Religion Studies

Religion Studies has been taught at the Faculty of Theology and Religion since its inception in 1917. Together with Philosophy of Religion, it formed part of the original group of subjects. The first lecturer in Religion Studies was Rev E Macmillan. The department (along with the Faculty) divided into two ecclesiastical sections in 1938, namely the Nederduitsch Hervormde Kerk van Afrika and the Nederduitsch Gereformeerde Kerk.

The history of mission has been taught since 1938, when Prof DJ Keet included it in the curriculum of church history. He also taught the subject Science of Missiology on an unofficial basis to students with an interest in missions since 1949. In 1953 the department was renamed “Science of Religion and Missiology.” In 2000 the two ecclesiastical sections were united. The lecturers in the recombined Department were profs PJ van der Merwe, PGJ Meiring and JJ Kritzinger. Prof JJ Kritzinger retired at the end of 2002 and prof PGJ Meiring at the end of 2006. Prof PJ van der Merwe retired in 2009. The department is privileged to have had the renowned researcher, Dr AS van Niekerk as part-time lecturer.

Alongside the history of the department of Science of Religion and Missiology, the programme Biblical and Religion Studies followed its own route. The programme was until 2016 hosted in the Faculty of Humanities but staffed by the Faculty of Theology.  The programme manager during this period was prof Dirk Human, who was replaced by prof Jaco Beyers in 2013 after he joined UP in 2011. Plans to move the programme Biblical and Religion Studies to Theology, commenced. In 2017, with a name change to the Faculty of Theology and Religion, coinciding with the faculty centenary celebrations, it just seemed logical to migrate the now named programme Religion Studies entirely back to the Faculty of Theology and Religion in order to give expression to the new inclusive direction the faculty was heading in. Planning started to have the department of Science of Religion and Missiology accommodate the programme Religion Studies. The head of the department Science of Religion and Missiology, prof Nelus Niemandt, who succeeded prof PJ van der Merwe, was the specialist in the discipline of Missiology. Prof Beyers and dr Sukdaven, who joined the faculty in 2014, formed part of the Department Science of Religion and Missiology and was responsible for lecturing in Science of Religion. Missiology as the study of how to expand Christianity did not seem a good fit with a discipline studying other religions. Missiology migrated to the department of Practical Theology in 2020 and the remainder of disciplines, Science of Religion and Religion Studies, merged to become one department named Religion Studies. This process coincided with the departure at the end of 2019 of prof Nelus Niemandt who took up a permanent position as the head of the Hugenote College in Wellington, Western Cape province.

The newly formed department Religion Studies had to create and establish a new identity as independent though interdependent department within the larger faculty. A permanent head of department was only appointed in 2020. Until then prof Jaco Beyers served as acting head of the department.


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