Jots and Tittles (vol. 3, no. 2)


February 2020

Welcome Back!


A hearty welcome to all our new freshmen and majors, and welcome back to all of our returning students and faculty. We hope you've had a wonderful start to the semester.

Dr. Paul Thomas, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, is the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies chairperson.  If you have questions about PHRE curriculum, the major and minor, or about the department, feel free to contact him at

The Good Fruits of PHRE

I feel strongly that my research in philosophy is more worthwhile if it is applied to making the world a better place..." -Dr. Heather Keith

It is impossible to read the newspaper or understand world events without a background in the role of religious beliefs in the lives of individuals and groups." -Dr. Kay Jordan

I was right, this minor has helped me so tremendously and has helped put me on a path for an amazing career." -McKenna Bevins, PHRE Minor

Whispers on the Wind


Dr. Heather Keith's edited anthology titled Pragmatist and American Philosophical Perspectives on Resilience has been completed. Check it out!

Ms. Pamela Mullins new book, titled Misrepresenting Black Africa in U.S. Museums: Black Skin, Black Maskshas been published. Grab a copy!

Student Spotlight

McKenna Bevins


What attracted you to the philosophy and religious studies minor?
I am an art history major, and when I chose this discipline, I knew I wanted a minor that would be a good counterpart for it. I have been interested in religious studies since middle school, and I thought that having a minor in religious studies would be perfect for art history. I was right, this minor has helped me so tremendously and has helped put me on a path for an amazing career.

How has taking philosophy and religious studies courses benefited you? 
Though I have not taken many philosophy courses, taking religious studies courses has benefited me because it has allowed for me to think differently about world culture as a whole. It has made me understand history and art. It helps me understand the world from a sociological point of view. Religion is everywhere and in all things.

Which classes have been among your favorites? 
My favorite classes I have taken were:
RELN 420: Monsters in American Culture (Dr. Thomas)
RELN 370: American Sects and Cults (Dr. Thomas)
RELN 310 and 312: Old Testament (Dr. Thomas) New Testament (Prof. Lytton)
*fun fact: the new testament class was the class that kind of put me on my path for wanting to study medieval history. 

What do you plan to do after college? 
I am still weighing out my options. I may stay in Radford for another year to save money to try and go abroad for a Masters in Norway, or I may try and intern at a few churches, like the National Cathedral in D.C. I have a primary focus right now in Medieval Art History, so ultimately I would like to end up in New York because I think it is the perfect place to bridge my love for Modernized Gothic Architecture and Modern/Contemporary art. 

Why should students consider a major or minor in philosophy and religious studies? 
I think it is important for students to consider a major or minor (or even just a few courses) in philosophy or religious studies because I believe it increases the capacity for people to think more critically about humanity, but in a more empathetic way. These courses allow for us to be more understanding to cultures different from us, and even help us to understand our own beliefs. I also think (especially if you are a student in the humanities) that understanding religion can put you at an advantage in class discussion, etc.


Please select an image.

The first student to email Dr. Thomas ( the correct answer to the following question gets a free Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies t-shirt.

Question: Which philosopher founded a school which prohibited eating beans, touching white roosters, and allowing swallows to nest in your roof?

Faculty Spotlight on Research

Dr. Heather Keith


You’ve recently had two books published, titled Pragmatist and American Philosophical Perspectives on Resilience, andLives and Legacies of People with Intellectual Disability. Can you tell us a bit about what each of these books entail?
Pragmatist and American Philosophical Perspectives on Resilience is a co-edited anthology which applies philosophical work in the American tradition (such as John Dewey, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Jane Addams) to problems such as climate change and social upheaval with the aim of supporting resilient ecosystems, communities, and individuals. My co-editor for this project is Kelly Parker, Professor of Philosophy and Director of Environmental Studies at Grand Valley State University.

