The Religion Department of Hampden-Sydney College established the McRae Program in Religion and Society in 2012 through a generous grant from Dr. Arthur C. Houts in honor of his mentor. Dr. Charles Ferguson McRae, 32 years professor of Bible at Hampden-Sydney College, is remembered by his students not only as a demanding professor but also as one who never understood his passion for biblical studies simply as an intellectual endeavor. Along with his wife Orene, he worked with some other members of College Presbyterian Church and Hampden-Sydney College to encourage interracial dialogue, racial reconciliation, and tutoring of school children during and after the five years when Prince Edward County abolished public education. The Charles Ferguson McRae Program in Religion and Society is a testament to his vision that thoughtful reflection and investigation of one's religious convictions and traditions properly coincides with the promotion of the public good and service to one's neighbor.

The program intends to foster student discovery of vocation, promote synthesis of engaged learning and moral action, and prepare students for the practice of vocation in the context of a modern, pluralistic society.

Further information may be obtained from the Chair of the Department of Religion, the Academic's Secretary's Office in Morton Hall, the Office of Career Education, or the Civic Engagement Program in the Office of Student Affairs.

Goals

Foster student discovery of vocation: 
The McRae Program maintains that religious traditions intend to create comprehensive worldviews in which adherents find a sense of meaning and purpose. Therefore, the program provides a forum of discovery for students who wish to understand how their own religious traditions or those of others impart, consider and grapple with the issue of purpose and calling. This begins with a deceptively simple question: "Who am I?"

Promote synthesis of engaged learning and moral action: 
The McRae Program recognizes that students need a place to reflect on the implications of their liberal arts learning for their own lives and for the world. Therefore, the McRae Program asks students to consider how their knowledge is related to moral action, either through the study of ethics or some other field that looks at the practical application of learning. The McRae Program will create a safe intellectual space for religious reflection and/or reflection about religion, regardless of (though not in spite of ) one's personal religious convictions or tradition, to understand the nature of religiously motivated service and to understand local and global needs in the world.

Prepare students for the practice of vocation in the context of a modern, pluralistic society: 
Given the increasingly diverse society in which we live, the McRae Program contends that commitment to the freedom of religious expression is vital not only to responsible citizenship, but essential to the promotion of the kind of reflection that allows vocational sensibilities to flourish. The Program will expose students to the realities of religious pluralism-with its problems and promises for social engagement-and encourages students to reflect on the promise of interreligious cooperation and dialogue in the context of modern society.

Finally, students will gain practical experience and understanding through internships or volunteering, particularly on the local level.

Qualifications

To be considered for appointment as a McRae Scholar, a student will have a cumulative grade point average of 2.5 or above; and will normally have taken, by the end of the sophomore year, at least one course in religion. There is no religious test to be part of this program. However, applicants are expected to have an interest in the interplay between religion and social engagement. While they may be personally religious or not, they should be interested to dialogue seriously and charitably with individuals who may or may not share their own religious convictions. Further, while applicants might anticipate any number of occupations-business, law, medicine, clergy, teaching, etc.-applicants should be interested in how religious experience and belief impact the way an individual or group engages socially to promote the greater common good. In selecting McRae Scholars, the Committee will consider an applicant's academic achievement and promise, his interest in the interplay of religion and society, and his record of leadership and involvement in the life of the community.

Academic Program

  • Religious Autobiography (this Fall listed as RELI 285);
  • One course that introduces the students to the theological or social understanding of religious pluralism (RELI 303, 334, or 336)
  • One course in which the student will engage in ethical reflection and social engagement (RELI 225, RELI 328, PHIL 314, PHIL 316, ECON 211 or GVFA 231)-another course, applicable to the students vocational or occupation aspirations, may be substituted with consultation with the committee.
  • Students will participate in an internship in any discipline in which it is appropriate for ethical and religious reflection to take place (0-3 credits). This would take place over the summer of the junior year or the first semester senior year. Students taking an internship will write about their experience engaging the theoretical material in the program.
  • Students and faculty will meet over dinner once a month when college is in session to discuss facets of vocation, both the needs calling and religious motivations to meet them. Often these meetings will discussion over readings or topics prepared by students. These meetings will also serve as intentional venues for students to analyze their own and one another's practical experience of religion and service through focused discussion.
  • Finally, McRae Scholars will play an active role in the Program's various extracurricular activities, including its annual lecture series.

Applications

Students will ordinarily apply to the program the second semester of their sophomore year. Students must have, at the time of application, a cumulative GPA of 2.5 or higher to qualify. Students will submit to the advisory committee an essay explaining why they  wish to participate in the program, and show they will be able to meet the program requirements over the next two years. They will also be expected to provide two letters of reference (one of which should be a faculty reference). Please note: Students who plan to take part in the College’s International Studies Program during their junior year must consult with a member of the Committee to determine whether they will be able to meet the Program’s requirements while abroad.