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UNC Launches New Minor in Christianity and Culture

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Carolina has launched an interdisciplinary, academic minor in the study of Christianity and culture, thought to be the nation’s first at a public university.

The undergraduate course offerings, based in the College of Arts and Sciences, are aimed at fostering a deeper understanding of Christian traditions and their influences on culture and society throughout history.

“No other public university in the nation offers such a program, to our knowledge,” said Christian Smith, UNC Stuart Chapin Distinguished Professor of sociology and co-director of the minor. “Our curriculum is designed not to influence or change students’ religious faith or practice but to enhance their knowledge of the role of Christianity over time in the context of art, classics, literature, history, philosophy, politics and sociology.”

Beginning this semester, undergraduates may enroll in the minor as a secondary field of study. To complete the minor, they need to take five courses from more than 40 offerings, including an introductory survey course; a course in ancient, medieval or early modern Christianity; and a course on Christianity in the modern world.

Classes must be taken from at least two different departments. Students may seek permission to count other relevant classes, independent study and study-abroad experiences to fulfill the requirements.

“Through the minor, students should gain both a critical and appreciative overview of the beliefs, history, expressions and influences of Christianity and Christian peoples,” Smith said. “This will add to our related programs, including the Jewish studies minor and the Middle East studies concentration, which facilitate study of the role and history of other religions.”

Associated with the new minor is a Distinguished Speaker Series, which will bring six renowned scholars to campus each year to speak on topics related to the impact of Christianity on society and society on Christianity.

Speakers for 2005-06 will address topics including the complex relationship between religion and science, connections between U.S. evangelicals and global politics and ways European Christianity differs from Christianity in the United States. All speeches will be free and open to the public.

In addition to Smith, who led the first comprehensive study of the influence of religion on youth in the United States, the curriculum draws on the strengths of UNC faculty in many disciplines, including:

  • Peter Iver Kaufman, co-director (religious studies) and a historical theologian who has written about patristic, medieval and reformation Christianity and the relationship between church and state;
  • Carolyn Connor (classics), who specializes in the study of middle-Byzantine church decoration, monasticism and architecture;
  • Bart Ehrman (religious studies), a widely recognized expert on early Christianity and the New Testament who has written a college-level textbook on the New Testament, two anthologies of early Christian writings, a study of the historical Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet, two books on the “lost Gospels” and another on the truth and fiction behind the best-seller The DaVinci Code;
  • Jaroslav Folda (art history), a scholar of the art of the high middle ages in Europe and the Mediterranean world who focuses on art in historic context, including manuscript illumination, icons, panel paintings and sculptures from the 11th to 15th centuries;
  • Michael Lienesch (political science), a scholar of early American political thought who recently has focused on the role of religion in political development, studying early fundamentalism, the Scopes trial, the anti-evolution movement and creationism;
  • Warren Nord (philosophy), who works at the intersection of the philosophy of religion and the philosophy of education. He has written many articles, book chapters and the books; and
  • Dorothy Verkerk (art history), whose research interests include the interplay between images and texts in early medieval manuscripts. She also has studied Irish high crosses and the iconography found in early Christian catacombs and sarcophagi.

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