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(For 2016–2017 academic year)

Professors Frank, Hicks, Kepnes (Chair), Martin, Sindima, Vecsey
Associate Professors Cushing
Assistant Professors Musa, Reinbold, Spevack, Sullivan
Visiting Assistant Professor Bordeaux
Senior Lecturer Stahlberg

The Department of Religion at Colgate offers a program of study of major religious traditions and introduces students to the enduring questions of human life. The program challenges students to examine the nature and expression of religiousness, and to think critically about rituals, practices, and theories of religion. Making reflective use of the full variety of liberal arts methods, the study of religion is necessarily interdisciplinary; it engages related issues in philosophy, ethics, society, spirituality, science, gender, sexuality, arts, and politics. The department offers a variety of courses regarding diverse African, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Islamic, Jewish, and Native American traditions and scriptures. Recognizing the multiple ways in which religion is embedded within human history and cultures, the department also offers focused courses on issues of historic and contemporary importance, such as religion and the environment, women, genocide, health and healing, and the relations among global peoples of faith. Religion’s courses offer training in a unique combination of skills, including close textual analysis, direct observation, critical thinking, and cross-cultural understanding.

A major or minor in religion may also serve as a natural complement to other majors. Students in the arts and humanities, for instance, will find that the study of religious texts and worlds affords them greater insight into much literature and visual art. Some students may seek to make stronger interdisciplinary connections. In consultation with an adviser, students may elect to create a track through the religion major or minor that brings their work in religion into dialogue with their work in other departments or programs. Possible tracks include: 

Religion, Politics, and Law  

The department offers courses that examine the intersection of religion and politics in today’s world and historically, explore the legal frameworks of a variety of religious traditions, and ask students to think about the role of ethics and morality in public life. Students interested in history, international relations, peace and conflict studies, or political science will find that a minor or second major in religion allows them a better understanding of many of the longstanding ideological conflicts that have shaped the contemporary world.

Religion and Health  

Students interested in the natural sciences who intend to enter the fields of medicine and health sciences will find that courses in religion equip them to evaluate the moral complexity of current scientific advances. A host of religion courses probe questions that are central to medicine and health: questions of body and soul, psychic states and mindfulness, sex and sexuality, life and death. These are treated in a variety of religious traditions, offering the pre-med student a comparative approach to health and healing.

The success of our graduates indicates that a major in religion provides excellent preparation for a number of careers, including education, government, journalism, finance, law, social work, and professional service in non-profit organizations and religious institutions.

Major in Religion  

A major in religion consists of ten courses, a minimum of eight of which must be departmental courses. Only one of the total number of courses may be an independent study. Of these ten courses, three are normally required as follows:

  1. RELG 101, The World’s Religions;
  2. RELG 352, Theory and Method in the Study of Religion;
  3. At least one 400-level seminar
  4. Seven electives, at least two of which must be at the 300 or 400 level.

In consultation with the student’s adviser and the department chair, a student may elect to count up to two Colgate courses from outside the program in religion for religion major credit. These courses may be in the study of a language, provided that the student has planned these courses in advance and in consultation with his or her adviser and the department chair. A student who has received approval from the registrar to transfer credit for a language course not taught at Colgate (e.g., Biblical Hebrew, Hindi, Sanskrit), may petition the chair for the approved transfer credit to count toward the major. Relevance to the student’s program of study in religion must be demonstrated. Required Core courses cannot be counted toward religion requirements. For graduation, the religion department requires a minimum GPA of 2.00 in courses chosen to count toward the major/minor.

Capstone Experience  

Building upon the knowledge gained in departmental courses, in consultation with a faculty adviser, majors will create an opportunity to convey publicly something of what they have learned while in the program. Before the end of the senior year, each major — individually or in collaboration with other majors — will make a presentation beyond the classroom: a public lecture, an exhibition, a conference paper, an op-ed essay, and so forth. This ungraded presentation, which is required of all students, will likely come out of a course (e.g., the senior seminar), but may synthesize insights gained from several courses. An honors thesis (and defense) satisfies this requirement. 

Minor in Religion  

A minor in religion consists of five courses in religion. Normally, no more than three courses at the 100 or 200 levels are permitted. The structure of the minor can be designed in consultation with the student’s adviser. As RELG 101, The World’s Religions provides an excellent introduction to the study of religion; students are encouraged to take it in their first two years. The department strongly recommends that students undertaking the minor also take RELG 352, Theory and Method in the Study of Religion.

Major in Philosophy and Religion

A major in philosophy and religion consists of ten courses, eleven if seeking honors. Five of these must be in philosophy, and five must be in religion. No more than three of these courses may be at the 100 or 200 level. Only one of the ten courses may be an independent study, or two if seeking honors. Of these ten courses, three are normally required as follows:

  1. PHIL 101, Introduction to Philosophical Problems; or PHIL 111, Ethics; or PHIL 226, Philosophy of Religion; or RELG 101, The World’s Religions, as an entry to the major;
  2. RELG 352, Theory and Method in the Study of Religion;
  3. At least one 400-level seminar in either philosophy or religion, considered a capstone of the major.

At least five courses should be focused upon a particular area of interest, which a student enters into with a plan to follow through in an integrated manner. This approach is intended to give students several options while also giving them direction, so that the joint major brings disciplinary integrity to interdisciplinary study.

