Tree of Life by Ardyn Halter

“If I went back to college today, I think I would probably major in comparative religion, because that’s how integrated it is in everything that we are working on and deciding and thinking about today” - Secretary of State John F. Kerry, August 7, 2013

At Drew, Comparative Religion is the study of religion as public culture whose roots are regional and reach is global in history and today. With one foot in the humanities and the other in the social sciences, Comparative Religion is the analysis of influential cultural definitions of individual and social identity, modes of governance, techniques of bodily healing, life expectations such as love and marriage, and codes and laws of ethical behavior.* Comparative Religion is interdisciplinary in nature and contributes significantly and distinctively to our knowledge of human nature, global cultures, diversity, and ethical standards and practices. Our students and faculty promote an informed public discourse on religion in culture, history, society, politics, and artistic expression.

Comparative Religion: What We Do

  • Explain concepts, practices and patterns of global religions through the interpretation of a wide variety of sources, including masterpieces of literature, art, architecture and performance (Cultural Studies)
  • Analyze religion as an influential expression of human experience across the globe, including Africa, America, Asia, Europe and the Middle East, using methods of historical analysis, ethical reasoning and practice, and comparative study (Global Studies)
  • Examine Western and world history, from local culture to global news, through an understanding of religion’s roles in world events, both past and present (Social Studies)
  • Interpret ethical standards and practices and values-motivated behavior of individuals and groups, historically and in the present (Behavioral Studies)

Comparative Religion: What We Contribute

International: Religion has a vibrant presence across the globe

  • “The proportion of the world’s population that claims membership in the world’s four largest religions – Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism – actually increased over the past century, from 67 percent in 1900 to 73 percent in 2005. The number is predicted to reach 80 percent by 2050. . .Former Secretary of State [Madeleine] Albright recently has become a highly vocal advocate of the public role of religion studies, writing that the failure of Americans to understand other religions `poses one of the great challenges to our public diplomacy.’”**
  • John Kerry has recently added his voice to the growing multitude interested in Comparative Religion: “If I went back to college today, I think I would probably major in comparative religion, because that’s how integrated it is in everything that we are working on and deciding and thinking about today” (Faith-Based Community Initiatives Launch, August 7 2013; he has also expressed his interest in and support of  Comparative Religion at his Remarks at Youth Connect in Berlin, Germany, February 26, 2013). The State Department has a new Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives, led by ethicist Shaun Casey. In his Launch remarks Kerry also noted: “In a world where people of all faiths are migrating and mingling like never before, we ignore the global impact of religion at our peril.”

National: Assessing implementation of the U.S.’s core commitment to freedom of expression

  • We travel in our own region – New Jersey and New York City – to sacred spaces and institutions in order to understand the public presence of religious communities in the U.S. and ways in which their presence changes and enhances the diversity of our cultural landscape.

Comparative Religion Majors & Minors have the skills employers today say they want

In a national survey conducted for AAC&U in 2013, employers said they wanted a college education to emphasize the following skills, all of which are part of the study of Comparative Religion:***

  • Global issues and knowledge about societies and cultures outside of the U.S. 78% of employers
  • Ethical issues/public debates 87% of employers
  • Ethical decision making 64% of employers
  • Problem solving in diverse settings 91% of employers
  • Civic knowledge, skills and judgment essential for contributing to the community and to our democratic society 82% of employers
  • Written and oral communication 80% of employers
  • Critical thinking and analytic reasoning 82% of employers
  • Information literacy 72% of employers

Real-world civic engagement at home and abroad

  • We travel across the globe to places such as Egypt, India, Israel and Italy on Drew International Seminars, Drew Service Learning Seminars and semester-long study programs in order to understand how others view the world and our relationship to their views.
  • We travel to cultural institutions, such as museums and theaters, to assess the ways in which they represent religiously-inspired fine art and performing arts to the public.
  • We study real-world case studies in ethics classes – medical, business, environmental, social.
  • We apply our knowledge of global issues, diversity and ethical decision-making to diverse fields of internship and employment, including professions that address a diversity of people, such as medicine, education, public policy, law, marketing and administration of cultural institutions such as museums, as well as professions that have a pronounced global dimension, such as the arts, journalism, international law, international relations, international business, diplomatic service and humanitarian aid. Comparative Religion majors and minors may further consult our departmental Handbook on Outcomes.

*At Drew as at the majority of Liberal Arts academic institutions, Comparative Religion is located in the Humanities division; however, at many academic institutions as well as the International Baccalaureate, Comparative Religion is located in the Social Sciences division.

**Source: American Academy of Religion 2008 White Paper. Statistics are from the AAR Surveys of Religion and Theology Programs in the U.S.: Numbers Count

***Source: It Takes More than a Major: Employer Priorities for College Learning and Student Success. 2013. Washington, D.C.: Association of American Colleges and Universities and Hart Research Associates. Click here for the Key Findings from 2013 Survey of Employers on this survey and related employer findings.