ASU, Utah students find religious studies key to understanding humanity

September 19, 2012

Editor's Note: Arizona State will take on the University of Utah, at 7 p.m., Sept. 22, in Sun Devil Stadium. Learn more about ASU's collaborations with Pac-12 schools.

While it has been argued that many young adults go through a period in college in which their interest in religion wanes, it appears the argument does not ring true for a large community here at ASU. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the religious studies program at Arizona State University, and it’s still going strong. Download Full Image

When the program was established in 1972, ASU was ahead of the curve.

“ASU has one of the oldest and most respected undergraduate programs in religious studies at a state university," says Tracy Fessenden, associate professor in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies in ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. In the last few years, steps were taken to ensure it stays that way.

In the fall of 2009, the program was combined with the history and philosophy departments to form the school it is today. The merging of these three fields has allowed for a more interdisciplinary approach to the study of religion that cuts across humanities, social sciences and natural sciences.

“We are 'religious studies' in the sense that we study religion across traditions, regions and temporal periods – medieval China, contemporary Burma, pre-colonial Mexico, the 19th-century U.S., and post World War II-Japan, to name a few – and its role in politics, culture, law, the arts and other fields of human endeavor,” Fessenden explains.

But don’t let the phrase “religious studies” mislead you. “Our studies themselves are not religious,” she adds.

The religious studies faculty is made up of 20 full-time professors who teach more than 90 classes each semester. The curriculum consists of an undergraduate major program, an MA program with more than 40 students, and a PhD program, introduced in 2004.

Some may question the modern-day benefits of religious studies, but the school is quick to espouse the humanitarian value of such a degree. Their website states: “In our increasingly cosmopolitan world, the need to understand the root beliefs and values of diverse cultures has become a political and moral imperative. The academic study of religion seeks to explore the deep intersections between religions and cultures which have shaped, and continue to shape, personal and collective identity.”

It would appear several other universities agree – including ASU's Pac-12 contemporary, University of Utah, which recently implemented a religious studies major at its institution.

“Such a program was long overdue at the University of Utah," says Muriel Schmid, assistant professor and director of Religious Studies at Utah. "The university as a whole has come to understand the importance of religious literacy and intercultural skills in order to foster dialogue and global citizenship.”

The opportunity for cultural enlightenment aside, there may also be a financial draw to religious studies. An article published in U.S. News and World Report’s special “university directory” ranks religious studies fifth in the category of degrees that result in the most lucrative careers.

Indeed, many of ASU’s religious studies majors have been very successful. 

“Our majors have gone on to be lawyers, filmmakers, international aid workers, writers, teachers, artists, Rhodes Scholars, doctors, and professors at major universities, including Duke, UNC, Indiana and UCLA,” says Fessenden.

With such impressive credentials, it’s understandable why students continue to flock to the major. As our society becomes increasingly global, the signficance of religious studies as an academic focus cannot be understated. At Arizona State University, where possibilities for interdisciplinary research and innovation abound, the religious studies degree program will no doubt continue to thrive.

Emma Greguska

Reporter, ASU Now

(480) 965-9657

ASU's new science building will push boundaries of research, exploration

September 19, 2012

ASU’s newest science building – the Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building IV (ISTB 4), on the Tempe campus – is designed to advance research and discovery, and to encourage children to explore their futures as scientists and engineers. The building will do this through a mixture of high-tech labs, interactive environments and open spaces that will allow the public to witness research and technology advancement as it happens.

A formal opening of ISTB 4 took place Sept. 19. ISTB 4 Download Full Image

The seven-story, 293,000-square-foot building is designed to provide flexible laboratories for ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE), ASU’s Security and Defense Systems Initiative, and research laboratories and centers of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

The building provides ample laboratory space –166 lab modules with wet and dry labs and a rooftop laboratory – and an inviting public space, in addition to offices, collaboration spaces and meeting rooms for faculty and staff.

“This new facility will not only offer state-of-the-art equipment and infrastructure, but will provide a unique collaborative environment that is designed to foster large, team-driven projects in areas such as earth and space exploration, security and defense systems research and renewable energy,” said Sethuraman Panchanathan, senior vice president with ASU’s Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development (OKED). The office advances research, innovation, entrepreneurship and economic development activities for ASU.

ISTB 4’s design embodies the transdisciplinary spirit of ASU, accommodating research programs from science and engineering, and continuously encouraging interaction of both worlds.

“The SESE faculty and research staff are well known for their scientific research, but many in the ASU and Phoenix communities are less aware of their well-deserved international reputation for engineering, particularly designing and deploying advanced instruments to enable scientific exploration of Earth and other worlds,” said Kip Hodges, director of SESE, part of ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “Sophisticated laboratories for instrument development in ISTB 4 will further increase ASU’s leadership, and we have designed several of these laboratories so that the public can watch technologies being created.”

“We encourage multiple faculty with compatible research agendas to use the major laboratories in a collaborative way, reinforcing the transdisciplinary spirit of ASU,” added Hodges.

One of the first engineering challenges for SESE in ISTB 4 is OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer (OTES), which will be the first major scientific instrument completely designed and built at ASU for a NASA space mission. Viewing windows will allow visitors to see into the environmentally controlled facilities where the OTES instrument is being built.

For ASU engineering, ISTB 4 will help with facing today’s challenges and building a better society for tomorrow.

“This signature facility reflects our core research themes of energy, health, security, sustainability and education through the five main engineering centers housed in the building,” said Paul Johnson, dean of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. “The interdisciplinary environment fosters close collaboration among SESE and Fulton Engineering researchers as we pursue complementary efforts to advance the technology of tomorrow and provide practical solutions to real-world challenges today.”

In addition to complex labs, the new building boasts a five-story, naturally lit atrium (starting at the third floor) offering a series of “living rooms in the sky” for scientists and engineers to meet. It also has world-class conference facilities and first and second floor public outreach spaces designed to communicate the excitement of scientific research and the technologies that enable it.

First floor facilities feature digital media, public lectures, visible laboratories and interactive displays. A focal point of the building is the Marston Exploration Theater.

“We all wonder what future scientific innovation will bring and are fortunate to now have a center that invites the public to witness and be participants in science and discovery happening on our own doorsteps,” said Robert Page, vice provost and dean of ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “A special gift from Carolyn ‘Susie’ Marston in memory of her husband Barret is the 238-seat theater for high-definition documentaries, 3-D planetarium-style shows and media-rich space for teaching undergraduates. It will touch people of all ages.”

Another highlight is the 4,300-square-foot “Gallery of Scientific Exploration,” outfitted with kiosk-style interactive exhibits and large-format, high-definition monitors that display video from Earth-observing satellites and robotic probes of other worlds.

On the second floor is ASU’s Center for Meteorite Studies, relocated and expanded for greater public access, which features interactive displays, touchable specimens and a video display of most of the collection’s specimens. Also on this floor are a variety of learning spaces designed to stimulate discovery and exploration of Earth and space science that will be used specifically for outreach to pre-college students.

“Research is vital to the health of our economy and our society, so it’s very important that we not only advance it, but we do it in such a way as to generate excitement for future generations of scientists and engineers,” said Panchanathan. “This facility is poised to advance new technologies, explore our world and encourage our children to be participants in this exciting endeavor.”

Sundt Construction Inc., served as the construction manager at risk for the ISTB4 project working with the design teams of HDR and Ehrlich Architects.

Associate Director, Media Relations & Strategic Communications