The Department of Religious Studies (RLST) offers courses on Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Indigenous Traditions, and New Religious Movements. By its very existence, RLST diversifies CU Boulder’s campus and curriculum through studying a variety of religious traditions and their interactions in the Mediterranean, Middle East, South Asia, Tibet, and the Americas. We deal explicitly with one of the most salient minoritizing markers in the modern West: religion. We confront predominant misconceptions of religion and religious groups as well as the colonial history of our discipline. Furthermore, we are attuned to the ways in which religion intersects with other minoritizing markers to produce abiding narratives that justify particular forms of exclusion. One result of this has been that scholars who study non-Western philosophical and ritual traditions have found a home in the field of RLST.
RLST is home to a group of scholars with diverse interdisciplinary connections and close ties to cognate programs. The CU Mediterranean Studies Group brings together scholars from across the Humanities and Arts at CU Boulder and the Front Range, organizing workshops and public-facing scholarly events, that address the intersections of religion, society, culture and institutions; its sister organization, with a robust programming including international conferences and nearly 2000 collaborators in over 40 countries, the Mediterranean Seminar, is the leading Mediterranean Studies project worldwide.
The Tibet Himalaya Initiative (THI) at CU Boulder is an interdisciplinary hub for research, teaching, and public engagement on Tibet and the Himalayas, operated under the aegis of the Center for Asian Studies. THI invites guest speakers for lectures on Tibetan and Himalayan culture, religion, and society, and hosts visiting artists (writers, painters, and filmmakers) throughout the year. Through public lectures, graduate colloquia, translation conferences, art exhibits, and film screenings, THI serves two primary constituencies: (1) an interdisciplinary community of CU students and faculty spanning the disciplines of Geography, Anthropology, Religious Studies, Musicology, Sociology, and Linguistics and increasingly drawing heritage students from Tibetan and Himalayan cultures and (2) the Front Range community in Colorado with a long abiding interest in Tibet and the Himalayas from the perspective of both sport (mountaineering) and spirituality (Tibetan Buddhism).
The Program in Jewish Studies brings together an interdisciplinary group of scholars from English, German and Slavic Languages and Literatures, History, Music, Religious Studies, Women and Gender Studies, and other fields to promote the critical examination of Jewish thought, culture, and religion. Through its undergraduate degrees, graduate certificate, student research and internship opportunities, archival collections, public-facing programming, and partnerships with civic organizations across Colorado, the Program seeks to “do Jewish Studies differently” and build bridges between the academy and the broader public.
Through our research and interdisciplinary initiatives, our faculty embody a range of perspectives and seek to cultivate a bold intellectual space where curiosity, openness, and humility are central values. Additionally, although we recognize unique histories of oppression in the American landscape, we view America-centered and global JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion)-work as being complementary. This is because new conceptual vocabularies open us up to new ways of seeing the world. When our basic concepts are left uninterrogated, they become sites for the replication of familiar structures. We believe there is inherent value in studying and teaching incommensurable difference because it allows us to see our participation in the reproduction of systems of violence, some of which is perhaps inescapable.
We believe in radical empathy as a critical tool and are committed to interrogating systemic (often Eurocentric, but also monotheistic) biases in the study of religion. Our Mediterranean Studies initiatives are grounded in the fact that interactions among Christians, Muslims and Jews from Africa, Europe and West Asia lie at the foundation of modernity and “Western Civilization.” Our Tibetan and Himalayan initiatives address inequities in globalization processes, including ongoing colonialism and interethnic domination, the effects of exile and diaspora, and issues of cultural hybridity, translation, and appropriation, while giving visibility to Tibetan writers, artists, and Buddhist leaders living in China and South Asia on the international stage. The Program in Jewish Studies seeks to explore the voices of diverse groups across the globe through initiatives such as the Nonbinary Hebrew Project; North America’s first chair in Israel/Palestine Studies; and a grant from the Luce Foundation to recover and elevate the experiences of Jews of color in the United States.
We believe in the importance of amplifying the voices of minorities. For us, this includes individuals and groups marginalized by the cleavages of class and caste, gender and sexuality, race and ethnicity, but also the subversive and the popular (in contrast to the canonical and the orthodox). This means taking seriously the recent call to decolonize religious studies by examining the history of the discipline, its early ties to orientalism and colonialism, its ongoing textual bias, and the epistemologies foreclosed in the process, particularly indigenous ones. This is crucial if we are to create welcoming spaces where people can feel seen and heard, but it is also true that the amplification of minoritized voices benefits everyone (and not just members of underrepresented communities).
RLST welcomes the university-wide initiative to make CU Boulder more inclusive as these efforts align with the work RLST has done for years in terms of educating CU students about diverse religious traditions based on a broad range of faculty expertise. That said, it has been a longstanding aspiration of our department, once university funding allows, to expand our repertoire of regional representation to religions of Latin America and Africa. In addition to our scholarship and teaching, we believe we can contribute to the diversification of CU Boulder through the recruitment and retention of faculty, staff, and students. In recent years, we have been successful in recruiting international students from Asia and the Middle East, yet we must acknowledge that historically our department has been complicit in structures of systematic discrimination that have negatively impacted faculty and students of color as well as female faculty.
A diverse body of faculty, students, and staff is necessary for CU Boulder to fulfill its goal of serving the people of Colorado, the nation, and the world by bringing together a vibrant array of cultures, experiences, and perspectives. Finally, we view community engagement in public outreach on the diversity of religious traditions and their interactions as an aspect of JEDI-work. While harsh economic realities have negatively impacted enrollments in RLST, there is reason for optimism. Today current moral, political, and climatological crises are foregrounding issues that RLST has historically studied. If that trend continues, our commitment and contributions to JEDI will be more important than ever.