Majoring in Religious Studies can be an excellent preparation simply for living life in a pluralistic and multicultural society. It can also provide excellent training for a variety of careers, such as teaching, counseling, business, law, writing, medicine, the arts, and professional religious leadership. The faculty seeks to develop in students a number of important, valuable, and transferable skills required by any profession or position. Religious Studies at the University of California, Riverside encourages students to become well-informed and independent thinkers prepared to learn and engage in scholarly research techniques, including collection of information and distillation and analysis of data with the help of critical skills and methods. The major requires students to: pay close attention to the facts through careful and unprejudicial reading of texts, have an open attitude toward sources, and make close observation of individual and group behavior. Students also apply critical analysis and interpretation of the data, based on appropriate theoretical and methodological tools, and communicate findings and conclusions clearly and effectively through expository and analytical writing and oral presentation.
Religious Studies majors have many opportunities for research and special and independent studies beyond coursework. The Department's teaching faculty regularly sponsors field trips to religious sites such as the Pavilion for Japanese Arts at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights, the Hongwangji Temple in Los Angeles, and the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden at UCLA. The Department annually presents the Holstein Family Community Lecture in Religious Studies, a lecture by a distinguished visiting speaker on the interactions of religion and society as manifested in social, cultural, and ethical debates. Internships are available, as are Religious Studies merit scholarships annually.
Religious Studies faculty members command a broad spectrum of religious traditions and scholarly approaches. Vivian-Lee Nyitray specializes in Chinese religions, religious biography, and women's studies in religion, and focuses on Confucianism and Taoism. Her work is informed by a literary perspective and literary analysis. June E. O'Connor focuses on contemporary western religious thought, comparative religious ethics, and women's studies in religion. Her work employs historical and comparative ethical methodologies. Ivan Strenski who also holds the Holstein Family and Community Endowed Chair in Religious Studies specializes in the history of religions, method and theory in the study of religion, and intellectual history of the social scientific study of religion. His fields of interest include history and theory of classic thinkers of the study of religion, Durkheimian studies, gift, and individualism. Muhamad Ali specializes in Islamic studies. Jennifer Hughes focuses on religion in Latin American and Christianity in the southern hemisphere. Sherri Johnson specializes in women and religion in medieval Europe Monasticism. Pashaura Singh who holds the Sikh Endowed Chair in Religious Studies specializes in Canon Formation and Hermeneutics and Sikh Studies. Douglas Parrott, Emeritus, specializes in the origins of Western religions, particularly biblical Judaism, Christianity, and gnosticism. He utilizes historical critical methods of approach and analysis.