Religious Studies

Saint Michael's Religious Studies

The religious studies program at Saint Michael's serves as excellent preparation for graduate studies and any number of career choices built on a solid liberal arts foundation.

In keeping with the mission of Saint Michael's as a Catholic liberal arts college, we approach religious studies by examining the foundations, development, meaning, and cultural relevance of the Christian tradition. We also encourage you to explore other religious traditions, such as Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism.

Ultimately, these studies contribute to our graduates' understanding of humanity and of themselves, and help to develop the skills of critical thinking and analysis that are essential to successful careers, further study, and lives of service.

Religious Studies is the academic study of religion from a variety of perspectives, using a variety of different disciplines. In keeping with the mission of Saint Michael's College, the Religious Studies Department offers a wide range of courses that study the broader Christian religious tradition and the Roman Catholic tradition in particular. We also offer a variety of courses in the study of Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. In addition, our courses tackle broader philosophical and cultural issues surrounding the phenomenon of religion. Some students choose to create a focus for their major in specialized areas such as Christian traditions and thought, World Religions, Ethics, Early Christian Studies, or the study of the Bible.

Religious Studies majors learn to think critically about and evaluate the claims made by various religious groups. They gain detailed knowledge about the history of the world’s religious traditions, and they are expected to develop an empathetic understanding of the world-views of others. Our graduates more fully understand the complex interplay between religion and other aspects of society, and they learn how various people both past and present have lived out their spiritual lives. Few areas of study are as relevant for understanding our twenty-first century world as the study of religion.

Many Religious Studies majors also double major in another discipline. Popular combinations with Religious Studies are Political Science, Psychology, English, History, and Elementary Education. In addition, many students choose to minor in Religious Studies. Current Religious Studies minors are majoring in such diverse fields as Business Administration, Biochemistry, Sociology, Economics, Media Studies, Anthropology, Biology, and Classics, among others.

Religious Studies Learning Outcomes:

Students will demonstrate comprehensive, in-depth understanding of the Christian tradition.

Students will demonstrate a familiarity with religious traditions other than Christianity, and deeper understanding of at least one of these traditions.

Students will demonstrate understanding of the field of religious studies, including an appreciation of disciplines and sub-disciplines within the field.

Students will demonstrate increased religious literacy, including the ability to comprehend a range of theories and methods in the study of religion.

Students will demonstrate appreciation of the complexity of interpretations in the study of religion including hermeneutical theories.

Students will demonstrate understanding of the importance of research and scholarship through completion of a Senior Thesis to be completed in RS410 (Sr. Seminar).

James Byrne, PhD

Professor of Religious Studies
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Ph.D. University of Dublin (Trinity College)
S.T.L. Gregorian University, Rome
S.T.B. Gregorian University, Rome

I hold undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in theology from the Gregorian University (Rome) and a Ph.D. in philosophical theology from the University of Dublin (Trinity College). I did my postdoctoral work at the University of Tubingen (Germany). I have also taught at universities in Ireland and the United Kingdom. I value the opportunities at Saint Michael's to work closely with students on research projects and senior theses.

Areas of Expertise:

Religion in the Context of Modern Thought and Culture, The Enlightenment, Science and Religion, Theories and Methods in the Study of Religion, Christian Theology

Courses I Teach:

  • Religion: Theory and Method
  • Science and Religion
  • World Christianity
  • Christianity: Past and Present

Sajida Jalalzai, MPhil

Instructor of Religious Studies
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Ph.D. Columbia University (in process)
M.Phil Columbia University
M.A. Columbia University
M.A. McGill University
B.A. Queen's University

Areas of expertise

  • Islam in North America
  • North American Religions
  • Anthropology of Religion

Courses taught

  • Christians and Muslims
  • Islam
  • Varieties of Christianity
  • Islam in North America

Robert Jan Lair, MAR

Adjunct Faculty First Year Seminar, Environmental Studies, RS.
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M.A.R. Yale University
B.A. Colgate University

Areas of Expertise

Buddhism, Hinduism, Contemporary American Spirituality, Postmodernism, Buddhism in America, Yoga Studies.

Courses taught

  • The Examined Life, FS
  • Buddhism and the Environment, ES
  • Understandings of God, RS

John Kenney, PhD

Professor of Religious Studies
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Ph.D. Brown University
A.B. Bowdoin College

I studied ancient philosophy at Bowdoin, majoring in Classics and Philosophy. I did graduate work in Philosophy at the University Pennsylvania, and then completed my Ph.D. at Brown in Religious Studies. After a post-doctoral fellowship at Harvard, I taught for 15 years at Reed as Professor of Religion and Humanities. I came to Saint Michael's to be Dean of the College in 1995. Since 2006 I have been teaching full-time as Professor of Religious Studies. I also offer courses in the Humanities Program

Areas of Expertise:

Early Christianity, Ancient Philosophy

Courses I Teach:

  • Ancient and Medieval Civilization
  • Christianity Past and Present
  • Medieval Christianity
  • Understandings of God
  • Augustine of Hippo: Life and Thought

Joseph Kroger, PhD

Professor of Religious Studies
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Ph.D. McMaster University
M.A. St. Louis University
B. A. University of Dayton

Areas of Expertise and Scholarly Interests:

Christianity’s encounter and dialogue with other cultures and religions; Christianity in Latin America, specifically Liberation Theology in Central America and Catholic Christianity in Mexico; Mesoamerican culture and religion; Philosophical foundations of Hinduism and Buddhism, Michael Polanyi’s Thought on Science and Religion.

