Religious identity retains a remarkable resilience and power both within professedly secular cultures and in others where religious allegiances are openly declared. Contrary to predictions that religion would disappear from public life in a significant way with the advance of science and industrialization, religious identity and affiliation persist as vibrant spiritual, cultural, philosophical and political forces in the modern world. Our program seeks to address this phenomenon. The incredible richness of the religious heritages we have inherited from the past encourages us to recognize the importance of the religious impulse in human civilizations. Religious expressions have vital functions, even competing ones, within our communities, articulating and reinforcing religious sentiments and histories on the one hand, provoking meaningful contestation on the other. Today, perhaps more than ever before, we need to critically engage with the legacy of the past and the challenges of the present.
At the core of many religious traditions, texts and rituals are individual and communal modes of expression that allow adherents to participate within the life of the community. Alongside them, religious ideals and beliefs are also explored and celebrated through literature, art, architecture, music, theatre and film. New questions and answers can be advanced through the same range of creative forms. Sometimes these developments can be integrated within the community; sometimes they are denounced as unacceptable and are excluded. Still, for some, art, literature, and myth can also generate spaces for reconciliation and higher understanding, where spiritual longing and ecstatic experience can become subtly embodied, while remaining free of dogmatic strictures.
All of these modes of expression deserve the critical assessment and informed consideration which are at the core of the scholarly enterprise. The spirit of interrogation and debate surrounding the relationship between secular and religious ideas is fundamental to the RGLA approach. The Religion, Literature and the Arts Program provides a solid education in a range of disciplines, and on an interdisciplinary model, including knowledge of religious, literary, historical, cultural, anthropological, psychological and sociological methodologies. Only a major university can provide this breadth. Our program allows students to integrate a variety of approaches, through courses in a number of departments within the Faculty of Arts. Our students will select the majority of their courses according to their individual intellectual and academic interests, around a specific set of core courses. They will thus develop a coherent area of expertise. In addition to being rich and fulfilling in itself, this cogent but interdisciplinary program of undergraduate education lends itself to a wide array of graduate programs and further avenues of study.
Each student will:
- select an academic advisor associated with a participating department in the Humanities, Social Sciences or Performing Arts, and work with that advisor to ensure coherence in course selection
- participate in dynamic seminars to introduce and to conclude the program
- attend program-sponsored colloquia and social events
- choose from Eastern and Western Religions, Indigenous and Classical Traditions
- choose from different time and cultural frameworks: ancient, foundational periods, medieval, early modern and all other periods up to the present
- choose from a variety of artistic expressions: literature; art, sculpture and architectures, music, theatre and film
Katherine Sirluck, Chair of RGLA, September 2014 – 2015