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Religion Courses

REL 1100 - Introduction to Religion

Goals: To examine both general theories about religion and autobiographical accounts of individual religious lives in an effort to define “religion,” to understand what it might mean to lead a religious life, to appreciate the various ways of being religious, and to explore the role of religion in society.

Content: A variety of religious traditions will be explored through various literary genres, autobiography in particular, as well as through films, field trips, and guest lecturers.

Taught: Every semester.

Credits: 4 credits

REL 1140 - Women and Religion

Goals: To introduce religious expressions of women and their role in religion; to analyze the roles religion plays in women’s lives; to explore ways women influence as well as rethink religious traditions and shape them.

Content: Cross-cultural examination of how religions function in women’s lives and the leadership roles women take in religion; analysis of gender structures in religion; and examination of such concepts as spirituality, community, authority, relationship, and images of the divine. The specific religious traditions and the cultural contexts of the women may vary in different years.

Taught: Alternate years.

Credits: 4 credits

REL 1200 - Survey of the Old Testament/ Hebrew Bible

Goals: To survey the Jewish Scriptures/Christian Old Testament in historical context, exploring both the material’s literary characteristics—such as narrative plot and theme, poetic form and rhetoric—and its key theological emphases—such as the concept of God and the mission and destiny of Israel.

Content: Samples from the three main portions of the Old Testament: Pentateuch, Prophets, and Writings (Psalms and wisdom literature).

Taught: Annually.

Credits: 4 credits

REL 1220 - The New Testament

Goals: To develop an acquaintance with the literary and theological characteristics of the New Testament, and to understand the process of its formation. A student should develop skill as an interpreter (exegete) of the biblical text.

Content: The literature of the New Testament, using the methods of historical-critical analysis, answering questions such as: By whom written? To whom written? When written? Meaning to authors and to the Christian community to whom they were/are addressed?

Taught: Annually.

Credits: 4 credits

REL 1300 - Introduction to Theology

Goals: To introduce the student to theological language and argument through critical examination of historical and contemporary thinkers as well as schools of thought.

Content: Close reading and discussion of theological texts that explore central Christian claims about the nature of God, Jesus Christ, creation, humanity, the church, sin, suffering, evil, and salvation. Special attention will be given to the role of gender as well as to Christianity relationship to other religious traditions.

Taught: Annually.

Credits: 4 credits

REL 1400 - Christian Ethics

Goals: To provoke reflection on, and understanding of, the basis, nature, content, and consequences of Christian moral thinking. To appreciate the variety of viewpoints of moral issues within the Christian tradition and their relation to the larger society.

Content: Close reading and discussion of various approaches to Christian ethics followed by analysis of selected moral issues such as war, euthanasia, abortion, homosexuality, and racism.

Taught: Annually.

Credits: 4 credits

REL 1500 - Introduction to Judaism

Goals: To introduce students to the Jewish world by putting them in touch with authentic Jewish texts, experiences, values, and insights, and by enabling them to compare Judaism with their own ways of living and believing.

Content: Analysis of the uniqueness and tragedy of Jewish history, issues of Jewish identity, the role of Jewish law in the life of the community.

Taught: Annually.

Credits: 4 credits

REL 1510 - Jewish Ethics

Goals: To study the nature of the good in Judaism; to analyze such contemporary issues as war and peace, individual responsibility, sexuality, women’s issues, and related topics.

Content: Historical context and authority, including Bible, Talmud, Responsa, and Codes; classic and modern religious literature; contemporary Jewish bioethics texts.

Taught: Alternate years.

Credits: 4 credits

REL 1520 - The World of Jesus

Goals: To understand the social, cultural, and political realities that comprised the world of Jesus, and to see him as an embodiment of that milieu.

Content: Movements in contemporary Judaism—Sadducees, Pharisees, Zealots, Essenes—as well as institutions like Temple, Torah, and Synagogue will be studied, along with the opportunities they presented to Jesus. Special emphasis will be placed on Jewish responses to Greek and Roman imperialism and culture, and to the ways in which these responses shaped Jesus’ environment.

Credits: 4 credits

REL 1560 - Islam

Goals: To gain an understanding of the history, texts, beliefs and practices of Islam. To explore the ways the commitment to the tradition is understood and expressed in the lives of Muslims from a variety of places and backgrounds. To gain an appreciation for both diversity and unity within the tradition.

Content: Close reading of portions of the Qur’an and other sacred writings, such as the Hadith; survey of the history of Islam; exploration of Islamic philosophy, law, art and literature. Special topics will include an examination of Sufism, the mystical tradition, and an analysis of contemporary issues relating to Islamic politics, the tension between tradition and modernization, and the growth of Islam in America. Teaching Methods: Lecture, small and large group discussion, videos; possible field trips and guest lectures.

