Why Study Religion?

Religion is a major source of inspiration, meaning, and controversy in human culture, informing history, politics, economics, art, and literature. It rivals trade as a major trans-national force across the globe. One cannot hope to understand world history and literature — or current events like Middle East politics, the recent insurgencies in Thailand, the genocide in Sudan, or US presidential elections — without knowledge of religion. Debates over science and religion, as well as religion and law, are often front-page news. Throughout history, inquiry into religions has inspired and troubled artists, musicians, filmmakers, and writers — including T.S. Eliot, Dante, Toni Morrison, Tagore, Tupac Shakur, Euripides, Rumi, William Blake, Margaret Mead, John Updike, Tolstoy, Leonard Bernstein, John Coltraine, George Lucas, Einstein, Gandhi — among countless others. Religious ritual and belief are also among the most powerful forces uniting past and present, shaping memory and identity from generation to generation, and across millenia.

Religious Studies is a diversified and multi-faceted discipline focusing on the study of specific traditions and the general nature of religion as a human phenomenon. It spans cultures around the world, ancient as well as modern. It also combines a variety of methodologies — including but not limited to textual, historical, literary, social scientific, philosophical, and art-historical approaches.

It is impossible to be a well-informed student of the Humanities and Social Sciences without a study of religion. Courses in Religious Studies provide excellent preparation simply for living life in a pluralistic society and global culture, and a Minor or Double Major can also enhance studies in a broad range of other disciplines, including politics, medicine, business, and law, as well as history and literature.

Majoring in Religious Studies can provide excellent training for a variety of careers, such as law, teaching, counseling, business, journalism, politics, writing, medicine, and the arts. Our department encourages students to become well-informed and independent thinkers prepared to learn and engage in scholarly research techniques — including collection of information and distillation and analysis of data with the help of critical skills and methods. The Major requires students to pay close attention to the facts through careful and unprejudicial reading of texts, have an open attitude toward sources, and make close observation of individual and group behavior. Students also apply critical analysis and interpretation of literary and material data, based on appropriate theoretical and methodological tools, and communicate findings and conclusions clearly and effectively through expository and analytical writing and oral presentation. The department faculty seeks to develop in students a number of important, valuable, and transferable skills required by any profession or position.