The department does not offer a minor in philosophy and religion.

Honors in Religion or in Philosophy and Religion  

All candidates for honors in religion and those majors in philosophy and religion who wish to write on a religious theme are required to take an advanced course in religion in the fall of the senior year. At the end of the course, the faculty member may recommend that a student’s paper be reworked into an honors thesis.

In the spring of the senior year, candidates for honors normally take an independent study (RELG 490) with their honors adviser. The honors thesis — a substantial piece of research, analysis, or critique — is turned in to the adviser several weeks before the end of the term. If the adviser decides that the thesis can stand for honors, the honors candidate meets during exam week with his or her adviser and two other faculty readers and fields questions: the honors defense. Ideally the question and answer session becomes a forum for intellectual exchange between the student writer and the faculty readers. A student is awarded honors on the basis of both the quality of the written thesis and the conduct of the honors defense. No student can be awarded honors, however, who does not have at least a GPA of 3.40 in his or her major.


See “Honors and Awards: Religion” in Chapter VI.

Advanced Placement

Advanced Placement cannot be presumed since examinations in this area are not given.

Transfer Credit  

Transfer credit for graduation requirements may be awarded by the registrar. Transfer of credit toward major or minor requirements requires prior written permission from both the registrar and the department. Normally no more than two transfer credits may count toward major or minor requirements. Seminar credit is not transferable. 

Study Groups   

During the spring semester the Department of Religion, in conjunction with the Department of Philosophy, offers a study group at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland’s first university, founded in 1413. Other than the director’s course, which is taught by a Colgate faculty member, students take courses of their choice from among those offered by the University of St. Andrews, at which they are enrolled for the semester. The department has also organized extended study in Israel, Japan, and Sri Lanka. See “Off-Campus Study” and “Extended Study” in Chapter VI. 

Course Offerings

RELG courses count toward the Human Thought and Expression area of inquiry requirement, unless otherwise noted.

101  The World’s Religions
This course is an academic introduction to the variety of the world’s religions, such as Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and the indigenous faiths of Africa and America. The class explores and compares religious beliefs, values, practices, rituals, texts, images, and stories, in their historical, cultural, and political contexts. It examines diversity and concordance within each tradition, encouraging students to reflect thoughtfully on the nature of religion and the ways it shapes communities and individuals throughout the world. Enrollment is limited to first-year and sophomore students. (Formerly RELG 202, Introduction to the Study of Religion.) 

102  Religion and the Contemporary World
This course explores the mutual impact between religions and contemporary global issues. How do diverse religious individuals and communities address the prominent moral concerns of our times? What do religions offer the contemporary world, especially in an era in which secular, atheistic, and spiritual critics alike have singled out religion as a noxious influence in human society? Potential topics of focus include terrorism, genocide, religion and politics, war, gender and sexuality, health and medicine, poverty and class disparity, environmental justice, science and technology, and secularization. In examining such questions the class serves to sharpen our present-day understanding of religion and to provide students with a framework for making sense of some of today’s most controversial political, social, and philosophical issues. Enrollment is limited to first-year and sophomore students. (Formerly RELG 201, Contemporary Issues and Values: Moral Conflicts in the 21st Century.)

203  Comparative Religious Ethics
B. Stahlberg
This course examines the ethical dimensions of a variety of religious traditions and considers them in light of one another. As a comparative course in the study of religion it aims to give students a better sense of what role religious traditions play in cultivating forms of moral thought and behavior, and how specific traditions might begin to think about ethical issues. That is, this course investigates how these traditions envision morality as such but also how they think concretely about violence, gender, poverty, and the value of human life. This comparative approach to the study of religion ultimately hopes to prompt students toward a consideration of what is, as well as what is not, ethical about these traditions.

204  Hindu Mythology
J. Bordeaux
This course is an exploration of the Hindu gods and goddesses of India through their myths. For centuries Indians have been telling stories about the gods through sacred scripture, folklore, and pilgrimage traditions, and more recently in comic books, television series, and films. Through close readings of India’s mythic and epic texts communicated through diverse media, students gain an introduction to Hinduism as a dynamic, living religious tradition. Anyone attempting to understand the complexities of Indian culture, politics, and society soon encounters the gods and goddesses of the Hindu tradition. Besides introducing student to these fascinating figures and their stories, the course seeks to explore broader questions in the study of religion including the politics of gendered visions of the divine and the effects of the medium on the transmission of religious messages.

208  The Hebrew Bible in America
L. Cushing
The Bible is not only the best-selling book in America, but is arguably the book that has most profoundly shaped the United States. This course is an introduction to the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament in its American contexts, particularly American public life. In reading the Hebrew Bible, students ask themselves how these scriptures have shaped American politics, culture, history, and literature. Who has used the Bible and how? To whom does the Bible now speak, and what does it say? In what sense is the Bible understood to be an American text? This course has no prerequisites and presumes no knowledge of the Christian or Jewish Bibles. This course is crosslisted as JWST 208.

