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AAR WEBSITE: http://www.studyreligion.org/site/about.html



WHY STUDY RELIGION?
Religion has always been with us. Throughout history, it has expressed the deepest
questions human beings can ask, and it has taken a central place in the lives of virtually
all civilizations and cultures. As we think all the way back to the dawn of human
consciousness, we find religion everywhere we turn.
This may be true of the past, but what about the present - and the future? In recent times,
critics have suggested that religion is on the way out. Technology and science have
changed our view of the world radically, leading some to say that we've entered a new
stage of human existence, without religion. Soon, they argue, it will truly be a thing of the
past.
In our day and age, rumors of religion's demise seem very premature - and perhaps there's
no grain of truth in them at all. Religion persists and is often on the rise, even as scientific
and non-religious perspectives have become prominent. We still find religion
everywhere, on television, in film, in popular music, in our towns and neighborhoods. We
discover religion at the center of global issues and cultural conflict. We see religion in the
lives of the people we know and love, and in ourselves, as we live out and wrestle with
our own religious faith. Why does religion continue to thrive? There are many reasons,
but one thing is certain: religious traditions are adaptable in important ways. For many,
contemporary religion even has room for skepticism, science, and the secular, which
allows it to keep going strong in our rapidly changing world.
Overall, religion is powerful and persistent, and it shows no signs of disappearing. It
provokes heartfelt commitment, eloquent expression, forthright action, and intense
debate. For both practitioners and observers - for everyone who wants to be informed
about the world around them - religion is an intensely curious phenomenon that calls out
for better understanding.
Religion is studied by an energetic academic field. Each year, thousands of
undergraduates take a course in religion. In the 1999-2000 academic year, for example,
about 685,000 students took a religion course at around 900 American colleges and
universities. Each school year, many students decide to focus on the topic and make
theology or religious studies their major course of study.
There are two main branches of the study of religion in America today. Theology, which
studies religion from the perspective of a particular community of believers, has
historically been an important part of the Western university. It continues to be a
foundation of undergraduate education at many American schools. The academic study of
religion, which is often called religious studies, is a relatively new field that aims to treat
all religious traditions even-handedly. Utilizing the tools from many other academic
fields (including philosophy, history, sociology, anthropology, psychology, and theology
itself), the academic study of religion arises out of a broad curiosity about the nature of
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religion and religious traditions. Religious studies offers a unique opportunity to ask
fundamental questions about religious traditions. It also allows experimentation with
some of most exciting ideas from other areas of study. Overall, religious studies is an
exciting new field that is constantly crossing boundaries and breaking new ground as it
attempt to bring its subject into better focus.
The freedom of intellectual exploration is one of the joys of being in college, but most
college students also have practical concerns about how studying religion will help in
"the real world."
The study of religion leads in many directions, qualifying undergraduates for further
study in graduate school and giving them a leg up in certain areas of the job market. Most
religion departments offer students training in a unique combination of skills, including
direct observation, critical thinking, and cross-cultural understanding. In many
professional fields, such skills are in high demand. In addition, many religion majors or
minors go on to study law, business, education, and medicine in graduate school. Some
students choose to make religion the center of a professional career, either as the leader of
a religious community, or as an academic specialist in higher education. In short, the
study of religion offers a wide array of opportunities and a firm foundation for a
successful and fulfilling career.
The freedom of intellectual exploration is one of the joys of being in college, but most
college students also have practical concerns about how studying religion will help in
"the real world."
The study of religion leads in many directions, qualifying undergraduates for further
study in graduate school and giving them a leg up in certain areas of the job market. Most
religion departments offer students training in a unique combination of skills, including
direct observation, critical thinking, and cross-cultural understanding. In many
professional fields, such skills are in high demand. In addition, many religion majors or
minors go on to study law, business, education, and medicine in graduate school. Some
students choose to make religion the center of a professional career, either as the leader of
a religious community, or as an academic specialist in higher education. In short, the
study of religion offers a wide array of opportunities and a firm foundation for a
successful and fulfilling career.
