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Religion (RELG)

Chair: C. Vecsey

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.


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RELG 101, The World's Religions
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.

RELG 102, Religion & Contemporary 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.

RELG 226, Reason, Religion, & God
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. Students explore 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). Students also explore 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.

RELG 240, Religion and Terrorism
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 Mc Veigh, Republican Army in Ireland, Orthodox Rabbi Meir Kahane, Dr. Baruch Goldstein, Osama bin Laden, Boko Haram, Islamic State, and Shoko Asahara in Japan.

RELG 245, Religion in Contemp America
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. Special attention is paid to the aftershocks of 9/11 on American religious dynamics.

RELG 251, Faith after the Holocaust
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.

RELG 265, Global Bioethics and Religion
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.

RELG 281, Experiencing Hinduism
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.

RELG 282, Islamic Traditions
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. 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.