Jul 23, 2024  
2017-2018 Undergraduate Catalog 
2017-2018 Undergraduate Catalog [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Department of Philosophy and Religion

Dr. Charles R. Bolyard, Department Head
Phone: (540) 568-6394
Email: bolyarcr@jmu.edu
Location: Cleveland Hall, Room 112
Website: http://www.jmu.edu/philrel

C. Bolyard, D. Flage, F. Flannery, J. Goodman, W. Hawk, S. Hoeltzel, A. Kirk, S. Mittal, W. O’Meara, A. Veltman, A. Wiles

Associate Professors
T. Adajian, R. Brown, P. Fleming, W. Knorpp, T. Lupher, M. Piper

Assistant Professors
E. Gravett, C. Kilby, A. Levinovitz, A. van Leeuwen

R. Fischbach


The department offers a combined major in philosophy and religion. Students may choose one of four concentrations: either philosophy (B.A.  or B.S. ), religion  (B.A. only), interdisciplinary philosophy (B.A.  or B.S. ) or interdisciplinary religion  (B.A. only). Whether concentrating in philosophy or religion, students in the department acquire the following fundamental skills and knowledge: the ability to think critically and rigorously with increased capabilities for problem solving and analysis of arguments; thorough familiarity with the literature, major figures, issues and phenomena of the discipline; and the ability to express themselves clearly, soundly and persuasively in oral and written form. These skill areas are the foundation and substance of a major in philosophy and religion. On the basis of this training, students should be prepared to express their own creative thought in a disciplined and effective manner.


Philosophy Program

Students completing a major with a concentration in philosophy are expected to know the major movements, problems, writings, concepts and terms in the history of Western philosophy. The program concentrates on major figures such as Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Locke, Berkeley, Hume and Kant; on problems arising in contemporary movements such as analytic philosophy, existentialism and American philosophy and on the major subdivisions of philosophy, including logic, ethics, metaphysics, epistemology, aesthetics, philosophy and law, philosophy of science and philosophy of religion.

Religion Program

The study of religion by its nature includes different disciplinary approaches and critical methodologies. Students completing a major with a concentration in religion will gain experience in these approaches and will improve in the following skills and competencies:

  • Mastery of the key concepts of global religious traditions (e.g., Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam), and the historical and contemporary expressions of these religions in their social, political and cultural contexts.
  • Specialized knowledge in at least one religious tradition or specialized area of comparative and issues-oriented study, and a broad competence in at least two others.
  • Use of this knowledge to reflect upon problems in interpreting religious texts.
  • Skill in the comparative and multi-disciplinary analytical methods used in the academic study of religion.
  • Ability to articulate research and arguments effectively orally and in writing.
  • Skill in evaluating different cultural perspectives on particular questions and issues, formulating sound arguments and examining claims for strengths and weaknesses.

All students who concentrate in religion take a 400 level capstone seminar during their senior year that will provide them extensive opportunity for research, critical and creative thought, and oral and written expression.

Career Opportunities and Marketable Skills

Many of the department’s majors enter graduate school in philosophy or religion, law school or seminary. Alternatively, a departmental major graduating with a concentration in religion might move directly into work connected with religious service, into the human services fields or into teaching. A concentration in philosophy leads most directly into teaching or law school.

A student’s opportunities are by no means limited to these more obvious options, however. While there is no direct path from philosophy and religion to many specific jobs, students who have majored in philosophy and religion successfully find satisfying employment. Employers seek many of the capacities that the study of philosophy and religion develops such as:

  • Problem-solving.
  • Effective communication in speaking and writing.
  • Organization and analysis of ideas and issues.
  • Assessment of the pros and cons of arguments and issues.
  • Reduction of complex information to essential points.
  • Persuasion.

These capabilities represent transferable skills useful in most work environments. Many students of philosophy and religion find careers in business or industry, in government or public service and in law, human services and communications.

Students should work with the office of Career and Academic Planning for help in finding suitable employment.

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 as an undergraduate major. Philosophy majors have historically scored very well on the Law School Admission Test. 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 Seminary

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

The pre-seminary adviser will help majors and minors design undergraduate programs that will prepare them for further study in theological seminaries and university divinity schools. Academic counseling of students takes place within guidelines provided by the American Association of Theological Schools. The department offers rich opportunities for the study of the history, content and interpretation of the Bible; historical and modern theology; particular religious traditions; and cross-cultural topics in religious studies. Class assignments require students to think critically about a variety of theological and ethical issues; to read original and classical expressions of religious thought; and to become knowledgeable about specialized terms and the major spiritual and intellectual interpreters of the Hebrew and Christian traditions.

Students are encouraged to visit various seminaries and the department welcomes seminary representatives to the campus to discuss the possibilities for further theological education with students. Interested students may receive academic credit for practical supervised field work with social agencies and churches in order to help them find the particular forms of ministry (pastoral, campus, youth, missions, social, counseling) for which they are best suited. Qualified students are also encouraged to undertake an independent study and write an honors thesis in their junior and senior years.

Co-curricular Activities and Organizations

A student-led Society of Philosophy and Religion, a philosophy honor society (Phi Sigma Tau), a religion honor society (Theta Alpha Kappa) and the Religion Majors Club provide excellent opportunities for fellowship and student participation in the intellectual and social activities of the department.