The University of Iowa

Religious Studies

As a religious studies major, you know that religions are more than formal teachings and practices that give rise to traditions; they are also ways of life that evolve within specific communities and cultural contexts. Study abroad gives you the opportunity to immerse yourself in a chosen culture and study the intimate connection between religion and the people of that culture up close. It is an incredibly valuable experience to study a religion while participating in the social life that informs it—an experience that will perhaps give you a deeper appreciation for a religion than you could accomplish from afar. Study abroad is also a valuable distinction when applying to graduate and professional programs—both common pursuits for religious studies majors.

To aid you in coordinating study abroad with your major requirements, this page offers advice about when to study abroad (see the "Timing" tab), how to fulfill your academic requirements abroad (see "Academics"), and how to choose a study abroad program best suited to your needs (see "Programs"). 

There are many study abroad options available to religious studies majors. From short-term, faculty-led programs to full-year direct enrollment in an international university, there are plenty of opportunities for you to pursue your academic and extracurricular interests abroad.

In general, the best time to study abroad as a religious studies major is during the fall semester of your senior year. Studying abroad during the fall of your junior year is also possible. If you’d rather not study abroad during the academic year, winter and summer break programs are also available.

As you plan your study abroad experience, keep in mind that your religious studies orientation (RELS:1005) and your senior seminar (RELS:4950) are course requirements that must be completed at the University of Iowa. Students are encouraged to complete the orientation by their junior year at the latest and the senior seminar as juniors or seniors. Both courses are offered during spring semesters only.

Students intending to study abroad are strongly encouraged to be in touch with a Study Abroad Advisor and the Department of Religious Studies' Director of Undergraduate Studies early on in the planning process. If you are a double major or completing a minor, be sure to consult with an academic advisor in your second major or minor department as well. 

There are many opportunities for religious studies majors to fulfill academic requirements abroad. In general, courses taken abroad can be substituted for UI courses with approval from the appropriate UI department. Consult with a study abroad advisor about getting overseas courses approved for UI requirements. Once you select a program of interest, your study abroad advisor will give you a Credit Approval Form to complete with the Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Religious Studies. Note: If you plan to complete courses toward a second major or minor while abroad, you will need to get approval from your second major or minor department.

Religious Studies Courses

Lucky you! The Religious Studies Major Curriculum is quite flexible, which is great for study abroad. With the exception of your required orientation course and your senior seminar (RELS:1005 and RELS:4950), which must be completed at the University of Iowa, it should be fairly easy for you to find overseas equivalents for some of your religious studies course requirements. In general, it will be easier to find equivalents for your religious studies foundation courses (e.g. RELS:1506 “Intro to Buddhism” or RELS:1080 “Intro to the New Testament”) than for your advanced-level courses (e.g. RELS:4660 “The Karma of Words”), which tend to be more specialized. In general, overseas equivalents need to have requirements comparable to those of courses offered by the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Iowa.

Typically, religious studies majors do not enter the major until their sophomore or junior year—thus, the department is relatively flexible about incorporating a variety of courses into the religious studies curriculum. If you are a religious studies minor or unsure of whether you’ll declare the major, keep in mind that the department will work with you to incorporate previously completed coursework (including study abroad courses) into the major. Having said that, all courses completed abroad must be taken through an accredited university in order to be considered for credit at the University of Iowa. You cannot substitute non-academic or religious experiences participated in abroad for UI courses.

With the approval of the Department of Religious Studies, students may transfer up to 15 semester hours of religious studies coursework completed at another institution to count toward the religious studies major. However, some study abroad programs offer UI resident credit that will not count toward the 15 s.h. limit. (For more information about resident credit, talk to an advisor in Study Abroad.)

General Education Courses

Since your General Education requirements are typically lower-level, non-specialized courses, it should be relatively easy to find equivalents for some of your Gen Eds overseas. The World Languages requirement is an especially good Gen Ed requirement to complete or work toward abroad. If you are interested in taking language courses overseas, information about language-intensive study abroad programs that could be used to fulfill your World Languages requirement is provided under the “Programs” tab of Study Abroad’s General Education advising page.

You might also consider finding overseas equivalents for Gen Ed courses that include a cultural component. You could likely find equivalents for several courses approved for the “Culture, Society, & the Arts” areas of the Gen Ed curriculum—and many of these would be interesting to take in a new cultural context. (See the “Cultural, Society, & the Arts” tab on the College of Liberal Arts and Science’s General Education web page.)

Second Majors and Minors

Religious studies majors completing a second major or minor are encouraged to substitute overseas courses for some of their second major/minor requirements with the approval of the corresponding department. Information about study abroad opportunities related to other majors and concentration areas is offered on the MAPs. (e.g. If you are completing a second major in International Studies, be sure to consult Study Abroad’s International Studies advising page.) 

