Goals of the Department of Religious Studies

Department Goals

 

As its Mission Statement declares, Saint Mary's College seeks to cultivate a "Christian community of intellectual inquiry." As an instance of this goal, the College seeks to provide "an open forum where students freely and critically study the rich heritage of the Catholic tradition." The Department of Religious Studies plays a crucial role within this part of the College's mission by seeking to create an academic environment for the open study of religion and for serious theological inquiry. The department is firmly committed to St. Anselm's definition of theology as "faith seeking understanding." This both grounds our commitment to the rigors and virtues of the intellectually examined religious life and distinguishes us from the primarily pastoral approach of Campus Ministry. Our respect for the faith life of our students is shaped by our desire to give them the critical skills they need to appropriate that faith more maturely and responsibly and to live it more fully and truly. We hope, therefore, to offer students (a) the occasion for investigating without inhibition the meaning and truth of religious claims, (b) the obligation and the courage to risk a conversation with people, ideas, texts and traditions which appear different and challenging to their own perspectives, and (c) the responsibility for critical thinking and reasoned argumentation in the development and advancement of their own views.

These broad departmental objectives--ultimately, what we take to be the basic tasks of Religious Studies and theology--translate into a number of more specific goals for student achievement. Department faculty work, on the one hand, to familiarize students with representative content from the field of Religious Studies and from the more specific discipline of theology. Through the department's courses, its professors seek to make students cognizant of some of the major features of religious experience and traditions; and, in particular, we work to introduce students to the central ideas, authors and practices of the Catholic tradition of Christianity.

We hope, on the other hand, to initiate students in some of the basic cognitive skills and habits of mind at play in Religious Studies and theology. Courses in the Department of Religious Studies variously seek to acquaint students with the skills of critical interpretation and the methods of explanation current in the field, to convey to them a respect and appreciation for the classic sources of the Christian tradition, and to help them make the connections between religious tradition and the rest of personal and cultural life.

As ideals, these goals reflect (a) the long-standing Catholic tradition of bringing faith and reason (or belief and intellect) together in a complementary, dialectical relationship; (b) the open and ecumenical ethos of the post-Vatican II Catholic church; and (c) Religious Studies professors' own position as faculty in the academic world of twenty-first century America. Given the relative absence of women in the history of Catholic theology, the advancement of these goals in an institution dedicated to educating women also reflects (d) the College Mission's commitment to "the rights and responsibilities of women in the worlds of work, church and community."