Religion Curriculum

Our students must complete seven contracts, three Independent Study Projects and a senior thesis project to graduate. Contracts consist of three to five academic activities — courses, tutorials, internships, independent reading projects, etc. — that will develop your personal educational goals during a semester.

Here’s a list of recent course offerings in Religion:

American Catholicism
The American branch of the Roman Catholic Church is arguably the most innovative and the most influential community within this world-wide church. We will investigate the roots of the so-called "Immigrant Church" with an eye to articulating its enduring qualities. Turning to the effect of Vatican II and various papal encyclicals on the American Roman Catholic Church, we will examine the changes in this religious community and its future prospects.

The Ancient Novel: Pagan, Jewish, Christian
This team-taught class is a study of the development, nature, and purpose of extended prose fiction in antiquity, which will reflect the concerns of both Classics and of Early Judaism and Christianity. We will do close readings of a wide variety of primary sources, considering the social, political, and religious backgrounds to the works, and the nature of ancient texts, authors and readers. We will also explore some of these themes in the secondary literature. Readings include Greek and Roman novels such as Chariton's Chaereas and Callirhoe, Achilles Tatius' Leucippe and Clitophon, Longus' Daphnis and Chloe, Petronius' Satyrica, and Apuleius' Metamorphoses; narratives found in canonical Jewish and/or Christian Scriptures such as Esther, Daniel/Susannah, Maccabees, Judith, and short selections from the New Testament; and extracanonical works including Apocryphal Acts, Joseph and Aseneth, and Martyrdom accounts. Students will write several short explorations and two papers.

Asian Religions
Asia produced a wide variety of religious traditions that profoundly influenced the development of Asian cultures. This course will survey this rich diversity with an emphasis on the interactions between the specific religions and their cultural contexts. Among the themes we will consider are: the relationship between an individual's religious and societal obligations; the role of religion in the legitimation of secular authority; transcendent religious ideals and the realities of human existence; religion in Asian arts and sciences.

Asian Religions in America
Asian religions have been practiced in America for more than a century; in recent years they have been adopted by increasing numbers of non-Asian Americans. This course examines Asian religions in America, with a focus on Buddhism and the ISKCON movement. We will begin with an historical overview of the transmission of Asian religions to the United States, and then study the characteristics of specific religious traditions as they are currently practiced by immigrant communities and non-Asian converts. This course has as prerequisite previous classes in Buddhism and Hinduism.

Buddhism began as a small ascetic movement in India, but it eventually became the dominant religion of Southeast Asia, China, Japan, and Tibet. This course will examine how and why this occurred. Our main goal will be a broad understanding of the fundamental philosophies, beliefs, and practices of Buddhism within the context of Asian history and culture.

Christian Scriptures
This course will provide a survey of the various texts that have been read as Christian Scriptures. We will consider some of the individual and communal perspectives that these writings imply. Readings will include New Testament, the so-called Apocryphal literature as well as texts known only from the Nag Hamadi discoveries. We will discuss reoccurring themes and address issues such as how various texts came to be included within a "canon" while others were excluded. Claims to orthodoxy as opposed to heresy will reveal some of what is at stake within competing interpretations of scriptures.

Cultural History of Tibet
The Tibetans entered the stage of world history as an aggressive, warlike people who established a small empire in Inner Asia. Contact with Buddhism resulted in a radical rechanneling of Tibetan energies toward religion, which eventually culminated in the rise of a theocratic government headed by the Dalai Lamas. In 1949 the communist People's Republic of China invaded Tibet, and Tibet is currently occupied by China. This course presents an overview of the historical development of Tibetan culture from the prehistoric period to the present, with a look at Western representations of Tibet.

Daoism is the indigenous Chinese religion that emphasizes a spontaneous, intuitive approach to the dao (the "Way") that lies beneath being and non-being. Buddhist ideas and meditation techniques imported from India interacted with Daoism, giving rise to the Chinese Ch'an school of Buddhism. Ch'an was in turn transmitted to Japan, where it is known as Zen. We will examine the history, theory, and practice of these three traditions, and their impact on Chinese and Japanese philosophy, literature, and art.

Human Freedom in Modern Christian Thought
Designed primarily for those already concentrating in Religion, this discussion-based course will survey the several senses in which human freedom has been a problematic issue within modern Christian thought. Against the background of the theme of the “bondage of the will” in Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and others, emerging modern conceptions of freedom have created a series of provocative challenges for theologians. The course will include consideration of the theological strategy of driving freedom “inward,” as a hidden part of the self, and the more recent insistence that authentic freedom must be social and political in nature, as in contemporary liberation theology. In addition, the course will consider thinkers who maintain that religious belief and authentic freedom are simply incompatible. Enrollment limited to twenty students; permission of the instructor required.

