Religion is deeply implicated in human culture, shaping morality and ethics, law and literature, politics and society. It is fundamental to civilizations worldwide, both premodern and modern, and it is never far from the front page of any newspaper. Our faculty and students are therefore eager to work in an interdisciplinary way to engage with economics, government, philosophy, psychology, sociology, and other fields in their religious contexts.
Religion courses at Smith are critical, comparative and cross-cultural. They examine the nature and function of religious phenomena in the past and present. They provide opportunities to analyze systems of belief, patterns of religious behavior, the history of religious traditions, the social functions of religion and various forms of religious expression such as myth, ritual, sacred texts, liturgy, theology and philosophical reflection.
In the department’s view, students of any religious affiliation, or none, can benefit from a course of study in religion. It is not unusual, however, for a student's interest in religious studies to be motivated by existential questions about human existence and the meaning of life. We believe there is no better way for a person to work out her own answers than by studying the distillations of insight found in the world's religious traditions.
The research interests of our faculty are reflected not only in the classes that we offer, but also in the speakers, artists, activists and religious leaders that we invite to Smith. Over the years, we have hosted many of the major religious thinkers and scholars of the world. Some of the past speakers and events include:
- “John Henry Newman and G.K. Chesterton: Reflections of a Biographer,” a lecture by Ian Ker, Oxford University
- “The Other in the Hebrew Bible,” a lecture by John J. Collins, Yale University
- “‘Lost’ Between Memory and History: Writing the Holocaust for the Next Generation,” a lecture by Daniel Mendelsohn, award-winning author and critic
- “Love of God, Love of Neighbor: Martha and Mary in the Middle Ages,” a lecture by Amy Hollywood, Harvard University
- The Shaping of Many Islams: Struggle Over Authority Between God, Texts and People, an international seminar
- Buddhism in Mongolia: Rebirth and Transformation, an international seminar
- “The Bhakti Movement: India's National Religion in Text and Image,” a lecture by John Stratton Hawley, Barnard College
- A visit by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso