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Long-awaited religious studies major will offer new opportunities to students

Students interested in studying topics such as the history of the Bible or Islamic culture will have even more choices in the upcoming year with the new religious studies major.

The UNF Board of Trustees approved the proposition by members of the philosophy department to create a new major at the March 15 meeting, allowing for plans to progress in making religious studies its own cohesive program.

UNF has had a religious studies minor for many years that borrowed a lot of its coursework from other disciplines, such as anthropology an sociology.

Julie Ingersoll, a UNF associate professor of religious studies, has been behind the push to turn religious studies into a major since she started at UNF in the early 2000s. Ingersoll said the program has not had enough professors in the past who specialize in religious studies to allow the program to make the next step.

The coursework required for the major will consist of 120 credit hours, with 36 hours of general education coursework and 24 hours of free electives.

Students will then be required to take “Comparative Religions,” the foundation course, along with eight to nine credit hours to fill the foreign language/foreign culture requirement for the degree. Along with nine credit hours worth of core coursework, students must complete a 15-credit minor along with other free electives to fill the 120 credit hour requirement. A three-credit senior seminar is also part of the program.

Ingersoll said students ask her about the possibility of a religious studies major at least two or three times a semester. The minor program is strong, she said, with around 100 students minoring in religious studies.

“Religion is a hugely important social force around the globe,” she said. “It’s one of those fields where students really focus on learning to think clearly — and to articulate themselves and to write well.”

Rick Phillips, an associate professor of sociology at UNF, teaches a class called “The Sociology of Religion,” as well as an upcoming course that discusses the sociology of the Bible. Phillips said it is important for students to understand the dynamics of religion in order to have a better worldview. Phillips said around 90 percent of Americans say they believe in God.

“Religion is a thread that runs through our families, it runs through our politics, it runs through all of our social institutions,” Phillips said. “You can’t be an educated citizen without knowing something about the religious aspects of American life — and not just American life, the world, as well.”

With the aftermath of 9/11, Ingersoll said it became apparent to her that many people have a misunderstanding of Islam. She said UNF is lucky to have a professor, Ronald Lukens-Bull, who specializes in the study of Islam.

Lukens-Bull, an associate professor of anthropology and Fulbright Scholar of Islamic Studies, said studying religious studies is an interdisciplinary program and derives many of its qualities from several different fields in order to provide a thorough study of religion.

“I think it’s important to understand all the various social dimensions of religion and to be able to know the place of religion in our society,” Lukens-Bull said.

But it’s not just Islam the masses misunderstand.

“People tend to know only a very narrow slice of the religious tradition in which they were raised,” Ingersoll said. “If you were raised a Baptist or you were raised an Episcopalian, you might know those denominations, but you might not know about the history and the cultural significance of Christianity itself.”

The philosophy department has a small number of professors dedicated to classes on religion, Lukens-Bull said, with other professors delving into the topics in a few choice courses. However, Ingersoll said she is hopeful about the future of the program, as many more professors will be coming to the program.

Pullout Box:

Keep an eye out for some of the following classes within the religious studies program:

Magic, Science and Religion
Comparative Religions
Buddhism and Philosophy
Religion as Culture
Pilgrimage and Sacred Geography
History of Christianity

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