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Department of Religious Studies

Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, John E. Sawyer Seminar
Vernacular Islam Beyond the Arab World

Sawyer Seminar Co Directors

Co-Directors for the year-long Sawyer Semninar for Islamic Studies faculty and graduate students titled "When the Fringe Dwarfs the Center: Vernacular Islam beyond the Arab World" (left to right): David Wasserstein (History, Jewish Studies), Samira Sheikh (History, Asian Studies), and Tony K. Stewart (Religious Studies, Asian Studies). The seminar will host five public talks in conjunction with the Robert Penn Warren Humanities Center this spring.

Department of Religious Studies.  The academic study of religion on the campus of Vanderbilt University starts with the Department of Religious Studies. Our first and primary mission is to educate undergraduates in the nature, history, and function of different religious traditions, individually and comparatively. Care is taken to situate these religions in their cultural and social contexts, while examining the critical roles they play in shaping individual and group perspectives on the conduct of human affairs. The department offers a major in Religious Studies, a minor in Religious Studies, and an Honors track. At present, areas of concentration include (alphabetically) African-American Religious Traditions, Buddhism and Asian Religious Traditions, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Wherever possible, the appropriate languages are strongly encouraged, complicating the student's understanding in ways impossible by any other method. The general approach to the study is initially descriptive, but multidisciplinary, while providing the student with a variety of analytical tools, theoretical perspectives, and practical methods for interpretation. The comparative component ensures that students recognize the commonalities of various religious traditions, thereby developing a sense of the abstract idea of generic 'religion' while maintaining a strong sense of the historical differences among traditions. Successful students should expect to emerge from the program with a set of analytical skills and disciplined perspectives on this all-important feature of human experience that will prepare them to thrive in an increasingly pluralistic, global community.

Islamic Studies and Arabic. The Department of Religious Studies works closely with the Islamic Studies program in the Arts & Science, providing core courses for the Minor in Islamic Studies. All Arabic language and literature offerings originate in the Department of Religious Studies.

Jewish Studies and Hebrew. The department contributes both faculty and courses to the university's widely recognized Jewish Studies program. Starting Fall 2013, the study of Hebrew language has shifted from the Department of Religious Studies to the Program in Jewish Studies.

Asian Studies. With the development of Asian Studies as a separate program on the Vanderbilt campus, shared faculty are formally sanctioned to participate in the programming of Asian Studies with an increasing number of courses cross-listed.

Graduate Department of Religion.  Religious Studies provides faculty and course support to the Graduate Department of Religion, primarily in the area of  'Historical and Critical Theories of Religion.' The expertise in history, theories, and methods provided by Religious Studies faculty ensure the integrity of the PhD program in the Graduate Department of Religion.


For more information these various courses of study, please follow the links in the menu.


    Naveeda Khan, 03 Feb 2016
    Juan Cole, 27 January 2016


    Seminar Précis and Project

Seminar Presentations

    Seminar Participants


    M. Issam Eido
    Alexis S. Wells


    Aburrahman Aliy
    Alex Dubilet


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