Religious Studies

Exploring how religion shapes our world

Religion is a fundamental part of the human experience. College students have long studied religion because it opens the door to thoughtful exploration of the worlds and cultures that surround us. More and more we are learning that to be a thoughtful global citizen is to have an understanding of religious motivations and ways of thinking. We continue to consider questions that have been raised for thousands of years: How does religion struggle with the problem of evil and suffering? Why is there so much violence in certain religious communities? How will we negotiate all the differences among religions? Who, really, was Jesus? Who was Muhammad? Why have they remained spiritual leaders long after their deaths? How does religion function to structure our most deeply held beliefs and worldviews?

Elon offers a Bachelor of Arts degree in religious studies that encourages students to examine and discuss religion, and express themselves in discussions and in writing. Graduates begin their careers with an enhanced ability to gather information, think critically and communicate clearly and convincingly. No matter what professional field you choose, a degree in religious studies will teach you a great deal about yourself and other cultures — an honorable goal for an education and a valuable asset for any career.

“Many may jump to the conclusion that a religious studies degree adequately prepares only those students who are seeking to one day be involved in ministry. On the contrary, courses offered in the religious studies department not only give students the opportunity to explore belief, but they also provide students with knowledge and understanding that is applicable in every aspect of life."

                                      Alison Lacek ’02    

Flexible curriculum

Religious studies majors are encouraged to tailor their course selections to their personal interests. The credit-hour requirement for the religious studies major allows students to earn a double major or add a minor. The department offers a popular minor that compliments a range of other fields of study, including Communications, Business, History, Political Science, Psychology and others.

The Department of Religious Studies offers a diverse set of courses, beginning with an introductory course on Religion in a Global Context. Other introductory-level courses examine the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, as well as Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism, among others. Upper-level courses open the door to further study at a deeper level, including specific aspects of the Bible, the history of Christianity from the time of Jesus to the present, the intersection of religion and science, or religion and politics in a global context. You can explore the life of Muslims in America, read the Qur’an, examine the role of religion in environmental issues, or learn how people interpret their sacred texts to form their lives. Other courses focus on specific religions and contemporary issues.

Students also may pursue independent study and research projects with a faculty mentor. Such collaborations have garnered local and national recognition; a recent project won awards from the regional section of the American Academy of Religion for best student paper, and another was presented at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research. In addition, a number of semester and winter term study abroad programs give you the chance to learn while you travel. Programs are usually led by an Elon or faculty from another institution.

"I grappled with the grand texts of diverse religions and philosophies, and was given the tools with which to conduct unique, independent and interdisciplinary research in an area of my own interest: religion, media, and public opinion. This wide-ranging course of study prepared me for graduate studies at Princeton Theological Seminary and a lifetime of independent thinking."

                                 The Rev. Jessica Patchett Anderson ’05
                                 Child and Family Outreach Coordinator, First Presbyterian Church, Charlotte
                                 Minister of Word and Sacrament, Cornerstone Presbyterian Church, Concord, N.C.

Special recognition

Each spring, the Department of Religious Studies recognizes students for outstanding achievement with two major awards. The Basnight Award honors the outstanding Bible student for an academic year. The Religion Scholar Award goes to the rising senior producing the most outstanding work in religious studies courses for an academic year. Additionally, students are recognized by invitation to join Theta Kappa Alpha, the national honor society for religious studies students. 

Accomplished faculty

You will learn from experienced, dedicated professors who have a variety of scholarly interests and backgrounds. The one thing they share is a passion for teaching and research. 

Amy Allocco is an assistant professor. Her research interests lie in the area of Hinduism, and her dissertation examined contemporary snake goddess rituals in South India. 

Geoffrey Claussen, assistant professor, teaches courses in Jewish Studies.  His research focuses on Jewish ethics, and he is the program coordinator for Elon's interdisciplinary minor in Jewish Studies.

Lynn Huber, associate professor, teaches courses in Christian scripture and early Christianity. She has particular interests in apocalyptic literature, medieval Christian views of gender, the Bible and art. 

Rebecca Todd Peters, professor, studies ethics issues of social justice including economics, the environment and women’s reproductive health. Her book, In Search of the Good Life: The Ethics of Globalization, won the 2003 Trinity Book Prize. 

Michael E. Pregill, associate professor, studies Islam and other world religions. His research focuses on interpretations of the Qur’an and the relationship between Jewish and Muslim communities in different historical settings. 

Jeffrey C. Pugh is Maude Sharpe Powell Professor of Religious Studies. His most recent book is Religionless Christianity: Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Troubled Times, released in 2009. He teaches courses in religion and science, and religion and politics. 

L.D. Russell is the department’s lecturer and teaches in the area of world religions and religion and culture. In 2009, Russell published Godspeed: Racing is my Religion, a book about the theological aspects of NASCAR.

Pamela D. Winfield, assistant professor, teaches Asian thought and culture, religion and art, and comparative mysticism. She researches Japanese Buddhist art and doctrine, and co-chairs the Sacred Space in Asia Group at the American Academy of Religion.

Graduate study and career options

Many religious studies majors continue their education in graduate school or attend divinity school. Our students have been accepted at some of the finest graduate schools in the country, including Harvard University, Yale University, Duke University, Vanderbilt University, Emory University and Union Theological Seminary. These students pursue degrees in scholarly and professional ministerial programs. 

Our students also go onto graduate school in other disciplines such as law and medicine. They pursue careers as ministers, Christian education directors, bereavement counselors and administrators for church organizations. Others choose careers in law, journalism, higher education, social work, human resources, and volunteer programs such as AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps.