UC Berkeley discontinues religious studies program

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UC Berkeley has discontinued its religious studies program, removing it from the application process so new students will no longer be able to apply for the major.

Bob Jacobsen, dean of undergraduate studies in the College of Letters and Science, said that as of 2015, students who still needed to complete their major requirements had the classes open to them, but new classes were not being offered to incoming students.

Jacobsen added that the decline of the major didn’t stem from a lack of funding, but rather a lack of enrollment. Damian Lanahan-Kalish, a doctoral student at UC Santa Barbara and a campus alumnus who majored in religious studies, said his graduating class in the program consisted of five or six people. Lanahan-Kalish said he believes that a lack of investment from the campus was part of the problem.

“They don’t have a lot of professors in the program,” Lanahan-Kalish said. “It didn’t have a lot of students or resources … it was hard to attract more students.”

A review committee for the religious studies major put together a report in November 2013, establishing that there was not enough collaboration from campus administration for the major to continue. The committee declared in the report that the program had been “seriously compromised” by an absence of faculty involvement, as well as declining student numbers in both course enrollments and in the major. The review committee concluded its report by noting that the major program didn’t have an office, alleging that it failed to prepare students adequately to apply to graduate schools, should they wish to study religious studies at an advanced level.

David Vasquez-Levy, president of the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, said that it is a “significant loss” if there isn’t a conversation regarding religion and its impact today.

“The entire situation, as far as the undergraduate social and intellectual experience is concerned, is disgraceful and not benefitting an institution such as Berkeley,” said the report from the review committee.

Lanahan-Kalish said he feels a big reason for the decline in student enrollment in the religious studies program is that students go to college to find a clear career path and that in the Bay Area, these careers are often in the tech industry, not in religion.

Jacobsen emphasized that although religious studies is no longer being offered as a major, there are several other ways to study religion at UC Berkeley.

“We have programs for Buddhist studies and a center for Jewish studies. Lots of humanities majors incorporate religion across their study,” Jacobsen said.

Contact Jessíca Jiménez at [email protected] and and follow her on Twitter at @jesscajimenez_dc.