REL 100.002

Introduction to Religious Studies

T, R | 11:00-12:15

GP 208

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This Core Humanities course examines the practical implications of classification by studying how we define religion and the effects of those definitions. It asks whether classifications tells us more about the classifier than the thing being classified. It applies these skills to US Supreme Court cases on religion as well as how origins tales may be more self-implicating than we first imagined. This course is an ideal introduction to the academic study of religion as carried out in a public university as well as an introduction to the wide relevance of the Humanities. HU INB

Russell T. McCutcheon

a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon in which calvin says to hobbes history is the fiction we invent to persuade ourselves that events are knowable and that life has order and direction. Under the cartoon: Why does everyone tell stories about the past? Study religion and find out.


a book cover, blue with a magnifying glass

McCutcheon, Russell
Studying Religion: An Introduction
Routledge, 2008

Books are available at the SUPe Store and online through vendors such as


Current Events

What counts as “news”?
Who gets to decide — and how?


a newspaper clipping with the headline In Syria, Moscows Terrorist Is Washingtons Freedom Fighter

Read the December 23, 2015 article.
“Religious liberty” in the news
(NPR August 23, 2016)

“When we try to parse out what is religion…”

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"Religion" in the News: Two Case Studies

Watch the full video
(Beware of coarse language)

Hear/Read the full story
Although this course is not o

n Islam (REL 236 is on that topic), the above two examples (one from 2014 and the other from the summer of 2016) will set the stage for the course, inasmuch as they both make evident that what gets to be defined as religion in the US today — and thus, what secures the benefits of being classified as a religion (in terms of exemptions, such as from vaccinations, military service, or as itemized in the IRS tax code) — is highly contestable. Studying this contest itself may shed light on issues far larger than what we traditionally conceive as the domain of the academic study of religion.