CWU News

CWU Welcomes Religion Scholars to Ellensburg

American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature logosAccording to a 2018 Gallup survey, the Pacific Region—including Washington, Oregon, California, Alaska, and Hawaii—was one of the least religious portions of the United States. Even so, it would be a fallacy to equate being religious with being spiritual.

“People still view  themselves as ‘spiritual,’ a side of human life—that we may reject as being ‘religious’ — yet is still a core component of what we do as human beings,” said Jeffrey Dippmann, chair of CWU’s Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies.

That is among the reasons why CWU will host the 2019  American Academy of Religion (AAR) and Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) Pacific Northwest Region conference. 

“We have to understand each other,” Dippmann explained. “I don’t see how someone can get by in the world anymore without understanding what other people believe and how they view the world.”

More than 80 scholars from the AAR and SBL will present research and participate in panels on a variety of topic from May 3-5 on campus. They will include the broad topics of arts and religion, Asian and comparative studies, the Hebrew Bible, Christianity and North American religions, the New Testament, religion and society, theology and philosophy, and women in religion.

“This is an opportunity for those of us who are in specialized fields to get out and see what other people are doing,” Dippmann said, adding that information could end up being incorporated into CWU courses.

At present, about five dozen students either major or minor in philosophy and religious studies. The department also provides courses as part of students’ general education curriculum.

“Students don’t typically get religious studies classes in high school,” Dippmann said. “So, this can be an eye-opening experience for them to learn about things they’ve never heard about before. We, generally,  teach five to seven [general education] courses each quarter [in philosophy and religious studies] and they always fill up to capacity.”

This is the first time CWU has hosted the regional AAR and SBL conference.

The AAR and SBL’s Pacific Northwest Region, the largest geographically of the association’s 10 overall, includes universities and colleges from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, western Montana, Alaska, and the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta, and the Yukon territory. 

AAR promotes excellence in the academic study and public understanding of religion, while SBL promotes critical investigation of the Bible from  various academic disciplines. 

Representatives from the American Schools of Oriental Research will also participate in the CWU conference. The international organization supports research into, and public understanding of, the history and cultures of the Middle East.

Friday night’s AAR-SBL Presidential address will be delivered by Catherine Punsalan-Manlimos, director of the Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture and professor of theology and religious studies at Seattle University.

While in Ellensburg, conference attendees will have the opportunity to participate in Ellensburg’s First Friday Art Walk and attend a special presentation by CWU physics professor Bruce Palmquist to be held in the university’s Lydig Planetarium.

Media contact: Robert Lowery, Department of Public Affairs, 509-963-1487,