Worried about funding your trip? International Programs offers various scholarships to UI students for study abroad. Information about these scholarships and how to apply for them is available on the scholarships page.

Religious studies majors are encouraged to take religious studies courses, language courses, and courses toward any second majors or minors while abroad. Most importantly, you are encouraged to immerse yourself in the culture of the area, attending to the relationship between local religion, history, and contemporary life. All of the programs below offer courses relevant to religious studies majors and are in locations with rich religious histories.

If you would like to take language courses while abroad, information about language-intensive study abroad programs is available under the “Programs” tab of Study Abroad’s General Education advising page. You can also search our programs database (using the language filter) for information about language programs. Also keep in mind that a few of the programs hosted by CIEE—the Council on International Educational Exchange—listed below offer language courses in addition to religious studies and cultural studies courses.

If you are interested in taking courses related to your second major or minor while abroad, see the advising page corresponding with your second discipline.

In addition to the programs listed here, students are encouraged to browse our programs database and consult our Steps to Studying Abroad advising page. You are also encouraged to visit the Study Abroad Resource Room (located in the International Programs Office, 1111 University Capitol Centre), where a peer assistant can help you research study abroad programs. Once you have a few programs in mind, consult with a study abroad advisor and the Director of Undergraduate Studies in your department.

Programs in the Middle East

Programs in Asia

Programs in Europe

Programs in Australia


Archaeology in Israel

Students participate in archaeological field research during this six-week summer program in Biblical Tel Azekah. Participants earn six credits: three for the course, CLSA 4501 “Archaeological Methodology and Field Research,” and three for CLSA 4502 “Archaeology and The History of Judea.” This program is led by UI faculty. Local tours and activities are included in the program cost.

CIEE Jordan Middle East Studies - Semester Program

CIEE Jordan Middle East Studies - Summer Program

Participants take classes at the Princess Sumaya University of Technology with other CIEE students. Arabic language courses are offered at all levels for the semester program. Relevant area studies courses include an archaeology course, an international relations course, a seminar on Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and two courses on Islam. All courses are English-taught. Participants may also complete an optional internship.


SIT Indonesia: Arts, Religion, and Social Change

This program is based in Bedulu, Bali. Participants take four courses at several institutions in the area: a seminar on art, religion, and social change in Indonesia; a Bahasa Indonesia language course (offered at all levels); a research methods and ethics course; and an independent study. Examples of past independent study topics are listed on the program website. The program includes trips to important historic and cultural sites where students witness temple festivals and other religious rituals, performances, and local ceremonies. 


American College of Thessaloniki

Participants directly enroll in the American College of Thessaloniki (ACT) with both local and international students. You can enroll for a semester, the academic year, or for a 4-week summer session. Typically, 2-3 humanities courses with a focus on religion are offered each semester (e.g. “Topics of Mythology and Religion in the Classical World”). Greek history and international relations courses are also offered. You can look up current course offerings on ACT's website. All courses (except language courses) are taught in English.

IES Study Rome: Language & Area Studies

Participants take five to six courses per semester at the IES Abroad Rome Center, including a required Italian language course (offered at all levels) and four or five area studies courses. Several religious studies courses are offered. For course listings and descriptions, click on the “Academics” tab of the program’s web page. All courses are taught in English except the Italian language courses. Program participants may also elect to complete a for-credit internship. Several optional field trips are organized each semester and the program fee covers one of these.

IES Rome, “From Pontius Pilate to Theodosius: The Advent of Christianity”

This is a 4-week program offered in January. Participants take one course, “From Pontius Pilate to Theodosius: The Advent of Christianity,” which is taught in English at the IES Abroad Rome Center. The program incorporates several course-related excursions to sites in and around Rome—the Coliseum, the Vatican Museums, and the Arch of Constantine. For a detailed course description, see the program website.

CIEE Seville Liberal Arts Program

This semester or academic year program is designed to help students achieve fluency in written and spoken Spanish as they study a wide variety of courses in the humanities and social sciences and immerse themselves as fully as possible in the Seville community. 

Participants complete an intensive Spanish language course for the first two weeks of the program, and then begin their course of study—4 courses taken at the CIEE Study Center in Seville and/or at local universities. Several courses relevant to religious studies majors are offered each semester. Current course offerings are listed on the program's web page (scroll to the bottom of the page). The language of instruction is Spanish. In addition to completing coursework, participants also have opportunities to volunteer and to travel. Also note that the University of Iowa offers resident credit for this program.


Iowa Regents Semester in Australia: University of Newcastle

Participants directly enroll in courses at the University of Newcastle for a semester (February-July or July-November). Several religious studies courses are offered. For a full list of course offerings and descriptions, see the course catalogue. (Note that the “Religion and Theology” course code is RELT.)