The Department of Religious Studies serves the liberal arts vision of Rhodes College by equipping our students with a critically informed understanding of global religious traditions as expressions of human experience.
From the ancient Mediterranean world, to rural farmlands in South America, to the suburbs of the US Midwest, to the booming metropolises of Asia, religion is and always has been an integral feature of human life. Religion influences our personal and communal lives, our politics, the shape of our societies, and our most cherished values. Thus, in an increasingly pluralistic world, the ideal global citizen will be one who can navigate the complexity of religion with intellectual creativity, humility, and passion.
Our program develops three broad skill competencies in our students. First, language and thought: our students critically read, study, and interpret the Bible and other religious texts, then identify, summarize and present complex ideas in accessible ways. Second, analysis: our students assess worldviews, thought systems, and practices using a range of theories and methods that engage issues concerning politics and ideology, healthcare, economics and ecology, migration and cultural geography, ethnicity and race, and gender and sexuality. Third, research: our students evaluate the claims and effects of religion, analyze human problems related to religion, and provide productive answers to enhance the wider world.
Our graduates are equipped with an extensive set of skills and experiences that situates them to succeed professionally (e.g., careers in counseling/social work, education, healthcare, ministry, public service), academically (e.g., graduate study in anthropology, history, law, philosophy, religion, sociology), and personally (e.g., familiarity with questions of meaning, life and death, suffering, gender, sexuality, race, violence).
Our program is noted for being:
- Integral to Rhodes’ Liberal Arts Vision: Through the “Life: Then and Now” Foundations Curriculum, nearly half of the student body at Rhodes takes a three-semester sequence of courses in the Religious Studies Department, and more than 50 current students are majors or minors in religion. There are also opportunities for internships and honors research.
- Academic in its Approach: The program is grounded in the academic study of religion and does not assume any religious background on the part of students or faculty, instead emphasizing the development of skills necessary to critically examining the claims of religion.
- Innovative in its Course Offerings: The breadth of the faculty’s interests and academic backgrounds is represented in the creative courses offered by the department. Recent offerings include courses on Islam, European art, religion and film, the Holocaust, the #BlackLivesMatter movement, the religions of Southeast Asia, and racial disparities in healthcare.
- Cross-Cultural in its Subjects: Reflecting the broad diversity of the world, students will study the religious practices and beliefs of a wide array of global communities. Students will also explore a variety of methodological approaches to the study of religion.
- Interdisciplinary in its Collaborations: Students have access to a number of interdisciplinary programs that intersect with and augment the study of religion, including Gender and Sexuality Studies, Urban Studies, Africana Studies, and Asian Studies.
- Memphis-Minded in its Context: The Memphis metropolitan region is filled with churches, temples, mosques, seminaries, and institutions that reflect diverse expressions of faith and provide vibrant sites for research.
Haley Barker '21
After graduating from Rhodes, Religious Studies major Haley Barker enrolled in Harvard Divinity School’s Master of Theological Studies program, with an emphasis on Buddhist Studies and Religion and Public Life. In the summer of 2022, Haley interned at Religion Service News, where her articles covered topics she learned about at Rhodes, such as socially engaged Buddhism, religion and violence, and popular religion in the contemporary world. Read Haley’s articles here.
At Rhodes, Haley worked as a Student Research Fellow under the supervision and guidance of Dr. Brooke Schedneck. Together, they worked on a project titled “Media Representations of Buddhist Monastic Behavior in Southeast Asia.” Dr. Schedneck chose to work with Haley on this project because of her outstanding work in the class Living Religions of Southeast Asia. Working on this project helped to fuel Haley’s passion for journalism, covering topics related to religion.
Sheridan Hardy '22
Senior Sheridan Hardy’s review of New Testament Christianity in the Roman World was recently published in the academic journal Anglican Theological Review. In addition to majoring in Religious Studies, Hardy has also studied ancient Greek and ancient Hebrew, and was a participant in Prof. Sarah Rollens’ Maymester in Rome in 2019.
“Sheridan does fantastic work in her Religious Studies classes and always goes ‘above and beyond,’ as the saying goes,” says Rollens. “Publishing this book review, which attests to her ability to take on high-level academic work in addition to her regular course work, demonstrates her commitment to her education and her passion for learning. The Religious Studies department could not be more proud of this accomplishment!”
Hardy served as vice president of the Rhodes chapter of the national honor society for Religious Studies, Theta Alpha Kappa, and was active in Rhodes’ award-winning Mock Trial program. Read Hardy’s review.
Faculty & Staff