Indian Buddhist Thought
Indian Buddhist philosophers produced a vast amount of speculative thought that is categorized under the heading of four schools. In their differing accounts of what exists and how we know it, the schools include the 'realist' Vaibhasikas, the 'idealist' Yogacaras, and the 'nominalist' Madhyamikas. Because Buddhist philosophy is intimately related to soteriology, the schools also vary in their descriptions of spiritual bondage, the path, and liberation. This course will survey fifteen hundred years of Indian Buddhist formal philosophy, with a focus on several of the classic texts. Prerequisite: Previous college coursework in Buddhism, e.g.: "Buddhism," "Asian Religions," "Cultural History of Tibet."

Introduction to American Religious History
This course is an introduction to the history of religion in the United States. It is organized thematically into five narrative sections that cover a general range of religious traditions in the United States, including Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism. In each section, we will trace scholarly attempts to narrate the history of religion in the United States alongside primary sources. We will address such topics as disestablishment and democratization, immigration, race and ethnicity, social reform, urban religious life, revivals and awakenings, and religious diversity.

Introduction to Islamic Civilization
This course is an introduction to the study of the origins and nature of Islam as a religious and cultural force. We will give special attention to its history, its founder, its sacred literature, its theological diversity, its cultural movements, its communities, and its representation. The course is divided into five sections. First, we begin by asking how western scholars approach the study of Islam. Second, we discuss the sacred sources of Islamic tradition. Third, we survey key themes of religion and culture in early Islamic civilization. Fourth, we trace cultural Islamic movements in transnational contexts, such as global Hajj. This section also includes American encounters with Islam in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, from the World’s Parliament of Religions in 1893 to the Oprah Winfrey show in 2001. Fifth, we read about particular Islamic communities in the United States. In this section, we emphasize cultural encounters with both America and modernity, two discursive categories critical to the construction of Muslim identities in the twenty-first century.

Introduction to the Study of Religion
This course is an introduction to the study of the forms, functions, and meanings of religious practices as observed in human cultures. Emphasizing the relationship between ritual practice, place, and sacred space, we will examine how scholars have approached the study of religion. It will quickly become clear that few scholars agree on the best methods for study. Nor do they agree on a definition for the subject of study, “religion.” This course will encourage you to define your subject of study and construct your own methods of theoretical analysis. To help you with this task, we will work together on specific examples of religious practices in particular places.

Jewish Mysticism
Much recent interest in “Jewish mysticism” stems from a desire for “spirituality” often absent in the modern world. But when is such an excursion into Jewish esoteric literature an exploration of “received wisdom,” or kabbalah, and when does it mask a rejection of traditional Jewish legalistic texts as too Jewish? When do such investigations explore what these texts say, and when do they recreate what one might like them to say? In this course we will look at texts that detail visions of God, heavenly ascensions, and efficacious practices. We will consider the nature of religious experience, and how we find these experiences transmitted. We will also explore the history, social setting, and construction of gender of those who have authored and read these texts, whether in late antiquity in Israel, in medieval Spain or in modern day Hollywood. On the way we will have tremendous opportunities to investigate the nature of Judaism, of religion and religious studies.

Jewish Scriptures
This course will offer an overview of authoritative sources within early Judaism. The first half of the course will consider the Torah, Prophets and Writings that make up the Jewish Bible as it is known today. The second half will examine various interpretative traditions within the Greco-Roman world, only some of which will themselves become recognized as sacred texts. Students will read allegorical works by Philo, historical writings by Josephus, pesher fragments found at the Dead Sea, and a sampling of Talmudic literature. Discussion will focus upon understanding these writings within the context of diverse early Jewish communities.

Judaism and Ecology
Over time Judaism has developed certain notions about protecting the environment and respecting natural resources. This course will trace these ideas from the Bible until today, focusing on the creation of both legal and conceptual traditions. Students will explore a variety of early rabbinic, medieval and modern texts. In addition, readings and discussion will consider the special challenges and rewards of constructing a dialogue between ancient traditions and modern concerns.

Kierkegaard and Tillich
Soren Kierkegaard, the grandfather of existentialism, was the most intriguing philosopher-theologian of the nineteenth century. Reacting against Hegel and his followers, he emphasized the existing individual and the arationality of religion. As an intellectual descendant of Kierkegaard, Tillich pursued Kierkegaard's existentialist program as posing the existing individual's concerns; but he found his theological answers within a framework of psychology and a classically oriented philosophy. Readings will include several of the two thinkers' major works.

Medieval Philosophy and Religious Thought
See description under Philosophy

Modern Christian Theology: First Year Seminar
Designed for first year students, this seminar will survey developments in Christian theology from the Enlightenment to the present, with an emphasis on the twentieth century. During this period, Christian theologians faced an array of challenges to traditional Christian belief, due especially to developments in natural science and the historical criticism of the Bible. Progressive Christian theology during this period would thus become remarkably inventive in its efforts to restate or revise what Christianity might mean, in light of these challenges. Readings will include such authors as Hume, Kant, Kierkegaard, Barth, Bultmann, and Tillich. Biweekly short papers and one longer paper. This seminar is limited to first time in college students, with enrollment limited to fifteen.

