THE CASE FOR RELIGIOUS STUDIES
People often think that a degree in religious studies often leads to a fine career at Starbucks; however, that would be a fallacy. Religion is pretty much connected with everything: culture, economics, and yes, politics. In case you haven’t noticed, in every major controversial political discussion such as abortion, global warming, war on terror, immigration, welfare policy and most recently gay marriage; religion has played a key role in public, political and legal opinion. So if you are into business administration, education, political science, history, accounting, psychology, journalism, and even biology, understanding religion will allow you to access your field and every other discipline from a deeper perspective.
Before I continue, let me get the small elephant out of the room. You may be thinking that religious studies is not for you, in fact, you may believe the pervasive stereotype that says that religion is just what you do during your private time, once a week, at a church, synagogue, mosque or temple, with the same group of people you often don’t see outside this setting. Or we can go further and say that it is an obsolete field in this secular society. But really this is just a stereotype, which we owe to many sociologists who during the 60s and 70s predicted that religion was very soon going to die. Like John Lennon they imagined a world without religion. But of course, that never happened. Religion is all around us and it is here to stay. To be sure, religion is emerging alongside race, gender and ethnicity as one of the key identity markers of the twenty-first century. Furthermore, in order to understand a world that kills and makes peace in the name of religion we must have at least some basic religious literacy. We need religious studies to be able to analyze by ourselves national and international events and conflicts such as ISIS, Israel-Palestine relations, or Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment and his fiery speeches against capitalism.
So if you sincerely look around for a day, you will discover that our society is a-washed with religious symbols, and understanding them not only makes us more interesting people, but more importantly it makes us responsible citizens.
The problem is that even though United States is a “furiously religious country” it is also “furiously illiterate” as Stephen Prothero says.
Scholar Stephen Prothero reveals in his book “Religious Literacy” the following statistics that show how bankrupt we are when in comes to religious literacy:
– Catholics cannot name the 7 sacraments
Protestants cant name the four gospels
and Jews cant name the 5 books of Moses.
– Only 10 percent of US American teenagers can name all five major world religions and 15 percent cannot name any.
– Nearly two-thirds of US Americans believe that the Bible holds the answers to all or most of life’s basic questions, yet only half of US adults can’t name even one of the four Gospels and most US Americans cannot name the first book of the Bible.
10 % of US Americans believe that Joan of Arch was Noah’s wife.
and a Large portion think that Sodom and Gomorra were married.
Religious studies is a great remedy to cure this gangrene of cultural ignorance that is eating our country. Like Prothero says, the world would go from black and white to a multicolor munchkin land once you introduce religious studies into your mind.
THE PERSON BEHIND THE CURTAIN…
A little about myself and my credentials.
I hold an M.A. in religious studies and a B.A. in mass communication and journalism, with a minor in religious studies. Because of my fascination with sports, I worked as a sports journalist at Radio Caracol for two years. I mainly covered women and sports, but also analyzed the power of football and other sports as a “religious” force. Eduardo Galeano, one of my favorite Argentinian authors once said that football (soccer) is the only religion that has no atheists. Religion is broad and malleable, informing every human endeavor, even if we don’t recognize it in our seemingly secular society. My interest in religion grew as I continued to work in the radio station, ultimately leading me to complete my M.A. in religious studies. I have a strong interest in Eastern traditions and their relevant impact in our westerns societies.
Since the beginning of my academic journey I have shifted careers toward education, and now I’m mostly devoted to teaching at the religious studies department.
On a personal note, besides being a book shopaholic, I’m a fan of Bossanova music and a hiking enthusiast. I drink too much coffee, and if I could, I’d have my office in the middle of the forest. Last summer I got to scratch sky-diving from my bucket list, but perhaps my favorite experience was my most recent trip to India. For two months I traveled throughout the north, including Varanasi, where the Ganges river runs. In my last stop, I visited the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala during his birthday. One of the most amazing days of my life.