Exploring the big questions.

What’s the meaning of life? How do we create a just society? What is our place in the natural world? Students in UVM's Department of Religion discover a tight group of committed learners who together explore the big questions faced by humans since antiquity. The rich academic experience is supported by study abroad programs, internships, and research experiences that strengthen your academic experiences and builds skills for professional life after UVM.

Student Research Opportunities

The Department of Religion offers opportunities for conducting individual research projects in any aspect of the subject matter, also known in the College of Arts and Sciences as Academic Programs for Learning and Engagement (APLE). This may take place in one of two ways:

Through a Readings and Research arrangement (REL 197-198) with an individual instructor (normally this is offered to juniors and seniors who have already done some coursework in the subject). In connection with Senior Colloquium (REL 203) where senior majors each undertake a major investigative project which they ultimately present to the class. An archive housing the papers from past years in maintained in the departmental library.

 Examples of recent or current project areas show a range of possibilities:

  • The History and Politics of the Sioux Indian Sun Dance Ritual
  • Issues of Muslim Law in Northern Nigeria
  • A Comparative Study of St. Patrick and Padmasambhava
  • The Mikveh and the Female Body in Judaism
  • Perception of Cults in the American Press
  • Cognitive Science and the Study of Religion
  • Witchcraft and Gender in the Late Middle Ages
  • Islamic Feminism
  • Human Rights and Religion in China
  • Buddhist Nationalism in Sri Lanka
  • Late Writings of the Philosopher Emmanuel Levinas

Undergraduate Research Fund

The Religion Department maintains a small fund to support undergraduate research. Students can apply for up to $150 to cover research costs, including travel to conferences for the purpose of presenting their research. Applications can be submitted throughout the year, and awards will be made on a rolling basis until the year’s funding has been exhausted. Applications should be submitted by letter or e-mail to the department chair, and should include a budget of projected expenses and a brief statement (a maximum of one page, double-spaced) that outlines the research project and its value for the applicant’s work in the department. Funds cannot be applied to expenses incurred prior to the application date, and only one application for funding will be accepted during an academic year.

Teaching Assistant Opportunities

The Religion Department is participating in the College of Arts and Sciences initiative to provide outstanding students with an opportunity to serve as Undergraduate Teaching Assistants (UTA). Students chosen for a UTA position will assist department faculty in four large enrollment lecture classes that will be offered next year. Students will be compensated and should expect to work approximately seven hours per week.

Responsibilities and Eligibility Requirements: 

The responsibilities of the UTAs will vary according to the needs of individual instructors, but may include: assistance with administrative aspects of the course (keeping attendance, recording grades, etc.), assitance with grading that requires relatively little independent judgment by the UTA, facilitating class discussions, and holding office hours to meet with students enrolled in the class. UTAs will also be expected to attend all class sessions, in addition to work hours.

The basic eligibility requirements are:

  • Declared major or minor in Religion
  • Junior or Senior standing (Sophomores will be considered in exceptional cases)
  • Minimum GPA in Religion coursework of 3.40

Preference may be given to students who have successfully completed the course that they would like to TA with a grade of A- or better
To apply for this program, please send an email to Prof. Borchert, department chair, at thomas.borchert@uvm.edu. Your email should include the following information:

  • Name
  • Class standing
  • Major and Minor
  • Courses that you would like to TA
  • Brief statement of your interest in serving as TA (maximum of 150 words)

How to request a Letter of Recommendation

Applying to graduate school or for a scholarship? Need a recommendation for a study abroad program? Here are some tips to follow if you need your Religion professor to write a letter of recommendation for you.

