Division V Chair: S. Gowler
Program Chair: D. Smith
Religion Faculty: J. Pool, J. Richey, D. Smith, and M. Tooley
The Religion Program examines the religious phenomena of human life, experience, and history. The Program studies how religious communities and traditions have emerged as vital aspects of human cultures and have also shaped those cultures. Rather than advocating religion or any particular religious perspective, the academic study of religion at Berea College describes and analyzes the diversity of religious experience, traditions, communities, and issues. The academic study of religion explores forms in and through which humans have both articulated and responded to their most profound and persistent questions about the universe, human nature, the human condition, personal and social morality, human community, ultimate or sacred reality, and religious ways of knowing. The Program investigates ways in which humans have expressed or exercised the religious dimension of human life institutionally, socially, politically, psychologically, economically, ritually, morally, rhetorically, textually, intellectually, aesthetically, and personally. Acknowledging both the multi-disciplinary and the interdisciplinary requirements for this field of study, those who teach in the Program both employ and rely upon a wide variety of disciplinary approaches in studies of religious phenomena. The faculty of the Religion Program, for example, studies religious phenomena, including the major religious traditions and communities of the world, with historiographical, linguistic and literary, social-scientific, anthropological, philosophical, and theological methods of analysis and interpretation. As a result of the multi-disciplinary and interdisciplinary character of religious studies, the Religion Program cross-lists the majority of courses in this field of study in several other academic areas of study as well.
The academic study of religion enables students to explore many different human perspectives on the world, human life, and ultimate human concerns that appear within diverse cultures, across all historical periods, and through multiple traditions. The Religion Program provides several interrelated opportunities for students: (1) to cultivate understanding of religion or religious experience as a primary and enduring human response to and expression of the human condition; (2) to encounter many of the intellectual, practical, and theoretical issues and questions that attend the appearance of religion in human life and communities; (3) to acquire knowledge of diverse historical and contemporary religious communities, traditions, ideas, and phenomena, as well as knowledge of academic methods for the study of religion; (4) to examine some of the classic texts in both human religious history and the academic study of religion; (5) to develop descriptive, analytical, hermeneutical, critical, and constructive skills for the study of religious phenomena; (6) to sharpen abilities to communicate critically, yet constructively, through engagement with the religious practices and ideas of other people and their communities; and (7) to develop or to enhance appreciation for the complexities and possibilities of the academic study of religion.
The faculty of the Religion Program has designed the curriculum to attract students with interest in interdisciplinary (historiographical, philosophical, theological, sociological, psychological, anthropological, aesthetic, literary-critical, cultural) approaches to the study of religion. Students who focus their studies in other fields and disciplines (e.g., Art and Art History, Asian Studies, Child and Family Studies, Economics and Business, Education Studies, English, History, Nursing, Philosophy, Political Science, Psychology, Peace and Social Justice Studies, Sociology, Sustainability and Environmental Studies, Women’s and Gender Studies, among other potential areas of study) may profitably study the religious dimensions of those other bodies of human knowledge either through individual courses that contribute to their majors or minors, or by taking an additional major or minor in the study of religion.
As a result, courses in the study of religion become occasions for students to discover, to examine, and to understand the major features of various religious communities and traditions of the world: institutions, social organization and polity, leadership, moral systems, practices, rituals, sacred texts, and doctrines. Through its curriculum, the Religion Program offers both a major and a minor as basic foundations or backgrounds for graduate studies in several other or related fields for students who have interests in a variety of careers or vocations (e.g., ministry of various kinds, teaching, journalism, politics, law, social work, business, and medicine). The Program also offers introductory courses to students with other majors to encourage the exploration of religion in all its diversity as a support for studies in many other fields as well.