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Overview The Department of Religious Studies is a multidisciplinary department that attempts to define and interpret dimensions of human culture and experience commonly regarded as “religious.” Courses in the department stress skills such as critical thinking, clear writing, and persuasive use of evidence to support one’s views; these skills are central to the analysis and interpretation of the social and intellectual systems which constitute the data of religious studies.
The department offers a wide range of courses covering different approaches to the study of religion, and provides students with the opportunity to examine the major religious traditions of human history (Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism), as well as other traditions that have flourished independently of Asian and European influences. With one of the largest faculties of religious studies in the United States, the department is able to offer courses not only in traditional areas such as the history of Christianity and introductions to the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, but also in Buddhist meditation, Hindu mythology, Islamic mysticism, Jewish social ethics, and African religions, as well as courses that are multidisciplinary in their emphasis such as theology, ethics and medicine, religion and science, and religion and modern fiction.
Faculty The thirty-member department is nationally recognized for its outstanding teaching and research. Several of the faculty are scholars of international repute, having recently been awarded fellowships for study and research in England, India, Israel, Jordan and Nigeria. Several have been recipients of University-wide teaching awards. All of the faculty teach undergraduate courses and are firmly committed to undergraduate education, holding office hours during the week in order to talk with students about ideas, paper topics, or future course work.
Students There are more than 180 students majoring in religious studies, a number of which are double majors. To complete a major in religious studies, students must take at least three courses in one world religion and at least two courses in another. The required majors seminar, taken in the third or fourth year, provides an overview of the different methodologies employed in the study of religion, emphasizing the development of the humanistic and social-scientific skills necessary for the interpretation of religious phenomena. Most students begin their study of religion in an introductory level course, which is generally large (between 100 and 250 students) and covers a broad topic (e.g., introduction to Eastern religions; spirituality in America). All large survey courses are supplemented by discussion sections of fewer than twenty students per section, which are led by advanced graduate students. Many of the faculty teaching the survey courses also lead one or two of these discussion sections themselves. Advanced courses generally have enrollments between twenty-five and fifty students and seminar enrollments are limited to twenty students. These courses focus on a more specialized topic (e.g., medieval Christianity, religion and the literature of American immigrants, Islamic fundamentalism). Independent study options are also available in which a student works closely with a faculty advisor.