanistic Studies


American religious history; religion in the American West; interreligious contact; religious experience of racial/ethnic and religious minorities; Native American and African American religious history; Mormonism; gender and religion

Heidi Ravven

Professor of Religious Studies


Baruch Spinoza, Moses Maimonides, neuroethics, and Jewish studies

S. Brent Rodriguez-Plate

Professor of Religious Studies, By Special Appointment


religion and media, religion and popular culture, comparative religions, blasphemy and controversial art, religious life in the U.S.

Seth Schermerhorn

Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Director of American Studies


anthropology of religion; global Christianities; religion in America; Native American religious traditions; traditional ecological knowledge; pilgrimage; personhood and place

Steve Humphries-Brooks

Professor of Religious Studies Emeritus (retired)


New Testament studies; literary and social-historical criticism of the Gospels; religion in film; early Christian mysticism; theories and methods for the study of religion

Richard Seager

Bates and Benjamin Professor of Classical and Religious Studies Emeritus (retired)


religions of the United States with emphasis on new, marginal, or excluded groups and their relationships to the core American values; Buddhism in the U.S. over the last century; Mexican-U.S. border issues and tensions

Jay Williams '54

Walcott-Bartlett Professor of Religious Studies Emeritus


comparative religion

Explore Hamilton Stories

Heidi Ravven

Ravven on Voting as “Science and Ceremony”

Professor of Religious Studies Heidi Ravven recently discussed “Science and Ceremony” in an invited lecture at the European Society for Medicine Annual Congress in Vienna.

Sarah Griffis

Griffis Publishes Religious Studies Project Article

Visiting Assistant Professor of Religious Studies Sarah Griffis recently published an article online for The Religious Studies Project, an international collaborative enterprise that produces podcasts and resources on the social-scientific study of religion.

Yenesis Alvarez '22

Alvarez ’22 Honing Career Skills in Dartmouth Bridge Program

For many Hamilton students, a trip to the Howard Diner delivers little more than a late-night meal. But for Yenesis Alvarez ’22, it provided an unexpected academic opportunity.

Careers After Hamilton

Hamilton graduates who concentrated in religious studies are pursuing careers in a variety of fields, including:

  • Financial Advisor, Morgan Stanley Wealth Management
  • Brand Coordinator, Legendary Entertainment
  • Upper School Dean of Students, American School of Madrid
  • Rabbinical Student, Hebrew Union College
  • Director of Development, The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia
  • Gerontologist, Gateway Adult Center
  • Director of Youth & Education Justice, Children’s Defense Fund-NY
  • Clinical Social Worker, Morris Foundation


Department Name

Religious Studies Department

Office Location
198 College Hill Road
Clinton, NY 13323

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