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A Religious Studies Major at BYU–Pt. III

A Religious Studies Major at BYU–Pt. III July 23, 2008

In our two previous posts we discussed the curriculum as well as what to cover in the theory and introductory courses for our new major. In this post I’d like to raise the issue of how the “areas of emphasis” should be structured and who/where we could draw from in creating classes from these areas. 

Areas of emphasis (or areas of study–AoS) are organized differently depending on the organizing committee’s perception of “religious studies” as well as the school’s strengths. Below are three options of organization, although often times more than one is adopted to meet the diverse opinions of what constitutes religious studies, as well as the fact that they often overlap (how can one do sociology of religion for instance without focusing on an area or tradition?):

  • By Area:

            Religion in America, Europe, Africa, etc.

            A strength of this approach is that it allows one to do more inter-disciplinary and inter-traditional work. A weakness is that if strictly interpreted one could end up knowing very little about any particular tradition outside of one geographical location. It’s also possible to end up ill-trained in many disciplines, but proficient in none.

  • By Tradition:

            Islam, Judaism, Christianity, etc., and at BYU, I would imagine, Mormonism.

            A strength of this approach is that it allows one’s work to extend beyond a geographic location. Islam, as we know, is a major religion of SE Asia for instance. A weakness is that in some cases the category of a religious ‘tradition’ is a construction of Western attempts to assert a universality of ‘religion’ (see for instance Oddie’s Imagined Hinduism). Working according to ‘traditions’ therefore could play into this bias.

  • By Discipline:

            History, Philosophy, Sociology, Anthropology, etc. 

            A strength of this approach is that it gives the student a firm grounding in a particular discipline. A weakness is that these approaches sometimes lack the depth into a particular tradition. A philosopher of religion, for instance, might not be well informed about the history of Christianity.

So, here are the questions:

Given BYU’s current scenario, how should the “areas of emphasis” be structured? What kinds of areas of emphasis could be offered?

Which faculty members should be drawn from in teaching classes in these areas? Related to this question are the more sensitive issues of: Should current classes in Religious Education count? Will faculty from RE be allowed to teach classes in RS? On what basis will this be determined?

In responding to these latter questions, let’s try to keep comments from becoming too personal.

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