Why Study Religion at W&L?
Religious studies is by nature an interdisciplinary field, combining methods that are textual and visual, sociological and psychological, philosophical and historical. Its objects of study, religion and the religions, span cultures around the world. They are ancient as well as modern. The study of religion therefore invites students into a field that is as vast as time and space while being of the utmost relevance to life today.
The Religion Department is dedicated to studying religion as a complex and dynamic phenomenon deeply interwoven with other aspects of life and culture. It is an integral part of the liberal arts curriculum of the university. The theories we use and the issues we address cut across the interests of so many other departments that the study of religion can inform a student’s entire course of study.
Students of religion learn to be well-informed and independent thinkers with strong research and analytical skills. The study of it therefore provides excellent preparation for life after W&L, helping students succeed at careers in law, journalism, business, politics, writing, medicine, teaching, counseling and the arts, as well as preparing them for advanced study in religious studies, the humanities or social sciences.
About the Department
Courses in the Religion Department:
- 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;
- Address big questions of value, meaning and human cares, and assess the ways these are addressed in religious communities;
- Explore the interaction of religious traditions with other social and cultural forms;
- Introduce students to the various methods employed in religious studies: historical, philosophical and theological, sociological and psychological, textual, hermeneutical and aesthetic, and comparative;
- Encourage students to think about religious ways of life tolerantly, sympathetically and yet critically.
Students of religion have gone on to be successful in all walks of life. Some go on to graduate study or train for the clergy, but most pursue careers in areas such as law, medicine, teaching, public service, business.... you name it. The possibilities are almost limitless. 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
Grants from the university have supported student research in fields advised by professors of religion. Professors have also welcomed students as summer research assistants through similar university programs.
The department offers interdisciplinary Spring Term Abroad courses for students interested in the subject matter.
Grants from the department have supported student participation in undergraduate research conferences, and students have been invited to support department-sponsored research events.
The greatest opportunity for students is, of course, to be part of an intellectually serious and vibrant community. You will be stimulated in body, heart and mind by engaging with people of utmost interest and concern.