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WHAT IS RELIGION?
Because it crosses so many different boundaries in human experience, religion is
notoriously difficult to define. Many attempts have been made, however, and while every
theory has its limitations, each perspective contributes to our understanding of this
complex phenomenon. Here are some of the ideas that have most inspired scholars of
religion:






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The variety of approaches in the attempt to define religion can be imposing and
sometimes frustrating. Discussion about widely differing approaches to the subject
matter, however, gives the study of religion its vitality, and most students and scholars in
the field appreciate its many crosscurrents.
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SOME MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT STUDYING RELIGION



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PRESSING CONCERNS IN THE STUDY OF RELIGION
PURPOSE & MEANING:
In the book Man's Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl describes his experience in a Nazi
concentration camp. According to Frankl, survival, life itself, even in the most horrifying
circumstances, depends as much on maintaining purpose and meaning as it does on
taking in food and water. Frankl's experience allowed him to see that we need a sense of
purpose and meaning to exist, a reason to keep eating and drinking. If we don't have this
sense, we attempt to find it, and a failed search leads us to despair, or even to perish.
According to many theorists, religion is the primary expression of humanity's need for
purpose and meaning. On the one hand, religion is the search itself. From deep within
religious traditions come difficult challenges, profound questions, and seemingly
unanswerable paradoxes. If religious people choose to take up the path, religion pushes
them to confront the most pressing difficulties of existence - and urges that they confront
them with courage.
Quite often, however, religion also finds a way of settling matters. The deepest questions
of life and death, love and sex, authority and freedom, or duty and fulfillment cannot be
solved like algebra problems, but religion does have the power to create a kind of
resolution. It indicates that questioning is itself meaningful, and it also marks off
particular stories and practices that give some answers. To this extent, religious traditions
challenge, but they also offer security and direction.
J esus said that "man does not live on bread alone." Studying religion reveals that this is
true. Religious traditions always turn to something beyond mere survival, something
significantly deeper, to satisfy the human need for purpose and meaning.
A SENSE OF BELONGING:
In our day and age it seems all to easy to lose a sense of belonging, to unravel the ties that
bind, and to find oneself utterly different and alone.
Religion has traditionally been a powerful force for preserving a sense of community,
counteracting the tensions that can easily pull people apart. The word itself is most likely
derived from the Latin root religare, to "re-tie" or "re-connect." Most of us have had an
experience of "collective effervescence," a powerful feeling of shared energy and identity
among a group of people. When religious practitioners gather together for a ritual, they
are often energized and motivated by this feeling, which they then carry beyond the ritual
and into their daily lives. Because they feel bound to each other (and perhaps even to all
of humanity), their shared feeling of community fuels their actions in the world at large.
It follows that religion offers a sense of knowing one's place with regard to others (one's
duties, obligations, and goals) on a broad and sometimes universal scale.
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For many, religion tells human beings that they are never alone. The structure and
communion of religious life provide a consistent sense of belonging. But doesn't that lead
to uniformity and stricture? What about the hermit, the exile, the loner, or the rebel?
What about the value of solitude, of being alone? Historically, religious institutions have
indeed wielded the power to define people socially, to institute social distinctions, and
ultimately to exclude outsiders and those who question and protest.
But even among those who find themselves in exile or retreat, we might suggest that
religion still speaks. Even the individual in solitude has his or her own sense of
belonging. Perhaps it is an interior life populated by a community of imagined figures
(we might compare this to the experience artists sometimes describe). Perhaps one is in
constant contact with an idea, maybe a moral or political one, like liberation or justice. Or
perhaps the loner is constantly in communication with what he or she perceives to be
divine.
In all cases, human beings need a sense of community, belonging, and connection, and
we could say that this is a religious sense.
