Religious Studies Courses

2014-15 Undergraduate Courses 

In a religious studies course, you will have the opportunity to explore the writings of ancient Christians, modern Sufis and some of today’s most notable and sometimes controversial religious thinkers. You might also visit a Buddhist temple or a mosque, interview a local priest, or work in a community social change agency. And remember: all our courses carry Core Curriculum Civilization credit.

Course descriptions

REL 110. Religion in a Global Context 4 sh
This course introduces students to the study of religion in its cultural and historical contexts and aims to familiarize students with the multi-faceted role of religion in the world including examination of social, economic, historical, political, and ethical factors.

REL 201.  Buddhist Traditions 4 sh
This course surveys the religious philosophy, practices and cultural developments of Buddhism from 6th century BCE India to present-day America.  In the course of this study we will examine Buddhist ideas about the nature of the self, existence, the basis of knowledge, the nature and path to salvation, psychology, ethics, aesthetics, gender, mind-body theory and non-violence issues.

REL 202. Hindu Traditions 4 sh
This course introduces students to Hindu religious traditions and traces their development from Vedic times to the present day. Special emphasis will be placed on the diversity of theological orientations that characterize classical and contemporary Hinduism, and which are articulated across a broad spectrum of textual traditions, ritual expressions, and social practices.

REL 203. Islamic Traditions 4 sh
This course introduces students to the scripture, doctrines, and practices of Islam in the context of Islam’s spread from the Middle East to every region of the modern world. Particular attention will be paid to such issues as communal authority, the Islamic world’s relations with the West, and the emergence of new Muslim communities in America and Europe in the 20th and 21st centuries.

REL 204. Christian Traditions 4 sh
This course will examine the life and thought of Christianity from its beginnings to the present day. Particular attention will be paid to the development of historical consciousness as well as to the impact that individuals can have on society and on history.

REL 205. Jewish Traditions 4 sh
This course traces the history of the Jewish community from its origins in ancient Israel to the present day, considering the evolution of its major ideas and practices as well as the diversity of Jewish cultures throughout the world. We will explore a range of classical and contemporary Jewish approaches to theology, ethics, ritual, gender, peoplehood, spirituality, authority, and relations with other communities.

REL 211. The Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) 4 sh
This course introduces students to the critical study of the Hebrew scriptures.  We will explore the ideas and practices of ancient Israel in light of the Near Eastern context in which the Bible developed, while also studying the traditions of ancient biblical interpretation that especially shaped Judaism and Christianity.  We will carefully and critically read the Bible's narratives, poems, proverbs, and law codes, giving particular attention to its diverse conceptions of justice, love, holiness, gender, nature, power and God.

REL 212. Introduction to the New Testament and Early Christian Literature 4 sh
In this course students approach the writings of early Christianity as literary and rhetorical responses to ancient social, political, and religious concerns. Students are introduced to the multi-faceted worlds surrounding the emerging Christian communities, as well as some of the realities created by these writings. In so doing, this course equips students with the tools for reading complex and ancient texts from a critical perspective.

REL 235. The Future of Human-Animal Relations
This course examines the complex interrelationships between humans and animals, particularly as they are governed by religious and ethical concerns. We will consider the imaginative role animals play in the construction and expression of value systems, alongside more practical and concrete issues such as animal rights, the environment, and the place of animals in human economies. Offered winter term.

REL 236. Religion and Racing 4 sh
This course investigates the role of religion in the cultural origins, history, and current state of stock car racing in American society. Topics include the relationship of religion and culture, political ideologies of the NASCAR subculture, the role of women and minorities, the practices of religious ministries, and the religious implications of racing fans’ fascination with speed, danger and death. Offered winter/summer terms.

REL 237 Religion and Rock’n’Roll
This course explores the history of rock music in the US, its cultural roots and current ramifications, and its implicit ideologies of utopia, revolution, and anesthesia. Students will be expected to gain a basic understanding of the relationship of religion and culture, to be conversant with the role of popular music as a form of cultural self-identity and communication, and to understand key moments and movements in the evolution of rock music in the context of recent American history. Offered winter/summer terms.

REL 238. Religion and Film 4 sh
This course looks at the importance of religious thought in world cinema. It considers a wide variety of films – from independent and foreign films to mainstream Hollywood blockbusters - that are either overtly religious or that have religious themes at their core. Background readings on film theory and select world religions will help students critically assess the form and content of each film. Offered winter and summer.

REL 239. Judaism and the Environment 4 sh
This course analyzes historical and contemporary teachings of the Jewish tradition regarding animals and the natural world.  We will study the stories of creation in the Bible and in the Jewish imagination; the treatment of nature in Jewish law, philosophy and mysticism; traditional prohibitions on causing suffering to animals, wasting natural resources, and various forms of pollution; and responses to current environmental crises among contemporary American and Israeli Jews. Offered winter.

