Word Cloud (the Academic Study of Religion and Undergraduate Academic Education)

(from the website of the Department of Religious Studies, Vanderbilt University)

At the Department of Religion in the School of Arts and Sciences at Syracuse, we have been trying to pitch the study of religion to the Administration along two lines. The point common to both lines of argument is that the academic study of religion is a hub discipline. [1] In an academic environment in which undergraduates frequently double major, academic study of religion can compliment and broaden almost any area of study in the College of Arts and Sciences and across the larger university community. [2] The study of religion in the university has nothing in common with seminary training. As in most departments of Religion or Religious Studies, at SU we teach the critical study of religion, the emergence and mutation of its varied forms, and their place inside and alongside culture, politics, and the arts.

As Coordinator of the Committee for Undergraduate Studies in the department, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that almost all of our majors actually double major in other departments. These departments include fields as diverse from each other and from religion as Bio, Psychology, Public Health, Sculpture, Television-Radio-Film, Writing, Stage Management, Photography, History, Philosophy. Our minors share similar breadth of interests, including these and other fields such as Advertising, English & Textual, Anthropology, Communication & Rhetorical Studies. In other words, the Department of Religion at SU draws undergraduate students from across humanities and social sciences, the Newhouse School of Communication, as well students from VPA (Visual and Performing Arts).

This is a good thing. A little more informed opinion about religion might go a long way, even if you shouldn’t really need a university degree in the study o Religion to know, as the US military recently learned, not to go around burning Korans and other people’s holy books; or that the mix of religion and politics is a volatile and toxic stuff, as shown by recent events in Egypt or the current firestorm of controversy re: contraception in Washington. More prosaically, it might even modulate the incredibly stupid things people say about religion, pro or con, to each other face to face or at online talkback and other electronic fora.

Conversely, it’s interesting to see no undergraduate students double majoring in Religion and departments associated with the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs — namely Economics, Political Science, and International Relations. These would be the students who aspire to those very positions of power and authority, from which one might do the most politically incendiary things with religion at the level of national and international policy. I can’t see how this is a good thing.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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1 Response to Word Cloud (the Academic Study of Religion and Undergraduate Academic Education)

  1. Gail says:

    Those in Maxwell probably are Religion and Society majors, yes?

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