After careful deliberation and consideration among faculty and administration, the department of religious studies and the School of Theology will soon be merging into one school.
The two departments are now in the decision-making process of nailing down subsequent details, such as the name of the new school and where it will be located.
In an email that was sent by Dr. Fred Burnett, chair of the department of religious studies, to the students in the Department, the plan is “in its infancy, but the hope is that we can have it all ‘up and running’ by the fall of 2016.” Burnett also believes that the merge will be “an efficient use of both faculties.”
“The School of Theology faculty and the department of religious studies faculties have some overlapping areas of expertise, but also the separate faculties have some expertise that the other one does not have,” Burnett said. “By combining them, we can make sure that everyone’s expertise is used, and that there are no unnecessary duplications of course offerings.”
The change will not affect current majors or minors, and there is still potential that more courses will be added to the program catalog before the start of next fall. With this being the case, Burnett believes that it is a win-win for both faculty and students.
“We will be looking at trying to provide more opportunities than ever before in terms of classes, guest lecturers, workshops, internships, and many other activities,” Burnett said. “The point is: Nothing that we now have will be cut or no longer available, but many more opportunities and activities should become available.”
When asked about any potential negative factors of the merge or possible deficiencies in the new school, Burnett said, “There really is no disadvantage with increased efficiency in the use of expertise and saving money, and if either [of] the practical emphases of ministerial courses can also maintain, and not be subsumed to, a strong academic emphasis. A balance of the two emphases—practical/professional and academic—would be an advantage for our students.”
Though this will be an obvious change for students involved in both departments, sophomore Nikki Edrington, a Christian ministries major, believes it will be a benign process.
“From what the DRS students have been told thus far, it sounds like it will be truly beneficial for us in the long run,” Edrington said. “I am excited to get to work with professors that I wouldn’t normally get to work with thanks to the merge, and I’m honestly really curious about what new classes may be offered down the road.”
“I don’t see this being anything other than a great opportunity for growth,” Edrington continued, “I’m excited, too, that this is happening early in my time at AU, so I’ll get to experience the benefits and watch it change and expand over the next few years.”
President Pistole commented that he is “looking forward to seeing the possibilities when all of our Bible, religion and theology scholars are working together. “
According to Burnett, AU students and faculty should be confident in the two departments combining because there have been countless other schools who have done similar things and found it to be successful and fruitful.
“Such a merger of faculties has been done for many years at schools similar to ours, and it has always issued in a richer academic and professional ministerial environment,” he said.