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.
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.
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
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
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.