History of the Religion Department at UGA

The academic study of Religion has been a part of the curriculum of the University of Georgia since the late 1940s when a chaplain was hired at the University and budgeted to teach Religion part time.  In the 1950s a small Department of Philosophy and Religion was formed, consisting of two faculty members.

The Department of Religion became a separate unit from the Philosophy Department at UGA in 1984.   Dr.  Robert H. Ayers, Professor Emeritus was instrumental in it's creation.  Dr. Ayers, at retirement age, approached the administration and offered his full-time teaching services free of charge for five years if the university would form a separate Department of Religion.  The agreement was made, and the department formed.   Dr. Ayers fulfilled his promise of five years full-time teaching without salary.   Based on the salary he was making at the time of his promise, his contribution to the University was calculated equivalent to one quarter of a million dollars.    Dr. Ayers still lives in Athens, Georgia and is still researching and writing about Religion. 

The first Department Head was Dr. George E.  Howard and he served from 1984-2002.   The first faculty members were Dr. Robert H. Ayers, Dr. William E. David, Dr. George E. Howard, Dr. Anthony A. Nemetz, Dr. William L. Power, Dr. Shanta Ratnayaka and Dr. Gerald Wilson.   As of Summer 2017 the Department consists of six Professors, four Associate Professors, one Assistant Professor and four Lecturers.   Ms. Zinetta Pirtle McDonald retired June 30, 2018 after serving as the departments Business Manager for over 30 years.

In 1981 the Department of Religion and Philosophy began a BA undergraduate degree and an MA graduate degree in Religion.   Since the Departments separated in 1984, the Religion Department has added undergraduate degrees in a Religion Minor, an Arabic Major and Minor.  Summer 2017 the Department added a PhD graduate degree in Religion.  The Department of Religion formed the Institute of Native American Studies which offers a Certificate in Native American Studies.

The Department began teaching Religion courses in New Testament, Old Testament, Philosophy of Religion, Christian Ethics, Theology, Buddhism, History of Christianity, and Hebrew Language.   The Department now offers many courses in religion found on all the inhabited world continents:  Judaism,  Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Japanese Religions, Indigenous Religions: Native American Religions and African Traditions Religions, Anthropology of Religion, Religious Thought and Theology, Philosophy of Religion, Religious Diversity, and Language courses in Arabic, Hebrew, Semitic languages, and other languages associated with the Foreign Language Teaching Assistant Program through Fulbright offering languages such as Persian, Pashtu, Indonesian, Turkish, Urdu, Tajik, Uzbek and others..