OPINION| University should expand religious studies offerings

Luca Hoedeman, Contributing Writer

Maggie Pasterz | Layout Editor

New Orleans at its core is intertwined with religion. Take Jackson Square, a nationally recognized landmark of the city. Its iconic backdrop is the Saint Louis Cathedral. Louisiana, as a state, ranks third nationally in weekly religious service attendance by percentage.

Tulane University undoubtedly has a strong religious community. The university has clubs for the three primary Abrahamic religions, along with a variety of other religious and religion-adjacent organizations on campus. It would be difficult not to pass a student on campus wearing a Tulane Hillel or Baptist Collegiate Ministry t-shirt. Furthermore, Tulane’s religion classes seem to be popular, especially Buddhism, which has five sections offered for the fall 2021 semester. Prior to the pandemic, the Judeo-Christian lectures series attracted an outstanding crowd.

There is palpable interest and energy for religious thought on campus, and Tulane prides itself on symbiosis with the place in which it resides, a location steeped in religion. Many students, however, appear to want more. 

Ronna Burger, head of Tulane’s religious studies program, addressed how the course catalogue comes together and what can be done to expand opportunities for interested students. Religious studies was a major at Tulane until it stopped being offered post-Hurricane Katrina. Burger helped re-establish religious studies, and it remains a popular subject. In an interview, she said “now [that] we have the minor, there have been enough students … every course has been full.”

When asked about how the course catalogue comes together, she said “it is really pretty mechanical in a way … you have to match up who’s available to teach with what you can offer.” Sometimes to students, the process of putting together classes seems nebulous. This is a good reminder that our professors are fighting to offer the classes students are interested in within the limitations of department and university resources. 

Interestingly, Burger offered a number of ways to increase opportunities for the very real contingent of students who are looking for a deeper dive into religion, especially non-Western religion.

“If you have a topics course, administratively, students are allowed to take it more than once,” Burger said. “I learned this from my graduate students, with my Topics in Plato or Aristotle courses, which grad students who are interested take numerous times … There could be a Topics in Eastern Thought course, because you don’t know who will be around and available to teach, but if we had it in the books at least, people could offer different themes or topics … I think it might not detract from having to supply interest in students, some would take a different titled course, with slightly different material. That would help.”

Ultimately, it appears that the best way for students to have classes offered in the topics that interest them is to show that interest to those who are responsible for scheduling and generating the courses offered each year. Burger’s remarks prove that students have power on campuses, but initiative must be taken in order for that to manifest in change.

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