Religion in

Religious Studies Offers Practical Knowledge for All Majors

By Kathleen Penton

Kathleen is a former staff reporter for Dateline Alabama and a 2003 graduate of the Department of Religious Studies, with a double major in Journalism. She was awarded Oustanding Student in the Academic Study of Religion in both 2002 and 2004.

Read another article by a recent major.


Contrary to what many students believe, Religious studies majors are not destined to a life as a priest or minister. In fact, this liberal arts degree can prepare students for careers in numerous fields such as journalism, business and education.

Two acquaintances from high school run into each other on the Quad after not seeing one another in a long time. After the usual exchange of pleasantries comes the inevitable question, "What is your major?"

This might seem like a simple enough question, but for someone majoring in religious studies, the answer is likely to be received in one of three ways: a blank stare, the assumption that they intend on becoming a minister, or as an interesting choice that the other person did not know existed.

Maybe this scenario is a little far-fetched, but the academic study of religion is a viable option at The University of Alabama. And no, not all of the students who choose to major or minor in religious studies or minor in Judaic studies are planning to go into the ministry or become professional scholars of religion. This liberal arts degree can prepare students for careers in various fields such as journalism, business, education, and publishing.

The study of religion began in Europe during the late nineteenth century and arrived in the United States just prior to World War I. The field was initially only successful in a handful of private colleges, but by the late 1950s and early 1960s it had spread to public universities. This can be allotted to such prominent issues as changing immigration policies and increased interest in Asian cultures.

Religious studies now functions as a vital part of the humanities curriculum. Those undergraduates majoring in Religious Studies who choose to have a double major usually stay within the College of Arts and Sciences, combining their initial interests with areas such as anthropology, psychology, history, or even chemistry and biology. Of course, all of the individual colleges of the University are represented in the students taking classes in the department.

The courses offered range from Introduction to the New Testament and the Gospel of Mark to Viewing "Apocalypse Now Redux" as Religious Text, and it is nearly impossible to leave one of these courses without having gained some heightened concept of cross-cultural religious experience.

"We are not studying the gods; we are studying people who make claims," says Dr. Russell McCutcheon, department chair and associate professor. According to him, "the object of study is people and their productions."

In fact, the study of religion could be characterized as the study of human behavior. According to McCutcheon, Religious studies focuses on "particularly juicy human behavior." Students are able to learn about the history, diversity, and ingenuity of human belief systems. In a world that grows smaller every day, the useful skills taught in these courses play an increasingly significant role.

Dr. McCutcheon describes the benefits of the program in this way, "It enhances skills for communication, interpretation, understanding, and I think there is a hope that it increases tolerance."

The Department of Religious Studies is located on the second floor of Manly Hall on the Quad. The main office is located in 212 Manly. This story was written by Kathleen Penton and edited by Danny Hanbery.