About the Religion Program

At Bard, religion offerings are organized within three primary approaches to the study of religious phenomena: interpretive, historical, and theoretical. Note that some courses fit more than one category. Introductory as well as more advanced courses exemplifying each approach are regularly offered.

Interpretative Approach:

Religions articulate their distinctive views of how people act, feel, and think through texts and conduct. Religious texts articulate classic views of what makes the world, how people relate to it, and how they relate to one another. Learning to let these sources speak to us in their own terms is indispensable to the study of religion, and sometimes demands specialized linguistic competence. Human practices likewise evoke or embody religious systems. By describing what people have done and do on religious grounds, we can learn to analyze the actions, emotions, and thoughts commended by religious systems.

Historical Approach:

Religious ideas and practices unfold in particular times and places. The historical approach explores religions as social and cultural manifestations across time. Religion courses falling under the Historical rubric are varied. Many focus on the chronological development of different types of thought and practice within one major religion, as it has been formulated over the centuries. History courses may also involve more than one religion, in which case two or more religions are typically examined in a comparative light, or one in particular may be explored more intensively within a single historical period, as in courses that investigate a certain religion within the modern or contemporary era. Finally, place can play a central role in history courses, where the study of a world religion and its historical development centers on one region where it has been practiced, or where a region that is home to many religions is looked at in terms of how its many traditions have interacted through time.

Theoretical Approach:

From the Greek word for "viewing," theory calls attention to the conceptual framework by means of which scholars observe and analyze religious behavior. Students of religion employ a broad palette of theoretical orientations, drawing from anthropology, sociology, and psychology, as well as comparative religion, to guide their exploration of the practices and beliefs found within particular religious systems. Theory courses within the Religion Program assist students in examining what questions are vital and helpful to ask of religious data, how religion may be linked to other social and psychological variables, and how such considerations may serve to shape research strategies.