Reimagining Religion and Philosophy to Tackle Complex World

by | May 17, 2021 | In the Spotlight.

Last year, faculty leaders were asked to consider how their programs were meeting the changing needs of students. The Department of Religion and Philosophy met that challenge by combining two majors and reimagining their curriculum.

The new “philosophy and religion” major will help students better understand a complex landscape of competing worldviews. They will begin to unravel how those worldviews are lived out in practice. Students will tackle big questions about how we should live, how we should organize our communities, how we should pursue justice, and how we make sense of our place in an increasingly polarized society.

“In a globalized planet, being able to navigate challenging conversations is an essential skill — one that the new philosophy and religion major will develop,” said Andrew Mills, chair of the Department of Religion and Philosophy.

Three concentrations will be available to students: philosophy, religion, and social justice/ethics.

Professor Stephanie Patridge explained that the combination is built off of the natural affinity between the two content areas, as well as between faculty members.

“We’ve always been a forward-thinking department. The pieces were always there, we just needed to make it happen,” said Patridge.

Senior Drew Wilson saw the combination first-hand with Assistant Professor Alex Rocklin’s class, Yoga: Religion, Philosophy, and Politics. Rocklin took yoga and showed how it is more than just an exercise routine. Wilson liked how the class showed the interdisciplinary nature of concepts you can experience daily.

“It’s really awesome to be able to pull ideas from both philosophy and religion simultaneously. While trying to assess a situation, you recognize ways to facilitate understanding in more meaningful ways,” said Wilson.

This new combination globalizes traditional Euro-centric concentrations, allowing students to expand their worldview. The major pays close attention to historical and contemporary answers to life’s fundamental questions, helping students formulate their own answers while fostering a deeper understanding of the global viewpoints.

“These two areas are designed to help people reflect on the ultimate questions in life,” said Rev. Larry Brown ’80, ordained UMC pastor and Otterbein Board of Trustees member.

Brown remembered how the generations of students before him, including his father, studied both philosophy and religion together.

“In the long term, this will broaden the pool of applicants for faculty and staff, increasing the possibilities for employees to directly impact our student body,” said Brown.

Philosophy and Religion in the Workforce

The wide applicability of philosophy and religion provides a unique combination of communication, reading, analytical, and empathetic skills that make graduates stronger, well-prepared, highly valued employees. According to the Educational Testing Services, philosophy majors have the fourth-highest median earnings in the United States — more than $81,000 per year, which outranks business and chemistry.

“Financial security and doing work that fulfills you are often at odds with each other. The earnings data we see for philosophy graduates nationwide is disproving that notion. This is, in turn, helping potential students see that you don’t have to abandon a passion in order to be successful,” said Mills.

Regarding post-undergraduate test scores, philosophy and religion majors score higher than other cohorts. For the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), they are tied for the highest final test scores across majors. Students score in the top five highest of all majors on the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) and have the highest composite scores of all majors on the graduate record examination (GRE).

“For the longest time, the old joke to studying philosophy and religion was ‘do you want fries with that?’ That’s no longer the case. Our graduates are going on to be part of the world’s leading industries and companies,” said Patridge.

Test scores and earning potential are testaments to the importance and impact philosophy and religion majors can make in the working world, but there is more to studying in these fields than numbers.

John Posey graduated in 2020 with a degree in philosophy. He came to campus to study criminology and pursue a career with the FBI. Upon hearing from a former FBI agent, his academic focus changed.

“The agent mentioned philosophy as a degree to pursue rather than criminology. I was excited to make that change as it had already piqued my interest,” Posey said. “It amazed me how you could discuss any topic and see how much it applies to your life.”

As a human resources technician for the Ohio National Guard, Posey said he interacts with people from all kinds of backgrounds: ethnically, culturally, and philosophically. The military is based on taking in information and using it to move forward with a plan of action to accomplish an objective. Posey says that is exactly what his philosophy education does for him.

“No one has ever asked me what Socrates said in 400 B.C., but the critical thinking, speaking, writing, and communication skills I learned are used every day. I’m finding commonalities and understanding across differences and I feel that’s drastically missing in society today.”

Will Elkins is the communication and social media manager at Otterbein University and holds a master’s degree in media management from Syracuse University and bachelor’s degree in telecommunications from Michigan State University. He focuses on social media strategy, marketing practices and theory, and internal communications.

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