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Featured Academic Unit - Department of Religious Studies

This is the first in a series of articles highlighting how academic programs and departments have aligned with the themes and initiatives in the Academic Plan, Crossing Boundaries. The Department of Religious Studies agreed to be the first department to describe the interdisciplinarity of their work, their use of innovative pedagogy, and their pursuit of academic excellence through research. Please contact us at so that we can feature your department or program.

The faculty members are quick to point out that Religious Studies is a field, not a discipline, and therefore interdisciplinary by nature. Students in their courses discuss disciplines ranging from psychology to economics, art and archeology to film. In the words of associate professor and department chair Alan Lenzi, "we cut across the disciplines in that we look at our material through historical, literary, sociological, ethical, and psychological lenses." In fact, Religious Studies courses are required by or serve as electives for many other majors, including Asian Studies, Philosophy and English.

A new course that epitomizes this interdisciplinarity is Introduction to Digital Humanities, taught by associate professor Caroline (Carrie) Schroeder. Cross-listed in Religious Studies and English, this course bridges humanities and technology. Students learn to conduct and publish their research online, examples of which are here. Other uses of online publishing include student blogs, where students discuss their reactions to films they've watched in George Randels' Religion & Cinema course; student-created, multimedia wikis in Dr. Lenzi's classes; and the production of short documentary videos as a final project in Dr. Storch's World Religions class. The top three documentaries in Dr. Storch's class will receive monetary awards from the United Methodist Church, and students will present their videos along with their research.  

In addition, Drs. Schroeder and Randels and their students have joined other faculty members and students from several academic units in the cross-disciplinary Tiger Domains pilot project, led by Dr. Schroeder, in which students establish and publish research to their own online sites. This pilot is based upon the Domain of One's Own project and funded by a TEC (Technology in Education Committee) grant and the Center for Teaching and Learning. The CTL will feature some of the faculty members and their students in a showcase January 22.

The Department of Religious Studies is comprised of four faculty members, all of whom have current, upcoming, or recent books and research projects. These range from Dr. Storch's acclaimed The History of Chinese Buddhist Bibliography and her recently-published and award-winning second monograph, Buddhist-Based Universities in the United States, to Dr. Randels' monograph, Contemporary Bioethics, and his work in progress that examines the varied ways in which bioethics intersect with environmental issues such as sustainability and climate change. Dr. Lenzi recently completed an 80,000-word survey of Akkadian (Babylonian) literature for Oxford University Press. He also is working on several articles and continues to advance his long-term project, Akkadian Shuila Prayers. In addition to her NEH-funded Coptic SCRIPTORIUM project, Dr. Schroeder is working on a monograph about children in early monasteries and has co-edited a forthcoming volume that looks at early Christianity through the life of one family.

Through cross-disciplinary teaching, the embrace of innovations and technology, and the excellence of their scholarship the members of the Department of Religious Studies are working hard to ensure their field of study, which canvasses the globe and spans from ancient to modern times, remains "contemporary and relevant," in the words of Dr. Lenzi, to incoming 21st-century students.