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Course Catalog

Religious Studies

Religion has played, and continues to play, a central role in virtually all societies. It is intimately related to such key aspects of communities as the structure of political power, economic organization, class structures, conceptions of gender, marriage, work and war. In short, religion shapes both the institutional order and the thought and behavior of individuals who inhabit it. The study of religion, therefore, is basic to the liberal arts and helps prepare students for a variety of career paths, including journalism, law, business, education and work in philanthropic and religious institutions. The department offers a major and a minor in Religious Studies; it also offers a bridge major, which involves the combination of work in religion with courses in another or other fields. Key to the program are courses on the history, scriptures, thought, practices and institutions of both Western and Asian religious traditions. Attention is also given to the interaction between religion and society and to the comparative study of religions.


Requirements for a major

Religious Studies

Total courses required Nine
Core courses REL 130 (or REL 130E), REL 479
Other required courses
  • One course in biblical literature chosen from the following: REL 141, REL 142, REL 241.
  • One course in Western religious traditions chosen from the following: REL 132, REL 244, REL 250, REL 252.
  • One course in Eastern religious traditions chosen from the following: REL 253, REL 257, REL 258.
Number 300 and 400 level courses Three (inclusive of REL 479)
Senior requirement and capstone experience The senior requirement consists of the completion of REL 479 with a grade of C or better. Students should consult with their major advisors about the senior seminar before the beginning of the senior year.
Writing in the Major

The writing in the major requirement for Religious Studies is filled through REL 480, Senior Seminar. This course is designed to cultivate discipline-specific writing skills within the major consistent with norms of professional competence in the field of Religious Studies. Through the analysis and critique of multiple drafts of written work in close and intensive consultation with the instructor/faculty mentor, students spend the entire semester developing "publishable" article-length theses. In class writing includes brainstorming assignments, autobiographical writing, free-writing exercises, long essay exam compositions and the construction of group work reports. Out-of-class writing assignments are sequenced to produce a final scholarly project worthy of the discipline, with care given to the use of appropriate documentation and sources. In addition to the composition and sharing of multiple drafts of each section of their research papers, students are required to submit and defend anywhere from 3-5 drafts of their final 25-30 page paper to the seminar instructor. Satisfactory completion of the senior seminar requires students to achieve a grade of C or higher.

Religious Studies courses at the beginning, intermediate and advanced levels build toward the senior thesis. At the intermediate and advanced levels multiple 5-10 page papers may be required as well as longer and more complex essay exam questions. Final papers ranging from 10 to 20 pages and developed over multiple drafts in consultation with faculty members are not unusual. Total written work for the semester will typically include a variety of the following: exam questions, quizzes, in-class writing assignments, discussion prompts, short papers, long papers, message boards, e-mail correspondence, workgroup write-ups, outlining of reading chapters, book reviews, and summaries from oral presentations.

Religious Studies bridged to another discipline

Total courses required Nine
Core courses REL 479
Other required courses Five additional courses (two at the 300-400 level)

Two courses in the other discipline at the 200-level or above.

One course in the other discipline at the 300-400 level.

Number 300 and 400 level courses Four (inclusive of REL 479)
Senior requirement and capstone experience
Additional information Students seeking a bridge major must submit a plan by the third year which includes a description of desired courses, a rationale for the bridge demonstrating unity and consistency, and one course designated as the "bridge course." This plan is to be submitted to the major advisor and is to be approved by the department.

Requirements for a minor

Religious Studies

Total courses required Five
Core courses One course in Western religious traditions to be chosen from the following: REL 130, REL 132, REL 141, REL 142, REL 241, REL 244, REL 250, REL 252

One course in Eastern religious traditions to be chosen from the following: REL 130, REL 130E, REL 253, REL 257, REL 258.

Other required courses REL 130 may be counted toward either the Western or Eastern religions requirement but cannot be counted toward both.
Number 300 and 400 level courses One

Courses in Religious Studies

REL 130

Introduction to Religions

A basic cross-cultural survey course of major religious traditions, usually Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Chinese and Japanese religions with comparative references to major Western religions. Particular attention is paid to the thought, scriptures, practices and institutions of these traditions. Not open to students with credit in REL 130E.

