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  50 Years: The Legacy, the Promise

helenhardacresmallposter The inaugural lecture of the 50th Anniversary celebrations of the Department of Religious Studies was delivered by Helen Hardacre, Reischauer Institute Professor of Japanese Religions and Society and the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, The title of her talk was  “The Japanese Enthronement Ceremonies in 2019 in Historical Perspective.” The event took place on Friday, 06 September 2019 at 4:10 pm in 216c Kissam Center. 

It was especially fitting that Prof. Hardacre Helen Hardacredelivered the inaugural lecture for she is a Vanderbilt University alumna and the second person to receive her degree from the Department of Religious Studies after its founding. After taking her advanced degrees from The University of Chicago, she taught at Princeton University, Griffith University in Australia, and, since 1992, Harvard University. She is the author of eleven books and numerous articles on Japanese religion and society, including Marketing the Menacing Fetus in Japan (California, 1997), which won the Arisawa Hiromichi Prize, and most recently a monograph titled Shinto: A History (Oxford, 2016). She has also published extensively in Japanese. She was awarded a J. S. Guggenheim Fellowship in 2003 and was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2014. Just last year, she received the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon, from the Japanese government for her contributions to Japanese studies and promotion of understanding of Japanese culture and society.

Prof. Hardacre’s presentation was the first in a series of six celebratory moments this academic year as the Department of Religious Studies recognizes the LEGACY  of its distinguished alumni. Interspersed with these lectures, the Religious Studies faculty have chosen younger scholars who signal the PROMISE  of the new directions in the academic study of religion across the US. 


Overview of Programs

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 interdisciplinary faculty and curriculum constituting the minors in Islamic Studies and Arabic. Core courses for Islamic Studies are provided through Religious Studies, and all Arabic language and literature offerings originate in the Department of Religious Studies.
Jewish Studies. The department contributes both faculty and courses to the university’s widely recognized Jewish Studies program.
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 two area groups of ‘Historical Studies’ and ‘Critical Studies in Asian, Islamic, and Jewish Traditions.’ 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 on these various courses of study, please follow the links in the menu.