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Religious Studies

Degree: Bachelor of Arts
Application: not required
Course commences: winter semester / summer semester
Standard course duration: 6 semesters
Focus options: 75%, 50% (2); 25%
Language of instruction: German and English

Faculty of Philosophy

Course outline

Central to the Heidelberg B.A. course in Religious Studies – and to the subject in general – are the great religious traditions of the world (Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc.) as well as regional/ historical developments (e.g. in Antiquity and the ancient Near East) and contemporary forms of religion (New Age, esotericism, etc.).

In line with the established principles of Religious Studies, the course aims at as impartial a description of the origination and transformation of religious traditions as possible on the basis of empirical findings that students of the course are expected to analyse and investigate for their historical and contemporary relevance. Religious Studies does not inquire into the truth or rightness of religious tenets, it concerns itself rather with the role that religious people play in the culture and history of the age they live in. As such, Religious Studies today is one of the key diagnostic disciplines for the resolution of pressing socio-political issues and problems. Obvious examples are the debate on fundamentalism and the reference to religion as a legitimisation for violence. But it has just as much to say about secularisation or the “return of religions” and not least the increasing medialisation of religion.

The B.A. programme in Religious Studies at Heidelberg University offers students critical, reflective access to religious traditions and contemporary religious developments in a global context. Graduates will be able to engage expertly with pressing and topical issues at the interface between religion and society. This includes such matters as the role of religions in school, religions and values, and the connections between religion and violence or religion and migration, but it also extends to such phenomena as religious consumer protection or legal issues connected with the concept of freedom of religion. All this, together with the knowledge imparted to them in the “Cross-Disciplinary Skills” classes, means that students graduating in the B.A. course have the initial qualifications for professional activity in their chosen field. Unlike, say, pharmacy or medicine, there is no clearly defined career profile associated with a degree in Religious Studies. But the societal significance of Religious Studies opens up a wide array of potential career prospects including public institutions providing counselling on religious issues and so-called “cults” (with implications for politics, private law and the churches) and immigrant and foreign-worker welfare in public and private institutions and firms. Other potential openings include jobs focusing on religion and culture in adult education, journalism, publishing, tourism / tour guidance, exhibition and conference management and museums. Here much depends on the personal interests and individual preferences of the graduates. Internships in the course of the programme are designed to help them find out what kind of professional activity they are best suited for. 

Course structure

The B.A. course in Religious Studies is made up of modules of two kinds: theoretical/methodological modules and modules focusing on religious history. The foundational and advanced modules in the programme provide students first of all with the theoretical and methodological knowledge enabling them to engage with the religious traditions of the world both past and present. At the same time they will attend survey classes and introductions to specific religious-historical topics up to the present day informing them of the religious traditions of the world and the way they have been evolving. One of the theoretical foundations is knowledge of the history of Religious Studies, itself a component and a product of European religious history, and the debates on the definition of “religion” and concepts such as “magic”, “cult”, “fundamentalism” and “syncretism”.  Other basic building blocks in the course include methods for the collection of data relevant for the study of religious traditions. These methods can be historical/philological, archaeological or sociological (i.e. interviews and field research). In addition, the introductory classes instruct students on how to handle scholarly resources and search techniques. Study of this subject at Heidelberg University is notable for the additional opportunities that students have to acquire a sound awareness of the diversity of religious history and to choose from a wide range of topics in which to specialise. These opportunities are provided not least by teaching imports from neighbouring disciplines. Students can choose from the array of modules listed in the Interdisciplinary Religious Studies (ILR) curriculum in which the following departments of the University are involved: Ancient Studies, Anthropology, Art History, Assyriology, East Asian Art History, Chinese Studies, East Asian Studies, Education, Egyptology, History, Indology, Iranian Studies, Islamic Studies, Japanese Studies, Jewish Studies, Philosophy, Political Science, Psychology, Sociology, South Asian Studies, Theology.

Contemporary Religious Studies is concerned less with constructs like “world religions” or Buddhism or Islam “as such”. Instead, interest focuses on the religious notions and practices of individuals and their significance and functions in social reality. Accordingly, the B.A. course offers overviews and in-depth investigations of the religious traditions of individual regions and epochs, concentrating on phenomena like changes in Christian notions and practices in the European Middle Ages or the evolution of Buddhist notions and practices in East Asia, etc. Accordingly, the best foundation for successful engagement with the religious traditions of individual regions and epochs is the acquisition of linguistic and region-specific knowledge relevant for those regions and epochs. Heidelberg University can look back on a long tradition of instruction in a wide spectrum of source languages ranging from the classical and modern languages of Europe to the ancient and modern languages of the Near East and South and East Asia. The free selection of a subsidiary subject from the extensive array of choices offered by the humanities departments in Heidelberg facilitates systematic concentration on an individual focus in religious history. Another asset is acquaintance with the empirical methods employed in Anthropology, Sociology, Political Science and Psychology achievable by selecting one of these disciplines as a subsidiary subject. At all events, students are urgently recommended to acquire linguistic and region-specific knowledge on the region and epoch especially relevant for the religious traditions they intend to focus on. In the fifth or sixth semester students need to embark on and complete a B.A. thesis. All details on grades, credit points, modules and the degree itself are dealt with in the Examination Regulations and the Module Handbook available for downloading on the website of the Institute of Religious Studies.

Main research interests

At the Institute of Religious Studies there are regional research focuses on the history of religion in Europe and the United States, the religious traditions of pre-Islamic Iran, and the history of ancient and (especially) contemporary religious history in Japan. The history of freemasonry is another major research interest pursued at the Institute. Thematic centres of gravity in the research work conducted at the Institute are recent research on ritual, the analysis of the transformation of Buddhism in a global context, and investigation of the role of religions on the Internet. In contemporary religious research, the following insights and convictions are given special priority: first, religious notions and practices are not “cast in stone”; they are subject to constant change, both in the historical process and in the biographies of individuals; second, religions are not only loci of intellectual recognition and realisation, they also communicate via the senses in rituals or specific aesthetic configurations. Accordingly, the emphasis at the Institute of Religious Studies lies with theories of individual religiosity and ritual dynamics on the one hand and new paradigms and approaches in religious aesthetics on the other. Other focal concerns are approaches to religious economics and the links between religions and the media.

Formal requirements


There is no restriction on admissions. Click here for information on how to enrol.

International students

There are special regulations for international applicants. For more information, apply to the International Relations Office of Heidelberg University (Seminarstraße 2).

Study and examination regulations

Examination and study regulations B.A. (8 February 2007, last amended 22 April 2013)

Module Handbook

Please click here to find the latest Module Handbook.

Examinations board

Issues arising in connection with examinations, credit transfer and academic credential recognition are dealt with by the relevant examinations board/office. For more information, consult the academic advisor(s) indicated below.


Tuition fees at Heidelberg University are payable at the beginning of each semester.

M.A. course

Heidelberg University offers a consecutive M.A. course in Religious Studies.

Academic advisor

Christopher Pehlke, M.A.
Institute of Religious Studies
Akademiestrasse 4-8, Office 306
D-69117 Heidelberg
Consultation hours: Tuesday 12 -15 pm

phone: +49 (0)6221 547694
fax: +49 (0)6221 547424


Institute of Religious Studies
Akademiestr. 4–8
D-69117 Heidelberg

Secretaries' office:
phone: +49 (0)6221 547622
fax: +49 (0)6221 547624

Student representation:

E-Mail: Seitenbearbeiter
Letzte Änderung: 2018-10-10
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