The Department of Religion 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. Our courses offer training in a unique combination of skills, including close textual analysis, direct observation, critical thinking, and cross-cultural understanding. RELG courses have no prerequisites (unless stated otherwise); so students may choose where to begin in the department's offerings.
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.
Faculty Profile for Professor Sullivan
An academic introduction to the variety of the world's religions, such as Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and the indigenous faiths of Africa and America. Students explore and compare religious beliefs, values, practices, rituals, texts, images, and stories, in their historical, cultural, and political contexts. Students examine diversity and concordance within each tradition, encouraging thoughtful reflection on the nature of religion and the ways it shapes communities and individuals through the world. Students make use of the immense religious diversity available in nearby Utica and Central New York by visiting a local religious community in order to better understand the lived religion of the traditions studied in this course. Students who successfully complete this seminar will receive course credit for RELG 101 and satisfy one half of the Human Thought and Expression area of inquiry requirement.
Professor Brenton Sullivan is a scholar and teacher of Buddhism and the religions of China and Tibet. His research is focused on the role of religion in the political landscape of historical Tibet as well as the historical relationship between Tibet and China. He is interested in exploring the religious and ideological motivations that have driven people both to exploit and dominate others and to liberate themselves and resolve systems of inequality in the world.
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.
Judaism is a dynamic religious tradition that has developed many forms during a more than 3000-year history that has spanned nearly the entire globe. Students in this course consider how Jewish communities from the biblical period to the present day have shaped their practices and beliefs within their own specific historical circumstances. Students read primary sources such as the Bible, the Talmud, the Zohar, midrashim, prayers, response literature, and philosophical and theological discussions. In an effort to understand the ways in which Jews have lived their lives religiously, students explore how Jewish self-identity, textual traditions, and religious practices combine to define “Judaism.”
An 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 course 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 through the world.
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 students' 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.
Based on 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 historical, theological, and contextual course examines the African American religious experience, including slavery in America, the struggle for freedom and identify, the development of the Black Church, Black Muslims, the Civil Rights movement, the emergence of Black and Womanist theologies, and other expressions of African American spirituality. Course readings include writings of such historical and contemporary authors as Frederick Douglass, W. E. Du B. DuBois, Martin Luther King, Jr. Malcom X, James Cone, Albert Raboteau, Jacquelyn Grant, and Lewis Baldwin.
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.
In the desert landscape of 7th century Arabia, a middle-aged Arab tribesman and caravan trader named Muhammad began to hear the word of God and declared himself a prophet. Within decades, Muhammad’s message sparked a religious and social revolution that changed the course of human history. Students examine the rise of Islam, its emergence as a diverse global religion, and its multi-faceted encounters with Western-style modernity. Students begin by studying the Qur’an, the life of Muhammad, and the stories of his immediate successors. Who exactly was Muhammad, and what was the nature of his message? What challenges did the early Muslim community face? Following our exploration of the earliest phases of Islamic history, students then delve into the formation of two major streams of Islamic thought: shari’a (Islamic law) and Sufism (Islamic mysticism). The final third of the semester focuses on Muslim responses to European colonialism and Western-style modernity. Specifically, we examine colonial-era changes to shari’a, the Iranian Revolution, the rise of violent Islamists like Al Qaeda and ISIS, and modern Muslims living in the West.
As a minority culture, throughout history, Jews and Judaism have always been subject to the influence of the majority cultures in which Jews have found themselves. In response to the shocks of modernity, ruptures, scientific advancements, and philosophical ideas and challenges, Jewish thinkers, culture, and individuals formulated responses—religious and otherwise. In Experiencing Judaism, students will explore how Judaism has responded to modernity, the “age of secularism.” To wit, students will focus on distinctively modern expressions of Judaism: the range of denominations, their historical origins, ideologies, and attitudes to Jewish law and its development, secularism, religious and secular Zionism. Students will explore these developments through primary texts within their historical contexts to better understand contemporary Judaism as it is expressed and practiced, mainly in North America and Israel, as a religion and also as a culture.