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Religious Studies

Overview of the Program

The religion major recognizes that one of the aims of a college education is to enable students to see their individual beliefs, practices, rituals and stories as situated within a larger narrative that encompasses multiple perspectives and practices. Acquiring that broadened perspective is, in large part, what it means to be an educated person.

At first glance, liberal arts programs—a major in philosophy or religious studies, for example—may not seem immediately "practical." But the words of Sister Kathleen Feeley, past president of the College of Notre Dame in Baltimore, are worth thinking about: "Your education," she said, "must in some sense be timeless—philosophy, history, art, music, religious studies, literature—in order to be truly timely."

Religious studies can prepare students for graduate and professional study in a surprisingly wide variety of fields. The study of religion is not training for a narrow specialty, but is instead training for life: life as a thoughtful and skilled participant in the world of work, life as a responsible citizen of the larger community and life as a steward of the manifold riches of the world's great civilizations.

At the same time, however, many of our graduates in religion have gone on to careers in religious professions. Some have become ordained clergy while others have served as laypeople in religious organizations, working, for example, in pastoral care, grief counseling, church music or religious education. Courses at Hood useful for students going on to a Christian seminary would likely include courses in Scripture, church history, ethics and—for perspec- tive—other world religions. In addition, some knowledge of philosophy, literature, psychology and history is also invaluable. Religion majors have often gone on to pursue master's degrees in religious studies, either a Master of Divinity (M.Div.: the professional ministerial degree, usually three years to completion) or an M.A. or M.A.R. (Master of Arts in religious studies, often a two-year degree).

The Religion Major

In order to understand the world in which we live and the worlds in which our ancestors lived, we must understand religion. A prominent scholar of religion, Jacob Neusner, believes that "when we study religion we study the subject which unifies all the other subjects of the humanities. If we do not study religion, we are not studying what is important about ourselves in the world."

The study of religion is not only for students intending to become clergy. While some Hood religion majors attend seminary or undertake gradu- ate programs in religious studies, most do not. These students major in religion for the same reasons that other students major in history or lit- erature: to cultivate a deeper grounding in a discipline of interest to them and to master a variety of useful skills.

The major in religion emphasizes the study of the texts, customs, myths and rituals of numerous religious traditions. In addition to the Christian tradition, we offer courses in Islam, Judaism, Chinese Thought and Indian Thought. Our degree program also offers a wide range of courses emphasizing different approaches to religion such as Old Testament, Myth Symbol and Ritual, The Politics of the Black Church and American Religious History. Faculty also help students develop the critical thinking and analytic skills needed for detailed study of religious tenets and texts. Graduates have excelled in a variety of graduate and professional schools.

The religion major requires a minimum of 30 credits (10 courses) in religion at the 200 level or above, and must include the following religion courses:

  • What Is "Religion"?
  • Myth, Symbol and Ritual
  • Seminar

Students also take at least one of the following courses:

  • Old Testament
  • New Testament
  • The Christian Heritage

At least one of the following courses:

  • Judaism
  • Black Theology
  • Politics of the Black Church
  • Western Spirituality: Contemporary Issues
  • Liberation Theologies

At least two of the following courses:

  • Islam
  • Indian Thought
  • Chinese Thought

And three electives, at least one of which must be a junior- or senior- level religion course.

For electives, students may choose to take more than the minimum number of courses required in each category above. Students may also take:

  • Eastern Religions
  • Abolitionism to Human Rights
  • C.S. Lewis and Friends
  • Religion, Family and Society in Reformation Europe
  • History of Philosophy: The Ancient World to the Renaissance
  • History of Philosophy: The Early Modern Era to the 20th Century
  • The American Intellectual Tradition
  • Independent Study in Religion
  • Internship in Religious Studies

Students majoring in religion often complete internships during their undergraduate studies to prepare for graduate work and future career paths. Hood religion majors have participated in internships at organi- zations such as:

  • Legislative bodies and government agencies
  • Health research institutes and hospitals
  • Churches and synagogues
  • Religious coalitions for the homeless
  • Businesses

These internships enable students to explore business ethics, medical ethics, the role of religion in society, the relation between belief and ritual, and the goals and operations of the political sphere.

Alumni Success Stories

Recent graduates are pursuing successful careers as lawyers, teach- ers, clergy and businesspeople. Departmental majors have gone on to graduate and professional programs at such universities as Georgetown University, The George Washington University, Drew University, Vanderbilt University, the University of Maryland, Gettysburg Theological Seminary, Virginia Theological Seminary, Duke University and The Catholic University of America.

Learn more about the major and the department.