A WIDE OPEN FIELD:
Religious traditions themselves are obviously very old, but the study of religion is itself a
relatively new invention. Only in the nineteenth century did scholars begin to examine
religion from an academic perspective, and in American colleges and universities,
religious studies has taken hold in the past four decades, especially since the 1960's. This
means that the discipline is still finding its way.
For the student of religion, the newness of the study of religion presents a wide-open
field. In order to ask better questions about religion, scholars have always borrowed from
other disciplines. In fact, many scholars within religious studies also identify themselves
within another sub-field, like philosophy, theology, philology, sociology, anthropology,
psychology, history or other lines of inquiry, such as gender studies, racial/ethnic studies,
or area studies (like the study of the Middle East or South Asia). But Religious Studies is
a remarkable field of study because it manages to hold all of these influences together. As
eminent scholar Walter Capps has written, "What distinguishes religious studies from any
of its individual component parts is its composite nature: it consists of all of these
methodological operations, and all of the these selective foci of interest working
together."
For some, this diversity can be a little disorienting. What is religious studies about,
anyway? What is the essence of this study? What is it after? These are the questions that
confront any college major. Do psychologists uphold any one method in common? Do
they agree on the "essence" of the human mind? Similarly, is there any one definition of
literature, or one agreed upon method for examining it? A course of study in any
academic discipline will offer foundational concepts and basic methods, but then
advanced study opens up a variety of angles and debates for students.
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This is also the case for religious studies, only this field is a little wider than most,
probably because religion crosses so many boundaries in human experience. This breadth
poses a challenge, but it is an exciting one. For a young field, religious studies is
remarkably mature: it is able to hold many different ideas together, allowing students of
religion remarkable freedom in thinking about human culture and fundamental realities.
IN THE NAME OF RELIGION:
It is not difficult to make a list of horrible conflicts in Western civilization that have
occurred in the name of religion. Christians persecuted J ews, "pagans," and heretics for
centuries. Both Muslims and Christians performed many atrocities during the Crusades.
Protestants and Catholics have seemingly been in constant conflict, even up to our
century.
In keeping with their popular image, maybe Eastern religions have kept Asian societies
more peaceful and contemplative. But this is not the case. Horrifying violence between
Hindus and Muslims has occurred in India over the centuries, and in Sri Lanka, a civil
war has persisted over the past few decades between Hindus and, surprisingly enough,
Buddhists.
And the list goes onwithout even mentioning contemporary terrorism and the response
to it..
Most if not all religions espouse peace as a fundamental value, and most if not all have a
reflective side. And yet religion also inflames passions and helps to motivate and direct
action. Religion can promote a sense of entitlement and stubbornness about ultimate
truths. It also marks out the world: a religious tradition provides a community with
identity, sometimes leading to an "us vs. them" mentality. While religion almost always
proclaims that it values peace, it is often a significant factor in conflict between
individuals, groups, tribes, and nations.
But must religion inevitably promote, foster, or even create violence and bloody conflict?
Certainly not. In reflecting on the clashes between human beings, religious studies often
assists us understand why people are fighting and what they are fighting for. So often we
simply don't know the answers to these questions, and not caring often comes soon after
not knowing. In reflecting on figures like Gandhi and Martin Luther King (among so
many others), religious studies also helps us understand how and why someone religious
might fight for peace.
Is religion about passion, division, arrogance, and self-righteousness? Sometimes. But
many great figures in human history have argued that religion is truly about tolerance,
inclusiveness, universals, and respect. Studying war and peace, both the conflict and the
overcoming of it, teaches invaluable lessons for our world, which is still so troubled by
old divisions and terrifying violence.
EVERYWHERE WE TURN:
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There is no doubt that many modern societies have become more secular, particularly
over the last two centuries. But religion is still everywhere we turn: it persists in
individual beliefs, in neighborhood communities, in the ethos of nations, and on a global
scale. Religion remains a fundamental aspect of human experience.
