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219 Milbank Hall  
Department Administrative Assistant: Tynisha Rue

Chair: Jack Hawley (Professor)
Professors: Elizabeth Castelli, John Stratton Hawley
Associate Professor: Beth Berkowitz
Assistant Professor: Najam Haider
Visiting Assistant Professor: Gale Kenny

Other officers of the University offering courses listed below:

Professors: Peter Awn, Katherine Pratt Ewing, Bernard Faure, David Halivni (Emeritus), Wayne L. Proudfoot, Robert Somerville, Mark C. Taylor, Robert A.F. Thurman, Chun-Fang Yu
Associate Professors: Gil Anidjar, Courtney Bender, Michael Como
Assistant Professor: Josef Sorett

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, religion plays a central role in virtually every aspect of human society around the globe. The Religion department's curriculum offers students the opportunity to explore the histories, texts, and practices of many of the world's religious communities and to consider both the profound ways in which religion has worked historically and how it continues to inform and affect the cultural, political, and ethical debates of the current moment. In addition, our curriculum invites students to reflect on the challenging theoretical questions that are generated by the category "religion" itself, an abstract category that has its own complicated history. The academic study of religion is self-consciously interdisciplinary, drawing upon the methods and insights of literary studies, historiography, social analysis, and cultural comparison. Moreover, the study of religion reminds us that religious identities demand sustained critical analysis, intersecting complexly as they do with race, class, gender, and ethnicity, among other categories of affiliation and identification. In its teaching, research projects, and public programming, the Religion department promotes engaged intellectual inquiry into the rich diversity of religious institutions, rituals, ideas, and communities both past and present.

The Departments of Religion at Barnard and Columbia marshal an array of academic approaches to the study of religion, representing the depth and diversity of the world's religious traditions, past and present. The category of religion-along with key related terms like belief, spirituality, mystical experience, and ritual-is historically and culturally contingent; many of our courses interrogate these terms and the conditions of their construction. Yet we are committed to engaging "religion," which persists so strongly in common usage and public debate, and is so hard to capture in any related domain or theoretical system.

Morningside Heights provides unique resources for the study of religion. The University's specialized programs and centers, especially its regional institutes, create a context for exploring in depth the linguistic, literary, political, and cultural milieus that bear on particular religious traditions. The new Center for the Study of Science and Religion enriches curricular offerings in that field. Barnard's Center for Research on Women often focuses on issues of ethics and policy where questions of religion and gender are paramount, and Barnard Religion faculty are particularly active in the area. Barnard and Columbia offer intensive language training in the languages of the major religious traditions of the world: Arabic, Chinese, Greek, Hebrew, Japanese, Latin, Persian, Sanskrit and other Indic languages, and Tibetan, among others. The Jewish Theological Seminary of America and Union Theological Seminary, with their world-renowned libraries, are our neighbors. And the city as a whole provides one of the world's best laboratories for the study of religion.

Our program tries to help students discover these resources and use them well. Many courses fulfill the College's general education requirements.


Goals for the Academic Study of Religion at Barnard

The faculty in Religion at Barnard have organized the curriculum around several interlocking goals:

  • To help students learn to engage critically with different religious traditions in their historical and cultural settings;
  • To attune students to the different theoretical, methodological, and disciplinary approaches required for critically interrogating different religious archives, performances, communal formations, artifacts, and ideas;
  • To provide students with the critical tools for understanding the influence of religion on individuals and society;
  • To open up the category of ―religion‖ to critical investigation, both to consider its history and to understand how it comes to be applied to a variety of human and social phenomena.

Student Learning Outcomes

What Students Learn when Pursuing the Academic Study of Religion at Barnard

Students who are successful in our curriculum will learn to:

  • Read/view/engage primary sources and scholarly materials critically and with subtlety;
  • Situate religious texts, performances, artifacts, and ideas in historical, social, political, and cultural contexts;
  • Understand the importance of perspective when analyzing religious ideas, claims, and sources;
  • Express themselves fluently in writing and speaking about the materials under investigation.

In addition, they will:

  • Develop an acquaintanceship with the history of theoretical debates about "religion" —how the intellectual history of the field has shaped the object of knowledge for the field—and
  • Become familiar with a range of methodological approaches appropriate to the object of study (e.g., literary interpretation and analysis; historical contextualization; ethnographic participant observation; philosophical inquiry; analysis of visual, artistic, archaeological, architectural evidence).