The Philosophy Department is planning to add religious studies as a Bachelor of Arts this fall.
The new B.A. in religious studies is currently in its last steps for approval at the Higher Education Coordinating Board. If approved, Texas State will be the fourth institution in Texas to institute a religious program, joining the University of Houston, the University of Texas and the University of North Texas.
The major will total 30 hours and offer new courses in religious literacy, including introduction to religious studies, Chinese religion and what is religion. Additionally, students are required to enroll in one class in premodern, modern, western, Asian and other religions each.
The Chair of Philosophy Department Craig Hanks said the push for religious studies started around the early 2000s after witnessing the enrollment growth of students in the religious studies minor and job demands of religious studies graduates inside and outside of Texas.
“Our goal at that time was to build a serious, scholarly-based approach to thinking about religion,” Hanks said. “There was an intellectual interest from students and there was a job demand in the state and we thought we can respond to both by creating this major.”
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated a 7-8% increase in “director, religious activities and education” and “religious workers, all others” totaling up to 27,100 openings nationwide.
Religious studies graduates have a variety of careers to choose from, including working at a hospital as a chaplain, being part of an organization with an ethics office, working in a university as a faculty member and work in the political sphere.
Philosophy professor Joseph Laycock said students gaining knowledge in different religions will help them navigate and interact with people better in the global market.
“They’re (students) going in a political system where you have people coming from all kinds of different backgrounds,” Laycock said. “When George W. Bush was running for governor of Texas, he held a fundraiser in the Dell Jewish Community Center, and someone from his campaign brought out all this pork barbecue…into the kitchen. It’s a kosher kitchen. Pork is never ever allowed there. So by taking a world religions class, I want bobcats to graduate and just be more savvy and not make mistakes like this.”
Laycock said he is excited for students who wanted to take the major to get the chance to do so and anticipate the major will attract newcomers to Texas State.
The development of religious studies at Texas State originated in the 1950s with a course requirement called “Philosophies Men Live By.”
Through the decades, the university added more courses on religion, which would fill the course requirement until all religious courses moved into the philosophy department as a minor. Philosophy professor Rebecca Raphael was hired as a religious studies coordinator in 1999.
Raphael said she and her a team of philosophy professors and the philosophy chair have been working on making the religious studies major for the last 20 years since she was hired.
“(The Philosophy Department) organized a minor that existed when I came in and they always wanted to build it into something bigger. In the past five or six years, we’ve been working pretty intensely to increase staff, course offerings, work on the proposal and see that to committees,” Raphael said.
The written proposal for the new major was sent September 2019 and has gone through various levels: the Texas State University Curriculum Committee, the president and provost, faculty senate and then the University to the Board of Regents. The proposal has passed unanimously through the steps. The last step is potential approval by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which would make it available by fall 2020.
Philosophy professor Natasha Mikles said she is excited to share her religious research with her students in the form of the prospective major.
“With the minor, I haven’t been able, as a professor, to really invite students into things I do research on. The opportunity to teach more courses on Asian religion, to teach my Buddhism seminar more frequently and to teach Chinese religions at all is really exciting to me,” Mikles said. “It’s exciting to help invite students into those topics and to help share the things that I’m passionate about.”
Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board will result their decision on the passage of the major in June 2020. The Religious Studies major is projected to start in the fall 2020. More information about the major can be obtained from the Department of Philosophy at 512.245.2285 or through email at [email protected]