Department of Philosophy and Religion

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Study Philosophy?

If any field of study is difficult to describe in a single statement, it is philosophy. In its most basic sense, philosophy is simply the quest for understanding of the world, including our place in it. One thing that might surprise you is how practical the study of philosophy is - check out this article from the New York Times and these two recent articles from The New York Times and The Guardian. Philosophy is also more common as a major than you might think, as evidenced by all the famous philosophy majors. Finally, anyone considering graduate education should see the very impressive data regarding philosophy majors and the GRE here.

In some ways, philosophy is fundamentally different from other disciplines. For example, philosophers rely heavily on careful, precise argumentation as the primary means of uncovering the truth. Thus, all philosophers are trained in the proper use of logic (one of the reasons a philosophy major is such good preparation for law school). The kinds of questions philosophers discuss is another thing which gives modern philosophy its character. Students often say philosophers discuss the kind of questions which have no answer. This is not quite right, though there is a kernel of truth here - it's more accurate to say that philosophy studies questions which do have answers, though not any one answer on which all people can agree. Part of the reason for this, of course, is that questions philosophers in the past did answer have now been placed in the domain of separate disciplines (e.g., physics, which until the twentieth century was a branch of natural philosophy). Another part of the reason for this is that the questions philosophers deal with tend to be both the most complex and the most difficult to avoid. It is extremely difficult to determine whether or not humans really have free will, to take one example. On the other hand, there is a correct answer - we either do or we don't - and it matters a great deal what that answer is. For example, the American system of jurisprudence is based on the presumption of free will and is thrown into convulsions when this comes into question, as in cases of insanity.

It should also be kept in mind that the difference between philosophy and other fields is not so great as it often seems. Philosophy used to be known as the "Queen of the disciplines" because to study philosophy was to study everything humans knew. Indeed, most of the departments that exist in a modern university can trace their historical roots to some branch of philosophy. The scientific method, for example, was developed within philosophy. Moreover, within any other discipline, there is a place for philosophical reflection - a theoretical edge, so to speak. Historians might get together over beer and wind up discussing whether there are any large scale patters to the grand sweep of history. Biologists sometimes speculate about the nature of life and whether it exists elsewhere in the universe. Psychologists often muse on the nature of human consciousness, etc., etc. And certainly every field of study or practice generates ethical questions: "Should cloning of human beings be allowed?", "When are advertising practices unacceptably deceptive?", etc.

Classically, philosophy is composed of five sub fields:

Epistemology: The study of knowledge. Typical questions include: "What is science?" and "What does it mean to say something is true?" and "How can we know when this is appropriate?"

Metaphysics: The study of reality. Typical questions include: "What is existence?", "What are space and time really like?" and "Does God exist?"

Ethics: The study of morality and the elements of the Good Life. Typical questions include: "What is moral goodness?" and "What kinds of things/beings possess moral worth?"

Aesthetics: The study of Beauty and related concepts like humor. Typical questions include: "What is beauty?", "What is the relationship of art to nature?" and "What exactly is it that makes something funny?"

Logic: The science of proper reasoning. Typical questions include: "What elements make an argument good?" and "What is the relationship between logic and language?"

There are many other specific specialties and associated questions that may be treated philosophically - our own department, for example, contains experts who specialize in Philosophy of Law, Philosophy of Biology, Philosophy of Psychology, Philosophy of Religion, etc.

Will Philosophy Prepare Me For a Career?

One thing to keep in mind is that college should not really be thought of as simply job training, though it is increasingly common to do so. Consider this: most people end up in jobs that have little direct relation to their college major. In short, most of the specific skills you need in most jobs you will learn on the job, not in college. What is the point of college then? To give you the basic educational background and learning skills that will allow you to continue to adapt to a changing world, and to expose you to ideas you would not ordinarily encounter, thus making you a more interesting person and a better citizen. If you look at it this way, Philosophy is an excellent major. Philosophy teaches you not only a good bit about the intellectual history of the world, but challenges you to broaden your horizons, sharpens your critical abilities and insures that you can write and speak very persuasively.

Will Philosophy Prepare Me For Professional School?

More specifically, the study of philosophy is certainly one of the best preparations for professional training in challenging areas like law and medicine. In fact, philosophy majors receive some of the highest scores on admissions tests for law and medical schools. For example, philosophy majors score higher on the GRE Verbal and Analytical Writing sections than students in any other major, and they have the third highest combined Verbal plus Quantitative score. Admissions officers find philosophy majors particularly well prepared to master the difficult subject matter they will encounter in professional school. After all, professional training will provide all the specialized knowledge necessary for particular fields. Consequently, admissions officers are less interested in students who have an extensive specialized education than in ones who possess the requisite intellectual skills and capacities to excel in the difficult courses of study offered in professional schools. Just look at how Philosophy majors fare on some standard professional school tests:

