Religious studies minor returns to Tulane after twelve year hiatus

Tulane lost many of its academic programs due to a lack of funding and faculty following Hurricane Katrina. One area of study lost in the aftermath of Katrina was the religious studies program.

The original program offered a religious studies major, but Tulane struggled to find a faculty member to run the major after Katrina. Judeo-Christian Studies Chair Ronna Burger renewed the program this year and brought a religious studies minor to Tulane.

One of the appeals of the minor is that there are no specific required courses. Burger said that because each discipline approaches religion and religious studies differently, a required introductory course is unnecessary.

The religious studies minor requires a total of five courses. Students must select courses from at least two different disciplines, and two of the five courses must be taken at the 3000-level or higher.

The minor is interdisciplinary, allowing students to take classes in a variety of fields. Courses include Religions of the World, and Religious Tolerance and Co-Existence, plus classes within the Jewish studies, philosophy, classics and anthropology departments.

Burger believes that the minor’s interdisciplinary nature will allow students to approach religious studies from multiple perspectives.

“… If you take [the] sociology of religion you’re going to have to learn how a sociologist examines the topic of religion,” Burger said. “How do they see the role of religion in society? If you take a political science course on religion, how does religion play a role in politics?”

Though this minor was only brought back this year, students can count certain qualifying classes they have taken since arriving at Tulane as a part of their minor requirement.

Burger was inspired to renew the program when students and a faculty member came to her expressing interest. School of Continuing Studies faculty member Jane Wolfe was especially invested. Wolfe created her own interdisciplinary religious studies major at Tulane after Katrina when she was a student, going on to study at Harvard Divinity School. Wolfe also contributed to the new minor program.

Burger will be running the program with the help of her assistant Nancy Tatarski, who will be working extensively with students beginning the minor. 

“I’m really excited to be the assistant to the chair of Judeo-Christian studies and the new religious studies minor, and I am looking forward to working with the students … ,” Tatarski said.

So far, 90 students have expressed interest in the minor to Burger. Freshman Jessica Lewis approached Burger at the beginning of the year. At the time, the religious studies minor was still in the process of becoming a reality.

“The first day of school I spoke with Professor Burger about bringing back this minor,” Lewis said. “I didn’t play a huge part in the execution of it, but I like to think I inspired it a little.”

Both Lewis and Burger said they think that current religious and political tensions make this minor and a religious education in general, an especially significant opportunity for students.

“It was astounding how little people knew about other religions, especially when so many conflicts throughout the world are based on religion,” Lewis said.

Burger said that she hopes the minor will continue to spark interest from the student body and possibly attract donors to the program. She believes that with student engagement and financial support, the religious studies major might one day return to Tulane. 

Anyone who has an interest in the program is encouraged to contact Ronna Burger or Nancy Tatarski.

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