Senate Document Number     6105S


Date of Senate Approval      04/07/05  



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Statement of Faculty Senate Action:


IDC 8:                         Intent to Plan B.A. Degree in Religious Studies


The University of North Carolina

Notification of Intent to Plan a New Baccalaureate, Master’s, or C.A.S. Program


THE PURPOSE OF ACADEMIC PROGRAM PLANNING: Planning a new academic degree program provides an opportunity for an institution to make the case for need and demand and for its ability to offer a quality program.  This notification, and the planning activity to follow, do not guarantee that authorization to establish will be granted..

                                                                                                            Date:  January 20, 2005

Constituent Institution:  University of North Carolina at Asheville                                                     

      CIP Discipline Specialty Title:  Religion/ Religious Studies                                                                 

      CIP Discipline Specialty Number:  38.0201  Level: B    X      M C.A.S. 

      Exact Title of the Proposed Program_ Religious Studies_____________________________

      Exact Degree Abbreviation (e.g. B.S., B.A., M.A., M.S., C.A.S.):     B.A.                            

      Does the proposed program constitute a substantive change as defined by SACS? Yes__  No_X_

      a)  Is it at a more advanced level than those previously authorized?  Yes__  No_X_

      b)  Is the proposed program in a new discipline division?  Yes__  No _X___

      Approximate date for submitting the Request to Establish proposal (must be within one year of date of submission of notification of intent to plan):                           1 January 2006                      

      Proposed date to establish degree:  month _August_____ year_2006________ (Date can be no sooner than six months after the date of notification of intent to plan and must allow at least three months for review of the request to establish, once submitted.)


1.  Describe the proposed new degree program. The description should include:

a)      a brief description of the program and a statement of educational objectives


     UNCA’s Religious Studies minor has been in place since 1999. The current director is a member of the Philosophy Department, and most of the courses are interdisciplinary in nature.  The minor draws upon faculty expertise in a number of academic departments, but at present we have only one faculty member with a terminal degree in religious studies, and she is affiliated with the Classics Department. In keeping with the mission of UNCA, which is to provide the liberal arts experience at its best, the proposed Department of Religious Studies, offering the B.A. degree, would be committed to helping students develop expertise in understanding the varieties of religious experience in the world. The academic study of religion is an independent discipline with its own methods of investigation.  Although the material it investigates may be in some cases the same as in other established disciplines, and this in part provides opportunities for interdisciplinary ventures, a free standing department at UNCA will ensure intramural and extramural audiences that the primary focus of faculty and students in this department will be the academic study of religion.


     The general concept for the curriculum in religious studies is informed by UNCA’s mission: to provide an education that is liberating, to promote “the free and rigorous pursuit of truth” as well as “respect for differing points of view and heritage,” and to help students develop an “understanding” of the varying kinds of values that “play a role in thought and action.”  The proposed Department (and major) particularly aims at encouraging students to:


* Understand diverse world religions in their historical and cultural settings,

* Become familiar with diverse approaches to the study of religion,

* Reflect upon the truth claims of the various religions,

* Critically examine the influence of religion upon individuals and societies,

*Prepare for graduate and professional study in religion and related fields.



b) the relationship of the proposed new program to the institutional mission and how the program fits into the institution’s strategic plan


      UNCA has a particular mission as the liberal arts school within the UNC system.  To this end the UNC-General Administration has identified fifteen fine liberal arts colleges as peer institutions, and UNCA measures its progress by comparing itself to these schools.  It is surely significant that twelve of the fifteen peer institutions have a Department of Religious Studies or a Department of Religion, and UNCA does not. It is not always advisable to follow the crowd, and indeed UNCA takes pride in being unique in many ways, but this discrepancy is a failure rather than a strength.  There has never been a civilization or a culture in history in which religion did not play a prominent role, and in fact in many places around the world religion was and remains the primary source of identity for many.