209  New Testament: Its Ancient and Modern Interpreters
G. Frank, C. Martin
The New Testament has profoundly influenced literature, law, medicine, and politics in Western culture, from antiquity to the present. The course examines the formation of the New Testament within its historical and cultural matrices of Formative Judaism and Roman society and culture within the first and second centuries. Particular attention is given to the robust and tenacious legacy of New Testament themes and motifs interpreted through the centuries as counter-cultural, politically subversive, and reformist, in such writers as Justin Martyr, William Blake, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jacques Ellul, Steven Biko, Oscar Romero, Dorothee Soelle, and Daniel Berrigan.

213  The Bible as/and Literature
L. Cushing
What role does literary art play in the shaping of biblical narrative? How does the construction of the sacred text reflect its theological meaning? The religious vision of the Bible is given depth and subtlety precisely by being conveyed literarily; thus, the primary concern in this course is with the literature and literary influence of the received text of the Bible rather than with the history of the text’s creation. As students read through the canon, they establish the boundaries of the texts studied, distinguish the type(s) of literature found in them, examine their prose and poetic qualities, and identify their surface structures. Students also consider the literary legacy of the Bible and the many ways that subsequent writers have revisited its stories. This course is crosslisted as JWST 213.

214  Introduction to the Qur’an
A. Musa
This course is designed to introduce students to the various ways in which the Qur’an has been received in history and continues to be received today. Students examine the theological, legal, literary, historical, mystical, and modern approaches to the Qur’an in an attempt to understand holistically various methods of exegesis and their ramifications. Throughout, the class engages in the debates that have historically surrounded the Qur’an and explore methods of interpretation both classical and modern, especially those of fundamentalists, reformists, and feminists. No prerequisites. This course is crosslisted as MIST 214.

216  Life of Muhammad
A. Musa
This course is a historical study of the life of Muhammad, from his birth in 570 CE to his death in 632 CE. The course includes (1) an in-depth introduction to the genres of hadith and sira literature, as well as the major works in those genres, the history of their compilation, and an evaluation of various authors and their works, from the perspectives of both Islamic and Western scholarship; (2) a biographical study of the life of Muhammad and his position in Muslim thought as the ideal exemplar: and (3) an examination of the lives of the women around Muhammad. This course is crosslisted as MIST 216.

222  Comparative Scripture
S. Kepnes
This is a course based upon comparative scriptural analysis or what is now called “Scriptural Reasoning.” The focus will be on close readings of the Hebrew Bible, New Testament, and Qur’an with an eye to common themes and differences. Students will engage in a comparison of interpretive traditions in Judaism, Christianity and Islam to see how particular scriptural passages are understood in the religious traditions. The course will also spend time studying the ways in which scriptural reasoning has been used as a form of religious conflict resolution and peace-building in situations of conflict in the UK and Middle East. This course is crosslisted as JWST 222.

226  Reason, Religion, and God
S. Kepnes, B. Stahlberg
This course examines the similarities and differences between rational and religious understandings of God. By pursuing close readings of classic texts in the field of philosophy of religion, this course considers how both philosophical and religious ideas are often developed together. The course explores various arguments about the rationality of God as responses to wider intellectual, cultural, and historical contexts in which they are made and to the specific shape and needs of a particular religious tradition (e.g., Catholicism, Protestantism, or Judaism). The course also explores the “rationality” of religious forms such as scripture, symbol, ritual, and prayer. In different semesters, select themes such as revelation, theodicy (the justification of God in the face of human suffering), providence and free will, or the theism/atheism debate are investigated.

228  Jerusalem: City of Gods
L. Cushing, S. Kepnes
This course is an introduction to the religious traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. In learning about the three Abrahamic religions and their sacred spaces, students are exposed to key themes in the study of religion (scripture and interpretation, feasting and fasting, pilgrimage, sanctuary and sacred space, ritual and worship) and to the particular theme of each religion’s conceptions of Jerusalem. The course foregrounds the ways that each tradition understands the city as a symbol — as a holy city, a city of God, a centre of the cosmos. As importantly, it explores how religion is lived within the city’s sacred geography, investigating the religious practices and sacred sites of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in Jerusalem. This course is crosslisted as JWST 228.

230  Feasting and Fasting: Religion and Food
L. Cushing
This course examines a range of religious and cultural attitudes about food. What foods are celebrated? What foods forbidden? Who can eat what and when? Through a comparative approach to food restrictions and injunctions, feasts and fasts, and food-based rituals and liturgies in Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Hindu traditions, this course investigates the role food plays in defining religious boundaries and identities.

234  Women and Religious Traditions
L. Cushing, A. Musa
This course examines autobiographical, biographical, descriptive, and historical materials that present and analyze the lives of women in the context of various religious traditions. In a given term, the course focuses upon specific geographical areas, historical periods, and/or religious traditions. 

235  Religion, War, Peace, and Reconciliation
H. Sindima
This is a course on the role and function of religion toward peace and reconciliation. Students examine the scriptural, theological, and ethical teachings of various religions on justice, conflict resolution, peace, and reconciliation. Students also examine the theological writings on justice, war, and peace by Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, and Schleiermacher. Using concrete case studies of conflict and reconciliation, students explore the teachings of African religion, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, and Islam on nonviolence, peacemaking, relationship of peace and justice, as well as evaluate the negative and positive contributions of these religions toward conflict. Students examine religious and interreligious conflicts (Northern Ireland, India/Pakistan), religious language and symbols (Rwanda), current attempts at peace reconciliations (Bosnia, Liberia), and the role of religions and the causes of situations of conflict (the Middle East). Of particular interest is an examination of situations in which the political process was shaped and defined to a greater degree by religious leaders and their communities (South Africa).

