The Department of Religious Studies is the principal, though not the sole, site on campus to engage in research and teaching that pertains to the various manifestations of religion. The Department employs those academic approaches that one typically associates with the liberal arts, especially the social sciences and the humanities. This includes, but is not limited to, a commitment to developing skills and habits of thought that enable students to interpret and engage with a complex world, past and present, near and far, familiar and unfamiliar, natural and social. Religious Studies fosters such scholarly capacities and skills as close reading (of texts and other social and material data), excellence in writing and verbal expression, interpretation of the past from written and physical evidence, interpretation of contemporary society by not only studying it directly but by applying knowledge of other times and other places.
Many of today's pressing political and social concerns are illuminated by an understanding of the religious beliefs and practices that lie beneath and within the news headlines. By exploring the public and private concerns that religions engage—for example, the nature of community and solitude, suffering and death, good and evil—students discover new ways of interpreting the complex world in which they live. As students venture into the religions of Asia, the Middle East, Africa, the Americas, and Europe, they learn about the formation and transmission of beliefs, behaviors, values, rituals, texts, institutions, and forms of community. Students also learn about conflict and accord within and between religions, as well as between religious and non-religious perspectives. In sum, Brown's graduate and undergraduate students acquire a variety of scholarly tools for understanding and interpreting religions in various historical, cultural, and social contexts.
The Department of Religious Studies at Brown offers students a wide selection of courses that represent various academic approaches to the study of religion including socio-historical, textual, ethnographical, ethical, and philosophical, among others. The academic study of religion at Brown, then, includes a wide array of interests, questions, and approaches. Nonetheless, while respecting diversity in interest and approach, the Department of Religious Studies endeavors to foster an intellectual community among its faculty and students that is coherent, identifiable, and collegial.