Religious studies majors study a variety of religion courses across many academic disciplines.

See the Fall 2015 course descriptions (PDF)

Visit the Course Catalog for the official course description and listing


REL 101: Religions in World Cultures

This course introduces students to the academic study of religion through a consideration of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and traditional African religions. Different forms of religious experience and belief are examined along with the myths, rituals, concepts, and symbols that convey them. Various methodologies and source materials are used. Offered fall and spring semesters. [H,V]

REL 102: Contemporary Religious Issues

Questions confronting Western religious traditions in the 20th century including the condition and stature of humans in the world of technology, the conflict between old and new moralities, the crisis of belief and disbelief, and being human in modern society. Offered fall and spring semesters. [SS,V]

REL 103: Religion, Myth, and Fantasy

A study of the nature of fantasy and the fantastic, and their relation to religion and religious expression, in both West and East. Students examine various texts and tales, as well as films, from a wide range of historical times and traditions, focusing on the modes through which they convey different kinds of religious experience, beliefs, and meanings. Themes include fate of the soul after death, conflict of good and evil, and boundaries between the real and the unreal. Offered fall semester. [H]

REL 104: Saints, Mystics, Ecstatics

An introduction to the comparative and historical study of religion through an examination of three often interrelated types of religious personality: saint, mystic, and ecstatic. After considering classic and recent studies of these three types from both Western and Eastern perspectives, the course analyzes autobiographical, biographical, hagiographic, iconographic, and cinematic portrayals of representative figures, focusing upon the expression of the figures’ defining experiences and followers’ responses to the persons’ lives and experiences. [H]

Theory & Methods

REL 240: Theories of Religion

What is religion? What is the nature of religious belief? What roles does religion play in society? How can we study and understand religion? There have been many attempts to answer these questions from sociology, anthropology, philosophy, psychology, comparative religion, and the feminist critique of religion. This course examines representative theories of the nature and study of religion, paying close attention to the contexts within which these theories arise, and how effective they are in understanding religious beliefs and practices.[H,SS,W]

Prerequisite: 1 course in Religious Studies or Permission of Instructor

Domains of Inquiry

Transformations (Traditions and Practices)

REL 211: Hinduism: Unities and Diversity

An introduction to the vast, complex religious traditions of India known as Hinduism, with readings from some classic works of early Hinduism, such as the Vedas, Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and Hinduism’s extensive oral and written mythological tradition. Hindu worship and meditation are studied, as well as the religious foundations of the caste system. Issues in contemporary Hinduism are also considered. This course counts toward Asia Culture Cluster and Asian Studies major and minor. [GM2, H, V]

REL 212: Buddhism: From India to Asia and Beyond

An introduction to the development of Buddhism and its spread throughout Asia. The course begins with the rise of Buddhism in India and the development of Buddhist philosophy and religious practice. It then examines Buddhism in China, Japan, Tibet, southeast Asia, and the West, focusing on adaptations in Buddhist practice and belief in different environments. Counts toward Asia Culture Cluster and Asian Studies major and minor. [GM1, GM2, H, V]

REL 213: Judaism: Faith, Communities, Identity

An introduction to the religion, history, and literature of the Jewish people. Among the areas covered are: the Biblical heritage; the development of rabbinic Judaism; ritual and the holy life; the reactions of Judaism to modern developments such as political emancipation, the Holocaust, and the state of Israel; and contemporary Jewish problems. [GM1, H, V]

REL 214: Christianity: From Jesus to the Third Millennium

A study of the main branches of Christianity—Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant—with reference to their common Biblical inheritance, historical developments, characteristic doctrines, and institutional expressions. Readings are assigned in authors representing the viewpoints studied. [H,V]

REL 215: Islam: History, Faith, and Practice

A study of the origin and growth of Islam as a religious, cultural, and political force in the world. Beginning with the founding by the Prophet Muhammad in the early 7th century, the course presents a detailed explanation of the Qur’an, as well as the core beliefs and obligations. The course also explores the content and practical application of the Sharia, Islam’s holy law; the differences between the Sunni and Shiite forms in their historical, theological, and sociopolitical perspectives; and Islam’s strength and influence in the contemporary world. [H,V]

REL 216: Religions in Africa: Historical and Contemporary Expressions

This course is an introduction to the study of traditional African religious systems, thought, and experience. The course explores the way African religions are related to different forms of social organization and conflict, notions of authority, and power. It also explores the ways African religious thought and practice have been affected by and transformed through colonization, missionary activity, and the continent’s integration into the global economy. [GM2, SS, V, H]

REL 231: Religions in American History and Culture

A survey of the histories of religious communities, faiths, and practices in North America, particularly the United States, from the colonial period to the present. The religious histories of Native Americans and of peoples of Europe, Africa, and Asia who later arrived, are all considered. Emphasis is on issues raised by the repulsion and attraction, conflicts and blending, of belief systems (including Sioux, Roman Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, African American, Mormon, and Buddhist). [H]

