The Academic Study of Religion

Carleton’s Religion program studies religions in a secular, academic setting. While theologians think about religion in order to live religiously according to a particular idea of Truth, in the university we look at religions comparatively and critically. This means that we consider the various truths that different religious communities hold, withholding judgment on questions central to theological inquiry. This permits equal participation to the widest range of believers and non-believers, without showing hostility or favour to any particular set of beliefs. This type of methodological atheism is key to moving beyond tolerance toward understanding, a crucial foundation for our diverse, multicultural society, and allows for students to critically and respectfully examine their own beliefs and ideas as well as those of others.

We also think about the category “religion” itself, and consider the problems inherent in its application beyond a Western context.

Program-Wide Learning Outcomes

The following are some of the learning outcomes toward which we strive in all of our courses.

After taking our courses, students will:

  1. be able to formulate positions consistent with the academic study of religion, which stresses outsider discourse, methodological atheism, and the ability to differentiate between advocacy and the critical study of religion.
  2. be able to analyze the history of and relationship among the major religions of the world in their local and global contexts.
  3. be able to critically evaluate characteristic features and experiences of religious people in a global environment.
  4. be able to appraise the integral role of religion as a category helping to shape cultures, identities, political systems, and public life.
  5. be able to argue for the value of religious literacy, which includes facility in specialist terminology native to religions as well as specialist terminology relative to the discipline.
  6. be able to formulate cogent and theoretically nuanced arguments.
  7. be able to make connections between theoretical approaches used in the academic study of religion and their real-world implications and applications.