What is the academic study of religion?

Religion, defined loosely as the practices and beliefs by which communities relate to what they perceive as sacred or transcendent, is a major part of human life around the globe. It has historically been one of the most important components of the identities humans build as individuals and as communities. Moreover, religion has a profound influence not only on issues like politics and nationality and economics, but on seemingly more mundane aspects of life like the clothes one wears and the food one eats. The extreme diversity we find both between and within religious communities means that this influence is far from uniform, but instead takes many forms.

Here at UWG, we study religion from a comparative and philosophical perspective. Rather than advocating for any particular religion, or for or against religion more generally, we instead seek to better describe and explain diverse examples of religious beliefs, texts, practices, and traditions, and to understand the role they play in shaping the areas of human life mentioned above.

Why should I study religion?

Working knowledge of some of the world’s religious traditions is a valuable asset for someone in any career, especially in today’s globalized world. Throughout your career, you are sure to work with persons of varied religious backgrounds as both your colleagues and customers. Additionally, like all humanities courses, courses in religion help you to develop the reading, writing, and critical thinking skills essential to success in any field. Finally, whatever your own religious convictions or views about the status and value of religion, studying religion from a philosophical perspective enables you to think more critically about those views and develop them in a more sophisticated way.

What religion courses does UWG offer?

Introduction to World Religions (PHIL 2130)

This course revolves around two central questions: how has the world shaped religion(s), and how have religions shaped the world? As we move through an introductory survey of some of the world’s major religious traditions, we pay special attention to the ways in which these traditions have been shaped by historical, political, and geographical changes in the world—and also consider how these traditions and their communities have influenced these changes. We seek both to understand the significance and relevance of religion in world history and to begin to grapple with some of the important philosophical questions addressed within religious communities as well as by those who study them. This course fulfills the Core E-4 requirement.

Theories of Religion (PHIL 3205)

In this course, we examine some of the most important historical developments in the Western academic study of religion. We discuss some of the major debates that have taken place and still are taking place among scholars of religion. The topics addressed in these conversations include: how to define and conceptualize religion itself; the role the concept of religion has played in colonial and imperial projects, as well as in indigenous responses to colonialism; the function of religion in relation to human psychology, identity, society, and politics; authority and tradition in religion; the insider/outsider problem; and the distinction between religious studies and theology.

Christian Thought (PHIL 3220)

In this course, we trace the development of important historical trends in Catholic and Protestant Christian thought. Some of the specific areas covered include theology, ethics, mysticism, and political theory. Two areas of special focus are (1) the role of the body in Christian thought and (2) historical and contemporary Christian attitudes regarding poverty and wealth. Another major emphasis of this course is the influence Christian thought has had on Western philosophy more generally.

Islamic Thought (PHIL 3250)

In this course, we examine some of the most important historical developments in Islamic thought, focusing especially on the areas of Islamic theology, jurisprudence and ethics, and political theory. In each case, we consider premodern and modern thinkers. A major focus of the course is to draw connections between these theoretical developments and themes and contemporary events in the Islamic world, including the emergence of modern Islamic republics, the rise of Islamism in its political and militant forms, the Arab Spring, and contemporary theological and legal debates between Muslims.

Hermeneutics (PHIL 4220)

The aim of this course is to examine critically the historical development of the discipline of hermeneutics. Hermeneutics is the art and theory of interpretation. We investigate various approaches to interpretation as presented by philosophers ranging from Schleiermacher through Heidegger to Ricoeur.

Philosophy of Religion (PHIL 4230)

This course considers some of the most pressing questions in the contemporary discipline of philosophy of religion, though nearly every one of these questions has in some form or another been of concern to philosophers since antiquity. We investigate a number of problems, including the relation between faith and reason, the relation of God and morality, and the problem of evil.

Additional Courses related to Religion

  • Myth, Magic, and Religion (ANTH 4170)
  • American Religion to 1800 (HIST 4478)
  • American Religion since 1800 (HIST 4479)
  • Eastern and Transpersonal Psychologies (PSYC 4130)
  • Sociology of Religion (SOCI 3543)

Can I major or minor in religion?

If you are interested in pursuing the study of religion in a more sustained way, we offer two possibilities at UWG.

  • Philosophy majors can specialize in our Religion concentration; see the curriculum.
  • Students of any major can minor in Religion. The minor requires only six courses (18 credit hours) for completion; see the requirements.

Faculty in Religion

  • Dr. Rosemary Kellison teaches Introduction to World Religions, Theories of Religion, Christian Thought, and Islamic Thought. rkelliso@westga.edu, TLC 2245
  • Dr. John Garner teaches Philosophy of Religion. jgarner@westga.edu, TLC 2249
  • Dr. Janet Donohoe teaches Hermeneutics. jdonohoe@westga.edu, Honors House