236  Religion, Science, and the Environment
H. Sindima
In the 17th century, religion lost its claim to the cosmos; the religious knowledge of the order of nature ceased to possess any legitimacy in the new paradigm of science that came to dominate the West. Until the 1960s, Christian thinkers considered it the great glory of Christianity that it alone among the world’s religions had permitted purely secular science to develop in a civilization in which it was dominant. After several centuries of an ever-increasing eclipse of the religious significance of nature in the West and neglect of the order of nature, humans are now experiencing environmental crisis: global warming; the destruction of the ozone layer; climatic and weather pattern changes; soil erosion; death of animals, birds, and marine life; and the disappearance of some plant species. Today the very fabric of life is threatened and the future of our world hangs in the balance as nature is threatened by destruction caused by an environmental crisis that has gone unchecked for several centuries. What can be learned from religions of the world that will save humanity and nature? What is the relationship between religion, nature, science, and technology? Discussions include views from various religious traditions concerning nature, the concept of the human, notions of progress and destiny, faith and science, ecological theology, ecofeminism, justice and sustainability, and spirituality.

240  Religion and Terrorism
H. Sindima
Terrorists are often driven by extremist beliefs staunchly rooted in religious, racial, and ethical rationales for torture, violence, and genocide. The course provides a theoretical and empirical understanding, and explanation of terrorism. While tracing the history of terrorism to the ancient West, students will also identify various analytical approaches to the study of terrorism, recognize terrorist groups, and review terrorist tactics. Students will examine the ways that states counter terror, and the choices and the tradeoffs states face when confronting terrorism. Students will examine terrorist individuals and groups in Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, and Sikhism such as the Ku Klux Klan, Timothy McVeigh, Republican Army in Ireland, Orthodox Rabbi Meir Kahane, Dr. Baruch Goldstein, Osama bin Laden, Boko Haram, Islamic State, and Shoko Asahara in Japan.

243  History of Religion in America
J. Reinbold, C. Vecsey
This course studies selected significant religious questions, themes, and texts from American religious history. While the specific issues and topics vary, the course is typically organized around an investigation into the challenges and opportunities presented by America’s extraordinary religious pluralism. Issues examined may include: inter-religious encounter from Columbus to the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, religion on the American “frontier,” the counter-cultural appropriation of Asian religions, the experience of migration, church-state relations, religion and media, and religion and social justice movements in America.

245  Religion in Contemporary America
C. Martin, J. Reinbold, C. Vecsey
Religion continues to exert major influences upon the shape of American life at the beginning of the 21st century. This course studies themes and controversies in American culture for the past few decades, focusing upon the study of religious diversity and the changing religious landscape of America; issues of church and state; religion and politics; and religious ideas and values as they have shaped, and been expressed in, popular culture (art, the new media, music, television, and sports). (Formerly RELG 330.)

247  Death and Afterlife
G. Frank, A. Musa
This course examines the many ways humans have attempted to anticipate, accept, deny, defeat, or transcend death. Does one have a soul and does it survive? Is immortality possible? What techniques have people used in efforts to achieve it? Is there a “good” way to die? The focus is on scriptures and rituals of Buddhists, Hindus, ancient Greeks, Jews, Muslims, and Christians, and their legacies for contemporary America. Topics include body and soul, heaven and hell, spiritism, ghosts, reincarnation, resurrection, near-death experiences, relics, funerals, cremation, and cemeteries.

248  Christianity, Islam, and Political Change in Africa
H. Sindima
The course explores how Christianity and Islam have caused or influenced conflict and division or greater political and social freedoms in Africa. Select countries are examined as case studies: Nigeria and Sudan for conflict and division; South Africa and Malawi for democratization of society. The course covers the spread of Christianity and Islam, colonial (British, French, and German) policy and Christian missionaries’ attitude toward Islam, separation of religion and state (the debate over Islamic Law, Shar’ia), and religion and politics. Movements within Islam (Islamic brotherhoods, Madhist movement) and Christianity (liberation, black, womanist/feminist theologies) are also studied.

251  Faith after the Holocaust
S. Kepnes, B. Stahlberg
The death of six million Jews at the hands of the Nazis in the Second World War represents a radical challenge to faith in Judaism, in Christianity, and in humanism. The course begins with a historical overview of the Holocaust and uses accounts of Holocaust survivors to articulate the challenge of the Holocaust to faith. It then reviews philosophical and theological responses to this challenge by Jewish and Christian authors. The weak as well as the heroic human figures in the Holocaust are studied. Those Jews who survived with their humanity intact and those non-Jews who helped them are the most important witnesses to the resiliency of the human spirit which we now have. This course is crosslisted as JWST 251.

255  Church, State, and Law in America
J. Reinbold
What do we mean when we talk about “the separation of church and state”? Where does this principle originate? Are there exceptions? This course explores the relationship between religion and law in the United States. Students consider the question of what Americans mean when they speak of the separation of church and state, and explore the ways in which the U.S. Supreme Court has attempted to implement this principle within American law. Students examine a variety of influential theories of church-state separation, and they read some of the most important First Amendment cases of the 20th and early 21st centuries. Since the question of religion and law also touches upon issues outside of the scope of the First Amendment — issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage — students also read a series of important Fourteenth Amendment cases. Ultimately, this course familiarizes students with some of the most influential voices within today’s church-state debate, and provides them with the tools for an ongoing understanding of religion and law in the United States. This course does not assume any prior knowledge of American religion or American law.