  1. Ask in advance. The earlier you ask us to write, the better we are able to do so. Try to ask the professor at least a month in advance of the date it is due. Never ask for a letter with fewer than two weeks before the deadline--that doesn't give us enough time to write a good letter. You will also need to follow up to be sure that the letter has been sent. Check in with us as the deadline approaches. Be sure to be polite.
  2. Provide necessary information. Provide us with the logistical information we will need to write the letter: When is it due? Where should it be sent? Are there guidelines we need to follow in writing the letter? To make sure we are aware of all this information, you should compose a brief note that conveys all of this information clearly. Yo ucan do this by email if you'd like, but be sure to include all of the details.
  3. Tell us about yourself. Professors have a lot of students in their classes, and they are asked to write a lot of letters. It helps us to personalize your letter if you remind usa bout who you are, what classes you took with us, and what you are applying for. Depending on the nature of the program you applying to, you should provide us with some or all of the following items:
    • Information about your experience with the professor (courses taken, projects you worked on in his/her class, advising experience, etc.)
    • Copies of papers you wrote for the professor so we can make specific comments about your work in our classes
    • Your overall GPA and your grade(s) in the class(es) you took with the professor
    • Relevant information about the program to which you are applying
    • Your personal statement or application essay for the program
    • Your resume or CV
    • Any awards or honors you may have won
    • Relevant work experience or service activities in which you have participated
    • Anything else that you think we should include in your letter
  4. Be sure to waive your rights. Most recommendation forms include a section where you are asked if you wish to waive or retain your rights to see the final letter. Most professors want their letters to remain confidential, and most reviewrs will take confidential letters more seriously than public letters. Therefore you should always waive your rights by checking the appropriate box on the form and signing it (see FERPA waiver below). If you are concerned that the professor won't write a positive letter about you then you should find another professor to ask.
  5. Submit a FERPA waiver. You also need to waive your FERPA rights so that the professor can legally discuss your coursework and grades in the letter. FERPA is a federal law which protects the privacy of your education records. If you don't waive your FERPA rights, then we can only speak vaguely about your work in our classes, and we will not be able to discuss the grades you received from us. Most applications require that this information be addressed by recommenders, so you should always be sure to complete the PDF iconFERPA waiver (PDF) to be included with the information packet you provide to the professor before they write the letter.


  • Thomas Mackell

    Learning that is deep and collaborative

    "At UVM I was studying philosophy at first, which lacked a direct confrontation with a lot of social justice and political issues that religion classes offer, so I added religion as another major. I was exposed to works like Tomoko Masuzawa’s The Invention of World Religions and Saba Mahmood’s Agency, Performativity, and the Feminist Subject, two of the best things I’ve read for any class . . . 

    "One of the most rewarding experiences at UVM was the work I did as part of professor Vicki Brennan’s classes, which resulted in a museum exhibit ‘Spirited Things' held in the fall of 2017. The exhibit included sacred objects from the Yoruba religion of West Africa, and other offshoots of Yoruba in the Americas developed by enslaved Africans who blended their spiritual practices with those of their captors. First, I took a religion seminar in the spring prior to the exhibit where we did a lot of research to prepare for the exhibit. In the fall I took another course concentrating on ethnography of museum visitors who were largely unfamiliar with these religions. The context of a Western museum typically implies that these objects must be very old and come from faraway places--therefore they are usually exhibited mainly for their value as natural history. However, in 'Spirited Things' many of the objects came from the contemporary Afro-Atlantic diaspora including cities like L.A. and New York. These objects were imbued with power and meaning for ritual purposes, and revered in their own right . . . 

    "A small statue of the Afro-Cuban goddess Yemayá, manufactured in China in 2014 and picked up by Matory in a Los Angeles botanica, served as the inspiration for independent research.For me it inspired an independent study centering around one of the objects in the exhibit, a statue of Yemaya. I ended up publishing a paper ‘Yemayá on Display: Post-Colonial Contact Zones in the Museum,’ and made a presentation at a spring symposium.”

    --Thomas Mackell ’18

For further information about student opportunities, please email the Department Administrative Coordinator.

Marissa McFadden

Making a difference in the here and now

As a high school student in Groton, Conn., Marissa McFadden ’17 was looking for a college that offered a lively religion program and a strong reputation in the sciences—at the time she had her sights set on medical school.

“I had never been to Vermont as a kid, but I enjoy hiking and the outdoors, so the fact that UVM had a good medical school right on campus and a great rural atmosphere were really strong selling points for me.”

McFadden double-majored in biochemistry and religion, but felt a stronger tug to the latter discipline.

“I genuinely had a passion for thinking about world systems, languages, cultures, interactions and intersectionalities. But also, I thought that it would be a unique characteristic that I could present to medical school admissions. I don't think I consciously knew it then, but my decision to major in religion was the beginning of my move away from the sciences, and more towards thinking about the world as an activist.”

In her second year at UVM she concentrated fully on religious studies. She still sees herself working in a clinical setting as a social worker–she’s now pursuing an MSW through UVM’s College of Education and Social Services.

“Studying religion helps you empathize with people and what they are going through. It takes into account not just their belief systems but their cultural history, their stories, their circumstances. It provides me a way to bring the whole person into focus.”