Taught: Annually.

Credits: 4 credits

REL 1620 - Religions of East Asia

Goals: To provide an introduction to the religious traditions of China, Korea and Japan. To examine continuity and diversity within each tradition and among the various traditions. To explore how religious themes and values are expressed in texts, rituals, symbols, art and architecture.

Content: We will look at both the indigenous religions of each culture (e.g. Chinese Daoism, Korean Shamanism, Japanese Shinto) as well as those traditions that all share in common (Confucianism and Buddhism). We will discuss beliefs and practices, major thinkers and texts, historical contexts, institutional developments and popular religious movements. Topics include Chinese cosmology, Zen meditation, Korean Christianity, religion and Communism, and Confucian capitalism in contemporary East Asia.

Taught: Annually.

Credits: 4 credits

REL 1630 - Religions of South Asia

Goals: To provide an introduction the religious traditions of South Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh). To examine continuity and diversity within each tradition and among the various traditions. To explore how religious themes and values are expressed in texts, rituals, symbols, music, art and architecture.

Content: We will look at the Brahmanical, Jain, Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic and Sikh traditions. Topics will include yoga, renunciation, Hindu deities, caste and social structure, and women in Hinduism. The last part of the course will explore trends in the 19th and 20th century, during which the religious traditions of South Asia were connected with nationalism and the birth of modern India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. We will conclude by looking at the role that Hindu traditions, teachers and practices have played in modern America.

Taught: Annually.

Credits: 4 credits

REL 3150 - Religion and Literature

Goals: To show both how imaginative secular literature can be religious—e.g., communicate a religious vision, help shape one’s character and inform one’s deepest self-understanding, legitimate or de-legitimate social forms and practices—and how the study of such literature has become a key element in the field of religious studies.

Content: The specific topic and genre will vary from year to year. The focus may be plays, novels, short stories, poetry, or auto/biography. It may range in scope from an exhaustive study of a single literary work (e.g., Melville’s Moby Dick), to the works of a single author (e.g., Margaret Atwood, Jon Hassler, Flannery O’Connor), to a comparison of different authors (e.g., C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton, Dorothy Sayers and P. D. James). Or it may be thematically arranged: e.g., Jewish Stories of Wonder; The Poetry of Prayer (Donne, Herbert, Hopkins, Dickinson, Berryman); Love and the Novel: A Critique of Power; How We Die; Modern Apocalyptic Literature; or Living With the Land: An Ecology of Fiction.

Taught: Annually.

Credits: 4 credits

REL 3160 - SPIRITUAL MEMOIR

Goals: Spiritual memoir and autobiography are literary forms that go back thousands of years. In these testaments the writer links encounters with mystery, experiences of the sacred, and details unique to his or her individual life, with universal structures that cross time and traditions. Whether they are stories about trauma and healing, encounters with the holy, the sacred in the ordinary, or unsurpassed joy, the process of writing one’s spiritual journey can in itself be a transformational spiritual practice. Stories serve as containers that hold spiritual experiences when language about them in inadequate.

Content: In this class we look at literary texts that have been intentionally crafted as spiritual memoir. Readings may include: Among the Believers, An Islamic Journey, V.S. Naipaul; The Spiral Staircase, Karen Armstrong; The Winged Seed, Li Young Lee; Salvation on Sand Mountain, Dennis Covington; Proverbs of Ashes, Brock and Parker; Standing alone, Asma Nomani; Faith, Sharon Salzburg; The Jew in the Lotus, Roger Kamenetz; Seven Story Mountain, Thomas Merton; The Way to Rainy Mountain, Scott Momoday; Honey From the Stone, Chet Raymo.

Credits: 4

REL 3170 - Poetry and the Sacred

Goals: Since the beginning of time, poets have given voice to the longing for, and discovery of the sacred. Poetry has been called “the song of our species,” and “the supreme result of language,” “fires for the cold” and “ropes let down to the lost.” From the biblical poets’ mysticism and prophetic impulse to the Sufi, Rumi’s ghazals, Dante’s map of heaven and hell, the visions of Kashmiri poet Lalla, Hindu mystic Mirabai, to Jewish poet Yehuda Amichai, American Buddhist poets Gary Snyder and Jane Hirschfifeld, to Joy Harjo, Rainier Maria Rilke and others, poets stir us at the level of our essential self. Poetry preserves mysteries and helps us experience kinds of truth not available to the reasoning mind. Poets can leave us feeling we are in the presence of God.

Content: Texts for this course will include: Holy Fire, ed., Halpern; In Mad Love and War, Joy Harjo; The Poems of Nazim Hikmet; Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman, Final Harvest, Emily Dickinson, Mary Oliver’s Poetry Handbook, Burning Bright, ed., Hampl, and others.

