Religious studies major, minor pending

Andrew Justus

Expansion at Grand Valley State University is not limited to buildings or the number of students enrolled — new academic programs are also part of the mix, and the University Academic Senate recently approved the addition of Religious Studies as a major and minor program within the Brooks College of Interdisciplinary Studies.

The program’s proposal, co-written by professors Diane Maodush-Pitzer and Judy Whipps, who both teach liberal studies, must still receive approval from provost Gayle Davis and then the university’s Board of Trustees.

Whipps said it has been a long process. The proposal represents six years of paperwork, committees and reports by Whipps and Maodush-Pitzer to launch their new area of studies.

She said if the proposal passes, GVSU could join Michigan State University, Central Michigan University and Western Michigan University as schools that offer both majors and minors in religious studies. According to the formal proposal for the program, eight other state universities also offer minors in religious studies.

“It really rounds out the liberal studies curriculum,” Whipps said, adding that the new program would strengthen students’ understanding of other cultures globally and in West Michigan. Nationally, the major has grown in popularity, especially since 2001, when students sought to better explain the events of 9/11 and also the U.S.’ response to the attacks, Maodush-Pitzer said.

“We see it as a part of a double major (along with) business, law or medicine,” Maodush-Pitzer said.

According to the proposal, a background in religious studies could help students prepare for careers in criminal justice, international relations, education and government.

Whipps and Maodush-Pitzer predict about 20 students will join the religious studies major in the first year, growing to 45 by the fifth year, with about equal numbers electing to pursue a minor. The program’s goal would be to start small and grow gradually and keep costs low, Whipps said.

Whipps declined to provide a budget, but said they want to keep costs minimal by incorporating many courses that already exist into the program, including LIB 335, Scriptures as Literature, and CJ 405, Terrorism.

The program would debut new courses in its core elements beginning with REL 200, an introduction to the histories of world religions, and five others, including an independent study. Maodush-Pitzer said all the courses have been approved independent of the major, with many already in the course catalog, but if the program were to not be approved the courses would go away as well.

“We think it will pass, it has strong support from the provost and board members,” Whipps said. “If passed, the new religious studies majors and minors would be available starting next fall semester.”

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