Gamble, department chair
Studies has multiplied like loaves and fishes at U.Va.
has been good to the Department
of Religious Studies. Like religious studies programs at other
American universities, the department was founded here in the
mid-1960s amid a national religious revival, said Harry Gamble,
professor of religious studies and department chair.
each year, 2,000 to 3,000 students -- including 150 to 180 majors
-- sign up for classes with the department. "It's gratifying
to see how much interest undergraduate students show in religious
studies," said Gamble, who studies early Christianity.
an intrinsically fascinating subject."
interest has grown steadily over the past decade, particularly
in the religious traditions of other cultures.
so, the growth hasn't come at the expense of Christianity and
Judaism," Gamble said. "I think it stems from an increasingly
global sense of the world."
the past 30 years, the Department of Religious Studies has grown
from four to 26 full-time faculty members whose expertise covers
a broad array of world religions -- Christianity, Judaism, Islam,
Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, and Yoruba religion -- as well as
other topics, such as women and the Bible, myth and ritual, human
genetics, ethics and theology, and evil in modernity. With cross
listings from other departments and interdisciplinary courses,
the religious studies department offers more than 150 classes
programs elsewhere tend to take a comparative approach to the
study of religion, the department here takes a tradition-based
approach, Gamble said. Religions are studied in depth by academics
who are also practitioners. Rather than trying to apply abstract
concepts to different religions, they work the other way around,
exploring how individual religions illustrate a general theory.
generating a new method of studying comparative religion," said
Peter Ochs, Edgar M. Bronfman Professor of Modern Judaic Studies.
"Instead of imposing abstract terms on religions, we bring pairs
of religions into dialogue and observe the kind of language those
practitioners use to understand each other. So two by two by two,
as we compare religions in depth, we are generating a new vocabulary."
the many strengths of the department have not gone unnoticed.
For the past decade, undergraduate teaching at the religious studies
department has been ranked first or second in the country by the
Gourman Report, which rates undergraduate programs at universities
worldwide. And in the most recent National Research Council report
(1995), U.Va.'s doctoral program in religious studies was ranked
first among public universities and sixth overall.
But the department is not sitting on its laurels.
part of the larger College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences
campaign, the Religious Studies Department is seeking to raise
$6 million to establish chaired professorships and other faculty
positions, to fund graduate fellowships and to support other departmental
activities, such as visiting scholars and symposia.
particular, Gamble's wish list includes faculty who could add
to the offerings in Chinese religions, Islamic studies, Jewish
ethics, medieval Judaism, and Hinduism. In addition to increasing
the offerings, a larger faculty also would enable the department
to offer smaller classes to undergraduates and foster interdisciplinary
these lines, the department is moving to create a new course,
"Religion in American Democracy," which should open for enrollment
in fall 2002, Gamble said. The interdisciplinary course will explore
the powerful social, cultural, economic and political forces that
affect American politics.
And recently, the department received approval to launch a new
undergraduate major in Jewish Studies next fall.
now and then, Gamble hopes that donors will help him lift the
Religious Studies Department to another plane.
s'Allah -- God willing.