Orientation Information for New Students

We are thrilled to welcome you to the Religious Studies Department at the College of Charleston. We have created this page as the first stop on your journey to learning more about the fun, rewarding, and flexible lives of RELS majors, and we hope you find it helpful.

Find out how to get started and stay involved!

The academic study of religion at the College of Charleston is an integral part of the liberal arts. The department's curriculum provides students with an understanding of diverse religious traditions, exposure to a variety of approaches employed within the academic study of religion as well as an opportunity to explore the different intellectual, social-theoretical, and ethical issues that arise when one considers the varying roles of religion in human life. Our courses do not aim to promote or undermine any particular religion or worldview; the academic study of religion seeks to examine religion from outside the framework of any particular worldview or belief system.

 Academic vs Theological Studies of Religion

There are two distinctly different methods of teaching religion in colleges and universities today. The academic approach is taught in public colleges and universities and emphasizes a tolerant but detached attitude toward the world’s religions. Many kinds of questions are explored, such as: “What do people believe and practice? How have their beliefs and practices changed over time? What texts do they regard as sacred and authoritative, and why are some texts deemed canonical while others are regarded as heretical? How do the ‘insiders’ of one religion view ‘outsiders’ from other religious traditions?” The approach is interdisciplinary, historical and comparative and it underscores the value in understanding many different religious perspectives.

The theological approach is found in seminaries and other schools with religious affiliations. A theological approach is often used in training students for careers in religion. It is a faith-oriented approach that asks different types of questions: “Which religion do I believe to be right or why is another religion inappropriate for me? Is there a religion that is right for all people? What is the proper moral approach to a positive religious life in my faith?”  This type of education supports a particular religious perspective and argues in support of the validity of faith claims. It speaks primarily to others who share similar religious commitments.

The Department of Religious Studies at the College of Charleston follows the academic rather than the theological style of teaching. Faculty here take a sympathetic and yet properly critical approach to all religious traditions and present them as both interesting and provocative. 

For more on the academic study of religion, see Why Study Religion? and Why the World Needs Religious Studies.