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Saturday, September 30, 2023

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Off the Beaten Course: REL S 356

This course evaluates current events, issues and subjects through the lens of hip hop religious studies scholarship.
By SDSU News Team

Course title: Hip Hop and Religion
Professor’s name: Roy Whitaker

1) What inspired you to create this course?

I grew up with two loves: hip hop and religion. To this day, my love hasn’t waned. Over time, I began to see elements of hip hop in religion and religion in hip hop.  Based on research, I discovered that numerous hip hop artists (such as Tupac Shakur and Afrika Bambaataa) have been influenced by religion, and religions have been influenced by hip hop artists. 

2) What can students expect to learn from this course?

In the class, students learn connections between hip hop and religion, but also about hip hop in religion. We study hip hop as a philosophy of life; similarities and differences between reggae and rap; the current scene of Christian hip hop artists; and hip hop's place in the LGBTQIA community, feminism and death. To complement these kinds of topics, we evaluate currents events, issues and subjects through the lens of hip hop religious studies scholarship. 

3) What makes this course different from similar courses?

To my knowledge, there isn’t an equivalent course at SDSU.  But hip hop religious studies curriculum is burgeoning. There are more and more courses across the country and across the humanities beginning to recognize the significance of hip hop religious studies as a key interdisciplinary field for undergraduate and graduate students. My course is different than others and I assume others are different from mine based on our particular specialties.

I’m an American religious studies scholar who examines African American religious diversity in the context of global awareness. I focus on the intellectual foundations and cultural structures of African American belief and non-belief systems.  Therefore, my “Hip Hop and Religion” class has a more decisive religious humanist tone than most.  

4) Is there one day on the syllabus for this course you most look forward to? If yes, why?

Honestly, I feel blessed every day to do what I do. With that said, I’d say that atheism/ humanism hip hop is my favorite day of the semester, because both atheism/humanism and hip hop studies are nontraditional topics in religious studies. Yet, religious studies scholars need to contend with both countercultural movements. Plus, I want my students to think about life not only at the “center” but at the “periphery” or margins of disciplines and society.  

5) What’s your favorite thing about teaching this course?

Hip hop! Unbeknownst to many of my students and peers, I was a breakdancer as a kid and my brother is a hip hop choreographer in Japan. As a professor of religious studies, I teach and do research on religion for a living. It’s the joy of my life. Yet, adding aesthetics — specifically hip hop — is a dream come true.