The Temple University Department of Religion was founded in 1961, one of the first religion departments ever established at a public or state-related university. Although emerging out an erstwhile school of theology in a private Baptist college, the Department has since its inception seen itself as distinct from seminaries and religion departments in religiously based institutions. Fueled by the wisdom that if you know only one religion you actually don’t know any, our mission has always been global and culturally pluralistic in its scope, and so our faculty consists of scholars with expertise in a wide range of religious traditions and methodological approaches to the study of religion. As such, in addition to researching the contents of histories of religious traditions themselves, we take seriously the ways that religion “improves the human condition and uplifts the human spirit” — to quote the Temple University Mission Statement — though without forsaking the critical analysis of religion’s capacity to sometimes darken that condition and stifle that spirit.
The diversity of our undergraduate and graduate students mirrors that of the broader Temple community in terms of race, ethnicity, religious affiliation or non-affiliation, gender, sexuality, and national origin. Most graduate students come to our M.A. and Ph.D. programs with the primary goal of developing their expertise in a single religious tradition through critical analysis, and a secondary goal of deepening their understanding of that tradition by studying others and by mastering leading theories and methodologies in the field. The program is in fact designed with these goals in mind, thereby ensuring that our graduates are capable of teaching outside of their primary areas of expertise. This is partly responsible for the excellent track record that our graduates have in gaining faculty appointments in an impressive range of colleges, seminaries, and universities. It also reflects one of the Department’s great strengths: providing students, graduate and undergraduate alike, with a broad background about numerous religious traditions, and a heightened awareness of the way religion functions in American and increasingly interconnected global societies.
Since the mid 1990s we have begun to focus more extensively on the undergraduate curriculum, increasing our course offerings and the number of our majors exponentially. Our newly revised Masters program has attracted some highly qualified local high school teachers and people from the general public who are interested in understanding the role religion plays in our ever-changing society. Meanwhile, our best undergraduate majors have gained entry into graduate programs in a number of disciplines at some of the world’s most prestigious universities.
The Department has been strengthened over the years by connections to other universities in our region and around the globe. We have had a vital exchange program with the University of Tübingen, and presently enjoy another with Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. We also continue to benefit from our consortial agreements with the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, Palmer Theological Seminary, Lutheran Theological Seminary, The Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, and Westminster Theological Seminary. Faculty and graduate student exchanges based on these agreements have greatly enhanced academic life in the Department over the years, as they do today.
The Department is the home of Jewish Studies and is the heart of Islamic Studies at Temple University. We also make significant contributions to the Women’s Studies, Asian Studies, Latin American Studies, Honors, Intellectual Heritage Programs, and we maintain strong cooperative relationships with the Department of Greek, Hebrew and Roman Classics, the Department of Philosophy, the Dialogue Institute, and the Master of Liberal Arts Program. The Department also houses the Journal of Ecumenical Studies, which supports our efforts towards inter-religious conversation.