264  Religion and Disability
C. Martin
Religious texts, ideologies, and practices have for centuries been profoundly implicated in the stigmatization, pathologization, and normalization of disability as deviance. Ancient Near Eastern and biblical ideological constructions legitimating the exclusion of cultic leaders with disabilities in liturgical practice, religious traditions certifying disability as divine punishment by the gods (God), disability as moral failing, and medieval theoretical concepts of the impaired body as reflecting an “impaired soul” receive close analysis. Enjoining Disability Studies as a burgeoning and interdisciplinary academic field of critical inquiry, the course also incorporates insights from disability historiography to examine the broad continuum of attitudes about disability as a socially constructed category of embodiment and experience, including the genocidal results of eugenic idealism and the repressive effects of America’s late 19th- and 20th-century “Ugly Laws” — notorious legal precepts restricting people with disabilities from inhabiting public spaces. The course concludes with an analysis of pressing philosophical, religious, and policy debates about bioethics and disability (e.g., the moral permissibility of killing people with disabilities, and the ethics of prenatal screening, selective abortion, and genetic engineering).

265  Global Bioethics and Religion
C. Martin
The revolution in biotechnology has given humanity powers unimaginable a few decades ago. Bioethics within the Western cultural tradition examines moral and ethical dilemmas arising from the interface of human experience and advances in biology, medicine, and technology (human embryonic stem cell applications, cloning, genetic engineering , euthanasia, etc.). Global bioethical inquiry places moral and ethical bioethics deliberations on the international stage, with a focused exploration of diverse and competing transnational theoretical debates. The course undertakes a critical study of comparative religious ethics and global bioethics issues within Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, and Christianity.

276  Psychology of Religion
B. Stahlberg, Staff
This course examines the ways in which religion has been understood from a variety of psychological perspectives, and inquires into the merit of these various approaches. By surveying a wide range of psychological literature on the subject, students strive to get a better sense of the ways psychology has understood religion, humanity, and the ways in which people find meaning in the world. Ultimately students consider why human beings are religious and what psychology has to offer in answering this question. No prerequisites.

281  Experiencing Hinduism
J. Bordeaux
As one of the world’s most ancient, complex, and fascinating religious traditions, the study of Hinduism provides an ideal arena for examining central questions in the study of religion. Through close readings of primary texts in translation, this course focuses on the history of Hindu traditions from their origins to the development of devotional movements in medieval and early modern India. Following a chronological order, these texts include the hymns of the ancient Vedas, the investigations into salvific reality in the Upanishads, the religious epics, devotional poems in praise of gods, religious philosophy (Yoga and Advaita Vedanta), and classical mythology. While exploring the variety of forms Hinduism has taken, the class engages broader questions in the study of religions such as the construction of religious authority, the definition of the good life, conceptions of the soul, differences between elite and non-elite styles of religiosity, and the significance of gender in conceptualizations of the divine.

282  Experiencing Islam
A. Musa, A. Spevack
This course conceives of Islam as a cumulative tradition beginning with the event of the Qur’an and the paradigmatic example of Prophet Muhammad. The unfolding of this religious tradition is traced through the formation of Shi’i and Sunni schools of Islamic thought, the schools of law, the subtleties of Islamic mysticism, nuances of philosophical thought, and creative artistic expression in the form of calligraphy, music, and poetry. The course concludes with two sections: an overview of the multi-faceted responses of Muslims to the challenges of modernity and post-colonialism, and the contemporary debates about the status of Muslim women and their self-understandings. (Formerly RELG 328.)

283  Experiencing Judaism
This course is crosslisted as JWST 283. For course description, see “Jewish Studies: Course Offerings.”

284  Christian Traditions
H. Sindima
This historical study of the development of the central Christian beliefs examines the development of the early creeds, the emerging of ecumenical consensus, and philosophical elaborations. The course highlights African contributions and involvement in the ecumenical councils (the first 500 years) that made major decisions concerning the central elements of the Christian tradition.

285  Experiencing Buddhism
B. Sullivan
This course is an introduction to Buddhist life and practice that emphasizes unity within Buddhist traditions as it explores diversity and complexity both in theory and practice. It considers examples from Theravada Buddhism in Sri Lanka to Mahayana Buddhism in China, Japan, and Korea. Significant time is devoted to an introduction to different Buddhist meditation practices. The course also considers contemporary issues that arise in social ethics, politics, war, and governance.

286  Catholic Traditions
C. Vecsey
Central to this study is the understanding of Roman Catholicism as a living, dynamic religious tradition. The time frame is mainly from the Second Vatican Council to the present. Topics include the Church’s self-understanding, the historical context of American Catholicism, cultural pluralism within the United States and globally, and contemporary issues such as social and economic justice, sexuality and reproduction, grassroots liberation efforts, environmental concerns, ordination of women, and inclusive language and images.

