The Department of Religious Studies, one of the oldest at Austin College, offers students of all backgrounds and traditions the opportunity to interpret the histories, texts, and practices of many global religious communities from different disciplines and theoretical methods. Students take seriously what “religion” and other related terms like belief, spirituality, mystical experience, mindfulness, and ritual mean. They explore religion in relation to culture, politics, medicine/healing, gender dynamics, institution-building, and social justice.
The Department offers three degree programs: a major and minor in Religious Studies and a minor in Mindfulness and Health Studies.
Why Choose Religious Studies?
Students who have graduated from the Department have gone on to a variety of careers including healthcare, non-profit work, social services, computer sciences, legal services, armed forces, environmental and climate research, teaching, and multifaith ministry. Students are offered electives in pre-professional programs like public health, environmental studies, gender studies, pre-medicine, and pre-ministry.
Meet the Faculty
Ivette Vargas-O'Bryan (department chair) focuses primarily on Indian religions and the Tibetan Buddhist traditions. Her current interests lie in the intersection between Asian religions and medicine. Her main research projects in Tibetan communities include the role of spirit diseases in creating connections between Tibetan medical practice and religious traditions and secondly, the legacy of the Indian Buddhist nun Dge slong ma Dpal mo across Asia and the West. Her book, Disease, Religion and Healing in Asia: Collaborations and Collisions (Routledge 2018) is an edited volume including eminent scholars in the fields of religious studies; Buddhist, Indian and Tibetan Studies; anthropology; and medicine. She is currently completing a book, Falling to Pieces, Emerging Whole: Suffering Illness and Healing Renunciation in the Dge slong ma Dpal mo Tradition, based on ethnographic and textual research concerning the biographies of an Indian Buddhist nun, renowned for her rituals of fasting and experiences with leprosy. She is serving as President of the Southwest Commission on Religious Studies Asian and Co-Chair of the Comparative Religions Section of the American Academy of Religion. She is a recent recipient of the American Council of Learned Societies Project Development Grant (2020) for her book project. She has been a recipient of several prestigious grants and awards including a Fulbright Scholars Award (Hong Kong 2009-2010), Mellon Foundation grants, teaching awards, and others. Vargas-O’Bryan is actively delivering papers at regional, national, and international conferences. Her publications deal with the following: the intersection between illness/medicine and religion, female disease deities and spirit diseases, Buddhist monasticism, and Asian religions pedagogy. Alongside these research interests, she also delivers public lectures on Asian themes, is highly active in creating opportunities for cross-cultural exchanges on campus, and organizes venues to increase awareness on mindfulness and Contemplative Studies in higher education. Vargas-O’Bryan is at home in McKinney with her family, in Tibet and Nepal, or some other mountainous, high altitude place.
David Schones, Visiting Assistant Professor of Religious Studies
Researches, writes, and teaches in the area of biblical studies and disability studies. His main projects are on the conceptualization of disabilities in the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, as well as on pedagogical strategies for working with disabled students. David has also delivered papers at regional, national, and international conferences including the American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature. In addition to these presentations, he has multiple publications on the topic of religion, disability, and gender discrimination and has given public lectures on his research at institutions like Austin Presbyterian Seminary and the University of Texas. At Austin College, David teaches a wide variety of classes on biblical and extra biblical literature, disabilities and gender discrimination, sacred violence, and the methods in the study of religion.
ACLS Project Development Grants Awarded
An AC alum and religion major and Religious Studies faculty member both received the American Council of Learned Societies Project Development Grant.
Emily Clark | Abstract
Associate Professor, Religious Studies, Gonzaga University - Spiritual Matters: American Spiritualism and Material Culture
Ivette Vargas-O'Bryan | Abstract
Professor, Religious Studies, Austin College - Resisting Normativity: Overcoming Suffering and Building Traditions in the Gelongma Palmo-Avalokiteśvara Buddhist Legacy
What Alums are doing today
Devin Gonier is the Chief Technology Officer at WageUp, a startup specializing in developing bespoke cutting-edge platforms that leverage machine learning tools to manage performance and gamify the everyday work experience. He is also completing his master’s degree at Columbia University in Machine Learning and has an undergraduate degree from Austin College in Philosophy and… [Read More]
Awarded a prestigious scholarship by Perkins School of Theology, has been involved in justice ministries in Central America, worked with the homeless in New York City, and studied in Cuba. He now is a chaplain for Parkland Hospital in Dallas.
Professor in and chair of the Religion Department at Texas Christian University.
Professor of Christian ethics at Princeton Theological Seminary.
After graduating from AC in 1998, I moved to Washington, DC, and worked in the Federal Government for 13 years on Capitol Hill, at the White House, and at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. From 2011-14, I earned a Master of Divinity from Yale Divinity School as well as an Anglican Diploma and a… [Read More]
Formerly an Interim Associate in the Office of Women’s Advocacy at the Presbyterian Church (USA), is now Development Associate at Temple Israel in Boston.
Rev. Anne Jernberg Scalfaro ’03 received the Presidential Scholarship to attend Harvard Divinity School. She graduated in ‘06 and is now Senior Pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Denver, Colorado. As Senior Pastor, Anne’s responsibilities include 1) Vision & Leadership, 2) Worship & Preaching, 3) Pastoral Care & Staff, and 4) Stewardship & Finance. That… [Read More]
*Revisions of checklists and courses posted by end of August. See Program Chair for information.
- Religious Studies Major Checklist*
- Religious Studies Minor Checklist*
- Mindfulness and Health Studies Minor Checklist*
- Religious Studies & Philosophy Major Checklist*
- See the Religious Studies Courses
- See the Austin College Bulletin
The Washington Post
October 27, 2017
Lydia Bean '02, executive director of Faith in Texas and author of "The Politics of Evangelic Identity," writes about how voters are learning to make their faith suit their partisanship.
Allen Head Talks
- Dr. Meghan Henning, Hell Hath No Fury: Gender, Disability and the Invention of Damned Bodies in Early Christianity