BINGHAMTON, NY – A new religious studies minor currently being offered at Binghamton University is taking a multidisciplinary approach to allow students to learn about a multicultural world.
“Thanks to modern day technology, the distances between countries are not as vast as they once were,” says Randy Friedman, assistant professor of Judaic Studies and philosophy and director of the minor. “But the closer we are being brought together, the greater the need for an appreciation of each other’s cultures and societies. The study of religion can play an important role in fostering understanding as it includes almost every discipline and often influences even secular societies.”
According to Friedman, religion touches all facets of our daily lives, from social organization to politics and even economics. But the challenge is how to bring these elements into the classroom in a way that’s comprehensive and meaningful for students.
“At Binghamton University, we already offered courses in which religion is studied,” said Friedman. “There was just no centralized curriculum that would allow students to focus their studies specifically on religion.”
According to Friedman, the biggest test was to figure out what the requirements would be.
“How do you give someone with six courses enough of a focused curriculum to allow them to minor in the study of religion?” he said. Friedman examined more than a dozen similar programs at other schools and determined that the emphasis should be on discipline and religious tradition.
“One of the great things about Binghamton University is that these courses already exist,” he said. “And students could approach the topic from a variety of angles, ranging from applying evolutionary science to the study of religion, to examining religions around the globe. We also offer courses on Islam, Judaism, Christianity, African religions, Native American religions, and multiple Asian traditions. All the elements were already there – all we had to do was just draw them together.”
From this existing multifaceted base, a course was created specifically for the minor: PHIL315 “Method and Theory in the Study of Religion.” To fulfill requirements, student must take courses that include:
• at least two traditions, including but not limited to: African religions, Asian religions, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.â€¨
• at least two disciplines, including but not limited to: anthropology, biology, comparative literature, evolutionary studies or EvoS, philosophy, psychology, and sociology.â€¨
• a minimum of six courses. Students can count two courses from their major toward the minor.
“I think we have a good model to study the multiple disciplines and multiple traditions,” Friedman said. “You want students to have a multidisciplinary background, but also want a focus on high-level study of the material.”
Friedman is hoping to draw students who have already taken some of the prerequisites.
“As we build the program, I think students will begin their course of study at Binghamton University thinking, ‘I am going to be an anthropology major’ or ‘I am going to be a philosophy major’ but as they progress, will come to realize that they can very easily incorporate the religious studies minor right into their curriculum. Course offerings are broad-based and multidisciplinary but can be drawn together very easily into a focused but very flexible academic experience.”
Friedman believes the minor will benefit both students and the University.
“It benefits students because it provides them with a background in what is a central, moving force in world politics and world culture,” he said. “It benefits the University because it provides a meeting point for scholars from all of the disciplines who are working on the phenomena.”