In the words of a current Religion minor, "Studying religion means studying people and their works, and viewing the role that religion plays in peoples’ lives. Is religion a motivator, peace-maker, justifier, comfort, identifier, vehicle of status, or something else?"
Religion is an often poorly understood concept in our allegedly secular world. We are taught that religion is a private thing, separate from the public realm, with no relation to the political. Such assumptions allow us to study and teach, and even practice, religion--all within their authorized spaces. But they do not allow us to think of religion as a question, one with enormous ethical and political implications. Today, in the wake of 9/11, when religion seems to have returned to the public domain—in some instances, with a vengeance!—such a task seems vitally relevant.
At Virginia Tech, we take religion seriously. We believe that reflecting on the question of religion is essential to imagining a “just” political future. Thus, religion is not just some entity “out there” to be understood merely by gathering empirical data about it. Rather, studying religion academically means thinking how we may inherit the legacies of religion in relation to the legacies of our secular values, such as justice, law, human rights, democracy, community, citizenship, responsibility, difference, tolerance, and freedom. Such study leads us to ask questions about the nature of life, death, the universe, and ways of living an ethical life with fresh eyes. As we read, analyze, and critique a text, story, or myth from Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, or Judaism, we grapple with questions of history, cultural realities, and heritage.
In our classes, students take on the challenge of new modes of inquiry that break through the barriers of conventional disciplines as well as hone their critical thinking skills. Minoring in Religious Studies or Majoring in Religion and Culture is thus an excellent preparation both for further studies in graduate school and for future vocations.