University of Sydney Handbooks - 2018 Archive

Download full 2018 archive Page archived at: Fri, 21 Sep 2018 05:39:46 +0000

Studies in Religion

About the major

In Studies in Religion we train you to analyse the concepts that people and communities privilege in their lives to explain their existence. This analysis includes religions, philosophies, life-justifications, and popular mythologies.

To do this we introduce you to a range of methodologies including sociology, anthropology, cultural studies, philosophy, textual studies and history. Together we study the essence of what it means to be human. We will examine how dramatic narratives and powerful inner experiences propel both the individual and social construction of reality.

The Studies in Religion Major allows you to investigate the ways in which humans have ascribed value to their lives, societies, and other important ideals from family to nation, individuality and community, right conduct in this life and conceptions of the afterlife. You will examine how these values and aspirations have been formalised into communal structures and powerful institutions throughout all of human history. You will be equipped with the necessary skills in critical thinking to understand and interrogate the central functions of religion - overtly and covertly - in broader socio-cultural practices. You will also develop a critical awareness of the skills used in the academy to assess the narrative, ethical, legal, institutional, material and everyday lived aspects of religion we use to keep our societies functioning and that are termed sacred.

Students thus enter a vibrant scholarly community in Studies in Religion at the University of Sydney, based on the intense scholarly discussion of religion both inside and outside the lecture room. Through a wide variety of research-based projects, community-engaged investigations, online tasks, tutorial presentations and discussions, and social opportunities, students are encouraged to delve profoundly and creatively into both the academic meaning of religion, and the encounter with religion in practical and real-life contexts, in ways that develop the student’s confidence and competence in this field.

The chief outcome of this Major is the ability of students to use their acquired knowledge and skills in a variety of academic and non-academic situations. These include the understanding of important methodological thematics behind the teaching of the discipline at primary and high school level, contributing to public policy, and generally being aware of the role religion plays in other fields of study, and in the diversity of religions and ultimate goals that add to both the diverse nature and the cohesion of the modern multi-ethnic, multi-faith state.

Requirements for completion

A major in Studies in Religion requires 48 credit points from the Unit of Study table including:
(i) 12 credit points of 1000-level core units
(ii) 12 credit points of 2000-level units
(iii) 18 credit points of 3000-level units
(iv) 6 credit points of 3000-level Interdisciplinary Project unit

A minor in Studies in Religion requires 36 credit points from the Unit of Study table including:
(i) 12 credit points of 1000-level core units
(ii) 12 credit points of 2000-level selective units
(iii) 12 credit points of 3000-level selective units

First year

The core 1000-level units in Studies in Religion engage the student in a broad range of religious phenomena. RLST1002 Religion: Texts, Life &Tradition is designed to introduce the student to primary sources, and to track the historical changes in religious belief and institutional practices, as well as lived, vernacular religion, over time. Methodologies including anthropology, cultural studies, history, and sociology are employed to address contemporary religion in RLST1005 Atheism, Fundamentalism & New Religions. This foundation is fostered through diverse units at 2000 and 3000 level. In 1000-level units we introduce and develop the student’s skills to succeed in assessments in the academic study of religion. 1000-level units also include specific assessments that train students to communicate effectively using the academic conventions of our discipline. This also engages students with ethical issues and responsibilities that accompany becoming an autonomous researcher in the field of Studies in Religion.

Second year

There are four 2000-level units in Studies in Religion, from which any two are mandated for both the Major and the Minor. These are RLST2624 The Birth of Christianity, RLST2640 Contemporary Australian Religion, RLST2639 Secular Religion: Faith in Modernity, and RLST2614 Philosophy of Religion: Reason and Belief. RLST2624 furthers the investigations of the Christian tradition begun in RLST1002, and RLST2639 extends the examination of contemporary religion begun in RLST1005. RLST2640 directs students to the rich multi-faith and multi-cultural society of Sydney and Australia more broadly, and RLST2614 offers training in sophisticated methodology that will facilitate 3000-level research and writing.

Third year

3000-level units in Studies in Religion are a mix of historical and contemporary disciplinary units that build students’ knowledge of religions and of issues and themes in the study of religion. Units investigating specific traditions include RLST3XXX Religion and the Medieval World, RLST3604 Ancient Egyptian Religion and Magic, RLST3XXX Witchcraft, Paganism and the New Age and RLST3XXX New Discoveries and Controversies. Issues in the study of religions are examined in RLST3605 Sex, Desire & the Sacred, RLST3606 Sacred Creativity: Text, Image, Film, and RLST3XXX Religion and Violence. Methodological competence is extended in RLST3601 Rethinking Religion, which interrogates the genealogy of Studies in Religion and matches methodological frameworks with independent research projects. These disciplinary offerings are complemented and enhanced by the mandatory inter-disciplinary unit that all students will enrol in.


If you commenced your degree prior to 2018, admission to honours requires a major in Studies in Religion with an average of 70% or above.

Honours in Studies in Religion will be offered until 2020. From 2021 there will be no honours year in Studies in Religion and alternative pathways for advanced study, such as the Master of Arts (Research) will be available to students wishing to gain a higher-level qualification in Studies in Religion or to enter a Doctor of Philosophy degree.

Honours is a stimulating and prestigious way to cap off your undergraduate studies, and involves a methodology seminar, an honours seminar and the writing of a thesis in which you personally devise and research a project under the supervision of an academic staff member.

Contact/further information

Department website:
School of Literature, Art and Media website:

Undergraduate Coordinator: Prof. Iain Gardner
Phone: +61 2 9351 4484

Honours Coordinator: Dr Christopher Hartney
Phone: +61 2 9351 2367
Learning Outcomes
  1. Demonstrate an understanding of at least two world religious traditions.
  2. Demonstrate an understanding of a variety of conceptual approaches to interpreting religions and religious phenomena.
  3. Demonstrate how scholars and public commentators including politicians, journalists and religious professionals shape present and future national perceptions and international conversations about religion and religious issues.
  4. Demonstrate cultural competence through participation in collaborative work and community-based learning experiences focused on religious institutions and groups.
  5. Examine religious issues by undertaking research, using primary and secondary materials, according to the methodological and ethical conventions of the discipline.
  6. Analyse historical evidence, scholarship and changing representations of religions throughout history.
  7. Construct an evidence-based argument or narrative about contemporary religious issues in audio, digital, oral, visual or written form.
  8. Identify and reflect critically on the knowledge and skills developed in their study of religion, applying disciplinary expertise to issues encountered in an interdisciplinary context.