Rank  LSAT
GMAT
GRE Verbal
GRE Quant
 1 Math Math Philosophy Physics
 2 Economics Philosophy English Math
 3 Philosophy Chemistry Anthropology Engineering
 4 Engineering  Economics Foreign Lang. Chemistry
 5 Chemistry English Physics Other Science
 6 Other Humanities Computer Science Other Humanities Economics
 7 Foreign Lang. Foreign Lang. Journalism Biology
 8 English History Political Science Philosophy

Their high admission test scores, as well as their intellectual training, have recommended philosophy majors for admission to programs of graduate study in such diverse fields as economics, management, and psychology. Graduate programs have come to realize that philosophy majors are intellectually equipped for the pursuit of advanced studies in a broad range of fields. Some majors elect to pursue philosophy after completion of their undergraduate degrees. Several Clemson graduates have been accepted for post-graduate study in philosophy and have been awarded fellowships to assist them in accomplishing their goals. Other Clemson Philosophy graduates have gone into such areas as computing, aviation, the ministry, and the study of folklore, among others.

Will Philosophy Prepare Me For a Career In Business?

Although a Philosophy major will not teach you a specific business skill, many philosophy majors have succeeded in a wide range of business areas. Most large companies and corporations have management training programs, which provide the specifics they require. Success in such programs depends on the ability to learn quickly, assimilate information and procedures, analyze situations, ask intelligent questions, and offer constructive suggestions. That the skills of a philosophy major are well suited to a successful business career is evident from the diversity of high-level positions held by philosophy graduates. These include editors, account service managers, trust officers, investment advisors, brokers, sales managers, and many more. The philosophical skills most often cited by these people as critical to their success are verbal and written communication, critical analysis, organization, problem-solving, and self-direction.

Why Study Religion?

The academic study of religion explores both the components common to all of the world’s religions and the unique aspects of individual religions. Religion includes spiritual experiences, intellectual beliefs, written texts, millennia of historical tradition, social organizations, rites and rituals.

In the mid-twentieth century, Will Herberg could describe much of American religion under the title Protestant, Catholic, Jew. Today the American landscape includes much more: the mosque in the cornfield south of Toledo, Ohio; the Sri Lakshmi Hindu Temple north of Boston; the Sikh gurdwara in Tucson; the whole spectrum of Buddhists in Los Angeles; and the Baha’i training center in Conway, South Carolina. The United States today is the world’s most religiously diverse nation. Understanding the world’s religions today is essential for living peacefully with our next-door neighbors as well as conducting business and diplomacy around the world.

The Department of Philosophy and Religion offers courses in the texts and history of Judaism and Christianity as well as world religions ancient and modern. Introduction to Religion explores common components – experiences, beliefs, and activities – of religion. Specialized courses offer opportunities to study such topics as African American Religions, religion and science, healing practices, and gender.

Will Religion Prepare Me For Professional School?

Law and medical schools have always considered a broad liberal arts education the best preparation for professional study. The study of religion gives that breadth, with its insights into psychology, anthropology, philosophy, history, and sociology.

A major or minor in religion or religious studies is not required for admission to a Jewish or Christian seminary, where one prepares for professional ministry. However, religion courses at the undergraduate level can help students decide if this is the field for them. Introduction to Religion, World Religions, Religion in the United States, and other courses offer a more general foundation for study not offered at the professional level.

Students who have minored in religion at Clemson have gone on to do graduate study at a number of leading seminaries and other graduate programs.

Will Religion Prepare Me For a Career In Business?

Business leaders deal with religious issues every day. Can a food product carry the “kosher” label? What religious holidays do employees need? How should the business handle orthodox Jewish, Muslim and Sikh male employees with full beards? How will the new employee uniforms look on Muslim women wearing the veil and Jewish men with yarmulkes? Will everyone at the company picnic eat pork barbecue? The questions are endless.

The study of religion can alert one to a wide range of business issues as well as give insight into a vast array of sensitive issues in employee relations, cultural differences, international politics, and ethical problems. Many misunderstandings and conflicts can be avoided by those who take religious differences into account in their business dealings.

Those considering careers in such fields as international diplomacy, politics, human resources, psychology, medicine, law, architecture, and international business would do well to choose courses in religion, if not a minor or major.

What Do Religious Studies Entail?

The academic study of religion explores both the various facets common to all the world's religions and the particular aspects of individual religions. Many of us in this country grow up with a very limited experience of religion. Unless we live in a major urban area, virtually all of our neighbors are Christian or Jewish. As we become part of a global economy and information network, we become aware of differences and similarities in religious outlook between those religions we are familiar with an the religions of Asia, Africa, South America, and the Middle East. The Department of Philosophy and Religion offers courses not only in the Christian and Jewish traditions but also an introduction to religion as a phenomenon and courses in world religions. A minor in religion is especially helpful to those planning to pursue careers as religious leaders, serving as pastors, teachers, rabbis, chaplains, or counselors. In addition, a religion minor demonstrates to prospective employers that an applicant has a broad understanding of different cultures and thus will be able to function with more ease in the global marketplace.