A Religious Studies Major at BYU Pt. I

A Religious Studies Major at BYU Pt. I June 18, 2008

Okay, I know it will probably never happen, but…why can’t we blog about it as if it will happen?

Let’s say that a new major in Religious Studies is going to be offered this fall (meaning that we’ll have to use the resources currently available). How should the program be structured?

Most majors have four kinds of classes that a student must take (besides the general education requirements):

Core Classes: These are usually 1-4 classes that outline the general content of the field. The History department, for instance, requires:

  • World Civilizations to 1500
  • World Civilizations from 1500
  • American History Pt 1 
  • American History Pt 2 (these aren’t the actual titles)

A Theories (of Religious Studies) Course: This is usually taken during the sophomore year and serves as an introduction to the discipline. It is based in the methods used in the discipline.

Electives: Six to nine classes taken in various ‘areas’, most of which have to be from an area of ’emphasis’.

A Capstone Class: This course is usually taken during the senior year. Here the student gets more individualized assistance working on a large project.

So here are some questions for Part I:

What Core Classes should be required of all majors? Should a course on Mormonism, for instance, be required seeing as how we are at a LDS religious institution; and if so on what aspect of Mormonism (history, philosophy of religion, etc.)? Assuming that World Religions is one of the Core Classes, should the World Religions course currently being offered through the Religious Education department count? The same could be asked about New Testament or Old Testament courses if those should be required.

My opinion, given that we’re starting the major in the fall and don’t have faculty offering classes in a wide variety of religious traditions, is that four groups of classes should be required (students can choose one class from the group where more than one is listed)–World Religions, a class on Mormonism (the History of Mormonism or Philosophy of Religion of Mormonism), a class on the Biblical World (NT, OT, History of Christianity, etc.), and a class on textual interpretation (Intro to Hermeneutics, for instance). I don’t think the courses from Religious Education should count toward these requirements because the goals of the courses are different (although I think these courses should count toward their requirements), the approach is significantly different, and most of the classes are two credit hour classes. I could be persuaded that four required courses are too many, but I’m not sure which course to drop. If push came to shove I guess it would be the course on the area of the Bible (sorry Bible scholars).

It should be obvious by now that I have little to no idea of what I’m talking about so feel free to answer these questions in any way you see fit.

Since this is part I there are several other parts yet to come in which we can discuss other related issues (so you might want to save the comments related to those parts for there). I’m also open to suggestions, so let me know if you have other ideas.

The future parts will cover the following topics:

Pt II–The Theories Class(es): What topics should be covered? Who, or what books, should be read? Should an additional class be required for the junior year? How will this class serve to help students decide whether to major in religious studies? In other words, how will this class deal with student preconceptions of what religious studies is (an important question for our perceptions as LDSs)?

Pt III–Electives and More: What areas of emphasis should be offered? What other kinds of interdisciplinary work could be supported (e.g., religion and economics)? What departments and which personnel should be relied on?

Pt IV–What is the future direction of the department? What other areas of study should be incorporated? Are there LDSs who could teach in those areas? Could we ever talk of a graduate program? What is the future of the current RelEd program?

Before posting let me go over a few ground rules:

1) Let’s not discuss ‘how’ or ‘when’ such a program could materialize. I know odds are against it (ever happening), so let’s keep this in the purely hypothetical and discuss the ‘how’ or ‘when’ at a later date. Any post that begins with “This will never happen…” will be ignored.

2) Let’s also not make it personal. While we’ll discuss who could be involved/what kinds of emphasis can be supported in the next post, I want to make sure that this post (and all future posts on this series) does not denigrate any one. I’m not sure what criteria to use for this, but posts coming of as ‘personal’ will be removed. 

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