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Professor Patrick Harwood
Department of Communication


Lee Irwin
Religious Studies

Professor Lee Irwin


Religious Studies Professor Specializes in Native Americans
By Courtney Chastain

"I am a historian of religion, it is my calling," Dr. Lee Irwin said calmly as he leaned back into his armchair.

When entering Dr. Lee Irwin's office it is as if you are entering into a diverse religious realm. An immediate feeling of expertise is unknowingly displayed throughout the room from Irwin's travels and teachings. Symbols, flags, paintings and artifacts are exhibited giving an almost museum-like feel. It is evident that Irwin is a scholar of many diverse religions. The five books and more than 30 articles Irwin has written indicate the extent of this scholarship. At the College, Irwin recently began his second term as chairman of the Department of Religious Studies.

So to say Irwin is involved on campus, as well as off campus is an understatement. He continues to maintain a healthy balance between his private studies and contributions as well as his work at the college.

Irwin strives to make different religions and their practices as clear as possible to his C of C students. One unique way he does this is by bringing in guest speakers which have included Native American shaman performers and an Eskimo from Greenland.

Irwin has four specific areas of religious studies: Comparative religions among Native North Americans, Esotericism, Contemporary Spirituality and Theory and Method of the Study of Religion.

His longtime interest, though, has centered on Native Americans. Irwin is responsible for creating a Native American concentration in religious studies. " My courses on religious studies on Native Americans can create sort of an informal concentration," he said.

Irwin uses an interdisciplinary approach to teaching religion. He combines anthropology, history, psychology and art to display a comparative view to many religions. "He has been such a great contributor to the Religious Studies program," said Sara Whitley, a religion minor.

To experience these religions and lifestyles first hand Irwin has been on many trips to the Western United States to participate and observe Native American Cultures.
" I trained in the North Plains, and also worked in South and North Dakota," Irwin explained.

He also participated in ceremonies and observed the life and religions of many different tribes in the Western United States. The Pine Ridge Reservation housing the Lakota Indians is where Dr. Irwin gained his expertise on dreams and visions. "If I had to pick a favorite area, dreams and visions have always been a big interest of mine," Irwin said.

Irwin's latest work, "Coming Down From Above," is a book on Native American prophecy, specifically Cherokee prophets. Irwin says his successful quest for "recorded narratives of the native people" creates a work solely unique.

One new course offered in the spring is his Contemporary Spirituality course. This course deals with "non-traditional concerns that reflect on contemporary issues." He says he is integrating a womanistic perspective into this course and "tries to bring this into all courses because the majority of the students here are women."

Irwin's diverse knowledge and passion for all religions is evident through not only his works but for his passion to teach and guide the students at the College of Charleston. But there will always be a special place in his heart and mind for those who lived in America first. "My task, challenge and desire are to educate people about the native people of this land," he said.