UH's new Religious Studies Program
receives much praise
A discussion and a reception marked the
kickoff of the University of Houston's new Religious
Studies Program Thursday night at the University
Led by a panel consisting of Michael
Wyschogrod and Lynn Mitchell, the directors of the
new program, and Elias Bongmba, a professor of
religious studies at Rice University, the discussion
was titled "The Study of Religion at the Threshold of
the 21st Century."
"I think it's gotten off to a good start," said
Lawrence Curry, associate dean of the UH College
Humanities, Fine Arts and Communication.
Mitchell said, "I'm very optimistic, and I think
there's going to be a lot of support for this. I know
there's a lot of support in Houston."
The discussion focused on the importance of
the study of world religions in today's world.
Bongmba emphasized the value of familiarity with
religions other than those with which one is
already familiar, saying that variety in religion should
be treated not as a barrier, but as an invitation
to understanding other people and their cultures.
"Saying that all religions say the same thing
is not giving enough respect to those religions,"
Mitchell added. "The people who are best at dialogue with other cultures, and other religions, are
those who are secure in their own."
Mitchell also said he believes religion should
be treated as something that is alive, despite past
predictions that it would be dead by the end of this
"I think that one of the turns that is taking
place at the threshold of the 21st century is the
recognition that we need to study religion to form
new religion," he said, referring to the fact that all
current religion is based on past practices and
Wyschogrod cited examples of this idea, and
said the study of Judaism and Christianity has
changed in many ways over the course of the past
century, now including such specialized fields as
Wyschogrod said, "If you write a book, as
long as that book is out in the world, different people
will see different things in it than what you saw. By
study, interpretation is opened up in a very
"You never know what treasures are in the
back room" of religion, he said, referring to the
importance of religious study cultivating new interpretation of religious texts.
The new Religious Studies Program is
expected to enjoy rapid growth, Curry said.
"I hope there will be enough private support
to endow some chairs, full-time faculty members,
it seems to me that's what it will take before it will be
possible to think of offering a major," he said.
Wyschogrod said he hopes to have appointed some chairs within the next 10 years to specialize not
only in established religions, but also in such topics
as the sociology and psychology of religion.
Another wish Wyschogrod expressed was
that UH would one day establish a religious library,
he noted that it would be a huge project that would
require much planning and work to achieve.
Jacob Ratner, a junior hotel restaurant management major, said he was "surprised and delighted" to discover that a minor program in religious
studies would be offered and that he would receive
recognition for the religion classes he has already
Curry said, "I think the program is a good
beginning and that it will be a very attractive minor
students. I'm enthusiastic about it. I think it's long
overdue. I'm glad we have it, and I expect it to
be very successful."
Wyschogrod said he has received a huge
response to the initiation of the program already. He
said he is confident that the best is yet to come.
(courtesy of The Daily Cougar, 4/1/96)