Program Assessment Plan [DRAFT]

Study of Religion

Wells College


A note on the status of the Study of Religion (RELG) program:


The RELG program has changed significantly recently.  In the last two years, two new tenure-track faculty have joined the program.  The program now consists of one RELG faculty member, one RELG/ANTH faculty member, and one RELG/PHIL faculty member.  As a result, the direction of the program is changing along with many of our course offerings.  We are in the process of a complete reevaluation and reorganization of the program, but we are only in the initial stages of this process.  What follows is an estimate based on how the program has been organized in the past with some consideration for changes that are now taking place.  This plan is still being formed and has not yet been agreed upon by all faculty members.  Their feedback will result in changes.


1. Program Mission Statement


Currently the RELG program operates based on the following description from the college catalogue:


The major in the study of religion is designed both to expose students to the methods and issues involved in exploring religion as a phenomenon of human culture, and to introduce students to the beliefs, practices, and values of specific religions.  Each student completes a sequence of courses designed to ensure engagement with textual traditions, comparative religion, cultural and historical studies, and philosophy and ethics.  Additionally, the major seeks to promote crosscultural understanding through the appreciation of religion as a diverse global phenomenon.

The major offers students a range of ways to learn about both the study of religion and specific religious traditions.  It draws on courses from other areas that emphasize theoretical approaches (including philosophy, sociology, anthropology, ethics, hermeneutics, postcolonial theory, cultural studies, and feminist theory) and critical issues (including American society, the environment, cultural memory, violence, the soul, the idea of God, and religious experience).

The major includes introductory courses in the Western book-traditions, and advanced courses in Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, philosophical traditions, early Christianity, post-Enlightenment traditions, secularism and North American indigenous religions.


2. Program Goals


Program goals for students who will achieve a BA in the Study of Religion:


Program Goal #1:  Students will have acquaintance with the diversity of religious belief and practice in the human experience.


Program Goal #2:  Students will be acquainted with the standard methods and theories in the academic study of religion.


Program Goal #3:  Students will gain experience in the variety of approaches to the study of religion.


Program Goal #4:  Students will be able to conduct independent research and construct original, critical arguments.


Program Goal #5:  Students will be prepared for advanced study in religion or related fields.  


3.  Learning Objectives


Program Goal #1:  Students will have acquaintance with the diversity of religious belief and practice in the human experience.

Learning Objective #1:  Students will gain familiarity with and appreciation for the world’s religions from both contemporary and historical perspectives.  The first step in this goal is the introductory survey course RELG 100:  Gods and Creation.

Learning Objective #2:  Students will advance to more sophisticated understanding of religions of more than one tradition through multiple upper division courses that explore particular religions or regions in depth.  We are reevaluating course offerings and categorization, but at present courses in Areas 4, 5, and 6 contribute to this goal and objective.

Learning Objective #3:  Students will become acquainted with lived religious experience through class field trips or other outside-of-class assignments.


Program Goal #2:  Students will be acquainted with the standard methods and theories in the academic study of religion.

Learning Objective #1:  Students will become comfortable with a critical approach to the study of religion.  Ideally, students will begin with RELG 100, where these ideas are introduced, but a critical approach is the basis for all RELG courses and is required for any student to be successful in this major.  Students are also required to pass PHIL 114: Logic and Critical Thinking in order to provide a general foundation in critical thought and reasoning.

Learning Objective #2:  Once students have become versed in the critical approach, they will be able to apply and evaluate standard theories in the field.  They are required to pass PHIL 300: Philosophy of Religion (formerly RELG 300).

Learning Objective #3:  Majors will demonstrate advanced knowledge and facility with academic theories of religion, in particular in their 401 and 402 course work if not earlier.


Program Goal #3:  Students will gain experience in the variety of approaches to the study of religion.

Learning Objective #1:  The study of religion draws from many disciplines.  Students will become acquainted with various approaches especially those based in the humanities and social sciences (textual study, historical perspectives, anthropological/cultural studies, philosophy, sociology, etc.).  Currently the major is designed roughly by approach (see headings for Areas 2-6 and Area 7 electives).  We will be working toward a clearer organization of the major over the next two years.

Learning Objective #2:  Students will apply their knowledge of various approaches “in the field” through observation and participation in contemporary religious experience. 

