Religion Studies Program Helps Students Gain Understanding


(Photo by Dane Goodwin)

(Photo by Dane Goodwin)
(Photo by Dane Goodwin)

Earlier this year, it was announced that the U was exploring the idea of offering a minor in Mormon studies.
While the Mormon studies minor has not yet been finalized, the religion studies program is growing and moving forward.
Maeera Shrieber, interim director of the religious studies program, said she is an advocate of the addition of the Mormon studies minor, as well as the Jewish studies and Islamic studies minors she hopes would be added at the same time.
“Our goal is to go forward with all those proposals at once rather than one after the other,” Shrieber said.
The plan would be to expand the religious studies program as a whole, rather than adding small focuses one at a time.
“I think [students] understand, correctly, that many of the major issues in the world are grounded in questions of religious difference and religious conflict,” Shrieber said. “To really become literate about global issues requires an understanding of religion.”
In contrast with the U’s program, which is still relatively new after starting up in 2012, religious studies have been accepted in academia for over a hundred years. Shrieber said Utah’s lack of a religious studies program in the past has been a drawback for the institution.
Natalie Coons, a first year nursing student, said she sees the value of having religion in the catalog, even if she is focused on her nursing degree.
“I would be able to understand my patients more in a care setting,” Coons said. “I’d be able to relate to them more.”
Shrieber said she feels a minor in religious studies requires students to become more thoughtful on a variety of issues.
“As a minor within the context of religious studies, it requires necessarily that one becomes literate in a critical study of religion,” Shrieber said. “And for one to grow more deeply into an understanding of the making of a political movement, because religions are cultural institutions, social institutions, as well as political institutions.”
Not all students at the U think a university setting is the best place for religion to be taught. Niladri Banerjee, a Ph.D. student in electrical engineering, said the issue is debatable.
“Religion is a faith, a belief system,” Banerjee said. “Teaching religion pushes you in a particular direction — that’s not ideal.”
Other students, such as Courtnie Mustain, a junior in political science, are more enthused about classes in religious studies being available, even if it’s not their major.
“It’s important to understand everyone’s different religions and cultures,” Mustain said.
Mustain also said she thinks religion studies are important in the context of politics.
“It gives you more perspective to what other people believe and how other people feel about the world around them,” she said.
As interest in religion studies grows, minors in Mormon, Islamic and Jewish studies come closer to entering the catalog.
“I think we can double [the number of majors and minors] this year,” Shrieber said. “There is a huge amount of interest on the part of students.”
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