Read about Religion majors’ Independent Work


Brandon Joa ’18

I’m a junior from San Francisco, CA focusing on religion and critical thought within the Religion department. In addition to being part of the Humanistic Studies certificate program, I’ve had an interest in the natural sciences at Princeton since I’m also planning on matriculating into medical school. My academic interests include Scholastic and existentialist theology, ethics, and studying missionary activity. On campus, I enjoy singing in the chapel choir and training in the taekwondo club, and I’m also the current president of the Elizabeth Anscombe Society. I also enjoy hiking and have been an Outdoor Action leader here at Princeton.

“Trained Foolishness: Walter Lowrie’s Response to Kierkegaardian Offense” 

This research paper considers the motivations behind the translation of Kierkegaard into English, evaluating whether his first English translator’s approach is consistent with a commitment to Kierkegaard’s ideas.

The Christian existentialist Søren Kierkegaard posits faith as the individual’s response to the offense of God appearing directly before him or herself as another particular individual, who is the person of Jesus. Developing this concept of offense starting in the 1843 ​Fear and Trembling​ to its completion in the later Training in Christianity​, Kierkegaard begins by explaining how faith requires that the individual supersede society and universal ethics to act ​directly before God. Practically, this means suffering and becoming an object of scorn in order to serve the same people who will mock the person of faith; the faithful must suffer as Jesus suffered. Walter Lowrie, the first English translator of many of Kierkegaard’s works, interprets Kierkegaard’s attack on the state Church at the end of his life as the fulfillment of his own requirement to embody offense. As a pastor and teacher, however, Lowrie belongs to the group Kierkegaard criticizes most, so how does he deal with the requirement of embodying offense? Lowrie attempts to do so through several goals present in his translations: first, he writes “poetically” to celebrate how Kierkegaard’s life is commensurate with his ideas; next, although they are might be literarily distasteful, his notes remove Kierkegaard’s subtlety to reveal the offense hidden in all of Kierkegaard’s writings that the author had attempted to transmit indirectly; and finally, he takes upon himself risks and financial burden to spread Kierkegaard’s ideas while working for the unity of the Church. Lowrie’s private papers in the manuscripts division at Princeton’s Firestone Library include the account of how Lowrie became interested in Kierkegaard and the steps he took to transmit his writing to the English world. This paper elucidates Lowrie’s response through analysis of his papers, correspondence, and translation notes in relation to Kierkegaard’s writing in the two above-mentioned works. I argue that Lowrie’s actions and intellectual response are consistent with the idea of offense (acting directly before God, and thus suffering in the service of others), though the degree to which they are taken is insufficient to constitute actual suffering.

Kierkegaard writes that the distinction between “admirers” and “disciples” is the extent to which someone will go in following one’s teacher. It is inconsistent to be a mere admirer of either Kierkegaard or Christianity because of the claims they make on their hearers. Kierkegaard repudiates admirers for their aloofness, so Lowrie attempts to be an actual follower of Christ through his sacrifices in time and money to reveal the Christianity in Kierkegaard’s work. Ultimately these sacrifices are not as great as the urgency of Kierkegaard’s message calls for. Still, Kierkegaard would have been glad to find, as he predicted, a fellow “poet” and “lover” willing to eulogize him for his religious writings. More broadly, Lowrie’s response is a potential answer to the question of how an academic committed to the radical teachings of Christ can be offensive in the way Kierkegaard describes while making the best use of his or her talents and teaching position.

For Religion Alumni @ Reunions 2017

The department is at work on a project that will profile our alumni and highlight their accomplishments in order to expose potential Religion majors to the range of possibilities available to them after graduation.

To that end, we are producing a video — similar to the Classics Department’s video: — that will contain excerpts of interviews with Religion alumni about their interest in the study of religion, their experiences in the department, and their careers after Princeton. The final product will be featured on our newly-redesigned department page:

We will have a videographer available in 1879 Hall in conjunction with the Religion Department Reunion Reception on Friday, June 2 to film the interviews. If you will be coming to Reunions and are interested in participating, please contact Kerry Smith (, the department’s undergraduate administrator, to let her know of your interest and availability.


Princeton’s Department of Religion in 1958

Carla A. Sykes published a profile of the Department of Religion in the February 28, 1958 issue of Princeton Alumni Weekly. The department, then twelve years old, had just announced that the first class of Ph.D. students would be graduating. Sykes’ article emphases the innovative nature of the department’s curriculum, offering a rigorous program in the academic study of religion.

You can read the article here:

Carla A. Sykes, “Religious Scholarship: The Religion Department at the A.B. and Ph.D. Levels Teaches, not Preaches,”  Princeton Alumni Weekly (February 28, 1958): 8-11.

The Study of Religion in the Public Square

Join us on February 28 at 12:00pm in the Department Lounge to brainstorm about producing short videos or podcasts on topics in the study of religion. In order to prepare, think about what you might want to present and check out these resources:

Managing Difficult Conversations in the Classroom

On December 7, the Department hosted Sarah Schwarz from the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning, who facilitated a conversation about how to manage difficult or controversial classroom discussions. Dr. Schwarz offered a number of strategies:

  • Think ahead: be ready to acknowledge when something difficult has arisen in the course of the discussion.
  • Set ground rules: engage students in a collaborative process to establish what makes a successful conversation. Refer back to these ground rules and reassert the core principles when necessary.
  • Common ground: establish shared understandings and facts in the midst of disagreement to avoid an easy resort to judgment.
  • Take time: acknowledge that an issue has generated conflict and give the students time to reflect on what is happening. This could take the form of having them reflect and write in class or you might table the issue and return to it.
  • Connect: to current events; class members to one another; and to support resources for the instructor and students , such as those available at the McGraw Center.

Suggestions for setting ground rules included:

  • At the start of the semester, note that difficult issues might arise in the course and have students think about and discuss in advance how they might deal with them.
  • Have the students reflect on the most productive class discussions in which they have participated as a prompt to generate a list of ideas for the ground rules.
  • Have the group decide on which ground rules to ratify.
  • As part of the process of norm setting for productive conversations, discuss with students the distinction between offering opinions and making arguments.

Additional resources:

Welcome to ResourceReligion

This site is available to students and faculty in the Department of Religion at Princeton to share resources related to the study of religion and to foster a common conversation about how to use our resources as scholars of religion in varied contexts.

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