February 10, 2014

Dear Curriculum Council Members and Faculty Colleagues,

I am writing to support the Category I proposal for a new major in Religious Studies. This major will both develop a course of study that already exists within the School of History, Philosophy, and Religion, and give a stronger identity to students and faculty whose academic interests lie in this area.

A major in Religious Studies will strengthen the Liberal Arts at Oregon State as students are able to explore religious histories and cultures as they have impacted Eastern and Western cultures in the past and as they impact and define major issues in the world today. As the designer of the Baccalaureate Core Playlists through which students can expand the breadth of their studies and at the same time begin to focus interests, I am especially proud of OSU’s ability to support a collection of courses called “Go Global-Pacific Rim.” Courses in Religious Studies contribute to this themed curricular list, and I can well envision a number of students who begin with lower division courses on the Pacific Rim list wanting to continue to explore Eastern religions and cultures as a major. The major in Religious Studies will enable them to do this.

I can imagine some faculty members questioning whether a public university should offer Religious Studies as a major. Knowledge of religious heritages, beliefs, and cultures is not something reserved only for those who can afford a private university education. A land grant university is perfectly positioned to offer a broad and non-sectarian perspective on the important topic of religions in the world today.

This new major builds on a strong tradition of intellectual inquiry into religious topics exemplified by the scholarly work of OSU Professor Emeritus Marcus Borg, an internationally known scholar studying the historical Jesus, and the ongoing intellectual contributions of the Hundere Endowment in Religion and Culture, as well as the notable scholarship of faculty like Courtney Campbell, James Blumenthal, and Stuart Sarbacker. I look forward to connecting my own work in the role of literacy and rhetoric in religious traditions to scholarly work and student interests in the new Religious Studies major.

I strongly encourage the Curriculum Council and the Faculty Senate to approve the major in Religious Studies at Oregon State University.

Sincerely yours,

Vicki Tolar Burton

Professor of English

Oregon State University