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Religious Studies

Religion is a complex and often contentious topic. While everyone might not have a handy theory about history or physics, it’s hard to find someone without a passionately held opinion about religion. Well aware of this fact, the Religious Studies Department takes a broadly historical approach to the study of religion, exploring religious texts, practices, ideas, communities, and institutions in the context of local, regional, and global histories.

Our curriculum ranges across four areas: Jewish and Christian origins, the history of the religious traditions of Western civilization (including America), the history of religious traditions of Asia, and the religious traditions of Islam. Within each area, we explore such issues as the nature and social context of religious texts; the development of religious doctrines in situations of both cooperation and contestation; the dynamic relations among religious, political, economic, and cultural life; the role of religion in constructions of gender, race, and class; and patterns of change within religious communities. We also investigate the very idea of religion and the varied ways people—religious practitioners as well as secular scholars—have sought to understand this category of human thought and action.

Introductory courses in the department (100- and 200-level courses) trace the emergence and development of various traditions and emphasize the mastering of foundational knowledge and methods of academic inquiry. Upper-level course treat selected topics in greater detail and pursue the state-of-the-art scholarly thinking in various sub-fields of the discipline.

The lifeblood of Religious Studies is its openness to creative, interdisciplinary inquiry; our courses and faculty draw from the fields of literary studies, history, sociology and anthropology, art, and even the natural sciences. Majors in the department hone their skills in research, writing, critical thinking, and persuasive argumentation, and many of our majors spend time on overseas programs. Deeply enmeshed as it is in the liberal arts tradition, Religious Studies is a route to exploring a fascinating dimension of the human experience.

Events

March 13th, 2015

  • Image preview 3:00pm: Religion/Modernity: Living on the Slash by Robert Orsi (Northwestern University)
    This lecture challenges the widespread agreement today among scholars of modern history and culture that modernity did not mean the end of religion, that modernity itself is a religious, as well as political and legal, project. This may be true, but such an account of the modern fails to capture the fate of special, supermundane beings since the sixteenth century: gods, ghosts, ancestors, spirits, demons, and so on. The “religion” that endured in modernity—that was legally codified, epistemologically sanctioned, and diagnosed as psychologically healthy—was purified of these beings. Modern “religion” consigned them to the past of the species and the infancy of the person. Looking at the experience of a Catholic survivor of clerical sexual abuse as she makes her way between the normative modern and “superstition,” which is the necessary other of the modern, the lecture considers what it means to live everyday life in a world of plural and incommensurate ontologies.

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Religious Studies

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