Religious Studies Department

Why Naz?

“Faculty in the Religious Studies Department at Nazareth College take their work seriously. We tend to go the extra mile to bring our students with us in a variety of ways both inside and outside the classroom. Whether focusing on matters such as human rights, genocide, U.S. politics, or the environment, we are eager to consider the many ways religion impacts the world around us, for better and for worse. At the same time, through our partnership with the Hickey Center for Interfaith Study and Dialogue here at Nazareth, we aim to acquaint ourselves deeply with individual faith traditions. We do this with an eye to promoting understanding and, in our own small way, to paving a much-needed path to peace."

Students on the Kerala trip light candles at St. Alphonsa's shrine.

Students on the Kerala trip light candles at St. Alphonsa's shrine.

 Paige Serpe-Miller and Haley Saba

Students Paige Serpe-Miller and Haley Saba pose with Annamma Chackola. Background: Photo of Chackola and Mother Teresa.

Why study religion?

“For me, the study of religion never gets old because, in a word, it matters. Woven through cultures around the globe, inspiring mystery and meaning, violence and peace, religion is an important part of what makes us human.”

World traveler

“My adventures in religious studies have taken me across the planet to live and learn. In graduate school, I spent a year in tropical south India where I studied how its ancient Christian and Hindu traditions influence one another at local shrines and temples. I then turned my attention to a south Indian Hindu temple here in upstate New York where the head priest, in defiance of the rules, trains women to be priests. My next stop was northern Iceland where I learned about the lives and practices of healers and mediums who work with spirits. Most recently, I have interviewed 91 older women from across the globe — in California, northern Iceland, South India, and among our founding Sisters of St. Joseph — who have shared with me their life stories and reflections on what matters most as they near life's end.”

Read Dempsey's essay about spirit practices in Iceland.

Paige, Haley, and Corinne pose with Sr. Mechtilde.

Paige, Haley, and Corinne pose with Sr. Mechtilde.

Corinne and Teresa after their interview.

Corinne and Teresa after their interview.

Forging connections

"As I see it, the people who have entrusted me over the years and across the globe with matters dear to their hearts have passed on to me a responsibility to honor this trust and to respectfully share what I've learned. I thus write books and articles, some of which I use in my courses, as a way to extend my experiences to others. Nothing compares, however, to bringing students along to sites, enabling them to forge their own connections. My husband and I twice led Naz students to experience the multi-religious bounty of Kerala State in south India; twice I returned with students who accompanied me on visits to elderly women's homes, where they shared memories, laughter, and tears with us. While classroom learning will always remain invaluable, such first-hand experiences, especially when we are brought outside our comfort zones, stretch and change us for the better."

“Dr. Dempsey created a 14-day academic experience that allowed students to jump into the religious, social, and historical culture of Kerala, India, not as tourists but experiencing traditions that have been going on for thousands of years. We learned from her local friends, professors, and religious leaders. We visited temples and experienced traditions that began thousands of years ago. Dr. Dempsey will go to great lengths to ensure that her students are receiving the most authentic and enriching experience.”

— Angela Tona ‘17, a social work major with minors in religious/interfaith studies and music

Courses I teach

“Strangely enough, my favorite course is the introductory Exploring Religion (RES 101) that all of us in the department teach. I know that many students arrive into this class with a sense of uncertainty, wondering, ‘Why is Nazareth making me take this course? Is she going to try to convert me to (fill in the blank)?’ By our second week, after discussing how ignorance about religions has led to violence and exploitation historically and, alarmingly, through the present day, most students are on board. With this, we are given a sense of common purpose. Although it's a tall order to cover the world's religions in one semester, I consider teaching RES 101 — especially when faced with those who would otherwise have no interest — to be one of the most important things I do as a professor.”

Upper-division courses she teaches:

  • Hinduism Practiced: Yoga, Emotion, and Devotion
  • Women and Goddesses in India
  • Mysticism and Spirits: Altered States across Cultures
  • War and Peace in World Religions
  • Religious Pluralism in Practice: Kerala, South India
  • Global Asia
  • Religion, Healers, and Healing across Cultures

Dempsey has been teaching at Naz since 2011, after teaching in Wisconsin for 12 years.

“Dr. Dempsey doesn’t just lecture. She professes her life’s work and experiences as a thoughtful, elegant, and engaging story. While her unparalleled excitement is enough to make class enjoyable, I walked away each day learning so much more than was promised in the syllabus. Dr. Dempsey provides insight, challenges you, asks the tough questions, and encourages you to think about the world and the way it works on a larger level. Dr. Dempsey also makes herself relatable to students, treating you as a peer and providing a sense of inclusion. I never felt nervous to speak up in class, or ask questions, and I always felt appreciated for thoughts I shared. In one religious studies course, I gained years worth of learning.”

Megan Matott ‘14, a biology major and religious studies minor who went on to medical school at West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine

Kerala group

"The aspect of religious studies that most fascinates me is how religion and culture endlessly intertwine. This has led me to explore religious practices typically thought to be 'out of place,' such as Christian pilgrimage and saint devotion in south India, Hindu temple worship in North America, and trance mediums and spirit healers in modern-day Iceland. My work has also led me to the joys and challenges of comparison, a process that looms large in my courses, my writing, and in my recent work with women over 80 in California, Iceland, India, and among the Sisters of St. Joseph."

- Corinne Dempsey (second from left) with students and others in front of a Hindu temple in Ernakulam, Kerala, India, in 2016

Books by Dempsey

  • The Goddess Lives in Upstate New York: Breaking Convention and Making Home at a North American Hindu Temple (used in Hinduism Practiced class)
  • Kerala Christian Sainthood: Collisions of Culture and Worldview in South India
  • Bringing the Sacred Down to Earth: Adventures in Comparative Religion
  • Bridges Between Worlds: Spirits and Spirit Work in Northern Iceland (October 2016, used in Mysticism and Spirits class)

Faculty Spotlights

Wondering who else you can learn from — and who will support and challenge you? Check out Faculty Spotlights.