The College of Liberal Arts is expanding its religious studies program beginning fall 2008. Cal Roetzel, co-chair of the Religious Studies Working Group and professor of Classical and Near Eastern Studies, discusses the revised program. Continue reading…
How will the expanded program be different?
We've had a religious studies major for more than a decade. The current major, part of the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Studies, focuses on biblical and ancient Mediterranean religions. While these subjects provide an important base for studying religion, we've developed a more comprehensive major program. It emphasizes the breadth and depth of the academic study of religion across traditions and time periods. It draws more deeply on the faculty resources already available across the college.
The expanded program in religious studies recognizes the vital part that religion has played in almost all cultures and civilizations of times past and that it continues to play in the contemporary world.
What was the impetus to expand the religious studies program? Why is it important to students and to the broad community?
Given the reality of the post-9/11 world and the turmoil that a lack of understanding and dialogue among religious groups has brought in various war-torn parts of the globe, understanding different religious perspectives has become necessary for responsible world citizenship.
In addition, by providing courses in a broad range of traditions, the religious studies program can better serve our students, who, of course, are increasingly diverse. Native Americans, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus, who have had fewer options for studying these religions, will be better served by the new program. At the same time we will continue provide the study options we have had in Christian/Jewish traditions and history. We hope to eventually have options for the academic study of shamanistic religions like those practiced by some Hmong students and their families.
Students from communities in diaspora are particularly interested in their inherited traditions, precisely because they are not connected to the types of community structures that would naturally pass along information on cultural traditions. Furthermore, courses addressing the historical and contemporary multiformities of Christianity and Judaism can serve students from these backgrounds who are equally curious about their inherited traditions.
What is the mission of the revised Religious Studies Program?
Producing informed, creative leaders and responsible world citizens is at the heart of the program. This major complements the teaching mission of the University and CLA by providing the type of undergraduate education that fosters a deep understanding of our multiracial and multicultural world. The CLA Strategic Plan of February 2007 lists religious studies as a vital part of the Language, Culture, and Texts strategic research initiatives. The program complements the research mission of the University and CLA by bringing together faculty from across the college who investigate religious subjects and by welcoming conversations, research, and collaboration.
Could you describe the specifics of the program?
In addition to the existing major that focuses on biblical and ancient Mediterranean religions, mainly early Christianity and Judaism, the expanded program includes many cultures and traditions from around the globe in a range of historical, cultural, social, anthropological, psychological, and political settings.
The curriculum has been designed in two tracks to provide maximum flexibility.
Track 1 examines religion as a socio-cultural force by
- Using methodologies of humanities, social sciences and the arts
- Exploring questions of expression, psychology, theology, and religious thought
- Examining public and social policy, political contexts, and influences of religion on public sphere
Track 2 is for in-depth study of a chosen religious tradition, including:
- Penetrating analysis and contemplation of untranslated foundational texts
- Preparation for service to diverse communities in public arenas, as well as graduate study in a variety of fields or seminary programs
- Specialized advanced study options such as
- origins and interpretation of the Bible or the Qur'an
- pre-modern history of Judaism, Islam, or Christianity
- traditions and texts of the religions of South or East Asia (countries of origin or diaspora)
Is there student demand for the expanded program?
Yes, programs in religious studies are among the fastest-growing academic fields at many universities, including Indiana University, University of California at Santa Barbara, and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Most Big Ten institutions have large programs with significant enrollments. Faculty in these programs report strong demand, with dozens of majors and heavily, even over-enrolled courses.
Who will teach the courses?
Religious studies is by its very nature interdisciplinary. Faculty from departments across the college will teach. They'll bring methods and materials from literature, history, sociology, anthropology, philosophy, political science, African American studies, American studies, and Asian studies.