REL 130E is a version of REL 130 that focuses on Asian religions. In this course we will survey some of the core teachings, practices and institutions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Shinto, Taoism, Confucianism, Islam and Christianity. Our twin goals will be to secure a basic understanding of the worlds of meaning that are created, expressed, and sustained by these religions and to learn how to reflect critically upon the function of religion in the lives of individuals and communities. We will begin the semester by reading selections from a classic theoretical text to orient ourselves toward a critical and analytical approach to religious phenomena cross-culturally. We will proceed by introducing ourselves to a number of religious traditions through primary and secondary literature as well as audiovisual material--the latter to get a sense of the ritual and material dimensions of religious expression globally. Most important will be the close reading and discussion of representative primary texts in English translation for each of the traditions under consideration. Over the course of the semester we will be introduced to a variety of methodological issues in the academic study of religion and we will address them as they arise naturally from our discussions of the material under consideration. By the end of the course students will have developed a vocabulary for understanding religious phenomena cross-culturally and with an interdisciplinary focus. Not open to students with credit in REL 130

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
Arts and Humanities 1 course

REL 132

Judaism, Christianity, Islam

A basic cross-cultural survey course of the major religious traditions of the West: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Particular attention is paid to the thought, scriptures, practices and institutions of these traditions.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
Arts and Humanities 1 course

REL 141

Hebrew Bible

This course surveys the diverse literature of Ancient Israel, read in English translation, that came to be recognized as sacred scripture by Judaism and Christianity (known alternatively as Tanakh or Old Testament). The texts are studied within the historical and cultural context of Ancient Israel with an interest in the history and methods of interpretation.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
Arts and Humanities 1 course

REL 142

New Testament

The literature and faith of the New Testament communities studied in the context of the early church and the Judaic and Greco-Roman world.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
Arts and Humanities 1 course

REL 150

Introduction to World Religious Literature

This course introduces major Eastern and Western religious themes and ideas through a combination of sacred and secular literature. The approach is comparative in nature, emphasizing texts that place these traditions in new geographical, cultural, temporal, and philosophical contexts. May be counted toward a major or minor in English literature upon approval of English department chair.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
Arts and Humanities 1 course

REL 197

First-Year Seminar

A seminar focused on a theme in the study of religion. Open only to first-year students.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
1 course

REL 241

Biblical Literature

An assessment of the Old and New Testament as anthologies of poetry and prose. Students will be invited to observe the varieties of literary genre, the artistic character of literary traditions and of individual books and the role of the author or editor in delivering a specific message to an audience, and the role of contemporary literary theory and interpretation.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
Arts and Humanities 1 course

REL 244

Judaism

An introduction to Jewish life, thought and practice. Description of basic Jewish beliefs, attitudes, values and practices.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
Arts and Humanities 1 course

REL 245

Jewish Writers

This class treats a range of modern and contemporary Jewish writers (European, American, and Israeli). Through writers such as Freud, Kafka, David Grossman, Dara Horn, Philip Roth, and Larry David, we will explore elements of Jewish identity, culture, history, theology and humor. Is there such a thing as a distinctly Jewish imagination? A distinctly Jewish aesthetic?

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
Arts and Humanities 1 course

REL 250

Christianity

A survey of major beliefs, practices and forms of the Christian religion. Special attention will be given to the Biblical foundations, theological formation and pivotal historical developments.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
Arts and Humanities 1 course

REL 252

Islam

A survey of the major beliefs, rituals and institutions of Islam. Special emphasis will be given to recurring themes and issues that have shaped Muslim self-understanding throughout history.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
Arts and Humanities 1 course

REL 253

Religions of India

This course provides an introduction to the many religious traditions which have found a home in India. In this comprehensive introduction we survey the history, thought, and practices of the major Indian religious traditions in order to come to a better understanding of the ways in which people in South Asia have found meaning and purpose in their lives through religion over several millennia. India (by which we mean not just the present-day nation-state of India but the cultural complex of South Asian civilization from Sri Lanka to Tibet and from Afghanistan to Myanmar from 2500 BCE to the present) gave birth to the three great religious traditions which now blanket Asia: Hinduism in modern-day India, Nepal, and Indonesia; Theravada Buddhism in Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia and Laos; and Mahayana Buddhism in Tibet, China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. So, too, the religions of Jainism and Sikhism were born on Indian soil. And in the present day, the majority of the world's Muslims live in South Asia, thus making Islam a thoroughly 'Indian' religion by adoption. In this introductory class we concentrate on the practices and worldviews of Indian religions classical and modern.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
Arts and Humanities 1 course

REL 257

Hinduism

In this course students examine religious experience and expression in Hindu India in all of their diversity and regional variation with special emphasis on the contemporary persistence of traditional values and practices. Relevant historical background information is surveyed in order to help assess continuity and change in learned and vernacular Hindu religious practices with particular attention paid to the values that both influence and are displayed by them.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
Arts and Humanities 1 course

REL 258

Buddhism

Examines the development of Buddhist thought, scriptures, practices and institutions in India and the religion's spread to China and Japan.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
Arts and Humanities 1 course

REL 263

Religion in American Culture: Friend or Foe?

