What is distinctive about a religion major at Illinois College?
In the 20th century, some commentators saw the importance of religion waning. In the 21st century, religion has become an increasingly important component of national and international discussions. A religion major or minor distinguishes an IC graduate with a respect for and tolerance of numerous religious ideas, practices, and cultural expressions, preparing students to understand and engage in these ongoing discussions.
Additionally, understanding basic concepts and methods in the study of religion builds on a traditional liberal arts skills of reading well, thinking well, and writing well. The religion major prepares students for careers in medicine, law, teaching, public service, and also serves as a pre-professional base for students pursuing the study of religion beyond the baccalaureate degree.
Courses in religion are taught in an interdisciplinary manner. It is studied using techniques from literary analysis, anthropology, sociology, history, philosophy, and archaeology. Different “texts” are studied, including traditional scriptural documents, such as the Bible, the Bhagavad-Gita, or the Qur'an. But other “texts” are also studied, such as films, novels, and news of current events. Students are given the opportunity to develop a variety of analytical skills and areas of specialization as they purse a major or minor in religion.
What opportunities are available for students?
Like anthropologists who go into the field to study their subjects, students in the religion department have similar opportunities through field trips into several classes. Students can read about religious practices as well as observe them. These field trips are done both locally, with trips to religious sites in the region, but also internationally. The department encourages its majors to study abroad or to participate in the BreakAway program offered by Illinois College.
Professors in the department have lead trips to Japan, Thailand, Mexico, Peru, Spain, Greece, Morocco, and Turkey. One aspect of all of these trips has been to examine the religious practices, both current and historic, in these countries. Thus, one component of the trip to Mexico was examining liberation theology and its influence. The trip to Spain emphasized the relations between Jews, Christians, and Muslims during the medieval period. The trip to Turkey examined the relationship between Islam and a modern, democratic state.
Students are encouraged to follow their interests and the faculty work closely with them to facilitate independent study in areas of interest to the student. For example, students wishing to study biblical languages are given the opportunity to do, working in small groups or one-to-one with a faculty member. Students have designed independent research projects with a professor in the department on topics such as attitudes about women’s leadership in the church, Karl Barth and John Calvin, and the relationship between theology and domestic violence.
Theta Alpha Kappa is the national honor society for students in religion and theology. In order to be considered for membership in the Illinois College chapter of the society, students must meet the following requirements:
• Junior status at Illinois College
• Completed at least five (5) courses in religion, with at least two (2) courses
at the 300-level or above (which could include HIST 358, HIST 332, HIST 333)
• GPA of 3.5 in religion courses (which could include HIST 358, HIST 332, HIST 333)
• GPA of 3.0 in total academic program
• Ranked in the upper 35% of their class in general scholarship
Why Study Religion or Philosophy?
The Journal of Theta Alpha Kappa reported the results of a survey of students majoring in theology at Georgetown University between 1970-2003. Of the 182 respondents, 33% had a bachelor's degree, 33% earned a master's degree, and 33% received a doctorate (JD, PhD, EdD, DDM, MD, or DMin).
25% are educators, 16% are in law, 12% medicine, 8% business, 7% non-profits, 5% government, 4% finance, 4% fine arts. Surprisingly, only 4% are in careers related to religion (clergy, missionaries, etc.). Other careers (each constituting 3% or less of respondents) include counseling, writing, homemaking, continuing education, information technology, environmental science and culinary arts.
Many respondents "reported that their theology study and interaction with faculty and students had significantly influenced their life values and had increased their ability to think critically. . . to express themselves effectively and to strengthen and deepen their religious experience." (J. of TAK, Fall 2005, pp. 54-55)