Courses I Teach:

  • Aztec Goddesses and Christian Madonnas of Mexico
  • Buddhist Religious Thought
  • Christianity and World Religions in Dialogue
  • Hindu Religious Thought
  • Liberation Theology
  • Varieties of Christianity

Edward Mahoney, PhD

Professor of Religious Studies, Director of the Graduate Theology Program
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S.T.B., M.A., M.M.R.Sc., Ph.D. The Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium
B.Ph. St. Paul’s University
B.A. University of Ottawa

Areas of Expertise:

Catholic social teaching, Christian bioethics, economics and ethics, Christian ethics, Catholic moral theology, fundamental theology, systematic theology; Human Genome Project; ethics of long-term care

Course I Teach (Undergraduate):

  • RS 120 Christianity Past and Present
  • RS 130 Varieties of Christianity
  • RS 140 Catholic Christianity
  • RS 211 New Testament
  • RS 234 Christian Ethics
  • RS 236 Christian Social Ethics
  • RS 236 Work Capital and God
  • RS 238 Christian Health Care Ethics
  • RS 350 Jesus Through the Centuries
  • RS 350 Ethics, Spirituality and Environment
  • RS 410 Religious Studies Seminar

Courses I Teach (Graduate):

  • GTH 527 The Eucharist
  • GTH 534 Adult Religious Formation
  • GTH 580 Foundations of Moral Theology
  • GTH 581 Catholic Social Teaching
  • GTH 614 Ecclesiology
  • GTH 693 Foundations of Theology
  • GTH 734 Health Care Ethics
  • GTH 760 Environmental Ethics

Raymond Patterson, PhD

Religious Studies Department Chair, Associate Professor of Religious Studies
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Ph.D. The Catholic University of America
M.A. Yale Divinity School
B.A. Dartmouth College;

Courses I Teach:

  • American Catholicism
  • American Protestantism
  • Celtic Christianity
  • Saints and Holiness
  • Sacraments, Worship, and Ritual
  • Religion and Film
  • Varieties of Christianity

My Saint Michael's:

Saint Michael’s graduates look at their time in Vermont as a special time in their lives -- many spend the rest of their lives trying to find ways to get back here!  I like the size of the community, which has allowed me to develop strong working relationships with students, staff and other faculty.

Jeffrey Trumbower, Ph.D.

Professor of Religious Studies
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B.A. Vanderbilt University
M.A., Ph.D. University of Chicago

Areas of Expertise:

Jewish sectarian logic and ideology

My Saint Michael's:

Dr. Trumbower is the author of Rescue for the Dead: The Posthumous Salvation of Non-Christians in Early Christianity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001) and Born From Above: The Anthropology of the Gospel of John (Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr [Paul Siebeck], 1992).

Dr. Trumbower incorporates the topics he has written about into his courses. The very act of producing peer-reviewed scholarship keeps him in touch with new ideas and developments in his field, and these new ideas inevitably find their way into his teaching. He has quite often been influenced by a question or assertion of a student in class that has helped him to think more deeply about some scholarly topic he has been working on.

Outside Saint Michael's, Dr. Trumbower enjoys snowshoeing, coin collecting, and vegetable gardening. He appeared on the television game show “Jeopardy!” in 2004, narrowly missing first place by only $1.

There are many special opportunities available for a Religious Studies major or minor at Saint Michael's.

As a Religious Studies major you will always have a Religious Studies professor as your academic advisor, so you get the very best advice about courses, study abroad, senior thesis topics, and careers.

A highlight of your program is that majors (and minors if they choose!) participate in the 2-part senior capstone experience of RS 310 (Religion: Theory and Method) and RS 410 (Senior Seminar). In the fall semester of senior year you take RS 310 and develop ideas for your senior thesis. You write your senior thesis in the spring semester of senior year, working closely on a specific project with one faculty member. This chance to work in close collaboration with a faculty member on your thesis is one of the high points of being a Religious Studies major.

If you are interested in studying abroad, there are many study abroad programs which have great courses on religion. Recent majors have studied religion at leading universities, such as Oxford. In the past three years, Religious Studies students have studied in Ireland, the Netherlands, Switzerland, India, Japan, Indonesia, New Zealand, and South Africa, and many other countries. These courses can really broaden your understanding and experience of religion as a worldwide cultural force, and most of them can be counted towards your Religious Studies degree from Saint Michael’s.

Back at Saint Michael's you can get involved in internships through the department or even apply for scholarships to work on a summer research project with one professor. Religious Studies department internships provide real life work experience coupled with an academic component designed by the student and directing professor. Examples of recent internships include working at a Catholic charity while studying Catholic social teaching, and working on a local program that promotes environmental ethics while investigating the concept of environmental stewardship in world religions. In recent years several Religious Studies students have been granted competitive awards to pursue research with a faculty mentor on such diverse topics as Christianity in Russia since the end of communism, and the influence of technology on the concept of community in religious groups in the Burlington area.

A degree in Religious Studies is similar to a degree in any Humanities subject, such as Philosophy, English, or History. Careers pursued by our recent Religious Studies graduates include:

  • Law
  • Media Consultancy
  • Teaching
  • University Admissions Officer
  • Journalism
  • Social Work
  • Graduate School in Religious Studies
  • Brewing (true!)
  • Law Enforcement
  • Publishing
  • Campus Ministry
  • Business
  • Prosecutor's Assistant

Saint Michael's Religious Studies majors have had great success in acceptance to graduate programs. Recent graduates have received advanced degrees in Religious Studies/Theology from such institutions as:

  • Brown University
  • University of Chicago
  • Boston College
  • The Catholic University of America
  • University of Hawaii
  • University of Kansas
  • Temple

Our majors have also pursued graduate studies in other disciplines, including:

  • law
  • international relations
  • special education
  • criminal studies
  • high school counseling
  • nursing

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