287  Protestant Traditions: Revolutions and Reformations
D. Hicks, J. Reinbold, H. Sindima
This course considers the Protestant tradition in Europe and the United States. The great theological doctrines of the Reformation of 16th-century Europe are examined: salvation by grace, the authority of scripture as opposed to ecclesiastical edicts, freedom of conscience, the priesthood of all believers, and separation of church and state. The great themes articulated by Luther, Calvin, and others constituted a challenge to established authority that involved the Church, the monarchies, and the dissenters. The Protestant tradition that emerged gave rise to new conceptions of political order that profoundly impacted the ideological, social, and political foundations of the United States. Protestant vision contributed heavily to biblical metaphors shaping American self-understanding. Protestant vision and Protestant thinkers gave rise to various forms of Christian communities, such as the Society of Shakers, and provided the impetus for reform movements such as abolition of slavery, the Social Gospel, Prohibition, and the Civil Rights movement.

288  American Indian Religions
C. Vecsey
The course introduces students to the variety of American Indian traditional religions and historical religious movements. After an evaluation of the methods used in understanding Indian religions and a survey of culture areas, students look at American Indian concepts of the supernatural, mythology, ceremonialism, dreams and visions, medicine, witchcraft, shamanism, nature-relations, and conceptions of the soul. Navajo, Lakota, Skagit, Inuit, Hopi, and Ojibwa religions are described in some detail, in order to show how the individual characteristics are integrated; then the class examines the effects of Christian missions and the most important religious movements among American Indians since white contact: Handsome Lake’s Religion, Ghost Dance, Peyote Religion, and others. First-year students are admitted by permission of instructor. (Formerly RELG 318.)

289  African Religious Traditions
H. Sindima
This course is an exploration of the nature and varieties of indigenous African religions. Issues examined include cosmology; concepts of divinity; ancestors; person; meaning of sacrifice; symbols and ritual practice; the relationships among art and religion, politics, and religious institutions; and the challenge of social change, Christianity, and Islam to indigenous religions. In addition, students examine the different methods used in studying African religions.

293  Kabbalah: An Introduction to Jewish Mysticism
S. Kepnes
An introduction to the mystical elements in Judaism beginning with the Bible and Rabbinic texts and through Hasidism to contemporary Kabbalah in America. Significant time is devoted to the central book of Jewish mysticism, “The Zohar,” along with a study of Lurianic Kabbalah and Hasidic stories. The course engages students in Jewish meditation practices as well as a study of Hasidic music and popular expressions of Kabbalah in American culture. This course is crosslisted as JWST 293.

306  Dying for God: Martyrdom and Noble Death in Judaism and Christianity
C. Martin
This course examines the intrinsically linked discourses and practices of violence, martyrdom, and noble death from the 8th century BCE to the 13th century CE. Theorizing the social constructions of martyrdom and noble death within their discrete classical and medieval context (what makes one a martyr, what makes a narrative a “martyr text”), the course foregrounds the sobering and heroic experiences of Jews and Christians who experienced the spectacle of suffering and public self-sacrifice in the face of political and religious persecution with resolute determination and impassioned certitude. Selected readings combining primary documents (in translation) and modern scholarly reconstructions are used to undertake critical analyses of the wide-ranging continuum of motives inspiring men, women, and children to die invicti (unconquered by the fear of death), paying the penultimate price to advance the interests of divine justice, to enlarge the ranks of those engaged in radical counter-imperial resistance, and to sanctify the name of God. Close analyses of the developing mythic frameworks, rhetoric, artistic, and iconographical representations, and other textual records that coalesced to render suffering redemptive and meaningful receive particular scrutiny. The course concludes with assessments of the institutional and communal models of commemoration that emerged and have persisted in the collective memory of the admirers of early martyrs and heroes through the centuries. No first-year students admitted.

308  The End of the World
C. Martin
An examination of the origins and development of apocalyptic literature, much of which deals with the end of the world, during the Second Temple and early Christian periods. This course focuses on primary source texts in translation as well as the theoretical and methodological problems surrounding the analysis of ancient texts for the development of the worldview known as apolcalpyticism. Modern case studies are analyzed as comparative examples throughout the course. This course is crosslisted as JWST 308. 

309  Religion and Medical Practice
H. Sindima
This course explores the strategic and multifaceted ways in which cultural and religious values impact physicians and other healthcare professionals relative to patients and their families, both within, and across, national and global communities. Students will examine ethical conundrums inevitably arising from such conventional and contested topics in health care ethics as autonomy, justice, beneficence, non-malfeasance, and confidentiality, and assess and deconstruct emerging issues rooted in the nexus of modern scientific and technological advances and traditional understandings of the meaning of the sacred nature of the human, and the integrity of human personhood (prayer and healing, euthanasia and do-not-resuscitate decisions and euthanasia, fertilization and abortion). Students will explore how to preserve human dignity which is threatened by 1) those with compassion and seeking to relieve human suffering, 2) rationalists, and 3) rights advocates without regard to the mystery of life and the sacred nature of the human.

310  Sharia Law
This course is crosslisted as MIST 310. For course description, see “Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies: Course Offerings.”

