Welcome Message from the Chair

Elias Kifon Bongmba
Elias Kifon Bongmba, Harry & Hazel Chavanne Chair in Christian Theology; Professor of Religion; Department of Religion Chair

It is my pleasure to welcome you to the Department of Religion and our graduate program in Religion. In keeping with Rice University’s open doors and the university’s current banner campaign, let me say in IsiZulu, Siyanamkela. We are delighted to welcome you to the global quest for excellence in the studies of religion animated by and grounded in critical research in the different areas of our concentrations. We deploy a methodological pluralism to rethink major paradigms and ask new questions on the major religious traditions and lesser-known traditions of the world. The Department of Religion has been at the center of rice’s intellectual and community life, and we are proud to continue that tradition. We welcome you to an intellectual culture and research practices that have gone through different innovations, leading us to a position that is grounded in the best historical traditions in the study of religion that shape our multidisciplinary intellectual engagements.

The History of Religions has offered us a broad place on which to stand, but also built a community of scholars whose critical investigations and articulations put us on the cutting edge of innovative scholarship in the study of religion. The tradition has created space for us to develop theoretical and methodological groundings in historical and critical textual studies in several religious traditions from around the world; psychological and sociological analysis of religious phenomena, historical studies of many religious traditions; cultural and theological analysis of religious traditions and their interaction with our environment as well as the human community.

Our department has a rich tradition of developing research in different religious traditions such as Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, African American Religions, and African Religions. Our department, in studying historic traditions has developed critical tools to analyze their core values and sense of community, but more importantly for us as a faculty, promoted the training of the next generation of specialists, who will ask new questions about the human condition, the nature and our common habitat, explore and analyze key texts and traditions that have shaped and will shape our common destiny. In doing this over the years in the department we have created the conditions for all graduate studies initiatives to work with students to ask important questions about science, art, the meaning of life, as they explore new theories and ask difficult questions about the dynamic intersubjective bonds which we must interrogate through prisms like gender, race, sexuality, class, politics, and for the brave, aliens.

The history of our department is a testament to a commitment to excellence in its intellectual inquiries, which have explored religious, social, political, textual traditions, and literary and artistic studies from around the world, even before the conceptualization of the notion of the global in recent decades. To give you only one example from our past, permit me to remind us of the research of the late distinguished Chair of our Department, Professor Niels Nielsen whose research and publications covered a range of subjects in the Humanities as he studied lectured, and published papers and books on the political and cultural revolutions that took place in Europe, on Human rights, the contribution of the literary imagination to Human rights in the work of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn. Our legacy of inquiry has included studies in medical ethics and humanities and social ethics, to name only a few.

We are delighted to welcome you to the global quest for excellence in the studies of religion animated by and grounded in critical research in the different areas of our concentrations. We deploy a methodological pluralism to rethink major paradigms and ask new questions on the major religious traditions and lesser-known traditions of the world. Our concerns are broad, including but not limited to critical ethics, culture, race, gender, science fiction, emotions and what it means to understand things that are often taken for granted like emotions such as happiness, human well being and thriving, or even how and what to think of the end of life. Our goal is to bring these traditions and themes to the classroom and work with you to build a research and teaching portfolio grounded in the best intellectual traditions of the past but also attuned to the needs of the culture and communities we share in common. As you work on your area of specialization, we invite you to participate in symposiums, seminars, the department’s Rockwell Conferences, The GEM Certificate Program, and Seminars and programs offered by the Jewish Studies program, and The Center for Engaged and Collaborative Learning (CERCL). Once more, in KiSwahili, karibu to Rice.

Elias Bongmba, Department Chair
Harry & Hazel Chavanne Chair in Christian Theology