May 23, 2024  
2024-2025 Undergraduate Catalog 
2024-2025 Undergraduate Catalog

Department of Philosophy and Religion

Kenneth Pearce, Academic Unit Head

Main Office Phone: (540) 568-6394
Main Office Location: Cleveland Hall, Room 120

C. Bolyard, R. Brown, C. Early, F. Flannery, P. Fleming, J. Goodman, S. Hoeltzel, A. Kirk, W. Knorpp, A. Levinovitz, T. Lupher, S. Mittal, W. O’Meara, K. Pearce, M. Piper, A. Veltman

Associate Professors
T. Adajian, E. Gravett, C. Kilby, D. Kirkpatrick, A. van Leeuwen

Assistant Professors
P. Antolic-Piper, J. Aycock, A. Urquidez, C. Uy


The academic study of philosophy and religion prepares students to meet people with diverse beliefs in a rapidly changing world. Students completing a major in Philosophy or Global Religions and Cultures will be able to think critically, rigorously analyze arguments, listen carefully to the viewpoints of others, construct views that are based on evidence and reasoning, and communicate clearly and effectively in writing and in speaking. They will grapple with the insights of some of the greatest intellectual figures in history as they learn to contextualize ideas and develop nuanced understandings of the world around them.

Emphases of the Philosophy Major

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 Philosophy major with a concentration in General Philosophy or Interdisciplinary Philosophy will become versed in the major movements, problems, writings and concepts in the history of Western philosophy. They will also have the opportunity to study other philosophical traditions and to learn about ongoing philosophical debates today. 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.

Students completing a major in philosophy will gain skills in critical thinking, problem solving, analytical writing, and rationally compelling speaking and writing.

Emphases of the Global Religions and Cultures Major

Global Religions and Cultures is an interdisciplinary field of inquiry into the belief systems, ritual practices, identities, and values that shape communities and societies. The Global Religions and Cultures major ensures that students gain breadth of exposure to diverse religious and cultural traditions from across the globe as well as the opportunity to pursue specialized knowledge in a particular tradition or contemporary issue. Students completing a major in Global Religions and Cultures will train in a range of disciplinary approaches and methods employed across the humanities as they learn to:

  • 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.
  • Immerse themselves in the perspective of worldviews different from their own and engage critically yet generously across those differences.
  • Pose increasingly sophisticated questions regarding both “solvable” problems as well as “unanswerable” questions about the construction of ultimate reality.
  • Apply problem solving and critical thinking skills by conducting research, exhibiting rigorous inquiry, and weighing evidence.
  • Demonstrate proficient written and oral communication in a variety of settings for different audiences, formulating reasonable arguments based on evidence.
  • Practice sound information literacy through verifying the reliability and relevance of sources, including detecting bias.

Career Opportunities and Marketable Skills

Majors in Philosophy and Global Religions and Cultures greatly enhance students’ ability to navigate a dynamic and changing world by fostering open-mindedness, religious and philosophical literacy, a grounding in ethics, a habit of logical thinking, structured and disciplined argumentation, and practices in rigorous analysis. Our majors also equip students with solid skills in analysis, research, writing, speaking and presentations. As a result, our graduates find rewarding and meaningful work in a wide variety of career fields. Many of our alumni pursue careers in intelligence analysis, communications, government contracting, public health, business, public service, the non-profit sector, the technology sector, education, counseling, or university administration. Many attend graduate school, law school, medical school, or divinity school. Throughout their time in our department, majors are guided along their career paths with the help of dedicated faculty advisors as well as the University Career Center. Our students often combine our majors with second majors from other departments, which may also enhance their 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 society, a philosophy and film club, a philosophy honor society (Phi Sigma Tau), and a religion honor society (Theta Alpha Kappa).

Preparation for Law School

Coordinator: Mark Piper
Phone: (540) 568-3531

Students who plan to attend law school should seriously consider Philosophy as an undergraduate major. 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: Robert Brown
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 advisor 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 advisor 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 internships with non-profit organizations 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.