Scholars differ about what religion is exactly, but most would agree that the vast majority
of humankind participates in activities that we would call "religious." Even in "secular"
societies like many European nations and the United States, religion still plays a profound
role. In America, for example, a substantial majority of people (often over 90%,
depending on the survey) proclaims a belief in God, and a significant majority
participates in religious services on a regular basis. Political leaders in the United States
often espouse their religious views openly, arguing that religion is an important part of
the national ethos, and a significant portion of the voting public clearly supports this
view. On another level, many people reject "religion" but call themselves "spiritual,"
which suggests that religious values (as interpreted by the individual) still play a
significant role in many people's lives. Even in the secular Western world, religion
remains a powerful social and cultural force, turning up everywhere, even in places
where we least expect to find it.
In addition, the "modern West" is increasingly open to global influence, and we find that
the rest of the world also takes religion very seriously. Encounters between cultures and
religions take place everyday in businesses, schools, and neighborhoods. Wherever we
turn, we confront a striking diversity of religious perspectives openly expressed in our
multi-cultural world.
In response, religious studies has always attempted to promote understanding across
cultural and national boundaries. These days, the ability to understand the religious
beliefs of others is crucial for successfully making our way in life, no matter what path
we choose.
WHO ARE WE? WHERE ARE WE GOING?
In The Future of an Illusion, first published in 1927, Sigmund Freud wrote skeptically
about the true nature of religion and suggested that humanity was ready to outgrow it. But
even Freud recognized how important the investigation of religion's role in human history
was. He wrote, "the less a man knows about the past and the present the more insecure
must prove to be his judgment of the future."
Freud was certainly right about one thing: religion plays a significant role in our past, and
thus it tells us about who we are now. Indeed, our investigation of religion guides us in
making better judgments about where we are headed.
The history of religions leads back to the most ancient monuments of human experience.
Some scholars think that early humans were entirely absorbed with a religious sense of
the "sacred," or what is holy and powerful. Even today we talk about things being
"taboo," or off-limits. Societies have always set aside things, places, and people as
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special because they were believed to be in touch with an otherworldly power. The form
of the sacred has shifted and changed, and societies have related to it in different ways,
but perhaps it has always been there, across the globe, in so many times and cultures, up
to the present day.
But in looking back at the role of religion in human history, and then glancing at more
recent times, we might conclude that Freud was right. The world has seemingly
"uncharged" of its sacredness. Is anything off-limits any more? Are we outgrowing
religion? Is the world becoming more secular? Maybe the need to understand religion
will gradually decrease and eventually disappear.
Scholars debate these questions intensely. It is safe to say, however, that in many parts of
the world non-religious values have not been accepted wholeheartedly. Sometimes they
have not been accepted at all. Freud was right: religion has played a vital role in making
us who we are. But the wise doctor was wrong about his predictions for the immediate
future (remember, he was writing in 1927). Religion continues to occupy us in the present
day, and for the foreseeable future, religion is here to stay, in "secular" societies - and
beyond.
IN THE GREAT BEYOND:
The American psychologist of religion William J ames talked about an "oceanic feeling"
that is at the heart of religious experience. According to J ames, when everything comes
together, oneself, everyone else, the world, and divinity, it is like the feeling that we get
when we stare out at the infinite reach of the ocean: it is a little frightening, but it also
awe-inspiring and exhilarating. As human beings we seem to seek out this kind of
experience.
The purpose of the study of religion is not to produce religious states of mind. And yet
studying religion allows access to concepts that almost inevitably lead to the intellectual
parallel to J ames' "oceanic feeling." For example, reflecting on concepts of divinity - the
multitude of gods in the Hindu tradition, the revealed God of Christianity, the gods of the
earth in indigenous traditions, and so many other forms - is one of the deepest and most
remarkable forms of academic inquiry. Other concepts and traditions open onto a similar
depth: the seemingly infinite "hyper-text" of J ewish and Hindu scripture, or the Buddhist
concepts of nirvana, or emptiness, to name just a few. The study of religion brings to the
forefront ideas that are outside of normal expectation and everyday concern.
Intellectually, they open a great, sometimes overwhelming beyond.