The class examines both historical and contemporary examples of the relationship between religion and culture in the United States in light of such questions as: In what ways has religion in the United States reflected the values of the larger culture? In what ways has it rejected those values? What happens when religious traditions conflict with or seek to convert one another? In what ways, apart from institutional settings such as churches and synagogues, have Americans found religious grounding for their lives? How does religious affiliation affect adherents' views of racial relationships, family life or capitalism? What myths undergird American identities?

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
Arts and Humanities 1 course

REL 267

Caribbean Religions and Culture

An exploration of the relationship between Caribbean religious traditions and culture in the development of Caribbean identity and nationhood. It focuses on how the major world religions were modified through the encounter between peoples of Amerindian, African, European and Asian descent. Further, it studies the impact of slavery, emigration, colonialism, and globalization on the emergence of indigenous Caribbean religious traditions (Vodun, Santeria, Rastafari).

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
Arts and Humanities 1 course

REL 269

Liberation Theology

An examination of the interaction between Western religious traditions and the foremost liberation movements: Third-World, black, gay and women's liberation.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
Arts and Humanities 1 course

REL 275

Religion and Film

This course uses major theories of religion in order to investigate religious themes and symbols in a number of contemporary films. In this course we use the screening of a dozen or so religiously evocative films in order to open up a discursive space within which we can think critically about ourselves and the time we live in. In order to do this we look at the ways in which powerful religious themes have been dealt within film. At times the religious themes addressed inmoves are overt and trandition-specific while at other times they are covert and universal. Throughout the course we interrogate filmic texts in order to understand the ways in which religious themes are dealth with through the cinematic medium. But we also allow the films to interrogate us! In this class we view the screening of the films as an opportunity for us to reflect upon the nature of religion as we try to come to a better understanding of its place within society and our own lives. The purpose of the course is twofold: first, students learn how to think critically about religion and its place as a social and cultual force in the contemporary world; second, they learn how to apply a critical attitude and critical tools to view films and other aspects of popular culture.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
Arts and Humanities 1 course

REL 281

Religion, Healing and Medicine

This course deals with the fact that religious traditions all over the world understand illness and disease as symptoms of spiritual defects. Additionally, many of these religious groups focus to varying degrees on therapeutic means of dealing with illness. This course considers cross-cultural contexts that include traditions of Asia, South America and the West.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
Arts and Humanities 1 course

REL 285

Wisdom and Parables of Jesus

This course studies the parables, as significant parts of the New Testament, within the framework of the biblical wisdom tradition, the prevailing consensus and contemporary approaches to parable interpretation including socio-historical criticism that interpret the parables in relationship to the context of Ancient Palestine. The course seeks to broaden students' understanding of the parables, and to identify the authority, interpretive possibilities, and legacy of the major parables in the formation of the Christian tradition.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
Arts and Humanities 1 course

REL 290

Topics in Religion

Topics such as religious phenomena, e.g., Millenialism, religious ethics and historical religious figures and movements. May be repeated for credit with different topics.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
1 course

REL 297

Religion and the Meaning of Life

The course explores the fundamental question whether life has meaning. The course poses the question and explores its relationship to religion as the human quest for meaning through reading and critical reflection on selected literature, and other related texts that illustrate the importance of meaning in the study of religion, and ways in which some of humankind's most important questions are grounded in religious sentiments. Texts include authors such as Karen Armstrong, Saint Augustine, Christina Baldwin, Viktor Frankl, Malcolm X, and Amy Tan.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
Arts and Humanities 1 course

REL 320

Genesis and Gender: Jewish, Christian and Muslim Readings

This course considers ways that interpretations of sacred texts influence religious perceptions of gender and social order. Christian readings of Genesis 1-3 are the main focus; yet attention is also given to understandings of Eve and Adam in Judaism and Islam. Interpretations of Genesis that historically and presently argue for the subordination of women to men forms a central theme of the course. A counter theme emerges as we consider alternative readings that have traditionally used Genesis 1-3 to argue for gender equality. We will also reflect on the ways in which a hierarchical reading of the text has served to legitimate the domination of groups such as African-American slaves. Texts range from the Gnostic gospels, Philo, the Qur'an, The Maelleus Maleficarum, Paradise Lost, The Bible Defense of Slavery, The Woman's Bible and "The Coming of Lilith."

