Why Study Religion? with Dr. Alexis Wells-Oghoghomeh

Why Study Religion? is a video series in which the CSR asks its faculty, students, staff, and guests what is important to them about the academic study of religion and why more folks should consider pursuing it. Find out more about the Center and its initiatives HERE. To learn more about OSU’s Religious Studies Major, visit our website at THIS LINK.

Why does Dr. Alexis Wells-Oghoghomeh, Professor of Religious Studies at Stanford University, think it’s important to study religion? Watch the video below to find out!

And don’t miss the opportunity to hear Dr. Wells-Oghoghomeh’s talk, “Conjuring Death: Black Women and Retribution in the Era of Slavery” at the CSR conference, “The End of Life and What Comes Next: Perspectives from Healthcare, History, Anthropology, and Religion,” March 31-April 1. For more details and registration, check out our conference website: go.osu.edu/dyingwellconference.


So why should we or do we study religion? Well, religion is in an incredibly dynamic category.

It’s one of the only categories I think where you have people from so many different disciplines who can come together in a department and study this phenomenon together. And one of the things I like to always remind my students of is that while religion itself was not always an academic category—we can’t just use “religion” as a universal term to identify phenomena across spaces and time because there’s always been different ways that people would understand their relationship to the cosmos—we can break it down into these different components that are equally dynamic: things like power and ritual and ethics, all these elements of our human interaction and human strivings that constitute this very broad category that we call “religion.”

And so, religion is just a really wonderful way to think about convictions and interiority, to think about what powers people, what drives them, what helps them to survive under extraordinary circumstances, what keeps them motivated, what do they transmit to their children, what kinds of ideals are important to people, groups of people, to individuals, to families across spaces and time. These are all the kinds of questions that people in religious studies address through various means. So, I think religion as a category, as a field of study, is incredibly exciting because you can approach it from so many different cultures through so many different linguistic traditions and still find meaning together, still finds points of coherence and ways that we can converse across sometimes these incredible cultural or chronological or ethical divides. There are many ways we can use religious studies and the skills you learn within religious studies, the ways of relating and communicating with people through very difficult, sometimes deeply-seated understandings and beliefs that can translate into many other spaces.

And I think most importantly, religion is the study of what makes us human. What is it about us that separates us as entities on this planet? What is it that coheres us? These are some of the questions I think that, when we think about the fundamental category, what religion is fundamentally about, we’re asking questions about humanity across space and time. So, in that way, I think it’s such a flexible and versatile area of study. It’s something that, whether you want to be an attorney or a physician, you can do successfully because we are together addressing questions that I think impact our society on multiple levels


Have questions about our upcoming conference? Interested in sharing with us what brought you to the academic study of religion? Send us an email at religion@osu.edu!