The Department of Religious Studies at Kenyon College approaches religion as a global and pluralistic phenomenon. We understand the study of religion as a crucial element in the larger study of culture and history. We consider the study of religion to be inherently trans-disciplinary and a necessary component for intercultural literacy and, as such, essential to the liberal art curriculum. Our goals include helping students to recognize and examine the important role of religion in history and the contemporary world; to explore the wide variety of religious thought and practice, past and present; to develop methods for the academic study of particular religions and religion in comparative perspective; and to develop the necessary skills to contribute to the ongoing discussion of the nature and role of religion.
Since the phenomena that we collectively call ‘religion” are so varied, it is appropriate that they be studied from a variety of theoretical perspectives and with a variety of methods. The diversity of areas of specialization and approaches to the study of religion among our faculty members ensures the representation of many viewpoints. Our courses investigate the place of religion in various cultures in light of social, political, economic, philosophical, psychological and artistic questions. In our courses we emphasize work with primary sources, both textual and non-textual. We offer courses in Judaism, Christianity, Religions of the Americas, Islam, Buddhism, South Asian religions, and East Asian religions as well as comparative courses on a variety of themes ranging from the environment to issues of peace and social justice. Our students are encouraged to study relevant languages, and to spend at least part of their junior year abroad in an area of the world relevant to their particular interests. We also encourage religious studies majors to take relevant courses in other departments. The Department of Religious Studies maintains close relationships with interdisciplinary programs such as Asian, American Studies, and African Diaspora Studies, International Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies. Our courses require no commitment to a particular faith. However, students of any background, secular or religious, can benefit from the personal questions of meaning and purpose that arise in every area of the subject.
1. To introduce students to the fundamental concepts and issues in the academic study of religion.
2. To help students develop a basic familiarity with and an appreciation for the diversity of religious traditions.
3. To give students a sense of how religion is related to the existential problems that people face, and how people fashion answers to these problems based on their understanding of the nature of the world.
4. To provide students with an understanding of the interactive relationship between religion and society, i.e., how religion is related to politics, class, gender and even race issues.
5. To give students an appreciation for various religious traditions and help them to think empathetically and critically about these traditions as well as the phenomenon of religion as a whole.
6. To encourage students to think about the social, political, and cultural implications of religious practices and worldviews, especially as these relate to issues of justice and other aspects of human relationship.
Our senior exercise consists of several parts: a seminar, a paper written outside of the seminar, an objective exam and, finally, discussion of the senior exercise papers in small groups of faculty and students (the symposium).
We looked for well-articulated essays that addressed a topic in religious studies with originality and imagination. We also evaluated each student’s ability to raise critical and useful questions about the topics covered in the papers of other students. We assess students’ ability to grasp, retain and recall information about important concepts and facts central to religious studies in general as well as specific traditions and issues. We encourage and evaluate students’ ability to communicate verbally their knowledge and critical reflections on religious topics or issues.
When all of this is completed, we meet with our senior majors to discuss the process. Together we address any changes that they propose as well as any modifications to our senior exercise that we are considering.