Religion department revamps with new professors and courses


Lehigh’s Department of Religion Studies has expanded its offerings in the past four years with efforts coming to fruition this year. After the retirement of a couple faculty members, the department hired five professors who brought new courses and ideas to the department.

Some of the new courses that will be added to the department in the next year include Globalization in the Ancient Mediterranean, Religion and Science Fiction, the Podcast and the Lotus, Food and the Sacred, and Sex, Gender and Jews.

Hartley Lachter, the chair of the Department of Religion Studies and director of the Berman Center for Jewish Studies, identified that the department’s beauty is the open structure of the major and minor. The major is nine courses and the minor is four, which makes it a feasible choice for a second major or minor.

Along with the new course offerings, the department is currently working on developing “zones of inquiry.”

Lachter said these zones are “examples of courses that, when grouped together, give students expertise in a particular focus that they might not have realized was there if they were just looking at a long list of courses.”

Professor Benjamin Wright, who teaches bible courses and history of ancient Judaism and Christianity, explained that the courses in the department are important for students of all majors and backgrounds to take.

“I think the biggest issue is that sometimes people don’t understand the importance of studying religion from an academic standpoint,” Wright said. “Studying different religions gives you a greater understanding of human beings and how we make sense out of the world.”

Whether it is an issue in contemporary American politics or a classic piece of literature, religion is pertinent to the complete understanding of human interaction.

Wright said he sees a lot of his students improving their reading skills, a skill that is often overlooked, but necessary in any field, as students become more aware of details.

“As a freshman or sophomore, he or she might not pick up on the details,” Wright said. “but to see students go back and reread passages and have understanding of the details, that is exciting.”

Last year, Wright taught a class that only Sammi Greene, ’16, signed up for. He agreed to teach the class with one student, but the curriculum was tailored more towards what Greene wanted to learn.

Greene, a double major in the joint International Relations and Modern Languages and Literature program, and Religion Studies, said this was her favorite class from her time at Lehigh. By discussing passages from the Bible, Greene became a better student.

Greene has focused most of her studies on the first 500 years of Christianity, through the study of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

“Being able to read and write are two of the most important skills a student can have… being analytical and presenting ideas cohesively,” said Greene, of the positive effect that the Department of Religion Studies has had on her.

Greene does not plan to go to graduate school directly after graduating from Lehigh and may go back to Israel, where she previously studied abroad.

The department feels that studying religion is a way to learn about human cultures and identities around the world and across time.

“(We) are currently working on relationships with other universities overseas that will create new opportunities for student study abroad, short term study trips and access to English language graduate programs in Religion in Europe,” Lachter said.

With newly renovated space in Williams Hall, coupled with the constant excitement of new lectures and events, the forward thinking of the Department of Religion Studies will only continue to make a positive impact.

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