Studying
Religion in
Culture


Our goal in the Religion department at Wesleyan is to figure out religion. Religion departments, including those with Wesleyan's distinctive approach, are not in the business of making students religious. Today, our goal is more demanding because of the so-called "return of religion," especially in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. This growth has not always been welcomed in University circles, which have invested much in European theories of secularization that envision the disappearance of religion. However, the pluralistic United States is more than a setting of thriving religious competition; it has become a chief site of the academic study of religion. This site is well occupied by liberal arts departments of religion, which are redefining the field. In this context, the Wesleyan Religion department is deliberately interdisciplinary. We figure out religion by practicing historical, social-scientific, textual, and theological methodologies. The two anthropologists of religion in the department contribute to our cross-disciplinary approach.

Our majors are required to take a Colloquium on theories and methods in these critical disciplines. At a more elementary level, majors and non-majors are introduced to the field through the disciplines we relate. Our pioneering Introduction to Religion is no grand tour of world religions; it wrestles with what is religious about rituals, spirituality, sacred traditions, stories, and societies. Besides the Introduction, three of our general courses--on Buddhism, Judaism, and the New Testament, respectively--all seek to integrate the interdisciplinary study of religion. Such study, sometimes uncomfortably critical, is the first distinctive feature of our department. The second feature is the emphasis we place on the study of religion in society. We seek to figure out religion when and where it takes place, whether it is subversive or transformative. The department's Religion in Society component enhances our long standing cross-cultural approach and highlights how thoroughly international our program has become.

Our teaching and research spans American and African American religions in the U.S. and the Caribbean; Buddhism in India, Tibet, and Japan; Christianity from its beginnings through modern Europe and southern Africa; new Japanese religions; and Judaism in the Middle East, throughout the diaspora, and in North America. Our faculty pursues field research in Alabama, Haiti, Nepal, Kyoto, Jerusalem, and Soweto. Many of our majors undertake research and field studies abroad--in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas, as well as in our own Program in Israel. Novel combinations of fieldwork in religion and disciplined textual interpretation are a vital part of our program.

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