Religion program looks at belief systems through comparative lens

Central Michigan University offers a diverse religion curriculum, though some students and faculty would like to see even more classes offered.

Current classes cover a broad range of beliefs and religious topics, including women in religion, the relationship between religion and human sexuality and modern religious thought.

Philosophy and religion faculty Laurel Zwissler said the approach she and others in the field use to discuss religion is academic as opposed to strictly theological.

“We use anthropology, social science and history tools to look at religion in human practice,” Zwissler said. “It’s different from theology, which is in the context of a specific religion. A question like ‘What does God want from us?’ is theological because it assumes a specific deity and uses materials and traditions from a specific religion to answer the question.”

Zwissler said the academic study of religion allows for discussion of different viewpoints, regardless of one’s beliefs.

“We might ask, ‘What do Christians argue about this? What do Muslims and Buddhists?’” Zwissler said.

Philosophy and religion professor David Smith said the mission of the curriculum is to allow religion to be studied and compared in a way that helps students understand the nature of being human.

“I think the religion program is one of the few places in the university where broad questions regarding things like the meaning of life are being asked,” Smith said. “By looking at different answers and comparing them, we hope students will understand their own traditions better and how they fit into them.”

Religion major and Clinton Township junior Amanda Jaczkowski said she enjoys the variety of classes the curriculum currently offers.

“Something I’ve really learned in all religion classes is how to look objectively at religious practices and theories,” Jaczkowski said.

Expanding the religion department's curriculum could take many different paths in the future.

Smith said he would like the religion program to eventually do more to cover indigenous religions. Zwissler said she looks forward to hosting courses about new religious movements and the portrayal of religion in science fiction.

Jaczkowski said she would like to see courses about Islam expanded.

“I’d love to see more Islamic-based classes so that there could be an official Islamic studies concentration,” Jaczkowski said.


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