REL 232: Religions in Latin America

This course focuses on how religious practices and beliefs have contributed to culture, ethnic identity, and public life over time in Mexico, Central and South America, and the Spanish-speaking Caribbean. The role of the Catholic Church in colonization and nation formation, and its place in popular culture is considered. Other topics include the rise and spread of Protestant Christianity in the region as well as indigenous and African-origin religions. [H,GM1]

Representations (Texts and Contexts)

REL 201: The Biblical Imagination: Torah, Prophets, Writings

An Introduction to the religion of ancient Israel this course is an examination of Biblical perspectives on the great questions through close reading of selected texts; appropriation and interpretation of the book as “Scripture” by both Jewish and Christian communities. [H,V]

REL 202: Christian Scriptures

An introduction to early Christianity with special attention to its Judaic context, the life and teachings of Jesus, the letters of Paul, and the rise and expansion of the Christian community. [H,V]

REL 203: Religion and the Literary Imagination

This course interprets the religious meanings and implications of a selection of 20th century novels. The focus is upon the problematic relationship of the religious protagonist to society and God, or to some other ultimate concern. Other themes considered include the conflict of faith and doubt, tensions between religious commitment and aesthetic yearnings, moral and ethical responsibility in the confrontation with evil, and religious dilemmas arising from the encounter between different cultures and religions. [H,V,W]

REL 204: India’s Religious Texts: Sacred Word, Sacred Sound

This course introduces the oral and written traditions of South Asian religions including Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Islam with selections from a range of texts including the Vedas; biographies of the Buddha; and Hindu, Sikh, and Islamic mystical and devotional poetry. The course examines the use of oral and written traditions in religious practice. [H,V]

REL 207: The Quran

A study of the Quran that focuses on the origin and compilation of the text, a sociocultural history of its interpretation, and its function in Muslim life. The course also examines the Quran as scripture and its major themes. [H,V]

REL 260: Global Muslim Literature and Film

This course introduces students to global Muslim culture and civilization through literature and film.  Geographic regions include the Middle East, South Asia, Africa, North America and Europe; historical periods span both pre-modern and modern. Topics covered include but are not limited to: constructions of race, religion, and gender; diaspora and immigration; political Islam and Islamophobia in cultural contexts. Course materials focus on fictional storytelling although they may be rooted in actual historical events. [H,GM2]


Power and Difference

REL 217: Latino/a Religions: Not Just Catholocism 

A study of the religious traditions of Latinas and Latinos in the United States. The course looks at various forms of Catholicism, the growth of Protestantism in Hispanic communities, and a variety of Afro-Caribbean religions. Emphases are placed on the lived devotions of Latinas/os, on the differences among Mexican, Caribbean, Central and South American groups, and on the role of religion in ethnic identity formation and maintenance. [GM1, H, V]

REL 222: Interreligious Cooperation and Conflict

This course explores the intersection of religion, ethics and politics through the lens of interreligious cooperation and conflict.  It focuses on the connected histories of Judaism, Christianity and Islam – the “Abrahamic faiths”- through a study of doctrine, ritual and social life.  Special attention is given to practices of representing “nonbelievers” and to historical interactions between the religious communities in order to highlight the complexity, fluidity and dynamism of religious identity.

[H, GM1, V]  Prerequisite: REL 101 or permission of the instructor. 

REL 225: Sex, Gender, and Religion

How have religions helped shaped attitudes about traditional gender roles? This course explores ideas about gender and sexuality in the world’s major religions. Topics include ideas about gender from texts and oral traditions, ideas regarding gender and spiritual capability, and the connection between religious notions of gender and larger social, political, and economic issues. The course also examines various feminist critiques of religion and reform movements within religious traditions. [GM1, H]

REL 228: Religion and Politics in Africa

This course is a critical introduction to the study of politics and the way religious forces and discourses have shaped and continue to shape general notions of the good in African societies and nations. The course will begin with classic studies of institutions of social and moral order in Africa and will move through the way African religious and political systems came into articulation with the colonial and postcolonial state. The second half of the course will examine moral quandaries like political corruption, and moral reform movements like Pentecostalism, against the backdrop of economic structural adjustment and the decreased sovereignty of African nations. [GM1,GM2,H,SS]

REL 235: The “Cult” Controversy in the United States

This course examines some of the alternative movements that have arisen in the United States, from 19th century Spiritualism to the New Age movement in the 1990s. Focus is on the contexts in which these movements arise, reasons people are attracted to them, and the effect on American religious experience overall. Movements include: Christian Science, Nation of Islam, International Society for Krishna Consciousness (“Hare Krishnas”), and David Koresh and the Branch Davidians. [H,W]

REL 305: Muhammad and Prophecy

This interdisciplinary seminar examines the life of Muhammad, who ranks among the most influential persons in world history.  After probing the nature and meaning of prophecy, this course surveys Muhammad’s life in detail, while drawing a portrait of early Arab social, cultural, political, and economic life.  The course also explores the problem of succession after Muhammad’s death, which spawned the split between Sunni and Shia Muslims. [H, GM1]