REL 292. Approaches to the Study of Religion 4 sh
This course is designed to orient students in religious studies to the broader landscape of the field. In the process, students will be challenged to examine and compare a variety of methodological approaches to the study of religion. This course will also train students in advanced research and writing in the field. Prerequisites: REL 110. Offered fall term.

REL 324. Theodicy: The Problem of Evil in Ancient Jewish and Christian Literature 4 sh
This course examines the ways in which ancient Jewish and Christian communities describe, explain and struggle with the issue of evil or “why bad things happen to good people.” Attention is given to different types of literary responses (prophetic, wisdom, historical, apocalyptic, and martyrdom accounts). The course also attends to modern appropriations of these ancient traditions.

REL 325. The Apocalyptic Imagination, Ancient and Modern 4 sh
This course examines the enduring and widespread fascination “apocalypse,” studying the ancient genre of apocalyptic literature as a response to specific historical and social concerns and modern interpretations of the ancient.  While a variety of ancient and modern texts will be read within this course, special attention will be given to the Book of Revelation as a political-religious response to the Roman Empire.

REL 326. Sex Lives of Saints: Sex, Gender and Family in Early Christianity 4 sh
Early Christian writings and traditions have exercised enormous influence upon modern views of gender (masculinity and femininity), sex and family. In this course we explore how these ideas are shaped in relation to the Jewish and Roman contexts of early Christianity. Students will engage a variety of ancient primary sources, including select New Testament writings (e.g. the letters of Paul, Revelation) and early Christian saints’ lives.

REL 327. Messiahs, Martyrs and Memory 4 sh
This course examines ancient Jewish and Christian messianic movements and the ways these traditions inspire the practice and idealization of martyrdom. In addition to exploring the ancient practice of memorializing through death, this course addresses some of the ways messianic figures and martyrs are remembered and memorialized in modern contexts.

REL 332. Religion and Science 4 sh
This course exposes students to one of the perennial controversies of the Enlightenment - how do we create knowledge? Moving from antiquity to contemporary times this class will critically explore how both religion and science develop their models of understanding and why this has been such a contested area.

REL 337. Interrogating God: Humanity's Search for Meaning 4 sh 
This course examines the extensive discussions that are taking place in the global community concerning humankind's relationship to the sacred.  From the rise of religious violence to fundamentalism and issues such as language, theodicy, postmodernity and the social construction or religion, students will explore the field of theology and the human search for meaning.

REL 339. God and Politics 4 sh
This class explores the connection between political and religious communities. Some of the topics covered are the role of fundamentalism and its contemporary impact, the nature of historical consciousness and the mythic narratives it creates, and the separation of church and state. While rooted in American culture, this class will take a global perspective in order to understand such things as religious violence and the absolutist claims of some religious communities. 

REL 343. Women, Violence and Resistance 4 sh
This course takes a serious look at a wide variety of forms of violence against women.  Topics include domestic violence, prostitution, gang rape, economic violence, military violence, cultural violence and incest.  Particular attention will be paid to religious justifications for violence against women; and the role that faith communities have played in both condoning and resisting violence.

REL 344. Christianity and Social Justice 4 sh
This course will focus on the religious foundations of social justice within the Christian tradition.  Emphasis will be placed on employing a structural analysis of social problems that includes the role of religion and religious communities in both perpetrating and healing social injustice.

REL 348. Environmental Ethics 4 sh 
In an exploration of the moral dimensions of the environmental crisis, students examine the roles which religious and philosophical ethics play in providing frameworks for understanding environmental issues and developing guidelines for addressing specific contemporary problems. Cross-listed with PHL 348.

REL 356. Chinese “Religions” from Confucius to Mao 4 sh
Chinese "religious" thought and practice can include philosophy, political science, ethics, aesthetics, physical education, medicine and mysticism. This course broadens the category of "religion" as we investigate traditions such as Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism, Neo-Confucianism, Islam, Christianity and/or popular religion in China. Less familiar ideologies and a critical assessment of Communist texts, images and state rituals will also be considered.

REL 357. Sages and Samurai: Religion in the Japanese Experience 4 sh
This course explores the historical and contemporary role of religion in Japan. It pays particular attention to primary texts in translation and to the visual and ritual expressions of Shintoism, Buddhism, Neo-Confucianism, Christianity and folk religion. In addition, it emphasizes these as vibrant, lived traditions in Japan whose continued relevance can be discerned today.

REL 358. Sites and Rites: Sacred Space and Ritual in World Religions 4 sh
This course explores how real and ideal spaces reflect and shape our perceptions of the sacred. It investigates how geometric principles, utopian ideals, local culture, ritual activities and political agendas reconstruct cosmic order and complicate meaning at some of the world’s most aweinspiring - and historically contested - places. A final segment on pilgrimage completes the course.

REL 360. Hindu Goddesses: From Myths to Movies 4 sh
This course introduces several of the most important Hindu goddesses and considers how they are represented, characterized, and embodied in textual, performance, and ritual traditions. Students in this course will analyze the theologies, mythologies, and poetry connected with particular goddesses, and will explore how individual goddesses are approached in Hindu worship, ritual practice, and festival celebrations.

