Religious Studies

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Bongeunsa Buddhist Temple, Seoul, South Korea

Most of us think we know what “religion” is until we try to define it. At that point we realize it’s not as simple as we might have assumed. Religion can be viewed in terms of beliefs, prayers, texts, communities, and rituals, but it can also be about bodies, money, power, the environment, death, family, or gender. 

This complexity means that religions lend themselves to multiple methods of inquiry – from humane studies like theology, history, anthropology, and literary criticism, to scientific studies like sociology, economics, psychology, and even evolutionary biology.

The American Academy of Religion recommends that all college graduates be able to “discern accurate and credible knowledge about diverse religious traditions and expressions; recognize the internal diversity within religious traditions; explain how religions have shaped—and are shaped by—the experiences and histories of individuals, communities, nations, and regions; interpret how religious expressions make use of cultural symbols and artistic representations of their times and contexts; and distinguish confessional or prescriptive statements about religion from descriptive or analytical statements.”

At Alma College, the study of religion includes a diversity of voices and perspectives. Our conversations are enriched by “insiders” – who may be well-informed or devout religious practitioners – as well as “outsiders” – including atheists, agnostics, or religious people who are studying religions other than their own. We make no assumptions about our students’ religious commitments or past experiences; our only requirement is that students enter conversations fully, inquisitively, and respectfully.


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