By Daniel Strawhun, Opinions Editor
Starting next semester, students at the University of Missouri-St. Louis will once again be able to pursue a Certificate in Religions through the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS). Because of a vicious cycle of underutilization and required courses not being offered regularly, the Certificate in Religions was effectively defunct—that is, until a recent upsurge in student interest prompted the CAS to revive the program.
Ron Yasbin, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, explained, “Interest in comparative religions has been growing… So we put together a committee of faculty and staff to look at what presently exists in the certificate, and there were a lot of courses that you had to take to get the certificate that don’t exist anymore. They’ve been modernized and updated.”
In addition to updating the course listings, the committee also designed a new introductory course for the certificate, Introduction to Religious Studies. Dean Yasbin said of the course, “The first time it will be offered is in the spring. I think it’s going to be really neat. The course by itself can be used for Gen Ed requirement for cultural diversity, or for a humanities course.”
David McGraw, UMSL Retention Specialist, played an integral part in the conception and design of the introductory course. McGraw, who also helped design the University Studies (INTDSC 1003) course in the past, explained how he got involved in the process. He said, “I was a graduate teaching assistant in the advising office for several years and Dean Yasbin was familiar with the kind of studies I’ve done: I studied philosophy for a while; I completed a B.A. and an M.A., as well as a B.S. and an M.Ed.…Given my educational background and given my performance, I think he [Dean Yasbin] just saw me as an extra support to propel that effort forward and to put in some extra energy into developing that introductory course.”
Soon after, McGraw began drafting the course, guided by input from Dean Yasbin and the planning committee. He explained, “I reached out to each of those four committee members and sought their input on what they wanted that introductory course to be. He [Dean Yasbin] gave me a few objectives as far as what he and the committee wanted out of the introductory course.”
McGraw continued, “They wanted to have practitioners of various traditions come into the class and speak with the students, so that was one component that had to be there. They wanted the practitioners to talk about specific things as well. So those sorts of things were handed to me, and then from that stuff, from the meetings with the professors, I came up with a rough idea, a draft of the syllabus more or less.”
With the completed syllabus in hand, McGraw returned to the course planning committee. It was then that the committee asked him to co-teach the course he had helped design alongside Jon McGinnis, professor in philosophy and Philosophy Department Chair. According to Dean Yasbin, McGinnis is a student-favorite in the department. He said, “We have to beat students away from his courses. You put his name on a course, and students immediately sign up,” which bodes well for the previously underutilized certificate program.
Students interested in taking the Introduction to Religious Studies course can register for it as soon as Spring 2017 classes are made available. The course will be cross-listed under both the philosophy department and history department as PHIL/HIST 2185: Introduction to Religious Studies and is scheduled to meet Fridays from 9 a.m. to 11:50 a.m