How We Teach

Learn about our department’s approach to teaching religious studies.

The Religious Studies courses at Occidental all share some common intellectual commitments:

  • RELS courses emphasize the everyday, material, messy, sometimes banal lived experiences of religious people;
  • RELS courses emphasize the *varieties* of views and practices within religious communities;
  • RELS courses give students a window into religious communities through primary sources, including textual sources, as well as material evidence, visual evidence, rituals, music, monuments, etc.;
  • RELS courses regard the religiosity of people as understandable given their context, interests, priorities, hopes, and fears and impel students to inquire charitably as to how and why religiosity fits within its given context;
  • even while striving to be charitable, RELS courses also develop critical tools of analysis that help students understand, assess, and form judgments about instances and issues of religiosity; and
  • RELS courses attempt to reveal the interaction of religious communities with one another and the enmeshment of religious communities within their society.


Learning Goals & Outcomes for Religious Studies Students:

1. To develop an understanding the complex nature and role of religion in human societies.
a. Students will demonstrate a basic fluency in a range of religious traditions and communities, including but not limited to key concepts, geographies, chronologies, and people.  
b. Students will demonstrate an advanced understanding of religious traditions and communities, including being able to answer the following kinds of questions: How do people use religion to organize communities and to inform meaning making about worldly and transcendent spheres? How does religion interact with material, social, economic, and political conditions? How is religion expressed within and across time and place and how does it travel?  
2. To develop an appreciation of the interdisciplinarity of the field of Religious Studies and to cultivate the skills necessary to participate in the academic study of religion.           
a. Students demonstrate basic skills of critically reading primary and secondary sources, and of crafting critical analysis.  
b. Students demonstrate the ability to contextualize and understand nuances of primary sources, and to leverage resources to advance analytical arguments.  
c. Students demonstrate an understanding of a variety of methodological and theoretical approaches to the academic study of religion, the value and limitations of each, and have the ability to select the most appropriate approach when studying any given religious phenomenon  
d. Students demonstrate advanced skills of engaging with and contributing to scholarly conversations and secondary literature.  
3. To develop as informed, respectful, charitable, and critical individuals and community members.    
a. Students can make thoughtful connections between religions and a wide variety of contemporary social and cultural concerns.
b. Students are able to charitably channel the worldviews, reasoning, and practices of communities not their own.
c. Students are able to demonstrate these abilities (thoughtful connections between religions and a wide variety of contemporary social and cultural concerns; charitably channel the worldviews, reasoning, and practices of communities not their own) in course assignments and projects, and in respectful public discourse and in day-to-day engagements (including post-graduate life).