Religious Studies

  • various items symbolizing different religions

Mission Statement

The Department of Religious Studies subscribes to the following outcomes as fundamental objectives of undergraduate instruction in Religious Studies. It is the intention of the faculty that students who graduate with a major in Religious Studies achieve high levels of competence in the areas targeted by these objectives. The faculty see these outcomes as goals to be accomplished to an appropriate degree in all courses, whether the courses are designed for the major, for elective offerings, or for General Education. In correspondence with the University's current effort to develop assessment plans for each instructional area, discussions are underway within the College of Humanities and the Religious Studies Department for the purpose of creating suitable - - and direct - - measures for appraising achievement.

The Student Learning Outcomes for instruction in the Department of Religious Studies are:

  • Ability to interpret texts and other cultural phenomena (such as rituals, myths, architecture) that have religious presuppositions or implications.
  • Ability to think both empathetically and critically about conflicting religious claims.
  • Knowledge of the history and culture of more than one major religious tradition.
  • Ability to use cross-cultural methods of religious inquiry and analysis.
  • Ability to articulate ways in which the Religious Studies major enables the student to understand his/her role in society, through both career and public service options.

First , faculty believe students should learn how to interpret texts and other cultural phenomena that have religious implications. A building is a work of architecture; a poem is a work of literature; a cantata is a work of music. The religious dimensions of the building are clear enough if the building is a temple, and the religious dimensions of a poem are not difficult to discern if the poem is the Bhagavad Gita. The fact that a Bach cantata is probably a work of both music and religion is also clear. But the Religious Studies graduate should also know how to identify religious presuppositions, symbolizations, and the implications of such a building as the Pentagon, such a poem as the Ode on a Grecian Urn, and such music as the work of current rap artists. We are not teaching students how to live only in the worlds clearly roped off from the world as ‘religious.’ We are teaching them how to understand the religious dimensions of all of society.

Second, we want to be sure that students can think about religious claims, especially when these claims are in conflict with one another. Most Americans want to be tolerant of their neighbors’ religious convictions and practices. Hence it is common for us to say that our neighbors can do whatever they want as long as they don’t tell us about it. Our uncritical tolerance thus becomes all too quickly an uncritical rejection of the distinctiveness of different people’s experience of the sacred. The Religious Studies faculty believe it is possible to grow in the discipline of identifying, describing, and appreciating difference. Hence our emphasis on the importance of examining the conflicts in different religious claims and maintaining a stance of both empathy and critique in the face of those conflicts. We practice this discipline in our classrooms and we believe it is an important life skill for students to take into the world with them, a skill with implications and applications for all realms of life, not only the obviously religious realms.

Third, no matter how much a student may want to concentrate on just one religious tradition, we believe every graduate in Religious Studies should have a knowledge of the history and culture of more than one religious tradition.

Fourth, there are established methods of cross-cultural religious inquiry and analysis. We want students to learn to use these methods, to understand the disagreements about the methods, and to learn how to apply these methods in a wide variety of social, political, and religious contexts.

Finally, we think the education we provide in living intelligently in a multi-cultural world has valuable results in the workplace and in the world of public service. We want to be sure that these practical, career-oriented implications of Religious Studies are emphasized both in the classroom and outside the classroom. We want to be sure that students have the opportunity to research their career and public service options for themselves while they are in our program, reaching their own conclusions about the best ways for them to put their knowledge to work in the world, but, while these inquiries are, and should be, unique for each student, we believe that, as a faculty, we have a responsibility to support the students’ career inquiries and to be sure that they have gained a realistic knowledge of the place of their special knowledge in the worlds of work.”

The Mission of the University states that "California State University, Northridge exists to help students realize their educational goals. The University's first priority is to promote the welfare and intellectual progress of students." The Mission statement goes on to say, "To fulfill this mission, we design programs and activities to help students develop the academic competencies, professional skills, critical and creative abilities, and personal values of learned persons who live in a democratic society, an inter-dependent world, and a technological age; we seek to foster a rigorous and contemporary understanding of the liberal arts, sciences, and professional disciplines."

It is the view of the Religious Studies faculty that the Student Learning Outcomes for the Department’s curriculum not only fit but also affirmatively support the University's mission. Moreover, through their multifaceted involvement in the life of the campus, as well as their community service, the faculty further show that they enthusiastically underwrite the spirit of the mission.