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Department of

Philosophy and Religion

Asking Life’s Great Questions and Opening Doors of the Mind

Philosophy — traditionally at the center of the liberal arts — asks some of the most difficult and searching questions about human existence, the nature of the universe, right and wrong in human conduct, and the basis of our social and political arrangements.

In so doing, it gives the mind the greatest possible leeway to doubt, probe, and criticize. Philosophy by nature tends not to generate textbook answers. It can aid in putting questions on the nature of oneself, life, and reality into coherent and nuanced perspectives.

Philosophy and religion classes beyond the introductory level are typically small discussion seminars of usually 5-15 students. Our seminars are known throughout the school for offering rigorous training in reading, writing, speaking, and reflective assessment.

We do not just prepare you for a ‘job’ . Our majors are intellectually well-rounded. Philosophy and Religion scholars learn to exercise good judgement and live life well in whatever they do. As a result, our grads go into dozens of professions, equipped to discover a life of purpose and interest. In a 2012 survey of philosophy alumni from the past 15 years, 80%+ responding agreed or strongly agreed the major trained them in skills directly applying in their current professions. Virtually all responding thought studying philosophy had overall enhanced their lives and outlook on the world. 

The great philosopher John Stuart Mill, whose ideas in his ‘On Liberty’ and ‘Utilitarianism’ still drive much of our advanced political and social discourse, observed the following in his Inaugural Address at the University of St. Andrews in 1867: “The proper function of an University in national education is tolerably well understood… . Their object is not to make skilful lawyers, or physicians, or engineers, but capable and cultivated human beings.” Still, our graduates are the kinds of persons potentially adept in a variety of professions. Graduates of the philosophy major and religion minor are currently pursing careers in accounting, banking, computers (programming, web design), corporate management and consulting, education, ethical consulting, finance, government service, intelligence, journalism, law, law enforcement, library science, the military, music, non-profit organizations, public relations, public television, psychology (school and clinical), and sales.

Philosophy majors on average score highly on graduate school and law school admissions exams. (See ‘Why Philosophy?’ for details.) Spanning 2012-2014 alone, several graduates gained admission to competitive graduate programs in law, philosophy, theology, and the humanities, at institutions such as Johns Hopkins, Chicago, Yale, Oxford, St. Andrews, Penn State, NYU, and a recent full scholarship to Georgetown Law. (See the ‘Legal Eagle’ story on this page.) The program continues to draw some of the most talented students at the College, as it historically has. If you are looking for an engaging intellectual community at WC, we have it here for you.   

Philosophy enhances and prepares you for excellence in any other major offered at WC. Our majors typically combine philosophy with another program such as English, psychology, business, economics, political science, drama, math, and humanities.   


Bringing Philosophy and the Liberal Arts to People in Prison

The Partners in Philosophy Prison Program ran from 2011-2014 in Jessup Correctional Institute, a maximum security prison near Baltimore. The program was begun in 2011 by James Schelberg ’12 (now a graduate student in philosophy at Johns Hopkins) and Jared Rankin (formerly a student of WC) on their own initiative and using no funds outside of their own money. 

In Spring, Summer, and Fall 2013 course programs were administered by Rankin. WC Faculty participants over the years from the WC Philosophy and Religion Dept. include Profs. Brien, McCabe, and Weigel.

The program featured an inter-disciplinary Humanities course taught to inmates by a variety of Washington College instructors in Art, Philosophy, History, English, and Classical thought. More than half the Philosophy and Religion Department participates annually. Schelberg and Rankin’s program was prominently featured in an article in the Washington Post. 

Video Spotlight

Recent Stories

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    Ralph Waldo Emerson’s classic 1837 address, “The American Scholar,” was the subject of our annual Philosophy Department / St. John’s College Roundtable discussion on March 18th, 2015. Sponsored by the Department and the William James Forum, with support from the Phi Beta Kappa Society at WC.
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    Dr. Gary Schiff will present “In search of Dutch Jewry: Mokum and Medicine” at 5:00 p.m. April 15th in Hynson. Dr. Schiff taught in the WC graduate history program for many years, and was President of Gratz College in Philadelphia, a school dedicated to Jewish scholarship.

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    Her father’s career as a Coast Guard criminal investigator helped spur Emily Hoyle’s interest in the law. Now, the 2014 WC graduate is headed to George Washington University Law School on a full scholarship.