Lives and Legacies of People with Intellectual Disability is a co-authored book which describes the past oppression of people with intellectual disability and their everyday and extraordinary contributions to the world. This book, co-authored with a psychologist, looks at the quality of life of people with intellectual disability and their families, as well as ethical approaches that we believe are likely to lead to a concept of moral community that is more inclusive of intellectual difference. My co-author for this book is Kenneth Keith, Professor Emeritus at the University of San Diego.
Furthermore, can you elaborate on how these books relate to one another, if at all?
Both of these books are research projects that aim to solve “wicked” problems (problems, such as a changing climate, that are complicated by so many factors that they require a number of solutions and often an interdisciplinary analysis). I feel strongly that my research in philosophy is more worthwhile if it is applied to making the world a better place by building strong communities, protecting and promoting resilient ecosystems, and preventing oppression. Both of these books, in analyzing wicked problems, include multi-disciplinary approaches.
How has teaching at Radford University influenced your research?
Even though I am in my first year at Radford and my primarily role is working with other faculty rather than in my own classroom, I am excited to be teaching “Ethics and Society” for the Philosophy and Religious Studies department this semester. I jumped at the opportunity to teach this course because I view my teaching, as well as my writing, as a way to solve problems in the world. My goal in my teaching is to give students the opportunity to reflect on their own perspectives on communities and ecosystems, to consider the kinds of people they wish to become, and to develop the skills and values they need to achieve their goals. I’m also excited to share some of my own research from these books to give students a sense of how philosophy can be a vehicle for proposing solutions to social and ecological concerns.
What are some things from these books that students can learn and find useful for their lives?
Both books offer readers the chance to reflect on their own ethical perspectives regarding the environment, communities, and people, and to better understand how research can help to shape informed beliefs. The Resiliencebook includes case studies that might be useful for students and other readers interested in thinking about how communities in Southwest Virginia can be made stronger in light of climate change and other disruptions, and theLegacies book similarly may be of use to people looking to make their communities more inclusive and accessible.
What’s next on your research agenda?
I am currently finishing a chapter for an anthology on teaching and learning centers in higher education, but I have not yet started on another big project. I’m interested in sustainability teaching and research, so perhaps I’ll do further research in that direction and see what happens.

Declare a Major with Us!


World turbulence and discord got you down? Looking for some bright spots in seemingly gloomy times? Consider a major or minor in philosophy and religious studies.

In our classes you can explore some of the most vexing problems faced by society today and explore ways in which other cultures have found meaning in the face of challenging problems.

New course substitutions make majoring in philosophy and religious studies easier than ever and our 30 credit major makes us one of the easiest double majors!

Stop by CHBS 4209 for more information or email

Faculty Spotlight on Teaching

Dr. Kay K. Jordan


What initially attracted you to religious studies?
I was a very religious person when I entered college. I considered entering the ministry but always believed that ultimately I would like to teach at the college level.

What inspires you as a teacher?
I enjoy working with young people. They are generally optimistic about the future. My generation will be turning over the future of the world to successive generations in the near future. The younger generations will face many serious problems like climate change. Professors hope that they can provide a solid base of knowledge and skills to address these problems.

What do you find most challenging about the classroom?
I find that the current cellphone/email culture is the greatest challenge I face in the classroom. Students feel a need for constant information and emotional stimulation and cannot focus on in class lectures and discussion. They find it hard to concentrate.

What advice for doing well in the classroom would you offer students?

  1. Attend class regularly.
  2. Read the assignment, listen to the lecture, review the assignment.
  3. Go over your lecture notes as soon as you can after class. You may remember things you want to add to them.
  4. Answer the study guide questions.
  5. Read the handouts.
  6. Make flash cards or create a list of key words for each lecture or main topic.
  7. Study with a partner. Ask each other questions. People learn by using their senses, including hearing and speaking.
  8. For my classes, do the extra credit to gain a few points.

Why do you think education in religious studies is important?
Religious studies helps students become more reflective about their own beliefs and traditions. We are a religiously diverse nation and a global society. The “other” world religions are not “over there,” but next door. It is inevitable that RU graduates will meet and interact with people of diverse traditions. It is impossible to read the newspaper or understand world events without a background in the role of religious beliefs in the lives of individuals and groups.