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Religion Department Renamed Department of Religious Studies

New name more accurately represents the department’s mission and scholarship

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December 2, 2009 | by Wendy Leopold

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University's department of religion has been renamed the department of religious studies to better represent the department's mission and clarify the nature of its scholarship. Its mission is to study religion in critical and non-partisan ways as opposed to advocating religion.

Northwestern's department was among the first religion departments in the country to move from a specific focus on Christian biblical studies to the comparative study of religion. In 1926, the department began offering courses in world religions and, subsequently, faculty taught courses on Buddhism, comparative religious ethics and related subjects.

The name change reflects the growth of the department and its inclusion of new areas of emphasis, such as American religious studies, Latin American religious studies, Catholic studies and the study of Islam in Africa. The addition of these areas signals the department's view of religion as a multi-faceted phenomenon.

In a departmental statement, faculty said the name change also makes clear that members of the department are not engaged in the promotion or practice of religion as in a seminary, but instead are engaged in liberal, inter-disciplinary, critical and comparative approaches to the study of religious traditions in all their diversity.

The religious studies web site is at http://www.religion.northwestern.edu/index.html.