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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.


March 2nd, 2017

  • Image preview 3:30pm: “’By the Sweetness of the Tongue’: Stories, Lives, and Hindu Holy Women in India” by Antoinette E. DeNapoli (University of Wyoming)
    This presentation calls attention to the uncommon religious lives and worlds of Hindu holy women (sadhus) in India. As sadhus, these women practice an unconventional religious way of life known as renunciation. Sadhus in India are overwhelmingly men, and the elite religious institution in which they participate has traditionally excluded women from its ranks and leadership roles. How do female sadhus create their religious authority and earn the respect, trust, and devotion of their communities and, more generally, the society? How do their practices spotlight a female tradition of renunciation that offers an alternative to the dominant male traditions of renunciation practiced in India? In this presentation, Dr. DeNapoli presents the oral life histories of the female sadhus with whom she has worked over the last fifteen years in the North Indian state of Rajasthan. Through an exploration of the sadhus’ personal narratives, DeNapoli brings to light the cultural-religious categories, idioms, and mythic models through which female sadhus make sense of their worlds and their renunciation. Drawing on the metaphor of “singing to God,” which the sadhus foreground in their stories, DeNapoli shows that what it means to be a female sadhu in India involves performing the kind of radical devotion exemplified by the extraordinary lives of legendary female devotees.

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Religious Studies

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