The University of Michigan, an encyclopedic survey ... Wilfred B. Shaw, editor.
University of Michigan.
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PROGRAM ON STUDIES IN RELIGION

A Brief History of Religious Studies at Michigan

The University of Michigan has had a strong tradition of concern for the teaching and nurture of religion. Beginning in 1857, the Student Christian Association was established and in 1883 it moved into Newberry Hall, which was built through a subscription of funds from students and faculty members. In 1917, the Association moved to Lane Hall. In 1929, President Ruthven appointed Dr. Edward Blakeman Counselor in Religious Education. He started an interdepartmental program of religious studies and also counseled students. In 1937, the Student Christian Association gave Newberry and Lane Hall to the University. The Regents, at that time, agreed to take responsibility for religion at Michigan and allowed the Association to use Lane Hall as its headquarters. In 1944, the University appointed Dr. Franklin Littell, who remained in his position until 1949. He was succeeded by Dr. Dewitt C. Baldwin, who was appointed as Director of Lane Hall and who stayed on until 1968. However, in 1954, the title was changed from Director of Lane Hall to Coordinator of University Religious Affairs. In 1956, the Regents established an Office of Religious Affairs and in 1962, ORA left Lane Hall and moved to the Student Activities Building. In 1971, the University appointed its first Administrative Director for the Program on Studies in Religion, Dr. David Noel Freedman.

Formerly the Program on Studies in Religion comprised an interdepartmental undergraduate concentration in the L.S. and A. College, cross-listing a variety of courses offered by a number of departments. Specified courses in Philosophy, Psychology, and Sociology were required for concentrators. The balance of the concentration was made up of a group of Page  2courses (18 hours) in one of several approved departments: English, History, Philosophy, Psychology, Sociology, Near Eastern Languages, etc.

The Program, consisting entirely of courses offered and staffed by the several departments, was maintained by a faculty committee, which also provided (especially through its chairman) counselling to interested students. It was a modest operation, and required no additional staff or funding. At the same time it was felt by those involved that there were weaknesses in the Program, and that it did not meet the needs and demands of students who expressed themselves with increasing vigor about the matter.

The principal complaints about the Program were: 1) that the courses offered were either relational or peripheral to the field of religion approaching it from the point of view of other disciplines, or dealing with it as a secondary feature where other considerations were primary, and that there was a dearth of courses in the phenomenology of religion itself; 2) that many of the courses which made up the religion concentration were not offered on a regular or continuing basis, but haphazardly and at the option of departments and professors whose central concerns lay elsewhere; 3) that there was no one with day-to-day responsibility for the Program, specifically, a Director who would represent the Program at the appropriate levels, and prosecute its interests vigorously, since it was too much to expect the Chairman of the committee, who was a full-time teacher in some department, to carry such a burden.

As a result of various pressures, and the expressed interest of the Administration in developing the Program, certain changes were initiated in the academic year 1971-72. A new director was brought in to assume responsibility for the Program, with a half-time appointment to the Program, and half-time to the Department of Near Eastern Languages. An office and a Page  3secretary were also provided, to give the Program immediate if limited visibility.

In addition, significant changes were made in the academic program. The requirements for the concentration were revised, providing a central core of courses specifically in religion. At the same time greater flexibility was allowed in the selection of courses for the completion of the concentration: it is no longer necessary to split the concentration between the Program and one of the affiliated departments. Students may now take all their courses from an approved list of more than 100 courses drawn from a substantial number of departments.

Thus a basic course in World Religions was initiated in the Winter Term 1972, and the full two-term sequence is given in each academic year. A Seminar in Comparative Religion for Junior and Senior concentrators is also given.

At all points in the development of the major we encourage students to make use of the flexibility of our Program. Because the Program is still relatively young and dynamic, still growing and developing, students have a rare opportunity to become personally involved in molding their own concentration program. Students can pursue the study of religion from one of several perspectives: for instance, religion as idea (philosophy), religion as a cultural force (history), religion as individual experience and behavior (psychology). Once a student has completed the basic requirements, which serve as a solid foundation, he may create his own goals and shape the means to attain them.

Since 1971-72, the Program on Studies in Religion has become more stable and has continued to expand. It is a pleasure to report that in spite of the severe restraints which the entire university has faced and which have been felt no less by the Program on Studies in Religion — the Program has gained in Page  4strength and reputation. Our primary concern continues to be a sound academic program of undergraduate courses for concentrators and non-concentrators. The demands imposed by this interest, however, have not prevented us from making the Program known on a national level.

The Program has continued to offer virtually all the courses which it has generated in the past. The enrollments in these have either remained stable or shown a marked increase. We are indebted to the departments and individual faculty members who assist us by offering courses which pertain to religion. Cross-listed courses comprise a major portion of our Program. We do, however, offer courses which are listed only in religion, and we have found that these have met with positive student response. Courses which have been generated by the Program now reach more than 1200 students annually. This figure includes approximately 700 students registered in courses we offer through the Program and a conservative estimate of the number in cross-listed courses who select those courses because of their religion component. Our basic courses, Religion 201 and 202, continue to have wide appeal. However, we recognize that these must be constantly updated and improved.

The Program continues to profit from the cooperation of the members of the Committee for the Program on Studies in Religion. The Committee defines matters of policy and advises the Director of the Program on Studies in Religion in matters of administration concerning the Program on Studies in Religion. In addition, it receives recommendations and proposals from the Director, its membership and other sources for approval and transmission to the Dean's office for appropriate action. The Committee consists of fourteen voting members (twelve faculty members and two students), and two ex-officio members without vote: the Director of the Program on Studies in Religion, and the Director of the Office of Ethics and Religion.

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