The academic study of religion on the campus of Vanderbilt University starts with the Department of Religious Studies. Our first and primary mission is to educate students in the nature, history, and function of different religious traditions, individually and comparatively. Care is taken to situate these religions in their cultural and social contexts, while examining the critical roles they play in shaping individual and group perspectives on the conduct of human affairs. The department offers a major in Religious Studies, a minor in Religious Studies, and an Honors track. At present, areas of concentration include (alphabetically) African-American Religious Traditions, Buddhism and Asian Religious Traditions, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. The department also offers a dedicated 20-hour minor in Islamic studies and an 18-hour minor in Arabic Language.
The general approach to the study is initially descriptive, but multidisciplinary, while providing the student with a variety of analytical tools, theoretical perspectives, and practical methods for interpretation. The comparative component ensures that students recognize the commonalities of various religious traditions, thereby developing a sense of the abstract idea of generic ‘religion’ while maintaining a strong sense of the historical differences among traditions. Successful students should expect to emerge from the program with a set of analytical skills and disciplined perspectives on this all-important feature of human experience that will prepare them to thrive in an increasingly pluralistic, global community.
Students are given considerable freedom to shape their 31-hour major or 18-hour minor in religious studies around their own interests. Students are required to select courses that: (I) introduce them to the rich diversity of religious traditions of the world (II) familiarize them in depth with one religious tradition, or a group of traditions clustered in a geographic area, and (III) develop the student’s grasp of theory and method in the study of religion.
The Religious Studies Majors Association is strong and ongoing at Vanderbilt. Membership in the Association provides students with the opportunity to meet and interact with an intellectually and internationally diverse group of individuals. Association activities include community service opportunities as well as intellectually enriching events such as films and speakers. Religious Studies majors are also encouraged to study abroad. This experience broadens the student’s scope of multicultural understanding and has the potential to include preparatory research for a senior project.
A major in Religious Studies, besides the personal growth it affords, lays a solid foundation on which to build a career in professions that demand critical thinking and conceptual flexibility in interacting with diverse populations. Students enter a variety of careers, including medicine, law, ministry, communications, and politics.
The Religious Studies faculty members represent a broad range of religious traditions and include many nationally and internationally acclaimed scholars and authors. Pedagogically, the faculty focuses on training students to expand their perspectives by cultivating skills such as interpretation, description, analysis, comparison, and evaluation. A fuller description of individual faculty members and their teaching and research interests can be found at the departmental web site, as.vanderbilt.edu/religiousstudies.
Department of Religious Studies
301 Garland Hall
2301 Vanderbilt Place
VU Box #351585
Nashville, TN 37235
Phone: (615) 322-4884
Fax: (615) 343-1327