It is difficult for most scholars to know exactly what religious people experience in their
most profound moments. By opening a window onto remarkable concepts and ideas,
however, the religious studies department it is one of the places in the modern university
where intellectual wonder thrives.
LIVING AND DOING:
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Religion is just as much about doing as it is about believing, feeling, or thinking.
Religious rituals are not just window-dressing for the core beliefs of a religious tradition;
ritual practices form identity and sustain tradition. Some would even suggest that
religious ideas, belief, and faith would have no energy without ritual.
Borrowing from sociology and anthropology, religious studies teaches us to observe.
When we start looking at what religious people do, we can only be struck by wonder and
curiosity. Why in the world do religious people perform certain actions? Why would
someone walk hundreds of miles to bathe in a river? Why do people go to so much
trouble to eat the right food at the right time? How does someone arrive at the point
where she feels that a divine spirit is speaking her? These questions (and so many others
like them) are addressed through close attention to, and then interpretation of, ritual.
But the examination of ritual is not limited to the precincts of a church, temple, or holy
place. Even for the most secular among us, life is guided by rituals. Everyday activities
guided by rules and conventions seem to offer us both practical results and a sense of
meaning and structure. For the religious person, there seems to be a deep connection
between religious practice and the way life is lived.
As students of religion, we might talk about the importance of ritual this way: religious
ritual is practice, in the same sense as practicing a jump shot or a dance routine. But
religious rituals are practice not just for a game or performance: they are practice for the
whole of one's life. As a consequence, when we study religious ritual, we gain a deep
understanding of the way another person lives, thinks, and acts.
THE SPECTACLE:
Religious people often turn to the written and solemnly spoken word to commune with
what they consider to be most important in life. But another side of religion consistently
appears: striking artistic objects and grand performances that engage all of the senses.
Because quiet reading and solemn speech cannot always convey the deepest truths,
religious traditions have evoked some of the most astounding products of the human
imagination to present them more vividly. In music, sculpture, painting, costumes, and
now in contemporary media, like television, film, and the Internet, religion has often
produced quite a spectacle.
Everyone knows about examples of the remarkable art inspired by religion.
Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel is one of the most famous examples; we might also think
about Handel's Messiah, or the expansiveness of the great European cathedrals. Beyond
the West, the forms change, but the scale and spectacle is often on the same level.
Tibetan tapestries depict mandalas, which are incredibly complex ritual diagrams
depicting holy people and all the regions of the cosmos. Members of the J ain religious
tradition have erected one of the most impressive statues in the world: a fifty-seven foot
tall depiction of one of its great saints, Bahubali, near Mysore, India. And in J ava,
Indonesia, eighth century Buddhists constructed the temple Borobudur, which contains
55,000 square meters of stone and 10 stories that depict the life of the Buddha and levels
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of his teaching. These are but scattered examples: one could spend a lifetime
investigating and appreciating the awe-inspiring religious monuments of times past.
Art and structures on a grand scale have become famous, but for religious people, the
most intimate objects are often most important. Ritual objects, household altars, iconic
replicas, and small works of art often serve to recreate a more personal form of the
religious spectacle in the home or the neighborhood place of worship. Many scholars find
these objects the most interesting, for they are the prayer beads that are touched everyday,
the image that is constantly venerated, or the clothes and ornamentation that mark
identity and faith. They are treasures that carry a wealth of religious meaning and
emotion for the individual worshiper.
In our day and age, new forms of technology mediate the religious spectacle, both grand
and intimate. Religious themes permeate popular forms of entertainment, including
music, film, and television. In addition, religious people have turned to new forms of
media to get their message out and even to worship. Christian preachers have always
made their presence known on American television, for example, and some of these
charismatic figures have even suggested that touching the screen could make a
connection to the Holy Spirit. In another striking development, Hindu websites present
the image of a divine figure and suggest that worshipers take the darshan of the god, a
form of reverence where the devotee sees the god - and the god looks back.
