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Why Study Religion?

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We live in an age of rapid globalization - the transformation of the world into a single, highly interconnected unity. Our students travel extensively throughout the world. Their friends, neighbors, work colleagues and perhaps even relatives include people from many other countries and cultures. In such a world, we are all in the process of learning as fast as we can how to deal with "otherness," people who differ from us in significant ways. JMU's religion program plays a very large role in helping to prepare students to be educated and enlightened citizens because it helps us deal with "otherness," which is a task inherent to the future of the world in this era of globalization. The theologian Paul Tillich demonstrated that religion is "the depth dimension of culture," i.e., the foundation of the way we think and feel. Therefore, teaching religion is a direct way to help students to understand the diverse cultures of the world in which they live, the diverse peoples and cultures which, indeed, are now a part of American society.

Basic questions of human existence are addressed by religion: the meaning and purpose of life; the presence of death, sorrow and anxiety; the existence of God; questions of morality and justice; the possibilities of transcendence, salvation, peace, and liberation for individuals and communities. The academic study of religion explores how religion shapes culture and thought, forms values, and compels human action. Students majoring in Religious Studies, whatever their ultimate vocation might turn out to be, find themselves equipped to navigate skillfully in our culturally pluralistic, diverse world.

Of all the liberal arts, Religious Studies is the most comprehensive in its approach to culture and society. Scholars in other disciplines deal with religion fragmentarily, from single perspectives, if they deal with it at all. Religious Studies takes religion as the multi-faceted human reality it is—a sometimes controversial but often poorly understood phenomenon that leaves its mark all aspects of history, the arts, literature, culture, and society.

Religious Studies at JMU has a global focus. Students concentrating in Religion gain a broad knowledge of the major religions of the world from geographical, historical, literary, cultural, ethical, and political perspectives. Many choose to focus their advanced courses in one or two religious traditions, while others pursue interests in related areas such as ancient Mediterranean religions, biblical studies, theology, and ethics. Religion is approached academically, as a discipline in the humanities. Students of many different religious backgrounds, or of no religion at all, take Religion courses.