Credits: 4

REL 3200 - Biblical Narrative: Old Testament/Hebrew Bible

Goals: To study in depth some portion of the narrative literature of the Jewish Scriptures/Christian Old Testament, with special attention to the issue of relevance posed by the antiquity of the texts, and to the issues posed by a sacred “literature-in-translation.” Emphasis will be given to developing close reading skills, a working acquaintance with critical methods of biblical studies, and intercultural competence.

Content: Course content may shift from year to year. It may focus on a large block of narrative, the Deuteronomic History (Joshua-2 Kings), for example, or on an individual book (e.g., Genesis), or on a piece of a book (e.g., the Jacob cycle). Alternatively, the course may adopt a thematic approach: e.g., “family, friend, and stranger,” “holy war and peace,” or yet other topics.

Taught: Alternate years.

Prerequisites: REL 1200 or REL 1220, or permission of the instructor.

Credits: 4 credits

REL 3210 - Biblical Poetry: Old Testament/Hebrew Bible

Goals: To study in depth a selection of the poetic literature of Jewish Scripture/Christian Old Testament with particular attention to poetic form, function, and transformative power. Students will learn to recognize interpretations embedded in translations, will develop close-reading skills, and will be challenged to deepen their vision of the world and open the self to transformation.

Content: Course content may vary from a sampling of psalms, prophetic oracles, and proverbial wisdom to a closer focus on a single book (e.g, Isaiah), or on a comparison-contrast of two books (e.g., Proverbs and Ecclesiastes), or on some specific theme (e.g., protest and praise).

Taught: Alternate years.

Prerequisite: One of the following: REL 1200, REL 1220, or permission of the instructor.

Credits: 4 credits


REL 3250 - Death and Dying

Goals: This course will examine death and dying from a range of perspectives and multiple methodologies.

Content: The texts we will read include a) philosophical and theological reflections on the meanings(s) of death, how we should live in the face of death, and the possibility and desirability of immortality; b) psychological analyses of death anxiety, grief, and mourning; c) anthropological and sociological examinations of death rituals, suicide, and institutions surrounding death; d) accounts from Confucian, Daoist, Buddhist, and Christian traditions about the nature of death and the after-life; and e) debates on controversial issues including euthanasia, war and pacifism, capital punishment and factory farming. We will also read literary treatments (short stories, poems, excerpts from novels) on many of these issues, and view films that focus on these topics.

Taught: Alternate years

Prerequisites: Any religion course

Credits: 4 credits

REL 3300 - Reformers and Revolutionaries in the Ancient and Medieval World

Goals: To explore the development primarily of Christian thought and practice in its relationship to culture from the first century B.C.E. through the medieval period.
 
Content: Persecution of the early church, formation of doctrine, Augustine and Constantinian Christianity, Monasticism, Mysticism and the medieval church, Martin Luther and the Reformation.

Taught: Alternate years.

Credits: 4 credits

REL 3310 - Reformers and Revolutionaries in the Modern World

Goals: To understand the persons and movements primarily within Christianity that contribute to an ever-evolving and reforming understanding of faith, faith-based organizations, and social change movements, especially as they relate to issues of race and gender, and to think broadly about the concepts of reform and revolution within a religious context.

Content: Protestant and Catholic Reformations, Enlightenment thinkers’ influence on religious thinkers and institutions, Christianity’s contribution to the creation of the concept of race, women and religion in the United States, and understanding the global development of Christianity in the twentieth century and beyond.

Taught: Alternate years.

Credits: 4 credits

REL 3320 - Philosophy of Religion

Crosslisted
Listed under Philosophy as PHIL 3320.

Credits: 4 credits

REL 3350 - Contemporary African-American Religious Thought

Goals: To understand how race in America—particularly the Black/White relationship—impacts religious thought in America; to encourage greater sensitivity to the ways in which religion is inextricably bound to culture, to politics, to economics, to American society as a whole.

Content: Pre-World War II to the present—from the non-violent, prophetic voices of Howard Thurman and Martin Luther King, Jr., through the turbulent late 1960s with Malcolm X and the rise of Black Power—the influence of the protest movements on the creation of Black Theology and subsequently, of womanist theology; and the more recent critiques of capitalism by Cornel West and others.

Taught: Annually.

Credits: 4 credits

REL 3370 - Prophets and Mystics

Goals: If we are to be equal to our times, we need both the disquieting wisdom of prophets, those truth tellers who rage against unspeakable inequities, and the hopeful reminder of the mystics, that underneath the broken surface of life there is a unity, and a hidden wholeness. Some mystics are also prophets, and some prophets mystics.

