Interdisciplinary Studies

Why Study Religion

Why Study Religion?

Religion is an important aspect of the contemporary and historical human condition. It used to be ‘modern’ to dismiss religion as something doomed to wither away under increasing secularism. Both demographic studies of religion and a number of major events in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries have proven this assumption wrong. We live in a world shaped by religion, for good and for ill, so we have excellent reasons to try to understand it. At the UofA, our small unit and class sizes provide excellent and unusual opportunities to interact with professors and other students. Our B.A. is probably more flexible than any other at the UofA. Not only do we have a dedicated core faculty of six specialists in religion, we draw on the teaching and supervisory resources of thirty other faculty members in Arts, Education and St. Joseph’s College. These ‘associate members’ of our program give us as great a variety of expertise and course selection as most conventional large departments can muster. RS majors and minors are encouraged to pursue their own interests as well as those of the world-renowned researchers from a large variety of disciplines who teach and conduct research on religion at UofA.

Here are some reasons others have for studying religion:

I study Religion because the world doesn't make sense until you understand the frame of mind from which people make their decisions. Religion is pervasive in daily life all over the world, and I intend to be an informed global citizen. Religious Studies is part of that path towards a broader knowledge. 

-- Amanda Strachan, B.A. Religious Studies (2014)

I came to the study of religion almost by accident. I wanted to write a beautiful book on the Song of Songs, the love song in the Hebrew Bible, because it was the closest thing I knew to the sort of poetry I wanted to write. From the Song of Songs I became interested in the Hebrew Bible more generally, and from there in Judaism, and that led me to the study of religion. And then I got a job. Teaching Relig 101, Introduction to the Religions of the World, was a wonderful experience, because it got me into thinking about all the different ways human beings have understood themselves, the world, and ultimate reality; their different kinds of deities and demons; their rituals and beliefs; their many ways of creating a sacred social fabric. My first love will always be the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, because it is a book of questions not answers. I love the way the writers of the Hebrew Bible asked the fundamental questions that confront us today: why is history such a mess? Is life worth it? How are we to be responsible for the earth and each other? What can account for pain and suffering?

-- Dr. Francis Landy, Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies

I study religion because the social function of science is religious even when it's trying its darndest not to be. I study religion because our secular culture hopes for technological salvation without realizing how religious that is. I study religion because the roots of our environmental crisis are primarily religious. Religion is everywhere and inextricable from the human condition, so if we're going to understand ourselves and our times, we need to understand religion rather than relying on contemporary prejudices about it that keep us oblivious of the facts.

-- Dr. Nathan Kowalsky, Associate Professor, St. Joseph’s College

Despite not having a religious bone in my body, I find myself thinking about God a lot because It (this is a non-gendered God!) figures prominently as an explanatory principle in the periods I study in the history of philosophy. God doesn’t explain anything particular in nature, but serves to address questions about why there is something rather than nothing, or why should we expect it all to make some sort of sense. In a different vein, some of the most hilariously effective rebuttals to arguments for God’s existence come up in this period, several of which involve vegetables.

-- Dr. Amy Schmitter, Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy

Academics might describe parts of the western world as "post-Christian", but in the south Pacific world Christian identities and institutions remain among the most fundamental building blocks of society and culture. This is a valuable reminder that the whole world does not necessarily imitate the West! Amid the mosaic of denominations in the south Pacific, Anglicanism is particularly strong in Melanesia, especially in Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. Here it is making a distinctive contribution not only to local society and politics, but to the broader Anglican Communion. Despite commonplace generalisations about "first world liberalism" or "global south conservatism", Melanesian Anglicans do not fit into either category. For historical and cultural reasons the issue of homosexuality is of less interest, and much less concern, in this part of the world than it is in Nigeria or parts of the United States. Although women do not yet exercise ordained ministry in Melanesia, debate about this takes place within a strong commitment to maintaining communion. For Melanesians, being together as Church is far more important than the ultimate outcome of this debate, or of any debate. This model of generosity has been brought before various global Anglican gatherings in order to address present concerns, but its roots lie deep in Melanesian cultural history. My current project on the first Melanesian Anglican priest, George Sarawia, will help us to understand how Melanesian identities and priorities interacted with those of the Melanesian Mission, and will shed light on the origins of a distinctive and remarkable part of the Anglican Communion.

-- Dr. Jane Samson, Professor, Department of History and Classics