A Philosophy That Includes God
The department of philosophy and religious studies offers two majors, one in philosophy and the other in religious studies. The two majors enrich each other, but retain their separate identities and missions and provide an enhanced concentration for our students.
If the philosophical markers of a young job seeker in the 21st century are reading, thinking and experiencing life widely to be prepared for opportunities, Whitney L. Skippings, C’2012, has a solid foundation.
Since matriculating, the philosophy and religious studies student has leveraged the emphasis on enhancing students’ critical and analytic reasoning skills in several different internships. She has worked at the U.S. State Department, the American Red Cross, and spent her 2011 summer in the private sector at JPMorgan Chase & Co. “It seems somewhat random when one cross references my resume with my interests, but I'm really happy to have rounded out my collective workplace experiences,” said Skippings, who also majors in international studies.
Students with questions about religion as a significant phenomenon of human life may engage in academic study of religions in an interdisciplinary context.
Religious studies junior Sarita Smith, C’2013, is interested in learning what “would help to break down some of the resistance people may have when it comes to looking at religions other than their own.” For her thesis project, Smith examed founders of Buddhism and Christianity. Her research compared the two founders and used a focus group of persons from both traditions to test the possibility of changing perspectives. “I have been very interested in learning more about this topic since I began college,” Smith says, “so this research allowed me to gain knowledge in this area and find possible answers to many questions I have.”
Smith, who was contemplating graduate work in religious studies, used the senior thesis project to test the waters of a career in the academy. “I would like to explore what it would be like to pursue a career in religious studies,” Smith says. “If I were to take up religious studies on the graduate level, research like this would be done very frequently.”
A Springboard to Law
For her 2011 summer, Arlaysia Bell, 21, participated in the Sutherland Scholars Program as part of her preparation for law school and a would-be career in corporate law. In the program, students wrote briefs on Supreme Court cases and in the final exam analyzed cases and the rights of each party.
Bell, C'2012 philosophy major, says she chose her major “because it is the study of knowledge and encompasses every other subject.” Bell says the tangible benefits of a Spelman degree in philosophy include being well equipped for the LSAT, especially in the logical reasoning and arguments portion of the exam, and she says that the field’s majors score in the top percentile in the law school exam. She says her philosophy major has made her more of a humanitarian who is inspired to want to change the world.
Professors Mentoring Women for Critical Study and Practice
While she was interested in ministry, it was her professors and the WISDOM Center that cemented Meredith Coleman-Tobias,’ C2006, decision to pursue religious studies. Through the encouragement of Spelman professors Rosetta Ross, Renita Weems, Douglas Powe and Cecil Cone, she found a nascent interest in religious studies.
“While matriculating in the religious studies department, I soon discovered that I had a deep passion for the academic study of religion. The above faculty provided a variety of intriguing classes, conversations, and exposures that whet my appetite toward womanist approaches in religion,” said Coleman-Tobias, who is currently a first-year doctorate student in Emory University’s Graduate Division of Religion. “Spelman’s religious studies department enabled me to privilege my own subjectivity in the academic study of religion.”
Students with questions about women’s status in societies globally appreciate the program’s focus on the roles of women in religions. Tiffany Thomas, C’2004, and Duke Divinity School graduate in May 2011, struggled with choosing a major. “[When] I came to Spelman, I was a young adult wrestling with a call to ministry in a tradition and culture where women were not called to ministry,” said Thomas, an associate minister at Christ Church in New York. “But Sisters Chapel, the WISDOM Center, and the religious studies department provided many people who encouraged me and helped me to find a voice in the areas of theology and ethics.”
To Teach a Way of Thinking and Acting
What 16-year-old falls in love with philosophy? Chaina N. Dobbins has been locked into an “investigation of the nature, causes, or principles of reality, knowledge, or values, based on logical reasoning rather than empirical methods” since she took an honors western humanities course in 10th grade. The hook, she says, was the knowledge that philosophy wasn’t just about the facts. At 21, the would-be philosophy professor is proactive. She is working on the topic of Education and the Group: The Case for Individuality, both for her senior thesis and UNCF|Mellon two-year research project. Also, Dobbins is co-founder of the Atlanta University Center’s Young Black Thinkers Society.