One of the distinguishing features of the Department is its globally renowned programming in religious plurality, and transnational and marginalized religious traditions. This niche orientation highlights a new approach to the study of religion that does not privilege the public orthodox framings but takes seriously the heterodox and esoteric currents that have been actively repressed, censored, or marginalized in a variety of sociological, psychological, philosophical, and political ways. In order to reconceive religion along these broader lines, the Department features scholarship and pedagogy that takes into account the enormous plurality of religious voices and expressions, including the neglected currents. This approach also engages the psychology and the phenomenology of religious experience, rather than relying exclusively on the authorial framings taught by the faith traditions and transmitted in their scriptural texts, interpretations and rituals.

To study as a student in the Department means to challenge the status quo, to investigate what is not obvious, to reimagine what was, is and can be when it comes to religion. To study in the Department means to enter an intellectual community where critical thought, disciplined training, and innovation intersect with religion. The Department seeks to offer all students at Rice the opportunity and means to enhance their understanding of religion as a vital aspect of human experience and global diversity. The classes offered, the conferences sponsored, the research generated aim to create a space for stepping back and viewing religion from a multitude of angles and perspectives, for asking questions that may not be asked by the religions themselves.