Our goal in the Religion department at Wesleyan is to understand religion, religions, and how these have been studied. 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, scholars have come to realize that the religious landscape of the United States serves as more than a setting for thriving religious competition; it has become a chief site of the academic study of religion. Liberal arts departments of religion have played a key role in redefining the field. In this context, the Wesleyan Department of Religion is deliberately interdisciplinary. We explore religion and religions using historiographic, social scientific, textual, and philosophical methodologies. Therefore, Religion serves as a perfect major in a liberal arts education.
Majors and non-majors are introduced to the field through the scholastic disciplines practiced by the faculty in Introduction to the Study of Religion. This course is no grand tour of world religions; it wrestles with the various theories and methods scholars have used to understand religious practices, narratives, and sensibilities in diverse social, political, economic contexts, while also recognizing the intersections of class, gender, sex, race, and ethnicity. Majors consolidate and deepen their understanding and use of these theories and methods in the Majors Colloquium, intended for their junior year.
The remainder of our classes are of three sorts: historical traditions, thematic approaches, and method and theory. Historical traditions courses offer specific examinations of Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, and Islamic communities, beliefs, and practices. Thematically oriented classes explore one or more religious traditions manifest particular tropes, such as race, nationalism, gender, sexuality, transnationalism, and cosmology. Method and theory courses investigate in greater detail some of the issues explored in the Introduction to the Study of Religion and the Majors Colloquium.
Our faculty's teaching and research spans American and African American religions in the U.S. and the Caribbean; Buddhism in India and Tibet; Christianity at its origins; Judaism in the diaspora; Hindu and Muslim traditions in India, and Islamophobia in the U.S.; the intersections of continental philosophy and Christian theology; Islamic renewal movements among South Asian workers in the Middle East, and Buddhist and shaman revival movements in the former Soviet Union. Our faculty pursues field research globally, including such sites as Alabama, Haiti, Nepal, Abu Dhabi, India, and Siberia. Many of our majors undertake research and field studies abroad as well--in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas.