Why Study Religion at W&L?
Religious studies is an interdisciplinary field focusing on the study of specific traditions and the general nature of religion as a human phenomenon. It spans cultures around the world, ancient as well as modern. It also combines a variety of methodologies — including textual, historical, social, scientific, philosophical and art-historical approaches. It is an integral part of the liberal arts curriculum.
Majoring in religion provides excellent preparation for careers in law, journalism, business, politics, writing, medicine, teaching, counseling and the arts, as well as for advanced study in religious studies, the humanities or social sciences. Several of our graduates have gone on to pursue a profession as clergy, as well. Washington and Lee’s Religion Department helps students grasp the scope and impact of religion all across the world, past and present, with courses on many traditions. In short, religion majors learn to be well-informed and independent thinkers with strong research and analytical skills, which can be applied in many professions.
About the Department
The Religion Department’s goals are:
- To teach about the world’s religious traditions, introducing students to the thought, beliefs, institutions, symbolic expressions, worship, and social and moral implications of these traditions, and to illuminate their interaction with other social and cultural forms, including other religious traditions;
- To introduce students to the various methods employed in religious studies: historical, philosophical and theological, sociological and psychological, textual, hermeneutical and aesthetic, and comparative;
- To provide a place for addressing big questions of value, meaning and human cares, and for assessing the ways these are addressed in religious communities;
- To encourage students to think about religious ways of life tolerantly, sympathetically, and yet critically.
Besides those (relatively few) students who go on to graduate study in religious studies, or train for the clergy, most of our graduates pursue a wide range of paths, including law, medicine, graduate study in other fields, teaching, public service, military service, business and more. Here are some examples:
- The Rev. Dr. Jennifer Strawbridge ’01 is associate professor in New Testament Studies at the University of Oxford.
- Kerry Egan ’95 is an author, blogger and media commentator on religion.
- Kathryn (Kate) Shellnutt ’08 is associate editor and contributor at Christianity Today.
- Jacob Spencer ’06 earned a law degree at Harvard and is now a law clerk in the federal judiciary.
- Lisa Reppell ’09 earned a master’s at Sabanci University (Turkey) and is a research officer at the International Foundation for Electoral Systems.
- Micaela Coffey McGlone ’09 is a research specialist at OpenStax.
- Christopher Washnock ’12 went on to get a master’s in religion at Yale; he is assistant director of outreach for the Council on Foreign Relations.
- Wayde Marsh ’13 earned a master’s in divinity from Duke and is now pursuing a Ph.D. in Political Science at Notre Dame University.
- Brett Bauer ’15 is a communications and legislative assistant for National Community Action Foundation.
- Leigh M. Dannhauser ’14 serves in the Peace Corps in Cameroon.
- Kelly T. Harris ’12 finished medical school at Johns Hopkins University and is now a medical researcher in urology at Johns Hopkins.
Opportunities for Students
Religion professors teach two interdisciplinary Spring Term Abroad courses. Caste at the Intersection of Economy, Religion, and Law allows students to spend four weeks in Nepal for a 360-degree survey of caste in South Asia. Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland immerses students for four weeks in the literature, religious traditions, history and culture of Ireland.
We also encourage students to consider semester and year-long study abroad options.