AAR Advocates for Religious Studies at Connecticut College

On June 9, 2020, AAR leadership wrote an open letter to top administrators and key faculty members of Connecticut College, urging them to reconsider dissolving its Department of Religious Studies.

In an article since published by The Day newspaper, Professor Jeffrey Cole, dean of the faculty at Conn College, defended the proposed cut by pointing to the interdisciplinary nature of religious studies, which Cole and others at the college believe eliminates the need for a standalone department. In its letter, the AAR argues against such a view, stating, “Because religious phenomena are complex, the methodologies for studying them have been wide-ranging and interdisciplinary, but the study of religion cannot be reduced to any one method or discipline. The field of religious studies has always required its own domain separate from other departments and disciplines.” To prevent the marginalization of religious studies in other disciplines, the AAR strongly encourages Conn College to preserve the department.

The AAR’s letter also stresses that “the study of religion has become one of the main vehicles for informed reflection on human culture” and reminds Conn College of its mission statement, wherein the institution commits to furthering academic excellence; diversity, equity, and shared governance; education of the entire person; adherence to common ethical and moral standards; community service and global citizenship; and environmental stewardship. “To abolish the department,” the AAR says, “would bring detriment to each of these values as well as to the overall mission.”

The AAR maintains it is the responsibility of higher education to arm students with a critical appreciation of the diverse human experience. Doing so requires persistent support of a religious studies department. In The Day’s article, one Conn College student specifically remarks, “[t]he strength of the [religious studies] department was the reason I decided to stay,” when they would have otherwise transferred.

The AAR is dedicated to fostering excellence in the academic study of religion and enhancing the public understanding of religion, which includes advocating for the retention and enhancement of religious studies departments in higher education. Read the full letter from AAR leadership to Connecticut College.