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While reading an article in El País, I saw this in the last sentence in the 4th paragraph (emphasis mine):

“La Religión, según esos acuerdos, no puede ser considerada una maría, y debe tener el mismo rango que otras asignaturas fundamentales”, declaró.

What does "maría" mean here? Is it the mother of Jesus (which, according to the RAE, should be capitalized)?

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I speak Spanish and I had never heard this in my life.. I guess it's from Spain. – arg20 Mar 9 '13 at 23:43
up vote 5 down vote accepted

In this context "maría" means a course subject that is very easy to pass.

It is said mainly in Spain, if I'm not mistaken.

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A “maría” in Spain is an easy-to-pass subject. The word “maría” in this sense is informal but widely used.

The origin of the expression is interesting. In Franco’s times, there were three compulsory subjects common to every University degree: Physical education, Religion and Politics. They were really easy to pass (you had to do almost nothing) and they were called “the three Marys”, in reference to the three evangelical Marys: Mary, mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and Mary Salome (or some other three Marys depending on the source).

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