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College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences boasts new curriculum initiatives


BLACKSBURG, Va., Oct. 2, 2012 – Two innovative majors, a pair of minors, and a new program option will be available in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences beginning in the spring semester.

The State Council of Higher Education in Virginia has approved a bachelor of arts degree in Religion and Culture and a master’s degree in Material Culture and Public Humanities. In addition, the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences boasts a new minor in Middle East Studies, a minor in 21st Century Studies, and a new research methods option in sociology.

“Our department is excited to give students at Virginia Tech the opportunity to pursue two new innovative degrees,” said Peter Schmitthenner, associate professor and Chair of the Department of Religion and Culture in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. “These are unique degrees in the Commonwealth of Virginia and will afford students promising gateways into future employment.”

The undergraduate major combines the strengths of the Department of Religion and Culture (as restructured from interdisciplinary studies in 2009) in the humanities and the study of religion in order to provide students with opportunities to examine several of the 21st century’s most important global phenomena. 

Students in this new major will explore the impact of religion and religious practices on politics, economics, the arts, and everyday life. They will also study the impact of cultural shifts in moral and ethical practices, the dissemination of information and entertainment, and the influence of traditional values and attitudes within the emerging postmodern environment.

Material culture is the study of material or physical objects, as well as the placement of those objects in critical, theoretical, and historical perspectives as the products of distinct cultures. Public humanities bridges the divide between academia and the public by encouraging dialogue between scholars and communities on cultural and social issues. This new cross-disciplinary master’s degree with two emphases shares common intellectual issues and education philosophies, as well as employment goals. 

Graduates will be prepared for careers that connect the public with art, the community with culture, the region with historical practice, and future needs with functional design. This degree will be jointly administered between faculty in the Department of Religion and Culture and the Department of History in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and the program in art history in the School of Visual Arts in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies.  

Religion and Culture now offers an interdisciplinary minor in Middle East Studies, which provides students a broad understanding and appreciation of the languages, religions, and cultures of the Middle East as well as the region's history and its place in international relations. Students work in close association with an advisor who will help plan a program tailored to the student's interests.

The first cohort of students with a minor in 21st Century Studies are embarking on their final course this fall to reflect upon and reveal the impact of their nomadic study abroad to Morocco, Turkey, and Sri Lanka over the summer. This interdisciplinary minor in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences consists of a 12-hour core plus two electives. Students take the core during a single calendar year, beginning in the spring semester and follow that with the six-hour nomadic study abroad, and conclude in the fall with the capstone course.

In response to the university’s emphasis on undergraduate research, the Department of Sociology is offering a new degree option that prepares students to compete for jobs requiring a social research methods expertise.

The College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences at Virginia Tech includes programs in the arts, humanities, social and human sciences, and education. The college seeks to illuminate human experience and expression by creating works of lasting scholarly, cultural, and aesthetic value; empower individuals to engage critically with the complexities of a diverse, global society; and foster the inquiry, innovation, and growth that produce individual and social transformation.