Content: In this course we will draw from a wide range of contemporary prophets, including: poets, writers, film makers, photographers, musicians as well as the ancient biblical prophets, Jeremiah, Isaiah and Jonah. Readings will include: The Open Spaces of Democracy, (Terry Tempest Williams) a biography of St. Francis of Assisi and Hildegard of Bingen; selections from Abraham Joshua Heschel’s The Prophets, Wendell Berry, Arundhati Roy and selected poems.

Credits: 4

REL 3390 - Christianity in an Age of Religious Diversity

Goals: this course will investigate recent attempts by Christian scholars and practitioners to address how to think about, interact and live with people of other traditions. Students will leave the course with a critical understanding of the promise and the challenge of working from within a religious tradition to forge avenues of understanding and build relationships across traditions.

Content: In an age of increasing religious diversity at the local, national, and international levels, it is imperative that religious traditions reflect on the following questions: How are we to think about the nature and meaning of religious diversity? What is the significance of my neighbor’s faith for mine? What does a commitment to my home tradition mean for how my community should relate to other religious communities that are now part of the fabric of life in our cities and neighborhoods? Taught in a seminar style, this course will explore these questions and more.

Credits: 4

REL 3400 - Contemporary Issues in Christian Ethics

Goals: To achieve a greater appreciation of the major approaches and sources utilized by contemporary Christian ethicists, and to apply that knowledge to in-depth research into one current ethical dilemma.
 
Content: The influence of scripture, philosophy, social, and natural science on the shape of Christian ethics in relationship to specific ethical issues such as sexuality, health care, politics, environment, economics.

Taught: Alternate years.

Credits: 4 credits

REL 3430 - Feminist/Womanist Theologies

Goals: To explore the traditional theological claims in light of feminist and womanist critiques and reformulations.

Content: Close reading and discussion of a variety of feminist and womanist theological works, especially focused on how gender, race, and class have affected religious language and imagery regarding God, Christ, power, sin, love, and redemption.

Taught: Alternate years.

Prerequisites: REL 1330 or REL 1400 or instructor permission.

Credits: 4 credits

REL 3570 - Religion, Culture, and the State

Crosslisted
Listed under Anthropology as ANTH 3570.

Credits: 4 credits


REL 3630 - Seminar in Buddhism

Goals: To engage in an in-depth study of the Buddhist tradition, focusing on its origin in India, its development in Southeast Asia, East Asia, and Tibet, and the spread of Buddhism to America. We will look at both continuity and diversity within Buddhism, examining the different forms the tradition takes in various cultures and at the threads that run through all of them.

Content: We will examine various facets of Buddhism—e.g. meditation, ritual, ethics, devotion—and different types of Buddhist lives—e.g. Monastic and lay, contemplative and activist. We will read both primary texts (e.g. Sutras) and modern secondary literature, and will examine Buddhist thought and practice at the “elite” level as well as the popular level. A number of sub-themes and questions will run through the course: How has each culture been shaped by Buddhism, and how has Buddhism been shaped by the various cultures? What has been the interaction of Buddhism with other aspects of culture, and with the sociopolitical sphere, in each country? Special topics include women in Buddhism, conceptions of Nirvana, the ethics of Karma, Buddhist-Christian Dialogue, and Buddhism in contemporary America.

Taught: Alternate years.

Recommended: Previous religion course.

Credits: 4 credits

REL 3900 - Junior Colloquium

Goals: The course will meet monthly to examine significant topics and developments pertinent to the formation, history, expression, and study of religion. It is designed to stimulate ideas for honors projects among junior majors in the class and to support the work of seniors who are undertaking honors projects.

Content: The idea of “service” as a religious concept will provide a unifying theme for the course, but monthly topics will depend on the interests of the student (or occasionally faculty person) who is presenting for the day.

Taught: Annually.

Required of majors: Two semesters of the junior and/or senior year, although more would be permitted.

Credits: 1 credit

REL 5750 - Senior Seminar

Goals: To examine the concept of religious vocation in the contemporary context.

Taught: Annually.

Prerequisites: Two 3000-level religion courses.

Credits: 2 credits

REL 5900 - Senior Colloquium

Goals: The course will meet monthly to examine significant topics and developments pertinent to the formation, history, expression, and study of religion. It is designed to stimulate ideas for honors projects among junior majors in the class and to support the work of seniors who are undertaking honors projects.

Content: The idea of “service” as a religious concept will provide a unifying theme for the course, but monthly topics will depend on the interests of the student (or occasionally faculty person) who is presenting for the day.

Taught: Annually.

Required of majors: Two semesters of the junior and/or senior year, although more would be permitted.

Credits: 1 credit