Faculty in the Religion Department engage in research and teaching about the diverse religious traditions of the world. The study of religion is an interdisciplinary field, and our work represents a stimulating range of methodological and theoretical approaches, from archaeological and historical to textual and ethnographic. Within this intellectual environment, we are committed to working closely with both our undergraduate and graduate students.
Our undergraduate program offers a wide range of classes in the academic study of religion. Our classes introduce students to different methodological approaches and allow them to focus on specific religious traditions such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hindu traditions, Buddhist traditions, African Traditional Religions, and Native American religious traditions. In addition, we offer courses in African-American religion, religion and literature, science and religion, anthropology and religion, and women and religion. The Religion Major is designed to provide students with flexibility to explore their particular interests, while exposing them to a diversity of approaches and religious traditions. The Religion Minor is an attractive option for students who are majoring in other disciplines. Within our graduate program, students may pursue an MA in Religion or a PhD in Religion. In our department it is also possible to learn multiple relevant languages, including Hebrew and Arabic. Students who wish to study these languages at an advanced level can complete a Arabic Major or Arabic Minor, or a Minor in Hebrew.
Faculty in our department have close connections to other departments and interdisciplinary units on campus:
- Our faculty member Carolyn Medine is Director of the Institute for African American Studies.
- Our faculty member Ibigbolade Aderibigbe is Associate Director of the African Studies Institute.
- Our faculty who research Hinduism and Buddhism, Nanette Spina and Kendall Marchman, work with the Center for Asian Studies.
- Several of our faculty have affiliate faculty status with other departments and institutes: the Department of Classics, the Department of Linguistics, and the Institute for Women’s Studies.
The academic study of Religion has been a part of the curriculum of the University of Georgia since the late 1940s when a chaplain was hired at the University and budgeted to teach Religion part time. In the 1950s a small Department of Philosophy and Religion was formed, consisting of two faculty members.
The Department of Religion became a separate unit from the Philosophy Department at UGA in 1984. Dr. Robert H. Ayers, Professor Emeritus was instrumental in its creation. Dr. Ayers, at retirement age, approached the administration and offered his full-time teaching services free of charge for five years if the university would form a separate Department of Religion. The agreement was made, and the department formed. Dr. Ayers fulfilled his promise of five years full-time teaching without salary. Based on the salary he was making at the time of his promise, his contribution to the University was calculated equivalent to one quarter of a million dollars.
The first Department Head was Dr. George E. Howard and he served from 1984-1999. The first faculty members were Dr. Robert H. Ayers, Dr. William E. David, Dr. George E. Howard, Dr. Anthony A. Nemetz, Dr. William L. Power, Dr. Shanta Ratnayaka and Dr. Gerald Wilson. Ms. Zinetta Pirtle McDonald retired June 30, 2018 after serving as the department's Business Manager for over 30 years. Dr. Sandy D. Martin served as Department Head from 1999-2002 and from 2004-2020. Dr. David S. Williams served as Department Head from 2002-2004, when he became the Director of the Honors Program at UGA.
In 1981 the Department of Religion and Philosophy began a BA undergraduate degree and an MA graduate degree in Religion. Since the Departments separated in 1984, the Religion Department has added undergraduate degrees in a Religion Minor, an Arabic Major and Minor, and a Minor in Hebrew Language and Literature. In Summer 2017 the Department added a PhD graduate degree in Religion. The Department of Religion formed the Institute of Native American Studies which offers a Certificate in Native American Studies.
The Department began teaching Religion courses in New Testament, Old Testament, Philosophy of Religion, Christian Ethics, Theology, Buddhism, History of Christianity, and Hebrew Language. The Department now offers many courses in religion found on all the inhabited world continents: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Japanese Religions, Indigenous Religions, including Native American Religions and African Traditional Religions, Anthropology of Religion, Religious Thought and Theology, Philosophy of Religion, Science and Religion, Women and Religion, Religious Diversity, and Language courses in Arabic, Hebrew, Semitic languages, and other languages associated with the Foreign Language Teaching Assistant Program through Fulbright, offering languages such as Persian, Pashtu, Indonesian, Turkish, Urdu, Tajik, Uzbek and others.