Why Study Religion at Westminster?
- Religion is, as one scholar suggests, “ultimate concern.” From this perspective, religion shapes our world views and motivates us at the deepest levels. To understand others and ourselves, the study of religion is essential.
- Religious Studies at Westminster employ a phenomenological viewpoint. That is, we attempt to study religions through the eyes of their followers and careful understanding of rituals, cultures, histories and sacred texts.
- Students not only develop basic knowledge of the histories, sacred texts, and world views of the major religious traditions of the world, but also attain the ability to utilize the various methods of understanding religious phenomena found in the discipline of religious studies.
- Students gain the ability to utilize the various critical methods of analyzing sacred texts (especially the Jewish and Christian Bibles) and demonstrate an understanding of religions within their cultural contexts.
- Religious Studies develop a student’s ability to reflect critically on their own religious perspectives and conceptually enhance their understanding. Leaders cannot hope to relate effectively to people of other cultures unless they understand their religions. Religious Studies courses at Westminster help students develop the tools and perspectives necessary for a balanced understanding of the world’s religions.
Majors in religious studies take at least nine three-hour courses of their choosing, including not only courses offered in religion but also courses that study religion in other departments (e.g., Sociology of Religion, Philosophy of Religion, Zen Buddhism and the Beat Poets, Asian Philosophy and Religion, Evolution and Intelligent Design, Magic and Witchcraft, Pagans and Christians and a number of others). Most religious studies majors are also able to double or even triple major, most frequently in religious studies and Classics, Philosophy, Political Science, Psychology and/or Sociology/Anthropology. Minors in religious studies take just eighteen hours, three lower level and three upper level courses.
In addition to the two basic courses offered every semester (Introduction to the Bible and World Religions), religious studies classes recently have included The Teachings of Jesus, Writings of Paul, Recent Christian Thought, Perceptions of Death, Native American Spirituality, Spiritual Ecology: Religion and the Environment, Religions and Cultures of India, and Religion and Politics. In their senior year, majors in religious studies are encouraged to do an independent study on a topic of special interest with a member of the faculty. Recent independent studies have included Women and Islam and the Book of Mormon.
Introduction to the Bible students visit Jewish and Christian places of worship in mid-Missouri to compare and contrast the various uses of the Bible in Synagogues and Churches and report on what they have observed. World Religions students apply the methods of studying religion they have learned in the course to new religious movements of their choosing (such as Christian Science and the Baha’i Faith) and present what they have learned to their classmates. In the past, students have had the opportunity to study on Native American reservations in South Dakota and on an archaeological excavation of a Biblical city in Israel.
Religous Studies majors are well equipped for jobs that involve relating at more than a superficial level to people from diverse cultures. Westminster Religious Studies graduates have typically gone into various kinds of service fields (including ministry, teaching, counseling, social world, law enforcement) but also into international business.
Quote from Student
“Not enough can be said about the value of being a Religious Studies major. Religious Studies is one of the cornerstones of a liberal arts education. It is a very fulfilling field in that you study what you are passionate about and at the same time, express what every human experiences in his or her life. We are all religious, and the Religious Studies major furthers this knowledge and experience. Westminster College wouldn’t be what it is without our Religious Studies students. For how can it be Westminster College if it is all “Scientia” and not “Religio” as well?—David Graves, ’09.
For more information on the Classics, Philosophy and Religious Studies Department at Westminster College, please contact:
Dr. Rich Geenen, Professor of Religious Studies