The Department of Religious Studies provides undergraduate and graduate instruction in the academic study of religion in a pluralistic, multicultural, and global context; conducts and publishes research related to religion; and provides service that enhances public understanding of issues related to religion. Religious studies faculty also contribute to the institutional work of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the University. Our mission is to foster critical understanding of the significance of religion in human societies and cultures.
Statement of Shared Values
We, the faculty of UNC Charlotte’s Department of Religious Studies, strive to help students understand the complex histories and lived realities of religious traditions; to remember that no religious tradition is a single, monolithic reality; and to avoid making broad, sweeping judgments about any large group of people. Not only are these the best practices of the academic study of religion, but, as scholars of religion, we are keenly aware of the devastating and catastrophic harm that occurs when people fail to abide by them. We share the concerns of our professional organizations, the American Academy of Religion and the Society for Biblical Literature, that failure to understand and interpret religion, religious history, and religious identity thoughtfully hinders the free exchange of ideas, distorts public understanding of religious traditions and religious difference, threatens the safety and well-being of faculty and students, and undermines the basic values of the educational mission of the modern university.
As employees of UNC Charlotte, we are committed to developing a “robust intellectual environment that values social and cultural diversity, free expression . . . and mutual respect.” As faculty in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, we work to build “a culture of intellectual and personal inclusion that . . . provides the means for understanding and negotiating the range of perspectives, experiences, and traditions essential to living ethically in an interdependent global culture.” This requires us to help our students understand the rich, vibrant history of Islam, along with a wide array of other religious traditions—along with their on-going contributions to American and global culture.
As employees of the state of North Carolina, we are prohibited from using the authority of our positions or the funds and supplies of the university to support or oppose any political candidate or issue, but as scholars of religion dedicated to providing exemplary undergraduate and graduate education and addressing the needs of the Charlotte region, we are obligated to use our classrooms and our scholarship to help our students and other audiences understand how to engage the reality of religious diversity well and the terrifying consequences of doing it poorly.
Student Learning Outcomes
Students in our classes will learn to
- Examine the historical, cultural, and textual dimensions of religion using the methods and approaches of the academic study of religions.
- Recognize the integral role of religion in cultures, especially as it relates to issues of race, class, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, identity, and power.
- Engage in self-reflective, open, informed, and civil conversation about diverse religious traditions.
- Develop transferable skill sets that include reading carefully, writing cogently, speaking effectively, and thinking critically.
The academic study of religions, in contrast to traditional theological studies, is a discipline that has solidly established itself over the past hundred years with departments of Religion/Religious Studies in every major college and university, public and private. The thriving American Academy of Religion (founded 1963) and with its allied sister organization, the Society of Biblical Literature (founded 1880), today boast 10,500 and 8,500 professional members respectively. Although the roots of the discipline reach back to the 18th and 19th centuries, grounded in what was called the “scientific” or “historical critical”study religions, it has developed, along with allied disciplines in the academy such as history, literature, philosophy, sociology, and anthropology, into a much more sophisticated enterprise in terms of its methods and understanding of its mission and goals.
The Department of Religious Studies at UNC Charlotte was created in 1964 by President Bonnie Cone who hired Loy H. Witherspoon to establish a combined “Department of Philosophy and Religion” at Charlotte College. Religious Studies and Philosophy became two separate departments in 1972, reflecting a growing trend throughout the country towards departments of religious studies as rightly independent entities, separate from either the venerable traditions of theology or philosophy. There were four full-time-faculty members at the time. Today we number fourteen. In 2012, we marked our 40th aniversary. As such we are one of the oldest departments of Religious Studies in the academy and one that is looked to nationally as an example of success and a model for the future.
Broadly, Religious studies is the academic inquiry into the fundamental stories, symbols, and practices that human beings have relied on to make sense of themselves and the worlds in which they live. The department pursues this inquiry across a range of religious traditions by examining their textual, historical and cultural dimensions. This inquiry does not seek to determine which religious views are “right” or “true,” but rather attempts to gain insight into how religious systems of meaning-making have shaped the cultural orders in which we live—with particular attention to how religious discourses have shaped understandings of race, gender, sexuality, nation, and class. The department is explicitly committed to the liberal arts tradition with a commitment to fostering both an international and pluralistic perspective as well as excellence in close reading, critical thinking and effective communication.
Religion is an important phenomenon encountered in many areas of the College of Liberal Arts and Science and the University, particularly in the traditional Humanities and Social Sciences (especially Anthropology, English, History, Philosophy, Sociology), so our interdisciplinary roots are deep and happily entwined, both in terms of areas of interest and academic methods. However, the department of Religious Studies is uniquely poised to bring a critical and focused expertise to the academic study of religions that includes a thorough knowledge of religious texts, the history and development of specific traditions and communities (including practices, rituals, beliefs, and ethical assumptions), understood within their broader cultural contexts. It is the collectiveaspect of this focused enterprise that has increasingly defined our field and promoted the academic study of religion as an essential part of any great university.