In these and so many other examples, the spectacle of religion continues to present itself,
and students of religion are following along, charting the all of the astonishing new
developments.
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WHAT WILL I STUDY?
If you're a current or prospective college student, perhaps you're curious about religion:
you're ready to study the topic in more detail, with an expert in the field, or maybe you
know you want to go further and become a major. The study of religion has established
itself as an indispensable part of American colleges or universities, so wherever you
decide to attend college, or wherever you find yourself now, you are likely to find
courses in religion as part of the curriculum. But the array of different courses or
programs can be a little bewildering. Different places offer different things. Even within
the course offerings of a single religion department, it can be difficult to know where to
start. And if you want to go into more depth, what is a religion major expected to do?
This page is designed to lend a hand with these matters. Here you'll be able to find out:
What different schools have to offer when it comes to studying religion
What professors do in specific religion courses, especially introductory courses
What it's like to be a religion major
Students of religion reflect on their studies
Overall, this page will give you a good general sense about what it's like to study religion
in an American college or university. You should also follow its links to get the specific
information you need about individual schools and programs.
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What professors do in specific religion courses, especially introductory
courses
The vast majority of colleges and universities will offer introductory courses. Some look
at religion through a specific lens, like death and the afterlife or pilgrimage. Others offer
a broad survey in the foundational aspects of world religions. Still others focus on
scripture or the foundations of belief and theology. Whatever the approach, the intro
course is the gateway to the advanced study of religion.
For many students, the introduction is the only religion course they will take. As a
consequence, professors offer introductory courses that stand on their own. Even if you
don't pursue further study, at most schools the introductory course in religion will serve
you well, both intellectually and practically: at three out of every four schools, the
introductory course in religion counts towards general education requirements, adding to
progress towards graduation.
By looking at individual syllabi (a syllabus is the plan for a college course), you'll get a
good sense of readings, assignments, and goals in introductory religion courses. For a
thorough collection, see The Wabash Center Religion: Introductory Courses (Syllabi)
page.
Beyond the introduction, religion departments and programs offer a wide variety of more
advanced courses on specific areas of study. According to a survey conducted by the
AAR:
86% of departments offer a course in Christianity
65% of departments offer a course on J udaism
51% of them offer a course on Islam or Buddhism
50% offer a course on Hinduism
37% have a course on Confucianism
At many colleges and universities, you can also take a course in:
Biblical Studies
World Religions (Eastern and Western)
Theology
American religions
Arts, literature and religion
Religious ethics
New religious movements
Philosophy of religion
Race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality and religion
Ritual studies
Social scientific approaches to religion
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If you are interested in the way these courses are taught, have a look at the syllabi
presented at the AAR Syllabus Project.
As you might notice from examining individual course syllabi, religion professors design
a wide variety of assignments and exercises to help you learn about the subject matter. In
college courses you'll still have to take exams, but studying religion often requires
methods that go beyond simply learning "the facts." In class, you will often be
encouraged to present your views in an exchange with your professor and peers.
Sometimes you'll be expected to do group projects or presentations. Depending on your
specific subject matter, written work may be assigned that will require critical analysis of
texts or informed personal reflection. In addition, visits to religious sites are also
important in many religion courses, offering the opportunity to observe religious practice
firsthand. Taking a religion course often requires much more than memorization; it can
be a full educational experience that extends well beyond the walls of the classroom.
What it's like to be a religion major
If you choose to concentrate on religion in your undergraduate studies, your school will
require that you complete certain requirements. These requirements vary, but in general:
Most departments or programs will require that you take an introductory course
You will then be expected to take a certain number of advanced classes
In some cases you'll be required to concentrate even further on a particular topic
(for example, sociology of religion) or tradition (like Buddhism)
Also, many programs and departments also require that you take courses on a
certain number of religious traditions (for example, you may be required to take
courses on three different traditions to major in religion).
