Theology, Philosophy Majors on the Rise

Theology, Philosophy Majors on the Rise

Communication remains most popular choice of BC undergraduates

By Stephen Gawlik
Staff Writer

Theology and philosophy, two traditional pillars of Catholic and Jesuit education, are enjoying a resurgence of interest among Boston College undergraduates, according to enrollment figures.

While the actual numbers of students majoring in philosophy (261) and theology (137) are relatively small compared to other fields at BC, the totals for both disciplines are the highest in 20 years, say administrators.

Other majors experiencing a similar rise in popularity include communication (963), history (530) and music (32) in the College of Arts and Sciences, and elementary education (297) in the Lynch School of Education.

Hibbs: Philosophy majors learn "careful reading, clear articulation, and rigorous argumentative writing."
Communication also is the top major at BC for the third consecutive year. The other four most popular majors are English (770), finance (679), political science (669) and psychology (617), according to Student Services.

The shifting interests and potential career goals of BC's undergraduates are often reflected in their choice of majors, as is true at most colleges or universities. But BC administrators say the rise of theology and philosophy also reflects new administrative directions in those departments and the University's successful efforts to recruit faculty of the highest caliber.

"As a Catholic, Jesuit university these are our flagship departments and we're delighted by these trends," said A&S Dean Joseph Quinn.

Quinn said the appointment of undergraduate directors Prof. Roberto Goizueta and Assoc. Prof. David Vanderhooft in Theology and Assoc. Prof. Ronald Tacelli, SJ, in Philosophy has helped those departments better serve student interests and needs.

"Their good work cannot be understated," said Quinn. "I think that this proves the importance of having excellent leadership in these departments."

Philosophy chairman Prof. Thomas Hibbs said popular courses such as PULSE and Perspectives, usually taken to fulfill core requirements, help attract excellent students who then choose to major in philosophy. He also credited small class sizes.

Pope: Theology courses in comparative religions, including Judaism and Islam, are increasingly popular with undergraduates.
"Unlike most departments nationally," said Hibbs, "we have not adopted the super-section mentality for the core courses and thus students have a chance to talk about serious issues in their classes."

Other factors in the department's growing popularity, said Hibbs, include a popular lecture series organized through the Undergraduate Philosophy Association, advising sessions held during registration periods and informal meals with faculty.

"Students at BC find Philosophy to be a place where they can investigate the great questions, with the help of great books, and great instructors," said Hibbs. "Students learn careful reading, clear articulation, and rigorous argumentative writing."

Philosophy major Ryan Connors '05 applauded the department's many efforts to reach out to students and praised the faculty.

"In our department there are some incredible minds," said Connors. "It's an incredibly scholarly and diverse faculty and has remained faithful to what a philosophy department should be at a Catholic university."

In addition to appointing an undergraduate director, said Theology chairman Prof. Stephen Pope, the department has developed more undergraduate courses in new areas of theology, such as spirituality, ethics, social justice and comparative religion. The hiring of energetic, high-quality faculty also has helped the department increase its number of majors more than six-fold in the last decade, he said.

Students are particularly interested in comparative religion and value the opportunity to learn about Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism and Islam, Pope said.

For Bridget Monohan '04, the theology major is appealing because there are so many areas of study from which to choose.

"Theology has a lot to offer and I haven't been disappointed at all," said Monohan.

Quinn said the increased interest in philosophy and theology could also be a response to last year's terrorist attacks and the aftermath.

"The international upheaval we've seen in the last year might lead one to believe that philosophical and theological questions are being asked more often," said Quinn.

At the Lynch School of Education, the most popular majors after elementary education are human development (276) and secondary education (148).

"Deans across the country are seeing an increase in interest in teaching across all areas of licensure and certification," said LSOE Dean Mary Brabeck. "While many states, including Massachusetts, are opening the doors to people who have not had the rigorous preparation offered in education schools, future teachers at the elementary level know that solid preparation for today's schools is a must."

In addition to finance, majors in the Carroll School of Management with the highest enrollments are marketing (395), accounting (279) and general management (159).

CSOM Associate Dean Richard Keeley said that while enrollment trends at BC closely track other top management programs in the country, he is particularly impressed by the rising numbers in accounting, a profession that has been criticized in the wake of the Enron debacle and other Wall Street scandals.

"I am heartened by the numbers in accounting," said Keeley. "It's an industry under stress and students are responding to the challenge. For quite some time, our accounting faculty have been exploring the ethical pitfalls in the profession and helping students to shape a robust professional ethic."

The Connell School of Nursing, which offers only one undergraduate major, has 220 students enrolled.


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