I switched my second major from psychology to religious studies about six months ago for a few different reasons.
First, RELI classes are easier to get into than PSYC classes. And second, I felt like I needed a better understanding of religion in order to really understand violence and conflict, the focus of my first major — peace, war and defense. I’m a semester in, and already my new major has been so much more.
Bart Ehrman, a renowned New Testament scholar and historian, believes that religion is the perfect subject to study in college because it forces you to challenge your own world view. “They take a class like this and they realize ‘Oh my God, I had no idea,’” he says.
He was right — my first few RELI classes nudged me into a minor existential crisis.
The department of religious studies isn’t a divinity school. We study religion as a cultural, historical and very much human phenomenon in order to better understand the world. Like it or not, religion has shaped the way we live since the beginning of humanity.
The department’s faculty, which includes historians, anthropologists, philologists and other specialists, is not in the business of proving or disproving any particular belief. Ehrman says it best in his RELI 208 syllabus — his class “will not be taught from the perspective of faith, but also not from a perspective of disbelief.”
Ehrman says he presents historical facts to his students, who can decide for themselves — “I can talk about historical factors but somebody can still say ‘well, God was behind it all,’ and other people will say 'no, He wasn’t.’”
I fall into the ever-growing group of Americans that consider themselves spiritual but not religious. My family doesn’t go to church, but as a little girl, every night I asked God, in a sing-song voice, to bless my family, friends and stuffed animals. I believe in God, because I’ve always needed to believe that someone is looking out for me and the people I love.
During the darkest times in my life, I’d imagine myself as a little bird cupped in God’s hands.