Message from the Chair

Picture of Fabio Rambelli
Professor Fabio Rambelli

Welcome to the Department of Religious Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, one of the finest centers for the study of religious traditions and phenomena in the US and internationally.

Since its founding in 1964, UCSB’s department has been at the forefront of discussions about the nature of religion and pioneered new theoretical and methodological approaches. Our department has engaged head-on the difficult question of what counts as “religion” and continues to demonstrate that understanding it is vital for our students and the world. We have stood behind the idea that the scholarly investigation of that which we call “religion” — and what is taken to be its opposite, the “secular” — must take place in a university setting where all ideas are subject to the same standards of inquiry.

Our present and past faculty includes presidents of the American Academy of Religion, Guggenheim Scholars, and award-winning scholars.

Today we are the largest Department of Religious Studies in the entire University of California system, and one of the largest Departments in the US solely dedicated to the secular study of religion. Our 24 full-time ladder faculty and 7 full-time lecturers, together with numerous affiliated faculty from other departments across the humanities and the social sciences, represent an unparalleled depth of expertise in studying the multifarious ways in which humans have conceptualized, interacted with, and contested the sacred.

We offer a Major in Religious Studies, a Major in Middle Eastern Studies, and minors in Religious Studies, American Indian and Indigenous Studies, Iranian Studies, and Jewish Studies. The Department also teaches several critical languages (including Arabic, Persian, Hebrew, Hindi, Turkish, Coptic, Kazakh, Sanskrit, and Tibetan), which are essential for an in-depth understanding of religions in their cultural contexts. (Other critical languages, such as Chinese, Japanese and Korean, as well as European languages including Greek and Latin, are offered by other departments.)

We are very proud of the students we have educated over the years, who have learned to think, write, and speak about religions—about rituals, traditions, texts, and experiences—in deeply informed and critical ways. Our offerings are an indispensable part of a general liberal education. Students who graduated with us are active in academia and in the professions.

Our Graduate Program in Religious Studies is among the very best in the country. Many of our alumni are faculty members at academic institutions in the US and abroad.

Over the last several decades, the forces of globalization have dramatically changed the religious landscapes of our state, the nation, and the world. The academic study of religion has never been more important, and what we do together as specialists in our various fields has never been more relevant. We are exceptionally fortunate in having a gifted faculty, student body, and staff. I invite you to roam this website to see what we are all about and to understand why the study of religions at UCSB is so intellectually rewarding.