REL 361. Women, Religion, and Ethnography 4 sh
This course introduces students to contemporary women’s religious lives, ritual performances, and bodily practices across several traditions. Because they foreground the everyday, lived religious experiences of women and offer us access to women’s own voices and perspectives, our primary sources will be ethnographic studies.

REL 362. Heroes, Saints, and Demons: Hindu Textual Traditions 4 sh
This course examines a selection of written, oral and performed texts associated with Hindu traditions in their various social, historical and religious contexts. In addition to primary texts drawn from sources such as the Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas, Hindu epics, and the corpus of Hindu devotional poetry, we will analyze ritual, dance, and artistic performance traditions as well as modern oral narratives.

REL 363. Women in Islam: Veneration, Veils, and Voices 4 sh
This course explores Muslim women's religious roles, participation and practices throughout the history of Islam and across a variety of cultural contexts. Attention will be paid to the diversity of interpretations concerning textual prescriptions about women in Islam and to women’s own articulations about their religious identities, and to how the ways that women have negotiated their everyday religious lives are intimately related to social location, economic considerations, and political developments.

REL 364. War, Women and Infidels: The Quran and Islamic Tradition 4 sh
This course is an introduction to the Quran and its reception in Muslim thought, culture, and religiosity. Students become familiar with the traditional Muslim account of the Quran’s origins, the scripture’s major concepts and concerns, dominant trends in its historical and modern interpretation, and various scholarly debates over and approaches to the work.

REL 365. Jihad in Historical and Global Perspective 4 sh
This course examines the origins of jihad in early Islamic history; debates over its significance and legitimacy in classical Islamic culture; its resurgence in early modern revivalist and anticolonial struggles; and its role as a significant and evolving aspect of contemporary global politics.

REL 366. Jews and Muslims: Symbiosis, Cooperation, and Conflict 4 sh
This course examines the so-called “symbiosis” between Jews and Muslims in the Middle East in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, focusing on questions of identity, community, and crosscultural exchange and communication. These questions are then explored in their continuing relevance from the early modern period to the present day along with their implications for contemporary Jewish-Muslim relations.

REL 367.  Religion and Empire in Late Antiquity 4 sh
This course examines the complex interrelationships between empire and religion in Late Antiquity. We explore how Judaism, Christianity, and Islam developed in this era, taking on their definitive shapes and becoming “world religions.” We focus on the intertwined themes of belief, authority, community, and identity as we proceed through the eras of Greek, Roman, Persian, and Arab-Islamic dominion in the Near East and Mediterranean.

REL 382. Jewish Ethics 4 sh
This course explores traditional and contemporary Jewish approaches to ethics. Central topics will include questions regarding love and justice, sin and repentance, respect for the human body, and the relationship between ethics and law. We will examine how understandings of Jewish ethics have been shaped by modernity, giving special attention to American Judaism; and we will consider how classical Jewish sources might speak to a range of contemporary moral and political issues.

REL 383. Jewish Philosophy and Mysticism: Guiding the Perplexed 4 sh
This course focuses on the efforts of medieval Jews to interpret traditional Jewish ideas, narratives and practices in light of the ideas of ancient Greek philosophy.  Giving particular focus to Maimonides’ Guide of the Perplexed, we will explore Jewish philosophical visions of the good life and the good political community, of mystical longing for God, and of the secrets allegedly contained within the Torah’s narratives and commandments.  We will also consider the passionate opposition to the philosophical enterprise, especially from the medieval Jewish tradition known as Kabbalah, which offered its own radical vision of the secrets of the Torah.

REL 384. Modern Jewish Thought 4 sh
This course offers a historical and philosophical investigation of modern Jewish thought, considering the approaches of major Jewish thinkers from a range of movements and approaches. We will explore perspectives on topics including the meaning of Judaism, the relationship between the Jewish people and other nations, the authority of tradition, the nature of moral goodness, and the nature of God.

REL 460-69.  Special Topics 4 sh
These courses allow individual faculty members to teach courses on timely topics that are of special interest to students or on topics that are related to faculty research projects that may be of interest to students. Recent offerings include: Christianity, Globalization and Empire; Reading the Bible from the Margins; Comparative Mysticism; and Theology from the Margins. 

REL 491.  Independent Study 1-4 sh
Upper-class majors (or others by instructor consent) may complete individual study in an area of special interest with the guidance of a member of the department. Maximum six semester hours credit. 

REL 492  Senior Seminar 4 sh
In this capstone course, students focus on four areas of inquiry that are of contemporary interest in the field of Religious Studies while also completing a major research project.  Prerequisite:  REL 292.  Required of all majors during senior year.

REL 499.  Research 1-4 sh
This course offers the individual student an opportunity to pursue a research project with a selected faculty mentor. Prerequisite: Permission of instructor. 

This page was updated July 2, 2014.