Mission & Goals of Religious Studies

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 organize perceptions of time and place, disciplines that develop modes of attention,  and ideas of holiness, justice, love, and beauty through which human beings have expressed their highest ideals. You develop tools to understand the complex ways that people across history and around the world oppose oppression, justify violence, understand their bodies, and give meaning to their lives.
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 religious pluralism.

To understand religious diversity and pluralism and to be an informed citizen of the world, one needs a 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. Our students have many 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 Religious Studies curriculum is among the most international on campus with courses covering religious traditions and religious phenomena in Europe, the U.S., East Asia, South Asia, and the Middle East. Many of our majors study abroad during their time at Grinnell.

Religious Studies faculty encourage students to develop and pursue their own research interests and engage in independent study and Mentored Advanced Projects.  Examples of recent MAP topics include: Welfare and Community in Islam, Postmodern Philosophy and Theology, Baptism in Judaism and Christianity, and Possession and Mysticism.

Finally, Religious Studies at Grinnell offers students the opportunity to engage both broadly and deeply in the liberal arts. 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, and philosophy. And whether you are reading some of humanity's most influential texts, exploring perennial questions of human existence, or reflecting on contemporary intersections between religion and society, our courses challenge students 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.


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