Beginning in classical antiquity "the West" has defined itself in part in opposition to "the East," but today ever increasing economic, political, and cultural interdependence force a reconsideration of the relationships between Asia and the West. This seminar will focus on Western perceptions and representations of Asians—with a glance at Asian perceptions of the West—and the effects these have on cross-cultural understanding. The first part of the seminar will critique Edward Said's thesis in Orientalism and examine Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit’s treatment of Occidentalism; the second part will examine Western representations of India and Tibet; the remainder of the term will be devoted to student presentations of research projects. Previous study of Asia is a prerequisite for this course.

Subtitled “From Greco-Roman Meal to the establishment of a Seder/Order,” this module course will provide an opportunity for students of Jewish Scriptures and/or Christian Scriptures to build upon their earlier studies. We will look particularly at new scholarship concerning Second Temple Passover practice, the meal context, and the co-emergence of Jewish and Christian liturgical material. We will use secondary sources as guides to explorations of a number of primary texts including Bible, Mishnah and the Passover Hagaddah. In addition to group explorations, each student will write and present a final research paper. Prerequisite: Jewish Scriptures, Christian Scriptures or consent of instructor.

The Problem of Evil
If God exists and is omnipotent, omniscient, and wholly good, why is there evil? This is the theological problem of evil, and many people have used it to argue that God does not exist. Other people have offered solutions (theodicies) to the problem. We will examine the problem and various proposed solutions to it. In this examination, we will have to pay particular attention to the nature of the divine attributes as well as the burdens of proof that fall on both those who accept the argument and those who dismiss it.

Religion in the American South
This course is an introduction to basic thinking about cultural difference and the study of religion in the American South. The course encourages you to examine the ways social paradigms shape how we act, think, and imagine ourselves in this effusively religious region called the South. We will tackle some of the myths, tensions, and ironies of religious life in the South. For example, is it true that evangelical Christians in the south have been opposed to modernity and modern things? Or, in the antebellum South, how did white southern Protestants use the Bible to defend slavery? In addition to these questions, we will also address the increasing cultural and religious diversity in the South. The region is a much more diverse place today than it was ten or twenty years ago. How are new immigrants reshaping the cultural and religious landscape of the South? And how are Protestants, long entrenched in the region, reacting to these changes? Using social theory together with selected histories of regional religious practices, we will try to answer these kinds of questions while developing informed interpretations of cultural diversity in the American South.

Religious Themes In Literature
Writers often discuss the nature of religion in their writings by dealing with religious characters, problems, or issues. For some, this discussion is peripheral to their interests; for others, the discussion is a principal fascination. The format of the short story or the novel allows the writer to portray religious issues in a variety of ways and from a variety of points of view, and this is often part of the writer’s artistic achievement. In the course we will examine religious themes in some of the works of such authors as Dostoyevsky, Camus, Flannery O’Connor, John Updike, and Walter Percy.

Ritual Theory
Rites exist at the heart of religion. Yet how does one study ritual? The term 'ritual' comes into being in the modern world. A variety of theories use the word 'ritual' in order to insinuate competing value judgments about the relationship of 'ritual' and 'belief.' Together we will examine ideas about sacrifice, symbolic actions, rites of passage and practice. Experience will be an important tool for reflecting upon the strengths and weaknesses of competing theoretical frameworks. We will research and explore the hidden assumptions and conceptual insights of competing models of practice.

Vajrayana Buddhism
Vajrayana Buddhism appeared in India within the Mahayana tradition about five hundred C.E., and it eventually spread throughout Asia. We will examine the doctrines, practices and history of this movement by reading scholarly studies and primary sources in translation. This is an advanced level course with prior academic study of Buddhism (e.g., my "Buddhism" or "Asian Religions" courses) as a prerequisite.

Varieties of Judaism in the Modern World
This course will consider modern Jewish movements and currents in Jewish thought. We will explore the Jewish religious identities that developed in Europe, America and Israel, including Reform, Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Hasidic and others. In addition we will trace Zionism and other explorations of Jewish ethnicity and culture that are not necessarily defined in religious terms. Additional explorations of Jewish philosophy, mysticism, and activism will allow us to pursue overlapping and competing ideas within these various streams.

Women and Religion*
Do the religious lives of women differ from those of men? And if so, in what ways? This course will consider some of the roles filled by women within Christianity, Judaism and Islam as well as within certain Goddess traditions. We will examine historical exclusions and inclusions, focusing especially on the insights provided by contemporary challenges and innovations. Theoretical models will help us to understand diverse beliefs and practices and to evaluate the usefulness of various definitions of “religion.”

For detailed requirements, check out our General Catalog and the Religion Academic Learning Compact.

For a complete list of courses, click here.

[Did you know?]

What do the top one percent of earners in the U.S. major in? According to the Census Bureau’s 2010 American Community Survey, the majors that give you the best chance of reaching the one percent are pre-med, economics, biochemistry, zoology, biology and yes, rounding out the top 20, philosophy and religious studies!

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