When you study the world's religious traditions, you learn about the histories, literatures, practices and beliefs that have shaped human societies. You study rituals and festivals that give meaning to time and place, disciplines that develop modes of perception and attention, ideas of holiness, justice, love, and beauty through which human beings have expressed their highest ideals.
Citizens of the world need working knowledge of the religious traditions that inform people's lives. Human interactions - whether they take place in a local medical practice or an international embassy, on the local school board or between international trading partners - are clarified and enriched when we understand whether, and, if so, how and why religious values orient the participants. So one needs opportunities to study and reflect on religious traditions that shape the societies to which one belongs, as well as opportunities to understand the beliefs and practices of others.
The major in religious studies is designed to give you such opportunities. The study of religions offers a window on the liberal arts curriculum. Because religious traditions have touched every aspect of human cultures, our field draws from a wide variety of academic disciplines, such as anthropology, history, sociology, literary criticism, gender and women's studies, philosophy, and Africana and Latin American studies. And whether you are reading some of humanity's most influential texts, reworking perennial questions of human existence, or reflecting on contemporary intersections between religion and society, you will be challenged to develop skills in critical thinking and communication. Such skills, along with the breadth of knowledge and perspective gained in the study of world religions, prepare our majors for a full range of opportunities in life.
While our faculty have expertise in particular religious traditions, we are also committed to the comparative study of religion. This means that we are interested in asking questions about the similarities and differences that appear in the history of religions, about historical interactions among religious communities, and about the nature of human religiosity in general. The comparative approach also supports the department's long-standing interest in religious diversity and contemporary interfaith dialogue.
Many of our courses deal with sacred texts and how they are interpreted and practiced by the followers of different religious traditions. You will frequently find that interpretations can be more important than the original text. The religious studies faculty also integrates into most courses the experience of women and marginalized people within the traditions. So, your study at Grinnell will provide you with the opportunity to understand not only the dominant voices and prevailing ideas within the world's religions, but also the voices and experiences of those who have historically been marginalized and are now emerging in exciting movements for theological and institutional change.
Faculty encourage students to develop and pursue their own research interests and to respond to course materials with creative projects. Students are also encouraged to do independent study. In the past students have developed independent projects studying women in Islam, the Russian religious mind, Jewish-Christian relations, and many of the most significant theologians of our time, including Thomas Merton, Abraham Heschel, Rosemary Ruether, Paul Tillich, Gandhi, and the Dalai Lama. Special Topics courses are frequently offered within the department, including courses on the Holocaust, the Jews of Eastern Europe, the psychology of religion, the contemporary Muslim world, and mystical dimensions of the religious traditions of the world.