University of Vermont

The College of Arts and Sciences

Department of Religion

Standing Buddha

Standing Buddha image, Gal Vihara, Sri Lanka

Did you know ...

That each year, thousands of undergraduates take a course in religion. In the 1999-2000 academic year, for example, about 685,000 students took a religion course at around 900 American colleges and universities. Take a course in religion.

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Discover Religion at UVM

Many students are surprised to find that UVM has a long tradition of the study of religion free from any connections with religious institutions. People assume that the study of religion is part of a religious training and is thus more like what takes place in catechism classes or Hebrew school or at a mosque or temple.

But the study of religion is a crucial part of the wider study of human cultures, global affairs, and personal identities; it is not tied to previous religious training or present religious affiliation. Rather, it is the investigation of the vast array of myths, rituals, ethical systems, and social formations that human beings have created in response to what they perceive to be powers beyond the human.

How large is the department? Today the department's faculty offer over forty courses, teach approximately 1400 students a year, and advise about 35 majors and 50 minors.

What does a student of religion study?

Human efforts to grapple with the meaning of life and how best to live it. An informed, critical, and global point of view on religion completes a liberal arts education and adds to the life-long process of self-knowledge.

The idea that religion is a common form of human culture that can be studied, and not just a theological truth to be practiced, has evolved over the centuries. People study religion with the purpose of gaining an accurate historical understanding of religions and of analyzing and theorizing about this vast, global spectrum of expressions.

Studies include:

  • major religious traditions
  • topics like gender and religion, religion and race, and religion and social theory
  • key aspects of religion such as ritual, myth, death practices, sacred sound and visuality.

These courses reflect faculty expertise:

  • Buddhism
  • Judaism
  • Islam
  • Hinduism
  • Christianity
  • religion in America
  • African religions
  • religions of China
  • religions in Japan
  • Caribbean Religions
  • theories of religion
  • methodology such as: comparative study, feminist theory, cognitive science, philosophical inquiry, social theory, and historical analysis

Fast facts: A history of the Religion Department at UVM

  • In 1912, UVM introduced a course entitled "Religion"
  • This course, with its broad comparative orientation, is in some respects the direct ancestor of those currently taught in the Religion Department
  • In the 1950s, when the State of Vermont first approved direct payment of tax revenue to UVM, the faculty senate established the policy that religion courses would not be taught by practicing clergy, that they would be taught by persons with the highest academic credentials, and that they should contain "no indoctrination or special pleading."
  • In 1956 the university appointed the first full-time professor with a Ph.D. in the comparative study of religion to teach religion in place of the chaplain.
  • A religion major was first offered in 1963
  • The Religion Department was formed from the Department of Philosophy and Religion in 1973.
  • Today the department's faculty offer over forty courses, teach approximately 1400 students a year, and advise about 35 majors and 50 minors.

Join us! ... in the ongoing investigation of this fascinating and vital subject.

Last modified October 01 2012 03:43 PM