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Comparative Study of Religion

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Throughout history and around the world, from prehistoric cave paintings to the worldwide web, religion has played a central role in human civilization. Never has this fact been more evident than in our contemporary world, where public discourse and global politics are daily buffeted by religious pressures and concerns. And never has the need been more stark for educational institutions to help students understand the origin, history, and ongoing impact of religion in society. Religion in some form touches every aspect of human culture, from literature and artistic expression, to social and political life, to philosophy and the history of science. Whatever its focus, the study of religion at Hampshire proceeds from the abiding conviction that human culture, now and in the past, cannot be properly understood without a full appreciation of the significance and impact of religion.


To study religion at this point in world history is to study religion globally. None of the major religious traditions of the world is any longer limited to one country or continent; all have achieved an international reach. From a religious standpoint, the United States too, despite its Euro-Christian origins, is fast becoming a global culture. For these reasons, our approach at Hampshire is to examine the religious traditions of the world in a comparative context and from a wide range of perspectives. Faculty in the humanities concentrate on the history, philosophy, literature, and material culture of religion, including a wide array of artistic forms, while faculty in the schools of social science and cognitive science consider religion from the perspectives of anthropology, sociology, or the history of science. Understanding the religious life of any society also requires an appreciation of its complex interplay with other social conditions such as ethnicity, class, race, and gender.  


Courses at Hampshire introduce students to a wide range of religious themes and traditions, East and West. Introductory classes provide overviews of the scriptures and classics of most of the major religious traditions of the world. Upper-level classes investigate more specialized topics such as ancient Greek and Indian drama, ancient goddess religions, the Bible, Christian mysticism, ancient Ireland, Augustine, myth and myth theory, the philosophy and literature of yoga, Confucian philosophy, Daoist traditions, Buddhist meditation, Buddhism in the colonial period, Buddhism and material culture, Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, religion in the United States, American Transcendentalism, and theories of religion. In addition, Hampshire students studying religion make full use of the rich variety of classes in religious studies and allied fields offered in our sister departments in the Five College consortium.  Students interested in Buddhism may also enroll in the Five Colleges Buddhist Studies Program. Hampshire students are also encouraged to participate in regularly scheduled January or May term programs, such as the Five College Tibetan Studies Program in Sarnath, India, where they study Tibetan language and culture; or the program at Glenstal Abbey and Dublin, Ireland, where they study Celtic spirituality. Those interested in archaeology may participate in the Kenchreai Cemetery Project in Greece.

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Hampshire College
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