William & Mary

Greetings from the Chair

Greetings from the Chair:

As I begin my tenth (and final) year as Chair of this department of excellence, I am struck by what a busy and productive academic year we have just finished, and what an exciting academic year we are beginning. Colleagues are busy constantly updating successful courses, introducing new courses, and carrying out sustained research that leads to publication. Majors are seeking opportunities for undergraduate research, for no aspect of an undergraduate education is more intellectually valuable and empowering than independent research and scholarship, followed by writing it up, undertaken by students with close faculty supervision. We often think of research as essential in medicine and the hard sciences (of course, it is), but research is also essential to the ongoing flow of intellectual creativity in the humanities, including religious studies. The College of Arts and Sciences has placed a new and very productive emphasis upon student research, and we are enthusiastically responding to this initiative.

As you will notice ("Visiting Professors, 2009-2010"), we have a plethora of visitors joining us this year. Jacob Goodson is offering courses in religious ethics, Donald Polaski in Hebrew Bible, Chrystie Flournoy Swiney in Islam, and Daniel Washburn in Christianity. They bring extremely diverse backgrounds, though they have in common reputations as outstanding teachers. We are delighted to have them with us and especially pleased that so many of our Majors have chosen to study with them.

You may ask, why is religious studies so important at the university? Perhaps the first reason is that the university itself has become such a significant site in American life. It is at the university that millions of young adults pass through a necessary process of social maturation. But it also here that students' minds are expanded and shaped, as they encounter bodies of knowledge and modes of thought previously unknown to them. It is most gratifying as a teacher to see the startling effects of students' encountering the grand and sweeping contours of religious civilization and culture. It is as if a new world is revealed to them. And the result of this exposure is not only to gain familiarity with the religious experience. Exposure also inculcates in students the values of diversity and tolerance for religions other than their own. In this sense, religious studies truly opens minds.

We welcome and, in fact, rely upon your partnership in the extraordinarily important work of religious studies at one of America's premier public colleges. Without your help we cannot achieve our goals.


Marc Lee Raphael

Nathan and Sophia Professor of Judaic Studies and Director of the Program and Minor in Judaic Studies, and Professor of Religious Studies and Chair, Department of Religious Studies