Welcome to the Religious Studies Department!
Established originally as a Department of Philosophy and Religion in 1964 and then as the Department of Religious Studies in 1972, we have a long tradition of providing a multidisciplinary approach to the study of religious traditions – textual, artistic, ritualistic, and lived – within cultures across the world.
The Department of Religious Studies provides undergraduate and graduate instruction in the academic study of religion in a pluralistic, multicultural, and global context; conducts and publishes research related to religion; and provides service that enhances public understanding of issues related to religion. Religious studies faculty also contribute to the institutional work of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the University. Our mission is to foster a critical understanding of the significance of religion in human societies and cultures.
With over a dozen faculty members exploring the vast array of various religious traditions, including Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam, the Department of Religious Studies thrives on its eclectic personality compared to other university departments. From exploring the history of Christianity and the boundaries, identities, and experiences within it to the world of African religions and cultures, our faculty strongly encourages students to tackle a multitude of questions about the world in which we live.
Our mission is to educate students, university colleagues, and the broader public about the ways religion shapes and is shaped by global societies, particularly regarding race, class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and power.
Statement of Shared Values
We, the faculty of UNC Charlotte’s Department of Religious Studies, strive to help students understand the complex histories and lived realities of religious traditions; to remember that no religious tradition is a single, monolithic reality; and to avoid making broad, sweeping judgments about any large group of people. Not only are these the best practices of the academic study of religion, but as scholars of religion, we are keenly aware of the devastating and catastrophic harm that occurs when people fail to abide by them. We share the concerns of our professional organizations, the American Academy of Religion and the Society for Biblical Literature, that failure to understand and interpret religion, religious history, and religious identity thoughtfully hinders the free exchange of ideas, distorts public understanding of religious traditions and religious difference, threatens the safety and well-being of faculty and students, and undermines the basic values of the educational mission of the modern university.
As employees of UNC Charlotte, we are committed to developing a “robust intellectual environment that values social and cultural diversity, free expression . . . and mutual respect.” As faculty in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, we work to build “a culture of intellectual and personal inclusion that . . . provides the means for understanding and negotiating the range of perspectives, experiences, and traditions essential to living ethically in an interdependent global culture.” This requires us to help our students understand the rich, vibrant history of religious traditions—along with their on-going contributions to American and global culture.
As employees of the state of North Carolina, we are prohibited from using the authority of our positions or the funds and supplies of the university to support or oppose any political candidate or issue, but as scholars of religion dedicated to providing exemplary undergraduate and graduate education and addressing the needs of the Charlotte region, we are obligated to use our classrooms and our scholarship to help our students and other audiences understand how to engage the reality of religious diversity well and the terrifying consequences of doing it poorly.
What we offer to students
Students majoring in Religious Studies will learn to:
- Identify and explain the diverse historical, cultural, and textual dimensions of religion
- Identify the concerns and methods that typically distinguish the academic study of religion from other approaches to religious belief and practice
- Evaluate sources that illustrate the integral role of religion in cultures, especially related to issues of race, class, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, identity, and power
- Apply the critical methods and approaches of the academic study of religion to a range of sources and issues
- Make effective, clear, and valid arguments about religion, based in relevant and appropriate sources, in speech and writing
The undergraduate program primarily consists of courses that focus on a wide range of cultures, religions, and traditions within America and abroad. Although the undergraduate program mainly consists of three modes of inquiry employed by religious scholars – historical, textual, and cultural analysis – our department also equips students with the tools necessary for understanding the theoretical underpinnings of research. In order to distinguish our department from others, however, we highly encourage students to work closely with faculty members in order to prepare them for future graduate and non-graduate work. For students interested in advancing and honing in on their research interests, the Honors Program allows students to choose a faculty member to serve as their advisor for a resulting Honors Thesis.
The graduate program further advances students in their research and career interests within the field of Religious Studies. By providing courses on different theories engaged with by scholars, along with including other thematic courses, the graduate program excels in its mission to allow students to creatively interact with the society around them while challenging certain aspects. Our graduate program also provides students with the foundations of pedagogy while allowing them to incorporate the skills acquired within a classroom. While our graduate students mainly continue their studies by enrolling in PhD programs, we also aim to successfully prepare students for a non-academic track.
The Department of Religious Studies at UNC Charlotte was created in 1964 by President Bonnie Cone who hired Loy H. Witherspoon to establish a combined “Department of Philosophy and Religion” at Charlotte College. Religious Studies and Philosophy became two separate departments in 1972, reflecting a growing trend throughout the country towards departments of religious studies as rightly independent entities, separate from either the venerable traditions of theology or philosophy. There were four full-time-faculty members at the time. Today, we number fourteen. In 2012, we marked our 40th aniversary. As such, we are one of the oldest departments of Religious Studies in the academy and one that is looked to nationally as an example of success and a model for the future.
Broadly, Religious Studies is the academic inquiry into the fundamental stories, symbols, and practices that human beings have relied on to make sense of themselves and the worlds in which they live. The department pursues this inquiry across a range of religious traditions by examining their textual, historical, and cultural dimensions. This inquiry does not seek to determine which religious views are “right” or “true,” but rather attempts to gain insight into how religious systems of meaning-making have shaped the cultural orders in which we live—with particular attention to how religious discourses have shaped understandings of race, gender, sexuality, nation, and class. The department is explicitly committed to the liberal arts tradition with a commitment to fostering both an international and pluralistic perspective as well as excellence in close reading, critical thinking, and effective communication.
*Listen to the J. Murrey Atkins Library collection of Interviews with Loy H. Witherspoon on their website.