Dear friends and alumni of Religious Studies,
It has been a true honor to serve as interim Chair of the Department of Religious Studies, a department with a long and proud tradition at MU. As most of you know, the department was founded in 1981 by the incomparable Jill Raitt, who left a prestigious position at Duke University to come to Missouri. Her efforts were profiled in the Winter 1982 edition of Mizzou Alumnus: https://mospace.umsystem.edu/xmlui/handle/10355/64402.
The MU Religious Studies department over the years has been small but mighty, attracting a stellar cohort of scholars and teachers who formed a special community. The faculty know their students and the students know each other. They celebrate each others’ professional successes and personal milestones and mourn their losses long after they move on. In my short time leading the department, I have been impressed by the faculty’s commitment to their students and to communicating with the wider public, as you will read more about in this newsletter.
Coming myself from the discipline of History, I have watched with concern as public higher education increasingly looks to humanities disciplines as places to cut in the face of budget woes. Yet, when I listen to public commentators mourn the rifts in our society, express confusion about the sources of those divisions, and question how we can ever heal as a nation, it seems obvious that we need the humanities—history, literature, philosophy, classics, and, indeed, religious studies-- now more than ever. The ability for university students to take classes or major in the study of religion is not a frivolous luxury but a public good. Religious Studies courses provide students with religious literacy that is critical to engaging with the complicated world we inhabit. Yet, we have seen in recent years a number of campuses eliminate the religious studies major.
Most of you received the news in April that, in the face of similar pressures at the University of Missouri, the Religious Studies department is undergoing some changes. As of July 1, 2021, the department will merge with the Department of Ancient Mediterranean Studies to form a new unit, the Department of Classics, Archaeology, and Religion (CAR). The chair of the new department will be Dennis Trout, a historian of late antiquity whose scholarship includes work on early Christianity. Indeed, there are many areas of overlapping interests and methodologies between AMS and RS faculty.
Importantly, the Religious Studies degree is not going away. The new department will house both a BA in Religious Studies and a BA in Ancient Mediterranean Studies. As part of the merger, the Religious Studies faculty will be joining the AMS faculty in the beautifully renovated Swallow Hall, located on the quad. A new website is in the works—watch for it sometime in late July.
The fall will bring a return to more in-person classes and events, and the CAR faculty is planning events to introduce our new department to students, the campus, alumni, and the wider community.
Professor and Chair of History
Interim Chair of Religious Studies