Religion plays a central role in human experience by providing a standpoint from which to discern meaning at a personal, social, and cosmic level. The religious studies program seeks to engage the student in a rigorous examination of the various forms that religion has taken and the particular standpoints they have produced. That examination includes the cultural, historical, systematic, and contemporary significance of religious texts, beliefs, and practices for the self-understanding of communities and individuals, and its embodiment in ritual and moral action.
People study religion to satisfy both personal and professional needs. The department’s curriculum enables students to explore their own traditions and those of others on campus, in American society, and around the world; and it allows students to study in depth a particular area, such as the Bible, or tradition, such as the African-American church. Students often discover significant connections between another field–literature, anthropology, or philosophy, for example–and the study of religion. As with other liberal arts disciplines, and especially those in the humanities, the study of religion enables students to develop skills in research, problem solving, close reading of texts, critical and philosophical thinking, and interdisciplinary perspectives on human behavior and societies. Religion majors and minors may go on to seminary in preparation for religious work or on to other graduate schools in such fields as law, medicine, psychology, or the academic study of religion. Some go directly into K-12 teaching, into the business world, or into the nonprofit service sector.
Of course, many nonmajors/minors also take religion courses, relatively few of which have prerequisites.
Mark A. Berkson, associate professor, chair. BA 1987, Princeton University; MA 1992, PhD 2000, Stanford University.
Timothy Polk, professor. BA 1968, Wesleyan University; MEd 1971, Temple University; MDiv 1974, Yale Divinity School; PhD 1982, Yale University.
Earl Schwartz, assistant professor. BA 1975, BS 1977, University of Minnesota.
Deanna Thompson, associate professor. BA 1989, St. Olaf College; MAR 1992, Yale University Divinity School; PhD 1998, Vanderbilt University.