      UNCA tries to educate students broadly by introducing them to ideas and perspectives that will make them better citizens, better employees, and better people.  Through its lack of a focused, disciplined, academic department of religious studies, UNCA has neglected one of the most significant aspects of human culture.  Even students who elect not to major in religious studies will benefit from having a fully-staffed, academically qualified department on campus.  These faculty will teach courses that can be taken as electives or as part of ILS clusters, which will provide opportunities for students to explore the spiritual side of human nature as they are also working to discover and refine their social, intellectual, and political interests and commitments.  In addition, professors trained in religious studies will be invaluable in the Humanities Program, which is currently the one place where UNCA addresses religious issues (though too often it succeeds in raising issues without giving students adequate means to pursue such questions further).  One obligation of a public liberal arts institution is to help its students understand the various religious traditions that make up the modern world in an even-handed, fair, academic fashion.  At a time when major political and social conflicts at home and abroad have significant religious components, to leave students uninformed about these traditions leaves the door open to prejudice and bigotry.



c)   the relationship of the proposed new program to other existing programs at the institution


The proposed Department of Religious Studies would provide faculty expertise in the Humanities Program, the Freshman and Senior Liberal Arts Colloquia, the Honors Program, and the MLA Program. Depending on the specific research focus of faculty members in Religious Studies, some courses in the major might be cross-listed with History, Classics, Literature, and/or Philosophy.



d)      special features or conditions that make the institution a desirable, unique, or appropriate place to initiate such a degree program. 


Asheville is the ideal location for a Religious Studies Program in Western North Carolina. At present no university in the UNC system west of Greensboro offers the B.A. in Religion.  There is a great deal of interest in religion in this region, and Asheville offers a fair degree of religious diversity.  Not only is Asheville home to many varieties of Christians, there is also a long-standing and prominent Jewish population, as well as several Buddhist centers and retreats in the area, along with a visible Wiccan community and an Islamic center.  It is telling that in the twenty-four hours after Sept. 11, 2001 administrators and faculty at UNCA were able to put together a well-attended interfaith prayer vigil that included speakers representing Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism, Islam, Mormonism, and Buddhism.  There is a desire among many of UNCA’s students to study and understand religion more fully, both their own traditions and those of the wider world.


2.  List all other public and private institutions of higher education in North Carolina currently operating programs similar to the proposed new degree program.


UNC-CH, UNCG, and UNCC all offer BA’s in Religious Studies.


Religious Studies Majors and Degrees Awarded at UNC Institutions: Five Year Trend



Majors - Fall Semester


Graduates by AY
































































3.   Estimate the number of students that would be enrolled in the program during the first year of operation:   Full-Time 8                                                                     Part-Time 3


      During the past two years (2002-2004), 8 students have graduated with a minor in Religious Studies, a number comparable to other minor programs on campus. The Religious Studies minor receives a nominal programming budget, and the Director of the Program does not receive any re-assigned time for administration. With a budget and administrative time, we believe that the Religious Studies major would expand quickly at UNCA.


4.   If there are plans to offer the program away from campus during the first year of operation:

a)   briefly describe these plans, including potential sites and possible method(s) of delivering instruction.


b)   indicate any similar programs being offered off-campus in North Carolina by other institutions (public or private)


c)   estimate the number of students that would be enrolled in the program during the first year of operation:  Full-Time______                                            Part-Time______



5.   List the names, titles, e-mail addresses and telephone numbers of the person(s) responsible for planning the proposed program.


      Office/Title                                     Name                        Email Address                     Phone #

Associate Vice Chancellor

Academic Affairs -Humanities         Bill Spellman                (828) 251-6505

Institutional Research Director         Archer Gravely                 (828) 232-5118

Religious Studies Program              Brian Butler                    (828) 251-6550

   Director                                                                                                                (828) 251-6615

Chair, Department of Philosophy     Gordon Wilson                (828) 251-6349


This intent to plan a new program has been reviewed and approved by the appropriate campus committees and authorities.