Learning Objective #2a: The combination of the previous objective and students’ familiarity with religious diversity in the world will lead to more informed and engaged members of local and global communities.  This is a long-term goal that cannot be tracked fully at Wells, but required courses in Ethics (PHIL 240) and Anthropology (ANTH 222:  Anthropology, Religion, and Colonialism) contribute to their awareness of religious diversity and the impact of religion on value formation and cultural interaction.


Program Goal #4:  Students will be able to conduct independent research and construct original, critical arguments.

Learning Objective #1:  Students will become familiar with the advanced research process through RELG 401:  Senior Seminar in the Study of Religion.  (In the future, this course will be aimed at Junior and Senior majors in preparation for advanced research, culminating in the senior thesis project.)

Learning Objective #2:  Students will conduct independent research and generate original arguments (RELG 402: Thesis in the Study of Religion).  

Learning Objective #3:  Students will effectively communicate the results of their research in written and oral presentations in the late Fall and early Spring semesters, respectively.


Program Goal #5:  Students will be prepared for advanced study in religion or related fields.  

Learning Objective #1:  Upon completion of major course work, the student will have a broad foundation in major religions of the world and the main theories and approaches in the field, all of which would be essential for graduate work in the study of religion.  In the future, this knowledge will be demonstrated through comprehensive exams toward the end of the student’s final semester (currently this assessment is conducted during the thesis defense). 

Learning Objective #2:  A study will be able to convey this knowledge and debate the main issues with peers and instructors.  A student’s ability to participate in scholarly exchange builds self-confidence and demonstrates the student’s preparation for graduate-level activity. 


4.  Measurable Learning Outcomes


At present, our program and courses are in flux, which makes it difficult to discuss measurable outcomes with consistency for the program.  Some general notes will carry the weight for the time being until we are able to set standards of evaluation that hold across the variety of disciplines that are present in this program.


In general:

The vast majority of courses that RELG majors take require written (journals, short responses, papers, exams) and oral (spontaneous or formal) presentations by the student.

In 100- and 200-level courses, students are required to demonstrate that they have at least a facility with, and hopefully a mastery of, the basic course material from required readings and in-class presentation. 

In order to be successful at more advanced levels:

In 200- and 300-level courses, students must demonstrate clearly their ability to evaluate critically the course material, which typically includes engagement with scholarly thought and theory.

In 300-level, the students must try out their own contributions to the field.

In 400-level (senior research and thesis), they must establish that they have investigated a topic in depth along with the relevant scholarship, demonstrate that they understand their topic in a complex manner, and contribute their own argument to the academic debate.


Students’ involvement or engagement outside of the classroom is a priority in many of our classes.  This requirement takes the form of observation and/or participation in religious and cultural ceremonies or activities, in contemplative practices, or in applying classroom practices to “real life” situations and problems.  Experiential learning through off-campus study, internships, or volunteer work has been a regular practice for RELG students.  Currently students are not required to blend one experiential learning activity with this major, but it will be under discussion with our overall updating of the program.


We are in the process of revising RELG 401, 402, and comprehensive exams.  Currently most of these activities occur during the student’s final fall semester.  In the future, these requirements will be spread out across the student’s last 3 semesters in order to allow for more growth and maturity in the student’s ability to comprehend advanced scholarship and develop original arguments.


5.  Means of Assessment of Outcomes


By the Fall 2009, RELG faculty will agree on a process for collecting and evaluating data on the program.  We will be able to begin collecting information for the 2009-2010 academic year.


The following approaches are under consideration (or already occurring): 


Collection of syllabi

Collection of samples of student work (majors and non-majors)

Collection of samples of upper-level work from majors

Agreement by faculty on general grading rubric for courses

Collection of student performance based on final grades (simple percentages)

Agreement by faculty on other measures of success specific to our program

Exit interviews with majors

Collection of student evaluations

Course reflections from faculty after a course is completed, especially in the first semester that a course is taught


The faculty will agree on a process for collecting samples along with a standard/process and a timeline for reviewing the material.


6.  How Assessment Data Will Be Utilized


Once a process has been established, the Study of Religion faculty will meet once each year to discuss program assessment and to review relevant materials.  The first step is for the faculty to agree on definitive statements regarding our program, expectations, goals, and the process for collecting assessment data.  These are the priorities for the remainder of the 2008-2009 year and the coming academic year (2009-2010).