NAME CHANGE AIMS FOR CLARITY
DANA VAN OOSTRAND
Recently, Northwestern announced that its “religion” department will be changing its name to the “biblical and theological studies” department in 2019.
The department has been a strong presence on campus, as all students participate in at least two courses through general requirements. The department has been an integral part in the identity of NW, and the name has been changed to be more attractive to prospecttive students.
The name change comes amidst confusion about the purposes and intentions of what the department does.
While “religion” is somewhat reflective of the focus of the department, the institution hopes the name “biblical and theological studies” provides more insight into the core of what the department is. The name “religion” did not specify the central theme of the department: an exploration and understanding of the Christian tradition, which are rooted mostly in biblical and theological study.
Jim Mead, chair of the renamed department, said,“The change to ‘biblical and theological studies’ identifies the foundation for any of the majors or minors we offer. In a survey we gave to both our general education courses and to our majors, that title was more academically appealing to all students than the names ‘religion,’ ‘theology,’ or ‘Christian studies.’”
Mead explained that the term religion was originally used because it was the traditional word used in academia. However, the term insinuates that the field is about religious studies and theology but does not specifically spell this out. Mead also explained that NW has never offered a religion major but a major that focuses on biblical and theological studies. The new title aims to more accurately convey to perspective students what they will be learning.
Mead said, “The term ‘religion’ has presented a problem for our public face, especially when admissions staff try to explain it to prospective students and what we actually do in the department. Given that the majority of our prospective students represent backgrounds in evangelical Christianity, the name, ‘biblical and theological studies’ will be immediately understandable and will better represent our values and the educational goals we seek to achieve.”
The clarity provided by this name change continues a clear trend in the vision of NW. The college has maintained that it wants to remain a distinctly unapologetic Christian college. The change from “religion” to “biblical and theological studies” now offers language that is distinct to Christianity. While the name change does not alter anything in the department, it reinforces the identity of NW.
The department asked their majors and minors for feedback on possible name changes in the fall of 2017 as part of their 10-year review. While the exact details of this survey were not available to the public, students have reacted positively to the name change.
Devin Vander Werff, a currrent religion major, said, “I think that it is a more descriptive title. When I tell people that I am a religion major, they will often ask ‘Which religion?’ This title is a lot more clear and can help people understand my major faster whether they know I am a Christian or not.”