Before coming to college, most students don’t even realize that there is such a thing as “religious studies,” especially in a secular university such as ours. But there is! Religious studies is an exciting and fascinating field, and we hope you’ll consider making it part of your educational experience.
The study of religion is not “religious.” That is, we don’t study religion from any particular religious perspective. Rather, we are about the academic study of religion, exploring and interpreting various religious beliefs, ideas, texts, practices and institutions from a variety of scholarly perspectives—comparative, historical, cognitive, literary, sociological, anthropological and philosophical, among others. Indeed, religious studies is inherently interdisciplinary, adopting a variety of disciplinary approaches to a variety of religious subjects, from “obviously” religious ones like the Torah, a Buddhist pilgrimage or the Christian idea of the Trinity, to less obvious ones like a political party’s environmental platform, a Bollywood movie or a terrorist cell.
Religion is an inescapable part of our world. It courses through politics, economics, ethics, social mores, domestic values, art, culture, scientific discourse and foreign policy. According to a recent Pew poll, five out of every six people in the world claims a religious affiliation. Indeed, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has stated that America’s failure to understand the role of religion, in all its diversity, in the world today “poses one of the greatest challenges to our public diplomacy.” There is an urgent need for educators, policymakers, news shapers, community organizers and political leaders who understand how religion and religious convictions and controversies influence culture and society, locally and globally.
First, we have faculty that is strong both in teaching (virtually every faculty member has been nominated or awarded a Wittke Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching) and in research. The department is made up of nationally and internationally recognized scholars specializing in a number of major religious traditions and with expertise in a number of disciplines, from anthropology to history to philosophy.
Second, we have a flexible curriculum that allows students to shape their major or minor to fit their needs. The major and minor culminate in a capstone seminar that allows our students to come together and share research and insights from across our course offerings.
Finally, the University Circle area, and the Cleveland area more generally, offers a range of institutions to help students understand religion in action, whether in contemporary American society or in the art and culture of the past or in other parts of the world. As a department we are fully committed to taking advantage of this unique set of resources.
As a religious studies graduate, you will have a great deal to offer to potential employers in a wide range of fields, especially those in which cultural diversity plays an important role. As a liberal arts student, you will know how to communicate clearly in a variety of media, to use reason and logic to think critically and creatively, and to conduct pertinent research, collect data, and interpret and present it in ways that help an organization be more effective and productive. Beyond those basic but essential skills, your training in religious studies will prepare you especially well to work in culturally diverse social settings as an educator or community leader.
Many of our majors, about one in five, continue their studies on the graduate level. Recent graduates of our program have gone on to master’s and doctoral programs in the academic study of religion at the University of Chicago, Emory University, Harvard University, Indiana University, the University of Virginia and Yale University, to name a few. Other students have gone on to professional graduate schools (seminaries and divinity schools) in preparation for vocations as ministers, imams, rabbis or priests. Still other graduates have gone on to professional careers in medicine or law. In fact, national research indicates that religious studies majors have a much higher than average rate of acceptance into medical school, law school and other graduate programs.
Graham Snowdon, “What To Do with a Degree in Theology or Religious Studies?”