The Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion and Public Life reports that there are 5.8 billion religiously-affiliated people around the world. Choosing to pursue religious studies can help you interact with people all across the globe and gain insight into many different perspectives on life. You might also choose to study a specific religion in greater depth or pursue a career within the clergy.
Interested in religious studies? Welcome to our ranking of the 10 best small colleges for religious studies majors on a budget. Each of the schools listed offers one full major for students seeking a bachelor's degree in religious studies or general religion. On top of that, each college boasts an overall undergraduate graduation rate of at least 55%. Additionally, each program has an estimated annual cost (as reported by College Navigator) of less than $24,000 a year.
Is your dream college on this list? Read on to find out!
10. Barnard College
New York, NY
Barnard College offers a highly customizable and affordable undergraduate religious studies program that will appeal to women of all faiths and backgrounds. Barnard groups major requirements into five sections that allow students to develop their own interdisciplinary course of study. The first is the major "cluster," which comprises the core of the program. Chosen from historical, geographical, or religious categories, the five courses in the major cluster define the specificity of the degree program (e.g., Judaism; Religion in Theory and Practice (East Asian Religion); or Religion, Women, and Gender). Religion majors at Barnard must also satisfy theory and "breadth" requirements before completing a senior thesis in their last year.
Net Price: $23,741/yr
9. Austin College
Austin College may be affiliated with the Presbyterian Church, but its flexible and robust curriculum makes it one of the best small colleges for religious studies majors whether they are Christian or not. To be sure, Austin's strengths align with Christian theology greatly, and 2 of 3 concentrations within the department (i.e., Bible and Culture, and Christian Theology and History) certainly reflect that. But Austin is also notable for its course offerings in Asian Religions and Cultures, which just so happens to be the third concentration available to Religious Studies majors.
Net Price: $23,690/yr
8. Millsaps College
Like Austin, Millsaps College's Christian affiliation means it will largely appeal to those who wish to acquire perspective that will strengthen their faith in Christ. All majors at this affordable small college for religious studies are required to take courses like Rethinking Jesus and Biblical Poetry that assume a strong Biblical understanding (or at least awareness) to begin with. But these familiar topics are tempered with classes in East Asian Religions and Introduction[s] to Judaism/Islam. Those who are particularly interested in other faiths can also minor in Jewish Studies or even something called Interreligious Encounters.
Net Price: $22,512/yr
7. Wellesley College
Wellesley College is widely considered one of the best schools for women in the world, which is at least partly to do with its affordable undergraduate religious studies program. With a minimum of nine courses in the entire major, Wellesley's religious studies program is very lean, and encourages interdisciplinary exploration for each student. In addition to taking departmental courses that cover faiths from around the world, many religious studies majors at Wellesley apply credits from the Jewish Studies, Middle Eastern Studies, or Medieval and Renaissance Studies Departments towards their degree.
Net Price: $22,138/yr
6. Williams College
With U.S. News' #1 ranking among liberal arts colleges, Williams College's religious studies degree ranking isn't quite as impressive by comparison. Nevertheless, it's fair to say that Williams is home to one of the most unique programs for the study of religion on this list. With only four required courses in the entire major, undergraduates at Williams can completely shape their education around the 5+ electives that round out the degree. In this way, even students who are not religious themselves have much to gain from the program and its theoretical approaches towards critical issues.
Net Price: $21,546/yr
5. Washington and Lee University
Established in 1749, Washington and Lee University is one of the oldest institutions of higher education in the US, which is reflected in its traditional approach to religious studies. Where a number of our other top colleges for a religious studies degree emphasize interdisciplinarity and criticality, the curriculum at W&L features an abundance of coursework on world religions, religious practices, and history. All religion majors at W&L take courses in at least two major religions, and choose from "clusters," or concentrations, such as Traditions of Scripture or Religion and Law.
Net Price: $21,379/yr
4. Haverford College
Haverford College's three concentrations within its affordable undergraduate religious studies program allow majors to conduct wide-ranging and far-reaching investigations all under one roof. The first—Religious Studies in Cultural Context—is akin to a sociological exploration of religion(s) throughout space and time. The second—Religion, Literature, and Representation—is more like an English or Media Arts degree, consisting of rigorous analyses of artwork from one or more religious traditions. Finally, Religion, Ethics, and Society explores social issues (e.g., race, gender, class) in the context of religious societies to coax out their inter-relatedness.
Net Price: $21,056/yr
3. Union College
With fewer than 900 students, Union College provides all the attention and intimacy one could hope for at a top small school for religious studies. Following a rigorous liberal arts core, Religious Studies majors at Union tread even further into the interdisciplinary moat with coursework that draws methodologically from political science, sociology, philosophy, history, and much more. Classes like Religion and Science and Religion and Food exemplify the eclectic nature of the department. But despite the seemingly scattershot breadth of this program, all majors are still required to choose a concentration from among Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Asian Religions, Ancient Mediterranean Religions, and Religion, Culture and Society.
Net Price: $20,786/yr
2. Middlebury College
Middlebury College's Department of Religion's judicious major distribution requirements perfectly balance the study of a single religious tradition with comparative religious studies. Rather than select a single concentration or subfield, Religion majors at Middlebury actually choose two from among the categories of "traditions," "themes," and/or "geographical areas," which they later blend in their senior theses. Of course, these distributions would be meaningless without a glut of courses on a wide range of topics. Fortunately, this top small school for religious studies offers dozens of a Religion courses every year to satisfy the needs of every major in the department.
Net Price: $20,197/yr
1. Pomona College
Pomona College is easily one of the best schools in the world, and not just for the price. And as one of the smaller programs on campus, the affordable undergraduate religious studies program is one of the best ways to take advantage of everything Pomona has to offer. The flexible requirements mean that Religious Studies majors can choose from up to 126 courses across departments that they can apply towards their degree. What's more, Pomona offers concentrations major world religions, geographical regions, themes, and time periods to provide an unparalleled degree of customization.
Net Price: $18,423/yr
Want to find out exactly how much it will cost for you to attend one of these affordable undergraduate religious studies programs? Check out the U.S. Department of Education's Net Price Calculator Center.
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