320  Native Peoples and Modern Law
J. Reinbold
This course explores the role of native peoples in the construction of modern law. This process of construction begins with the use of native peoples as a representation of human savagery within early modern European political thought — a representation that allowed political theorists to depict Western law as a solution to such savagery. More recently, and more positively, this process of construction has involved indigenous groups’ important role in the propagation of international human rights law. This course explores the complex history of native peoples’ evolving political agency from three angles: early modern political theories utilizing the trope of the “the state of nature,” contemporary developments in international human rights law, and a series of important case studies involving Native American religious practices in the United States. This course is crosslisted as NAST 320.

321  Religion in Modern India
Through close readings of 19th- and 20th-century tracts and debates, mythological and ritual texts, oral traditions, novels and scholarly studies, this course examines the wide-ranging social effects of colonial rule on Indian religious traditions, especially Hinduism, and the creative responses of Indians to the challenges and opportunities of modernity. Emphasizing the political and social dimensions of religion, the course engages topics such as religious change and social mobility, the changing role of women in religion, the religious roots of the movement for Indian independence, religious violence and Gandhian non-violence, the rise of religious nationalism in India, and the development of Hinduism in diaspora. No prerequisites, although familiarity with the religions of India through courses such as CORE 166C, RELG 281, or ARTS 244 is advised.

324  The Teachings of the Buddha: Theravada — The Way of the Elders
This course is a study of the teachings of the Buddha as cherished in the Theravada Buddhist tradition in India, Sri Lanka, and parts of Southeast Asia. This “tradition of the elders” is one of the oldest religious traditions known to humankind, a tradition that has formulated responses to fundamental human issues, quite different from those proposed within theistic movements. Emphasis is placed on key expressions of the human predicament, the make-up of the individual, the life context as morally significant (karma), conceptions of salvific truth, the practice of meditation, and the notion of liberation, among others, that have arisen as a result of responses in faith made by men and women in India, Sri Lanka, and parts of Southeast Asia.

327  Tibetan Buddhism
B. Sullivan
What accounts for the popularity of Tibetan Buddhism among certain Hollywood elite as well as a growing number of Chinese in the world today? Why did Tibet give rise to the unique institution of the reincarnating lama, best known in the west through the figure of the Dalai Lama? What goes on in Tibetan monasteries, the largest monasteries in world history? Understanding the answers to these questions requires that one examine the place and privilege of religion and Buddhism in particular in Tibetan culture. Through the close reading of the autobiography of a Tibetan saint, Buddhist myth, ethnographic descriptions, and philosophical treatises, as well as Buddhist art and other media, we will come to understand the centrality of religion to many aspects of life in Tibet, and gain a basic understanding of Buddhist philosophy, ritual/contemplative practices, pilgrimage, popular practices, monastic life, and other facets of religion and life in Tibet.

329  Global Islam in the Modern World
A. Spevack
This course examines the key issues with which Muslim thinkers in the modern period (defined here as the colonial and post-colonial periods) have been concerned. Muslim responses to modernity in the US, East and Southeast Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, and Turkey represent the core focus of the course. A significant portion of the class is spent examining intellectual responses that have taken the engagement with modernity seriously. As such, students critically examine some Muslim responses to post-colonialism, feminist and womanist constructions, democratization of politics, pluralism, religious violence, extremism, and authoritarianism. The class consists of close reading and discussion of texts, as well as exposure to multimedia resources that have played a key role in recent events, such as the Arab Spring.

331  The Problem of Evil
Why do bad things happen to good people? Why does a benevolent, all-powerful God permit evil? This course explores historical, philosophical, and religious perspectives on the etiology, manifestations, and functions of human suffering and evil within global human communities.

332  Contemporary Religious Thought
H. Sindima, B. Stahlberg
The course begins with selected historical perspectives on the connections among religion, violence, and power as a context for contemporary studies of the role of religion in society. Most of the course focuses on liberation theologies, with their emphasis on hope, empowerment, and right relationships. Voices of liberation theologians may be drawn from Latin America, Asia, and Africa, as well as marginalized people in the United States. The latter include womanist, mujerista, Latino/a, Asian-American, African-American, Jewish, homosexual, and feminist groups; most integrate personal experience with theological reflection.

333  Religious Faith and Social Ethics
D. Hicks, S. Kepnes, B. Stahlberg
Social ethics pursues questions about how human societies ought to organize themselves and their relations to other communities in order to realize human values. For many people around the world, religious faith provides the ultimate framework for value decisions. Texts include works by earlier religious leaders of movements for social-political-economic justice (e.g., Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.) as well as very recent works addressing current issues such as ethnic/international/religious conflict, environmental devastation, globalization, and religious terrorism. In addition, one or two texts develop basic models for religious social ethics. This course is crosslisted as PCON 333.

335  Religion in the Genetic Age
C. Martin
Twenty-first century genetic technologies present humanity with unprecedented possibilities for re-engineering human life and experience: genetic tailoring to treat and eradicate diseases, the creation of designer children, cyberconsciousness and unlimited physical prowess, radical life-extension technologies, and the development of virtual human beings. Scientific tinkering with food DNA heightens interest in “Frankenfoods,” while genetic tinkering with animals has raised the spectre of “Frankenbeasts.” The course foregrounds issues in the science of genetics and genethics — the social, ethical, legal, and, in this course, the notably religious implications of modern genomic and technological development — with an assessment of the promise and perils of these achievements for the future of humankind.

