Huffington Post

Malory Nye

published on 26 August 2015

In a recent piece on the Huffington Post, Professor Gary Laderman, Chair of the Department of Religion at Emory University, gave us five (potentially) compelling reasons why any student should want to study religion.

As the writer of one of the many introductory textbooks in this field, Religion: the Basics, and having spent much of the last year setting up an introductory podcast for the study of religion (Religion Bites), I am largely in sympathy with his call to action.

However, there is a shadow on this seemingly bright horizon.

The news broke on Friday 21 August that the University of Stirling’s distinctive and long-standing programme on religion would be closed, with immediate effect. This comes on the heels of a similar announcement of closure of the religion programme at the University of California, Berkeley.

A programme closure is always bad news, and this particularly so. I taught in the Stirling Religion department for a number of years, and so feel a personal sadness to see the programme and subject area dying. I also feel strongly for the situation of the four full-time staff who now face considerable insecurity.

Religion at Stirling, in particular, stood out for years as the only Department of Religion in Scotland that was independent from any centre for theology or divinity. Religion is otherwise taught in the ancient universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow, St Andrews, and Aberdeen, but all within the context of much larger units that are primarily focused on the study of the Christian theological, textual, and historical traditions. Religion at Stirling was about something different from that.

The death of Religion at Stirling, if that is indeed what we are seeing, does appear to be counter intuitive in this respect. As Laderman’s rhetoric reminded us, there is a deep and urgent thirst in the world for knowledge and understanding about religion and religions — which is by no means limited to issues of Islam.  

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[Photo credit: Detail of Creation of Adam, fresco by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel. The Creation Michelangelo Vatican Museums Italy – Creative Commons by gnuckx]

If the study of religion is the answer, then what is the question? Critical liberal arts and open minds

by Malory Nye time to read: 2 min