Religious Studies, University of Waterloo
Departmental Web site
Courses in religious studies have been taught at the University of Waterloo since the 1960s, and the department was formed in 1976. The department is dedicated to the non-confessional study of religion in its historical, cultural, and social contexts. Students may earn an honours BA, four-year general, or three-year general degree in religious studies. The department also offers a minor or various joint honours degrees and an honours Religious Studies/Applied Studies co-op option. The courses offered in the department are organized into the following five areas: world religions; history of the Christian tradition; Biblical studies; theology, philosophy, and ethics; religion, society and culture. In recent years, the last area has offered the largest number of courses at Waterloo and had the highest student enrollments.
The organization of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Waterloo is more complex than that of Laurier. The department is a co-operative venture involving five founding and contributing institutions: the four church colleges affiliated with the university (St. Jerome’s University, Conrad Grebel University College, Renison College, and St. Paul’s College) and the Faculty of Arts of the University of Waterloo. Because of this organizational structure, programs must receive the support of the heads of the church colleges, the dean of the Faculty of Arts, and the various regulatory bodies of the university. The institutions have worked together co-operatively throughout the history of the department.
Each institution contributes to the departmental budget according to a negotiated formula. Contributions are proportionate to the number of students in the program taught by the faculty associated with each agency. In most respects the department operates as a conventional academic unit of the Faculty of Arts. Faculty are hired, evaluated, and promoted by the various institutions in consultation with the chair of the Department of Religious Studies.
Currently the department has twelve faculty, all of whom have duties not only in Religious Studies but also in their respective colleges or in other university departments and academic programs such as Social Development Studies; Sex, Marriage, and the Family; Fine Arts; Sociology; Peace and Conflict Studies. The department offers 45 or more undergraduate courses on campus each year, and 25 additional courses by distance education. In the fall of 2001 there were 76 majors and 4 minors in religious studies. In 2000 the department taught 6013 students in on-campus courses and 1836 students in distance education courses. An additional 602 students were taught by the religious studies faculty in courses cross-listed with other departments and programs (340 in on-campus courses and 262 by distance education). The religious studies program is diverse in scope and very successful in attracting students. Enrollments have increased steadily for the last five years.
The department takes pride in the quality of its courses and seeks to demonstrate the ways in which knowledge of human religious life is important to a liberal arts education. Student evaluations of the faculty are consistently high, steadily surpassing the averages achieved by their colleagues in the Faculty of Arts as a whole. Likewise the department encourages its faculty to engage in an active research career. In the past five years a total of eleven books and four edited volumes have been published by eight of the faculty in the department. A healthy productivity is maintained while fulfilling the additional duties that accompany college appointments.
Religion and Culture, Wilfrid Laurier University
Departmental Web site
Since the beginning of Waterloo College in 1911, the study of religion has been an integral part of the Laurier curriculum. When Waterloo Lutheran University was under the aegis of the Eastern Synod of the Lutheran Church of Canada, the department was known first as the Department of Biblical Literature, then as the Department of Religious Knowledge.
By the early 1960s, two closely related departments existed: the Department of Religious Knowledge and the Department of Near Eastern Studies. Then, together with Waterloo Lutheran Seminary, the three units became the School of Religion and Culture, which offered BA, MA, and MDiv degrees.
Between 1960–1970, student enrollment in religious studies courses grew rapidly, and the number of instructors increased from three to nine, then to twelve (including seminary faculty).
The MA in Religion and Culture began in 1970. In the late 1970s, not long after the sale of the university (except the seminary) to the province, the School of Religion and Culture was dissolved to create two independent units: Waterloo Lutheran Seminary (devoted to the cultivation of a specific religious tradition) and the Department of Religion and Culture (committed to the non-confessional, cross-cultural study of religions in their social, historical, cultural contexts). Currently, the Department of Religion and Culture consists of eight core members, supplemented by several limited-term and part-time appointments.
During the 1980s the undergraduate curriculum consisted of three areas: (1) Ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean religions; (2) Western religions—early to modern; and (3) Asian and indigenous religions. In 1996, the areas were redefined into their current form: (1) religious traditions of the world; (2) thematic and comparative studies; and (3) approaches to the study of religion and research tools.
The MA program originally had two areas of concentration: (1) Ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean religions, and (2) Western religions. In 1988 the department, with OCGS approval, added a Humanities Option, an interdisciplinary MA degree program in cooperation with the departments of Philosophy and Anthropology, the only such program in the country. The option thrived, eventually drawing more students than the original two areas combined.
The current Laurier MA program is strongly interdisciplinary and not divided into formal areas. Recently, the MA was revised to include both a comprehensive examination (ensuring a grasp of religious diversity as well as theories and methods in the field) and a research project (on a topic of the student’s own choosing).
To date, the department's MA program has undergone six successful appraisals by the Ontario Council on Graduate Studies. In its most recent appraisal, completed in June 1997, the OCGS continued to classify the program as "of good quality."
The Department of Religion and Culture at Wilfrid Laurier plays an active role in advanced religious-studies research. In the early 1970s the department brought to the university the executive office of the Council for the Study of Religion, an international federation of learned societies. Two faculty members of the department served as the executive officers of the council. Laurier faculty supervised the publication of the Council’s journals (the CSR Bulletin and Religious Studies Review) and its annual Directory of Departments and Programs of Religious Studies in North America. The council remained at Laurier until 1985. From 1997-2001 the American Academy of Religion course syllabi website was located at Wilfrid Laurier.
During this same period the department was instrumental in the transformation of the Canadian Journal of Theology into Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses, the leading Canadian journal in the academic study of religion. The current managing editor of SR is a Laurier faculty member. One of the founding editors of Journal of Ritual Studies as well as the editor of a University of California book series (Life Passages) is a WLU faculty member.
Members of the department played an active role in the founding and development of Wilfrid Laurier University Press. The first two CEOs of the Press were from the Department of Religion and Culture. Other members of the department have continued to edit works for the monograph series published by WLU Press for the Canadian Corporation for Studies in Religion.