336  Religion and Capitalism
H. Sindima
“Christianity is freedom. Freedom is free enterprise; hence capitalism is Christianity in action.” Following contemporary research, students will explore the relation from the high medieval monasteries to the present, highlighting the 17th and 18th century Christian and Jewish farmers and traders, 19th century British industrialists, and the 21st century consumers, financiers and traders in commodities and various financial instruments (e.g., stocks, bonds, equities, derivatives, and securities, etc.). The course will investigate how worldviews and religious teachings order a lifestyle and a value system that inform and influence a particular economic activity. The course includes what capitalism is (i.e., its elements and types, and the classical theories of capitalism). The course will investigate the religious views, the cultural and social history that gave rise to capitalism, and the intellectual and economic innovations that turned capitalism into a system. Topics of discussions will include: capitalism and the environment, poverty and the Puritan work ethic, culture and global capitalism, capitalism and moral values, and the relation between contemporary spirituality and capitalism. 

337  Islamic Mysticism
A. Spevack
This course seeks to engage the mystical interpretations of Islam (Sufism) as simultaneously one of the most important historical manifestations of the Islamic experience and one of the most pertinent ones for understanding Islam in the contemporary situation. Themes explored in this class include the tradition of love mysticism embodied by Rumi, the metaphysical formulations of Ibn al-Arabi, the formation of Sufi orders, the various meditative techniques, and Sufi poetry. The class also explores the controversies surrounding Sufism in the contemporary scene, ranging from attacks on Sufism from Muslim fundamentalists to the role of Sufism in the spread of Islam in Europe and North America. This course is crosslisted as MIST 337.

339  Modern Jewish Philosophy
S. Kepnes, B. Stahlberg
This is a course on European and American Jewish thought, covering a spectrum of liberal and traditional figures. The course studies the ways in which Jewish thinkers have responded to the challenges of modern philosophy, religious pluralism, and feminism. Modern reformulations of traditional Jewish ideas and religious practices are discussed as well as contemporary theological exchanges between Jews and Christians. Readings are taken from such figures as Mendelssohn, Buber, Rosenzweig, Heschel, Fackenheim, and Plaskow. Previous courses in the Jewish tradition and/or philosophy are recommended. This course is crosslisted as JWST 339. 

340  The Land of Israel
This course is crosslisted as JWST 340. For course description, see “Jewish Studies: Course Offerings.”

342  Our Secular Age
J. Reinbold
Do we live in a secular age? Most of us would assert that we do, but what do we mean when we make this claim? Are we referring to the political separation of church and state, to a decline in religious beliefs and practices, or to something else? These questions have recently come to occupy a central place within the study of religion. This course explores the topic of secularism from a variety of angles, including differing notions of what is meant by the term “secular”; an examination of the historical development of secular ideas and institutions; a comparison of different secular political projects; and a series of important critiques of secularism. This course encourages students to think critically and creatively about the relationship between “the religious” and “the secular,” and it thus enhances students’ understanding of religion, secularism, and modernity more broadly.

343  Gender and Judaism
L. Cushing
The focus of this course is the creation and conception of gender within Judaism. Students explore the ways in which gender is built into the scriptures, structures, institutions, and ideologies of Judaism, into Jewish religious, cultural and social life. According to Genesis, from the beginning there were male and female. To what degree are these two categories essential? To what degree artificial? How do religion and tradition enforce the gender divide, and in what ways can they be used to blur the distinctions between male and female? This course is crosslisted as JWST 343.

346  Cognitive Science of Religion
B. Sullivan
Central to much research in the cognitive science of religion (CSR) is the question of how the human brain and its evolved capacities inform and constrain the transmission of religious beliefs and ritual practices. The cognitive science of religion also seeks to answer why it is that certain beliefs and specific practices appear to outperform and outlive others. More generally, the CSR seeks to explain the persistence and pervasiveness of religious beliefs and practices throughout human history by drawing on the theories and methodologies of a range of disciplines, including cognitive neuroscience, social psychology, behavioral ecology, and several others, as a well as disciplines more traditionally associated with the study of religion. Scholars in CSR embrace a variety of methods, including textual analysis, quantification of historical and archaeological data, statistical analysis of ethnographic data, controlled laboratory experiments, and mathematical modeling. This course is a survey of the most influential of the CSR theories and methods in the field. 

352  Theory and Method in the Study of Religion
This course takes a critical look at the history of religious studies in the modern West and proceeds to chart some contemporary developments. Some of the issues that may come under investigation include, but are not restricted to, the quest for a science of religion, the impact of gender and race theory on religious studies, theories of religion and violence, the secularization of academic approaches to religion, and the nature of religion itself. The broad aim of this course is to deepen reflection on the ways in which religion can become an object of study.

405  Sacred Texts
This course offers an intensive study of a corpus of sacred texts from a religious tradition, considering the nature of sacred texts and their functions in a religious tradition. The course may be repeated for credit on different texts, e.g., a book of the Bible, the Qur’an, the Dhammapada, the Bhagavad Gita, the Navajo Creation Myth. Recommended: prior coursework in religion, or permission of instructor. 

415, 416  Advanced Topics in Religion

490  Honors

291, 391, 491, 591  Independent Study

RELG 490 and 491 are normally open only to majors, and RELG 591 to graduate students.