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
Arts and Humanities 1 course

REL 340

Topics in Biblical Studies

A study of selected problems or current developments in relation to the Old and/or New Testaments. Topics may include history and myth in the Ancient Near East, the social world of the prophets, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the historical Jesus and hermeneutics. May be repeated for credit with different topics.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
1 course

REL 342

Jewish and Christian Origins

This course focuses on the history, literature, and religious communities in the period that defines the background and the emergence of Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism (400BCE-400CE). We deal with a vast array of ancient primary sources ranging from late biblical literature, Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, Dead Sea Scrolls, New Testament and early Christian texts, and the literature of Rabbinic Judaism. These texts allow us to discuss the formations and developments of communities such as the Jerusalem Priesthood, the Dead Sea Scrolls Community, the Pharisees, and the various communities of Early Christianity, Rabbinic Judaism, and Jewish-Christianity.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
Arts and Humanities 1 course

REL 350

Modern Christian Thought: From Liberalism to Liberation

Examines the ways in which Christian theology has responded to challenges presented by the modern world, particularly the Enlightenment. Considers the rise of 19th century liberalism, the development of historical critical approaches to scripture, and the search for the historical Jesus; post-World War I disillusionment and the neo-orthodox critique of liberalism; European theological responses to National Socialism; and the formation of gender, ethnic, racial and economic critiques of traditional Christianity that seek to present Christianity as a religion of liberation.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
Arts and Humanities 1 course

REL 352

Modern Islam

Examines the developments, issues, events and ideas that have shaped modern Muslim thought and societies. Special attention will be given to the meaning of modernity/modernization, the way it was first encountered by Muslims, and its material and intellectual impact on Muslim societies.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
Arts and Humanities 1 course

REL 354

Women and Gender in Islam

This course examines women and gender in the Islamic tradition and Muslim societies. Through a variety of written and visual sources, it treats 1.) the history of women in Islam, 2.) the impact of the tradition on women's lives and gender categories, and 3.) the efforts of modern Muslims to challenge traditional gender definitions and create a useable past.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
Arts and Humanities 1 course

REL 357

Modern Hinduism

In this course we examine the rise of Hindu modernity from the colonial period to the present day. Our main objective is to come to an understanding of the embedded nature of modern Hinduism within the historical matrices of culture, society, politics, and economics in India. Through the close reading of primary and secondary interpretive texts dealing with the transformation of religion in modern South Asia students learn how to apply the critical hermeneutical techniques specific to the discipline of the history of religions. At the same time they gain a better understanding of contemporary Hinduism as they learn about the challenges which Hindus have faced and negotiated in the modern period. By doing so students are able to understand more thoroughly the situation of religious belief and practice across the globe in the modern and post-modern periods.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
Arts and Humanities 1 course

REL 359

Religion in Modern Japanese Society

Examines religion within the context of Japanese society from the 17th to the 20th century. Attention given to the rise of Confucianism in the 17th century, the Shinto revival of the 18th century, Buddhism in early modern Japan, the appearance of the new religions, and the relationship of religion to modernization and nationalism. Prerequisite: an introductory course in the department, East Asian history or permission of the instructor.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
Arts and Humanities An introductory course in the department, East Asian history or permission of the instructor 1 course

REL 360

Bob Marley, Caribbean Religion and Culture

This course is a close study and analysis of the religious core and communicative rationality in Bob Marley's life and music. It develops the intersections between Caribbean religion and culture based on Marley's affiliation to Rastafari.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
Arts and Humanities 1 course

REL 370

Advanced Topics in Religion

Usually a category of religious phenomena, such as religious experience, mysticism, the nature of deities; or the role and status of persons; healing in religious traditions; sectarian groups; major thinkers or movements; or themes and approaches in the study of religion. May be repeated for credit with different topics.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
1 course

REL 375

Psychoanalytic Approaches to the Study of Religion

The purpose of this course is to investigate the use to which psychoanalytic frameworks have been put in the understanding of religious phenomena over the past 100 years or so. Although out-of-fashion as a therapeutic model in the early 21st century, psychoanalysis nevertheless continues to exert an influence on the academic study of religion from scholars who have found psychoanalytic theoretical insights to be particularly helpful in the interpretation of religious experience and behavior. In this course students read key texts in the development of psychoanalytic thought and evaluate the extent to which they both help and hinder our understanding of religious human beings.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
1 course

REL 479

Seminar in Religion

This class involves readings and discussion of theoretical issues concerning the study of religion, research methods and concentrated research on a topic in Religious Studies. It culminates in a major paper that will be presented to senior majors and department faculty. Prerequisite: major in religious studies and senior status. May not be taken pass/fail.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
Major in religious studies and senior status 1/2-1 course

REL 491

Independent Study in Religion

Directed studies in a selected field or fields of religion. May be repeated for credit with different topics.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
1/4-1 course