The academic study of religion exposes students to a variety of nonsectarian theoretical and methodological approaches they can apply to the study of religious practices, material objects, rituals, texts, beliefs, mythologies, and ethics. The Religious Studies Department at McDaniel College offers a variety of courses designed to encourage students to think critically and analytically about the world’s diverse religious traditions. Students of religion therefore gain more than knowledge of various religions; they learn valuable analytical skills and knowledge of world history that they can apply after graduation. Our faculty is trained in a variety of religious traditions, which allows the student to gain a comprehensive exposure to religions small and large, present and past, near and far.
“The skills I learned as a religious studies major have been the keys to my success. I learned to look beneath the surface for deeper meaning—being able to hear everyone’s ideas and draw the links between them - have served me well in the IT industry.”
Baker Memorial, lower level
Dr. Brad Stoddard
Majors & Courses
Majors - Religious Studies
McDaniel has been more intentional than many programs in building contemporary methods and theories in studying religions into its program. As a culminating phase, majors are encouraged to apply what they have learned in exploring a topic of their own choosing. When they graduate, we expect our majors to be able to identify an intellectual problem pertaining to religion as a human phenomenon, bring knowledge of religions and academic traditions of their study to bear upon it, and propose, communicate, and defend a solution.
Minors - Religious Studies
A minor is a less intense way to develop the skills presented in the major. It can be used to supplement almost any major that the student chooses to take, and is useful for any career path.
Students interested in Religious Studies can often explore areas that are not represented by our faculty by participating in a study-abroad program. On campus, they are best able to focus on the following areas:
- Religions in South Asia, including Hinduism, Buddhism, and indigenous religions (Dr. Alles)
- Religions in North America, with a special focus on religion and law (Dr. Stoddard)
- Current developments in thinking about religion, such as cognitive science and the criticism of this approach (Drs. Alles and Stoddard)
Assistant Professor and department chair Brad Stoddard
(Ph.D., Florida State University) teaches American religious history and the history of Christianity. His primary research interests include religion and law, religion and American prisons, and theory and method in the study of religion. He is currently the Executive Secretary and Treasurer for the North American Association for the Study of Religion
Professor Gregory Alles
(Ph.D., Chicago), teaches in the areas of Hinduism, Buddhism, and methods and theories in the study of religions. Twice a Fulbright research scholar in India, his current research interests focus on adivasis (indigenous people) in western India. A past president of the North American Association for the Study of Religions, he co-edits, with Olav Hammer (Odense), Numen, the journal of the International Association for the History of Religions.
Greg is also a Core Group member of Indigenous religion(s); the Co-Chair of the Indigenous Religious Traditions Group, American Academy of Religion; and an International Advisory Board Member for the Marginalised and Endangered Worldviews Study Center, University College Cork, Ireland.
Why should a student choose to study Religious Studies at McDaniel?
As the U.S. become increasingly diverse, the role of religions in American society and the religions playing those roles are changing. What college-educated people learned about religions a generation or two ago is now no longer sufficient. New religions have appeared on the scene. At McDaniel students will develop knowledge not only of the religions that are current today but of ways of making sense of those religions that will serve them for the rest of their lives, as American society continues to change.
Like many fields in the liberal arts, religious studies also develops “soft skills” in oral and written communication, cultural knowledge, social understanding, and problem-solving that are crucial in many fields. Combined with another major or minor, a major in Religious Studies can serve as a broadening and enriching experience, enhancing the value of the other major or minor.
As a small department in a small liberal-arts college, students are invited to pursue their own interests through collaborative research projects with faculty. One example: over several summers two students worked on an oral history of the Islamic Society of Carroll County (the local mosque community). Students who are proactive and self-starters will find faculty very willing to work independently with them on projects of their choosing. Most students write a senior thesis as a capstone experience. This gives them a change to work intensely on a topic of their choosing with guidance from a faculty supervisor.
Recent student-faculty research projects include:
|Dr. Greg Alles||The Islamic Society of Carroll County: An Oral History|
|Katarina Winhauer||Dr. Greg Alles||The Religious Subtext of Dracula Movies|
Our department always offers first year seminars and always needs peer mentors, which counts as an internship. We are open to suggestions for other internships from students, but the internship must somehow involve the study of religions, not the practice of religion.
Study abroad is a good way for students to supplement what we can provide them on campus, and we encourage religious studies majors who study abroad to use that time, at least in part, to take courses in religious studies. For example, one student spent a semester at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, developing a concentration in Jewish studies. A major who studied in our Budapest program recently used the opportunity to examine religious life in Hungary to prepare for writing her senior thesis.
Student Organization / Honors Organizations
The Religious Studies club is a student led organization. As faculty, we like to see it active, and we encourage students to explore their interests through it. In the past students have sometimes used the club as a way to visit religious institutions, to host regular film nights, and to have discussions about the ways religion appears in the news. The agenda is for students to set.
McDaniel College has a chapter of the national honors society in religious studies, Theta Alpha Kappa.
Faculty at McDaniel are more than willing to work with students as they take advantage of the rich resources of the mid-Atlantic region to explore religions.