REL 308 Visual Culture and Religious Identity

This course introduces the concept of visual culture as a window into the study of religion. Secondary texts are juxtaposed with primary sources. These sources suggest that the construction of religious communities and identities has taken place in the context of cultural exchange. We look at how various traditions have used images to construct community boundaries and ideologies. What and when have communities shared, disputed, and diverged? How has the presentation of “others” been an aspect of religious identity? [H,GM1, W]


Additional Department Electives

REL 223: Religious Healing and Health

An examination of how various religious traditions understand sickness and health and how they try to restore wholeness to sick individuals and groups. The efficacy of religious healing, the interface between modern medicine and folk healing, and the importance of cultural narratives in restoring the sick to health are all considered. Academic analyses of religious healing as well as firsthand accounts of religious and folk healthcare are studied. [H, SS]

REL 224: Religious Ethics

A study of the bases of normative claims about behavior in various religious traditions. Materials from Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, and other religious traditions are used. Topics include freedom, responsibility, and destiny. [H]

REL/A&S 250: Anthropology of Religion

As the United States and European colonial powers expanded into places like Africa, Native North America, Melanesia, and Australia (to name a few), different national traditions of anthropology developed an ever evolving toolbox of approaches and techniques for understanding the religious lives of Euro-American Others. This course is an introduction to this “toolbox” of anthropological theories and methods for studying religion from the Victorian era to the present. The course will also attend to voices in the discipline critical of the way anthropology constructs “religion” as an object of analysis. [SS]

REL 255: Sacrifice: Violence and Ritual

What do the Eucharist, the ritual slaughter of oxen, and military service have in common? They all share sacrificial elements; the giving up of something, often the life of some being (broadly understood), in order to constitute the sacredness or boundary of a community. This course examines the role of sacrifice in religion, ritual, gender relations and even secular social formations such as nationalism. The course thus explores both theories of sacrifice and the significance of sacrifice in different social and historical contexts. [H,SS,GM1,GM2]

REL 301: Philosophies of Religion

An examination of central problems and current issues in the philosophy of religion as treated in classic texts of the field: definitions of religion; ‘proofs’ of God’s existence; the nature of religious experience, faith, revelation, and miracle; the problem of evil; human destiny; religious naturalism; religious language; atheism and unbelief; religious pluralism; and religion and gender. We discuss these subjects from a rational, critical, objective perspective, taking into account the historical-cultural contexts of the authors. [H,W]

REL 304: Spirituality and Transformation

What is spirituality?  How and why do human beings seek to transform themselves?  This course explores these and other questions primarily through the lens of Islamic mysticism (Sufism), but also through Jewish mysticism (Kabbalah) and the booming American Self-Help industry.  Sources include both primary and secondary texts, including translations when appropriate.  Active participation and lively discussion are encouraged. [H,GM1]

REL 306: Jewish Responses to the Holocaust

Investigation of reactions to the Holocaust in the context of reactions to and explanations for catastrophe in the history of Judaism. Study of Jewish literature that addresses the problem of suffering and of Holocaust writing that challenges traditional responses. Examination of modes of Holocaust memorialization and their role in contemporary Jewish life and thought. [GM1,H,W]

REL 307: The Jewish Experience in Poland

The course traces the development of Jewish civilization in Poland, the
spiritual and demographic heart of Judaism, examining distinctive Jewish
movements and institutions in the early modern Polish-Lithuanian
Commonwealth, the life of the shtetl (small town), and the flowering of
secular Jewish culture in the early 20th century.  The course also
considers the complex issue of Jewish-Polish relations before, during, and
after World War II and the Holocaust and the fate of Jews in postwar
communist Poland.  Finally, the course examines the “New Jews” of
contemporary Poland and the politics of memory expressed in current popular media, memorials, museums, and culture festivals.  Texts include histories, drama, fiction, travel writing, and films. [GM1,GM2,H,W]

REL 351-360: Special Topics

These courses study subjects of current interest to students and members of the staff.

Faculty-Directed Projects

REL 390, 391: Independent Study

Open to junior or senior religious studies majors or minors. Students select a specific area of interest for reading and investigation in consultation with the faculty adviser and subject to the approval of the department. Students confer regularly with advisers on their work and prepare an essay on an approved subject. Open to other qualified juniors or seniors with permission of the department.

Senior Project Options:

REL 490: Senior Capstone

Students who major in religious studies develop a capstone project under the direction of a faculty member in the department, following the established, written guidelines available in the department. This takes place in the first semester of the senior year. [W]
Prerequisite: Students must be religious studies majors

REL 495, 496: Honors Thesis

Students desiring to take honors should inform their department advisers by the end of the second semester of the junior year. Honors work involves a guided program of independent reading and research culminating in a thesis on a topic to be selected by the student in consultation with his or her adviser and approved by the department. All honors projects must be conducted in accordance with the established written guidelines available in the department. Honors candidates enroll in 496 only upon successfully completing Religious Studies 495. [W]