New Religious Studies for Health Professionals Degree Offers Interdisciplinary Education

April 5th, 2023

The College of Humanities is introducing its first bachelor of science degree, a Religious Studies for Health Professionals major that will create a new pipeline for a more diverse population of health workers.


The first degree of its kind in the country, Religious Studies for Health Professionals will provide an interdisciplinary, well-rounded education to prepare students with a broad range of interests for health careers, providing a health humanities skillset that is in demand in the healthcare industry.


Courses will focus on how diverse religious beliefs and practices have shaped understandings and experiences of health, illness, healing and dying; diverse religious perspective on life cycle issues from birth through the end of life; as well as the impact of religion on the politics and policies surrounding healthcare. The degree will provide robust training in religious studies that will prepare students to navigate both the cultural diversity and the religiously inflected controversies and challenges that shape the world of health and medicine today.


“Religious Studies is ideally situated to offer an interdisciplinary health humanities degree. We offer critical tools to future health professionals for engaging cultural and religious diversity, for understanding the wide range of values attributed to health and illness, and for navigating bioethical challenges,” said Kristy Slominski, Assistant Professor of Religion, Science, and Health and a core faculty member of the program. “This innovative program demonstrates the College of Humanities’ leadership in the growing field of health humanities as well as the college’s commitment to approaches in applied humanities that impact key issues in society.” 


At the heart of the degree is a newly created course, RELI 406 – Religious Diversity in Healthcare: Intercultural Training. The course is designed to offer tools for engaging religious and cultural diversity within healthcare settings, which includes consideration of religious patients, religious healthcare workers, faith-based healthcare institutions, and the impact of religious communities on healthcare laws and services. To develop skills for navigating intercultural differences, students will practice applying academic approaches to religion to health-related case studies.


Within the department, faculty specialties include religion, science, and health in the Americas; religions, the body, and sexuality; Buddhism and medicine; Native American and indigenous religious traditions (encompassing topics of healing and health); and religions and psychology.


This undergraduate degree will help future professionals to navigate these complex human and institutional relationships and meanings in ways that are both informed and respectful. Students interested in pairing rigorous studies in the humanities with a science heavy curriculum will receive a well-rounded education in preparation for health careers, said Karen Seat, Head of the Department of Religious Studies and Classics.


“We look forward to supporting students in developing a profile that will stand out in the competitive world of health sciences. Studies have shown that undergraduates who pursue the humanities, paired with the science courses needed to gain admission to medical schools and other health-related professional programs, often perform better than students without a humanities background,” Seat said. “Our program contributes to the University of Arizona College of Humanities’ stature as a national leader in applied humanities.”