In pursuing a degree in religious studies, you will study the religions and world views that are so powerful in our culture, as well as major religious traditions from across the globe. Religion is a wealth of intriguing phenomena, from U.S. politics to Hebrew singing in synagogues to the centuries of text editing by Confucian scholars. Underlying such phenomena are perennial big questions: What are the greatest powers in the world? What does life mean and what are people’s ultimate goals? How do we find reliable guidance in life? Human beings find themselves engaged by such "ultimate" questions; indeed, human life cannot be understood apart from them. Religious studies is dedicated to understanding human life—one's own life included—in this light.

The religious studies/sociology-anthropology major is suited for you if your interests include not only religious studies but also sociology-anthropology. Religious studies focuses on how religious traditions and systems work in many cultures, including ours, while sociology-anthropology explains and attempts to understand how society is organized, the origins and development of social institutions. Many of your classes will explore social change, identity formation, race, class, gender, and culture.

You may choose from several minors, as well. A minor in Jewish Studies is of great benefit if you are interested in ultimately working in a Jewish community, school, or one of the many closely aligned community organizations. Coursework will include required studies in world religions, Hebrew, and Judaism, along with electives in religious studies, history, or literature. The interreligious encounters minor is an excellent choice if your career will engage you in diverse cultures and environments. Coursework will include studies in a broad range of world religions, including Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam, and you will gain experience working with diverse groups in the community. If you are considering Christian seminary or want to work in a Christian environment or organization, you should consider a minor in Christian studies. Coursework will include required study in world religions, the New Testament, and Christian Thought, along with electives in religious studies and Greek.

  • James Bowley

    James E. Bowley

    Professor of Religious Studies

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    BA, Grace College; MPhil, PhD, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion;

    "I'm lucky to belong to two great departments, philosophy and religious studies. There's an endlessly interesting interaction between the things I learn in these two fields. Yet my purposes in them are quite distinct: in philosophy I want to see what can be figured out just by the free exercise of reason, while in religious studies I deal with the experiences, practices, and spiritually potent thoughts of actual individuals and historical communities.

    "My specialty is philosophy of religion, but in the liberal arts college context I've had the opportunity to explore and teach in many related subjects, including the history of Western philosophy; philosophy of human nature; ethics; aesthetics and philosophy of film; religion and science; religious ethics; and the history of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim thought. My historical and cultural awareness has grown immensely as a result of teaching in the Millsaps humanities core, especially in the Heritage courses.

    "I teach because I want to learn and be in conversation, especially about viable ideal standards of realness and goodness. (Platonic Forms? Possibly!) Outside of active inquiry, knowledge isn't alive. Outside of conversation, ideas are untrustworthy. One has to test one's understanding of anything by trying to share it with others. Together we have to test the way we live by trying to apply our best ideas. For me, every class is a fellowship dedicated to these principles."

    Visit Dr. Smith's personal website.

  • Shelli Poe—Millsaps College

    Shelli Poe

    Assistant Professor of Religious Studies; Director of Initiative for Vocational Inquiry; Director of Vocation, Ethics, and Society

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    BA, Bethel University; MDiv, Princeton Theological Seminary; PhD, University of Virginia

    "I teach in the Religious Studies Department and specialize in Christianity. One of my aims as a teacher is to open students to the broad and rich thought-life of Christians throughout time and space. My students and I explore the many different Christianities we find across the globe and here in the U.S. It’s amazing just how diverse Christians really are. What’s more—we find that Christianity has profound capacities for self-criticism and change. By studying Christianity in an academic context, students become empowered to engage in our multi-religious world with deep respect for the complexity of religious life.

    "I teach courses like Christian Thought; Christian Theology Today; Christian Liberation: Race and Sex; The Pentecostal Explosion; Work, Ethics, and Society; Does Religion Belong in the Hospital?; Feminism in Religious Traditions; and Re-thinking Jesus. In these courses, I take a learner-centered approach. I focus on helping students achieve their particular learning goals and providing opportunities and assistance for them to develop their own reflections and thoughts."

    View Dr. Poe's personal website.

  • Charles Preston

    Charles Preston

    Visiting Assistant Professor of Religious Studies

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    BA, Pomona College; MA, PhD, University of Chicago Divinity School

    I was bitten by the religious studies bug my freshman year when I witnessed how the subject permeates human experience and how within the discipline one is free to wear many different hats: anthropologist, historian, literary scholar, philosopher, political theorist, etc. Additionally, human creativity as an aspect of religious practice and the question of how religious texts were composed through contextual strategic improvisation resonated with my other life as a songwriter and funk, rock, and blues bassist! When exposed to Hindu texts my sophomore year, I was hooked, and the rest is history. My current research focuses on the modern uses of Sanskrit, the sacred language of most Hindu texts but also a language deemed dead in the modern period. What interests me is how contemporary authors of Sanskrit literature continue to write in this language of the past to speak to religious, cultural, and political contexts of the present. I try to bring a similar perspective to my classes on Hinduism and Buddhism by encouraging students to take a multidimensional approach and to think about religious practitioners as working creatively to find meaning and belonging, maintaining central thematic key signatures yet riffing according changing historical time signatures. I also encourage students themselves to riff on these religions by using their conceptualizations and practices as lenses through which to reflect analytically on their own lives, histories, beliefs, and creative endeavors.

  • Steven G. Smith

    Steven G. Smith

    Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Jennie Carlisle Golding Chair in Philosophy

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    BA, Florida State University; MA, Vanderbilt University; PhD, Duke University

    "I have the good fortune to belong to two great departments, philosophy and religious studies. There's an endlessly interesting interaction between the things I learn in these two fields, but my purposes are quite distinct: in philosophy I want to see what can be figured out just by the free exercise of reason, while in religious studies I deal with the experiences, practices, and spiritually potent thoughts of actual individuals and historical communities.

    "My specialty is philosophy of religion, but in the liberal arts college context I've had the opportunity to explore and teach in many related subjects, including the history of Western philosophy; philosophy of human nature; ethics; aesthetics and philosophy of film; religion and science; religious ethics; and the history of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim thought. My historical and cultural awareness has grown immensely as a result of teaching in the Millsaps humanities core, both in the Heritage program and in the Topics course sequence.

    "I teach because I want to learn and be in conversation, especially about viable ideal standards of realness and goodness. (Platonic Forms? Perhaps!) Outside of active inquiry, knowledge isn't alive. Outside of conversation, ideas are dull and untrustworthy. One has to test one's understanding of anything by trying to share it with others. Together we have to test the way we live by trying to apply our best ideas. For me, every class is a fellowship dedicated to these principles."

    Visit Dr. Smith's personal website.