Religion Department Profile
Religion is that dimension of human culture in which questions of ultimate meaning are asked and answered. In a world of many cultures, peoples, and historical traditions, the answers to religious questions vary widely. The academic study of religion proceeds from the assumption that it is possible to understand a world view that one does not share; indeed, that it is imperative to do so. For how is it possible to understand human history, culture, and politics without grasping the ultimate commitments that guide people’s lives? The academic study of religion does not seek to indoctrinate students in any particular religion, nor does it seek to dissuade students from their commitment to one particular tradition. Rather, the study of religion seeks to provide students with the tools to understand humanity’s quest for ultimate meaning and the myths, symbols and stories, the doctrines and ethical convictions, the experiences, rituals, and communities in which such meanings have found expression.
Our program consists of coursework in five areas – Asian religions, Near Eastern religions, modern Western religious thought, gender and the sociology of religion, and religion in America. Through courses in Asian religions, we aim to provide you with basic knowledge of the major South Asian and East Asian religious traditions in their cultural context. The religion faculty believes that knowledge of foundations (period of origin, scriptures) and of historical developments are equally important. Courses in Near Eastern religions explore both sacred texts (the Hebrew Bible and the Qur’an) and Islam and Judaism in their historical development and contemporary forms.
Our offerings in Western religious thought are focused on knowledge of Western religious ideas: selected problems and issues in Christian thought since the 16th century, with emphasis on the challenges of modernity. Our offerings in religion in America focus on the history and development of the religious traditions of America, with attention to understanding the contemporary American multicultural religious landscape. Courses on gender and religion explore women and religion and queer religiosities. Other courses explore the interface of religion and society and religious intolerance.
In order to accomplish the goal of religious literacy as a component of your liberal arts education, we offer a range of courses in religion open to all students without prerequisites. Through such courses as Buddhist Civilizations in Asia, Modern Western Religious Thought, or Introduction to Islam, you will acquire a better understanding of different heritages and religious perspectives. You will also have the opportunity to study religion and contemporary issues in such courses as Feminist and Liberation Theologies. This course is a comparative exploration of Latin American liberation theologies, African-American theologies, and feminist theologies (Jewish, Christian, and Post-Christian).
A major or minor in religion provides an excellent way to structure an under-graduate liberal arts education, and is suitable preparation for careers or further study in many areas.