Some departments also have a capstone class or seminar, which is required of all
advanced majors (usually seniors). The topic for these seminars is often very
specific (for example, the religious significance of J erusalem), or it is devoted to
theory and methodology in the study of religion
These are only generalizations. For details on what a specific school requires for religion
concentrators, you should view its departmental website. Here is a sampling, representing
many different types of institutions where religion and theology are taught:
Albertson College of Idaho
Boston University
Calvin College
Princeton University
Siena College
University of California Santa Barbara
University of Florida
Villanova University
Wesleyan University
Wheaton College
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You can find other schools by consulting the American Academy of Religion's Find
Religion databases. For Undergraduate programs check the Find Religion Undergraduate
Programs page. For graduate programs check the Find Religion Graduate Programs page.
To discover where you might go with a religion major, consult Where Will I Go with It?

Students of religion reflect on their studies
Current Religion Majors
Reasons that I study religion: to understand more about different types of religious
sensibilities about which I have only heard, and about some that I have never heard of.
By delving into different forms of religions by way of studying religious scholars and
thinkers, and those who truly made a difference in world religions like Martin Luther,
Origen, Zoroaster, Mohammed, and the Patriarchs of the Old Testament, to name a few,
one establishes a point of view that forever changes the way one thinks about living, life,
history, mythology and one's own place in the world, along with never taking anything
that is read at its face value. It makes one think more deeply and profoundly.
Studying religion has helped me in my other studies; it has helped me read literature on a
deeper level, even reading for pleasure, outside of academia.
Studying religion rounds out all other studies; it enriches everything else that one views
or holds an opinion about. It centered me personally, and it has made me think in a
broader scheme on many levels.
Fred Giacinto
Current Religion Major
Hunter College
I decided to study religion because, as a freshman at Reed, I couldn't make up my mind
about whether to major in philosophy, history, English, anthropology, or in a foreign
language - so I opted to study what draws on all of these. As a student of Islam in
particular, I have had the freedom to explore so many facets of Muslim religious culture,
from modern Arab short stories to Iranian cinema, from J avanese wayang kulit theater to
African-American liberation theology. All of these things - literature, film, theater,
cultural studies and more - are part and parcel to studying religion. In short, then,
studying religion gives me an extraordinary freedom to explore human culture from
myriad perspectives.
Despite the secularist narratives that often dominate our thinking about modernity and the
contemporary world, I believe there are few human experiences that are beyond the
purview of religiosity. Religion truly pervades how we define and conceive ourselves as
human beings.
Brannon Ingram
Current Religion Major
Reed College
Graduates
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My undergraduate studies as a religion major at the University of Vermont have been
invaluable in my post-graduate life. Currently, I am scheduled to enroll in law school
during the fall of 2004. I have found that many law schools are interested in recruiting
students from diverse undergraduate majors. A background in religious studies is all the
more attractive to these schools because religion is becoming such an important factor in
current lawmaking, U.S. politics and foreign relations. Studying religion made me well
prepared for future academic study and for the workforce by sharpening my analytical
skills while encouraging an open mind and curiosity in the world around me.
Katie Doyle
University of Vermont, Class of 2003
In an increasingly pluralistic world, it is absolutely necessary to have knowledge of faith
traditions other than one's own. A religious studies (course/concentration/major) allows
the student to critically engage the beliefs and practices of various traditions. These
opportunities for engagement open the possibility for transformative learning
experiences.
One benefit of a religious studies degree is that it is almost always interdisciplinary. The
phenomenon we describe as religion is difficult to separate into its own neat category.
Religion is intricately interwoven with all facets of life, thus the approach of study is
naturally discursive. So for those of us who have broad interests that defy specialization,
religious studies allows us to have our cake and eat it too. In my religious studies classes,
I have studied art, architecture, history, literature, music, philosophy, poetry,
psychology...
On a more practical level, religious studies students have the opportunity to develop skills
in textual analysis and in written and oral communication.
Barrett Ingram
Millsaps College, Class of 2003
M.Div. Candidate, Vanderbilt Divinity School