Jul 17, 2024  
2019-2020 Undergraduate Catalog 
2019-2020 Undergraduate Catalog [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Philosophy and Religion, Department of

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Dr. Frances Flannery, Interim Department Head
Phone: (540) 568-6394
Email: flannefl@jmu.edu
Location: Cleveland Hall, Room 112
Website: http://www.jmu.edu/philrel

C. Bolyard, R. Brown, F. Flannery, J. Goodman, W. Hawk, S. Hoeltzel, A. Kirk, T. Lupher, S. Mittal, W. O’Meara, A. Veltman, A. Wiles

Associate Professors
T. Adajian, , P. Fleming, W. Knorpp, A. Levinovitz, M. Piper, A. van Leeuwen

Assistant Professors
R. Fischbach, E. Gravett, C. Kilby, D. Kirkpatrick


Both philosophy and the academic study of religion prepare students to meet a rapidly changing world.  Students completing a philosophy and religion major will be able to think critically, rigorously analyze arguments, listen carefully to the viewpoints of others, construct views that are based on sound reasoning and evidence, and communicate clearly and persuasively in writing and in speaking.  They will grapple with the insights of some of the greatest figures in history as they learn to contextualize texts, issues and phenomena to arrive at well-informed and enlightened interpretations.

The department awards a combined major in Philosophy and Religion, with students choosing one of four possible concentrations: philosophy (B.A.  or B.S. ), religion  (B.A. only), interdisciplinary philosophy (B.A.  or B.S. ) or interdisciplinary religion   (B.A. only).

Emphases of the Philosophy Program

Philosophy is a discipline that explores fundamental questions about the meaning of life, the nature of knowledge and the mind, what actions are moral and what exists. Students completing a major with a concentration in philosophy or interdisciplinary philosophy will become versed in the major movements, problems, writings and concepts in the history of Western philosophy. The program concentrates on contemporary movements such as analytic philosophy, existentialism, American philosophy and feminist philosophy, as well as on the major subdivisions of philosophy, including logic, ethics, metaphysics, epistemology, aesthetics, philosophy and law, philosophy of science and philosophy of religion.

Emphases of the Religion Program

The religion program ensures that students gain both breadth, through exposure to an issues-oriented and world religions approach (e.g., Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam), as well as depth, with specialized knowledge in at least one religious tradition or area of issues-oriented study. Students completing a major with a concentration in religion or interdisciplinary religion will also gain experience in a range of disciplinary approaches used in the academic study of religion (anthropology, sociology, literary studies, history, aesthetics, linguistics, archaeology, environmental history, etc.) as well as in critical methodologies (e.g. ritual studies, feminist theories, postcolonial theories, to name but a few).

Students completing these concentrations should be able to:

  • Apply the approaches of the academic study of religion to texts, rituals and other phenomena while weighing and exploring various cultural and religious perspectives.
  • Analyze historical and contemporary expressions of religions in their relevant social, political and cultural contexts.
  • Construct informed interpretations of sacred texts by integrating skills in critical reading, critical thinking and contextualization.
  • Conduct cogent analyses of historical or contemporary challenges facing one or more religious traditions.
  • Pose increasingly sophisticated questions regarding both “solvable” problems as well as “unanswerable” questions about the construction of ultimate reality.
  • Immerse oneself in the perspective of persons holding another worldview, stemming from differences in background, religion, heritage, historical period, geographical location, embodiment and/or life experiences.
  • Demonstrate proficient written and oral communication in a variety of settings for different audiences, formulating reasonable arguments based on evidence.
  • Apply problem solving and critical thinking skills by conducting research or designing projects, exhibiting rigorous inquiry and weighing evidence.
  • Practice sound information literacy through verifying the reliability and value of sources, including detecting bias.

Career Opportunities and Marketable Skills

The Philosophy and Religion programs greatly enhance students’ ability to navigate a dynamic and changing world by fostering nimbleness of mind, religious and philosophical literacy, a grounding in ethics, a habit of logical thinking, structured and disciplined argumentation, and practices in rigorous analysis. Our programs also equip students with solid skills in analysis, research, writing, speaking and presentations. As a result, our majors find rewarding and meaningful work in a wide variety of career fields. Many students of philosophy and religion find careers in intelligence analysis, government contracting, public health, business, public service, the non-profit sector, the technology sector, education, counseling, university administration or communications. Others have opened their own businesses, and many have attended seminary, graduate school, medical school or law school. Throughout their time in the programs, majors are guided along their career paths with the help of the department as well as the office of Career and Academic Planning. While not requiring a second major, the interdisciplinary philosophy and religion concentrations certainly make it possible to combine this major with many others, which may also enhance students’ future employment opportunities.

Student Activities and Organizations in Philosophy and Religion

The department has excellent opportunities for building student community, engaging in student social activities and fostering intellectual development outside of the classroom, including a student-led Religion and Philosophy Society, a philosophy honor society (Phi Sigma Tau), and a religion honor society (Theta Alpha Kappa).

Preparation for Law School

Coordinator: Dr. William Hawk
Email: hawkwj@jmu.edu
Phone: (540) 568-4088

Students who plan to attend law school should seriously consider Philosophy and Religion as an undergraduate major, with a concentration in philosophy or interdisciplinary philosophy. Philosophy majors have historically scored among the highest on the LSAT, GRE and GMAT. Philosophy courses emphasize the kinds of skills that prepare students for the LSAT and the law school curriculum: reading, comprehending and analyzing complex texts; organizing and synthesizing information and drawing reasonable inferences from it; analyzing and evaluating the reasoning and arguments of others; and researching and writing essays and papers.

Law schools recommend that students choose an undergraduate major that challenges them and provides them with an understanding of what shapes human experience. Philosophy does an outstanding job on both counts. The requirements of the major leave students plenty of opportunity to acquire a broad education by exploring other areas.

Preparation for Theological Studies

Coordinator: Dr. Robert Brown
Email: brownre@jmu.edu
Phone: (540) 568-5415

Students join the pre-theology program to prepare for careers in the service of religious communities. Usually, these careers—such as ministry, religious education, counseling and chaplaincy—require specialized training and graduate degrees from theological seminaries, rabbinical schools or university divinity schools. The pre-theology adviser guides students toward courses and experiential learning at JMU that will provide an academic foundation for graduate studies in theology as well as an opportunity to develop their practical skills or vocational gifts. Students in this program may major in any field, although the Association for Theological Schools recommends substantial pre-professional training in philosophy and religion. 

In the Department of Philosophy and Religion, pre-theology students will find a robust offering of courses ranging from the interpretation of religious texts to theology and ethics, and from the histories of particular religious traditions to cross-cultural topics in global religion. Class assignments develop students’ skills in critical thinking, ethical reasoning, scriptural hermeneutics, and written and oral communication, all of which theological schools highly value. The pre-theology adviser may direct students to relevant courses in foreign languages, social work, non-profit studies, humanitarian affairs, education or justice studies to complement their academic training in religion. Qualified students are encouraged to undertake independent studies or write honors theses in order to explore in greater depth the theological topics most important to them. 

The department also offers students the opportunity to receive academic credit for practical supervised field work with social agencies and religious organizations in order to help students explore the particular forms of religious service they would like to pursue. Making connections with faith leaders within their own traditions helps students access larger networks of tradition-specific resources and contacts as they reflect on their goals and decide where to apply for further study in theology. We encourage students to visit various theological schools during the application season and to meet with representatives that the department invites to campus to discuss theology programs with students.


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