By THOMAS SACCENTE – STAFF WRITER
Regardless of one’s spiritual faith, religion is and always has been, a crucial aspect of our culture. For thousands of years, religion has formed the crux of cultures across history, shaping the way people live and the way other nations interact with one another in ways that could not have been managed otherwise. The study of religion is also a critical part of a liberal arts education, providing all interested students with a means to conduct research into deep, richly nuanced theologies and then making arguments based around that research. Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that majoring in Religion is considered a wise choice at Centre College.
There are over 20 students majoring in Religion this year, and Centre provides an extensive range of classes for students that delve into an incredible range of theologies. These classes allow students to discover how religions that came from vastly different regions and eras of human history work, drawing original conclusions about them, and articulating those opinions in a manner that is comprehensive and meaningful. It is a discipline that can be taken in many different directions with endless possibilities for what one can learn by majoring in Religion.
For anybody who is currently majoring in Religion, the curriculum is simultaneously straightforward and flexible. A Religion major’s experience very much depends on what he or she wants to learn and what classes they find to be the most interesting.
However, there are certain requirements that must be met in order to get the most out of Centre’s Religion program. First, anybody aspiring to major in Religion must take a few basic-level classes designed around a series of broad topics, such as world religions and biblical history. These lay the groundwork for one’s religious education and allow him or her to understand basic concepts about world religions and the cultures from which they came before tackling more-complicated fare.
Afterwards, he or she must take five upper-level classes of their choice, where the students are allowed to pursue highly specific courses that deal with various aspects of a huge selection of religions and the effects that they have on their respective communities. All of this naturally culminates in a Senior Seminar, a course that is intended to allow seniors to develop a year’s worth of research and then write a lengthy paper based on that research under the advice of a faculty member of their choosing.
The end result is for all students to present their paper to the entire Religion department in the spring semester and defend their work.
However, despite all of these richly layered class requirements, the religion department is currently reorganizing its curriculum. Assistant Professor of Religion Matthew Pierce says that the faculty wants to make it so that future Religion majors will have to take classes across an even greater range of disciplines in order to get a more comprehensive education.
“We want students to have some breadth of courses across different religious traditions. They will end up needing to be introduced to a few different religious traditions and then take upper-level classes in some of these traditions,” Dr. Pierce said.
In addition to this vast selection of possible courses, there are a wide variety of career opportunities available for Religion majors after graduation. Other than graduate school opportunities, a degree in Religion can go a long way for people who are not even planning to do anything in the field of religion. According to Assistant Professor of Religion Lee
Jefferson, employers in today’s job market are looking for those who are able to think and communicate effectively. A degree in Religion, he says, is more than ideal in preparing students to distinguish themselves in these regards in the midst of this tough job market.
“Religion majors do not have to do graduate work in religious studies. That is not the point of the major,” Dr. Jefferson said. “The major allows them to develop a sincere commitment to writing, reading, researching, debating difficult topics. We’ve had majors go on to law school, medical school, do work in non-profit areas, and different areas in business. Even some go on to do financial banking.”
There are also many study-abroad opportunities that come with being a Religion major. The study of other religions, especially those that originated thousands of years ago, depends heavily on archaeology and the recovery of ancient artifacts. Artifacts provide fantastic insight as to how ancient peoples lived their lives. Tracking down these artifacts is something that people who study religion at Centre College take very seriously. Senior Religion major Nathaniel Deaton, for example, has travelled with Assistant Professor of Religion Christian
Haskett to India and Israel in order to get a first-hand look at the way the people there practiced, and in some cases continue to practice, their respective religions.
“We examined ‘maunders,’ which are small Hindu shrines that are found on street corners and alleyways,” Deaton said. “We were interested in learning about the frequency of these temples as well as the social and economic reasons [why] Hindus visited them. I’ve also conducted archeological research at Shikhin in Lower Galilee of Israel. Shikhin was a pottery production facility around the first-century C.E. and we found layers of ceramic wares that reached well-over our heads.”
Deaton plans to enter graduate school after completing his Centre education. He is also a part of the John C. Young Scholars Program for which a student works closely with a member of the faculty and receives a substantial grant for independent research and travel in a discipline of their choosing,
“I want to pursue archeology of Israel, namely around the first century C.E.,” Deaton said. “I saw the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit as a child and was amazed by their survival. It was surreal to see texts that were written thousands of years ago. My sense of wonder plus the fact that there are thousands of mysteries deep in the ground are enough to make me want to follow this occupation. By taking classes in Hebrew, Roman history, and archeological methods, I’ll be prepared by Centre to go after this career.”
Majoring in Religion at Centre is an excellent choice for anyone who is not only curious about learning cultures but also about how to apply one’s critical thinking skills in way that is both enlightening and practical. Devoting time to this field will prepare anybody for a wide variety of different occupations. Pursuing this major will allow students to work with an excellent team of professors that will help to make their time a success.