The study of religion as an academic field at the University of Minnesota dates back to the late 1960s, when the University first offered a course on world religions. By the 1970s, the University offered a major in religious studies, which attracted a small number of students.

Changing academic interests on campus gradually sidelined the socio-cultural study of religions in favor of the study of religious texts and history. By the 1990s, the focus of religious studies on campus was on the texts and histories of Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity, and the religious studies program was folded into the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Studies.

Another change was in the offing, however. Interest in the role of religion in society was spurred across the United States in the early 21st century as evangelical Christians demonstrated their significant political power during the presidential election of George W. Bush. In 2001, the deadly attacks on 9/11 further deepened and widened interest in the field. As a result, scholars around the country from several disciplines began to focus large portions of their research and teaching on the role of religions in society.

In 2008, the College of Liberal Arts launched the interdepartmental Religious Studies Program, designed to bring together courses focused on religion(s) from many departments into undergraduate major and minor programs. Since its launch, the University of Minnesota’s Religious Studies Program has been a model of interdisciplinary research and teaching across many religious traditions, geographical regions, and time periods.