Courses Offered


100. Mystery and Meaning: An Introduction to the Study of Religion.

This general introduction to both the subject matter and the study of religion calls attention to the fact that, although human beings have been religious in enormously varied ways, the study of religion is a recent development. What is there about the modern West that has led it to study religion on a global scale? Attention is given to the wealth of material that may be regarded as religious: past and present, literate and non-literate, Eastern and Western. Finally, we consider the place of the study of religion in the contemporary liberal arts curriculum, the discipline’s relationship to adjacent disciplines and the distinction between the study and practice of religion.  Offered each semester.  Satisfies HUM distribution requirement.

200. Explaining Religion.

This course serves as a general introduction to the study of religion, with an emphasis on introducing its methodological and theoretical tools and their intellectual historical background.  This entails exploring a selection of readings that have been and are influential in the study of religion, drawn from diverse academic disciplines.  The course considers basic methodological approaches for understanding religion as a human construction, offers a general picture of the field of religious studies as a whole, and provides basic research skills that will develop students' abilities to do independent research.  Offered every fall.

Religion in the World

These are 100-level thematic courses designed to introduce the fascinating interdisciplinary field of religious studies. Each course examines a particular theme or topic, highlighting a key interpretive approach or approaches for understanding religion. Courses highlight the diverse academic strengths of the department’s instructors.

101. Sacred Cinema

This course examines religion and film.  Films often wrestle with profoundly spiritual issues and questions: Is there a god (s)?  What is life all about?  Who am I?  Is there a way that a person (society) ought to live that is existentially real, true, and meaningful?  People can discover spiritually powerful stories in the images flickering mysteriously on the screen at the movie theater.  This course explores three types of American popular film dealing with religion: (1) Films that re-vision traditional religion to make it relevant for a contemporary audience; (2) films that are not explicitly religious (with no obvious symbols, personages, sacred histories in the plot), but nonetheless explore themes and questions that are central to religion; (3) the religious documentary.  Satisfies HUM distribution requirement.

102. Religion and Science

Religion and science are two different ways of knowing and understanding the world that usually ask very different questions.  Sometimes, however, the answer that one or the other discipline gives to its understanding of reality brings the two into conflict with each other.  Nevertheless, for most of human history, the two have been able to accommodate each other quite amicably.  In this course, we will examine the role that each discipline plays in society together with some of the points where the two have come into conflict (creation, evolution, and bioethics, for example).  Finally, we will ask whether religion and science are reconcilable or are ultimately hostile to each other.  Satisfies SST distribution requirement.

103. Religion and Ecology

How does religion shape human understanding of, and participation in, ecological systems?  This course samples widely from a range of religious traditions to come to a better understanding of the diverse ways that people have developed for interacting with animals, plants, water, and the land, and how those behaviors work in tandem with systems of knowledge and practice.  The class has a substantial focus on environmental ethics, and thinks hard about how different religious systems might contribute to either or both environmental degradation and solutions to environmental problems.  Traditions sampled include Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Daoism, Judaism, Buddhism, Native American religions, and Wicca/Neo-Paganism.  Satisfies HUM distribution and DIV requirements.  Also offered through Asian Studies.


205. Introduction to the Hebrew Bible

(Old Testament). (In English)

This course is designed to enable the student to use the insights of modern biblical scholarship to read the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) in an informed manner. The student is introduced to the entire array of methods used for understanding biblical texts, although historical, sociological and literary analyses are emphasized. Attention is also given to the ways modern Judaism and Christianity understand specific biblical passages.  Satisfies HUM distribution requirement.  Offered every fall.

206. Introduction to the New Testament.

The goals of this course are identical to those of Religious Studies 205, although that course is not a prerequisite. The same forms of analysis that were used to understand the Hebrew Bible are used to understand the New Testament. The course emphasizes the different ways Christian communities understood the Christian message and how these different understandings came to be embodied in a single collection of documents. Satisfies HUM distribution requirement.  Offered every spring.  Also offered through European Studies.

307. Jesus in the Gospels.

This seminar studies one or more of the gospels using any or all of the techniques of modern biblical scholarship. It examines how the author(s) understood the ministry of Jesus and how they communicated that understanding to readers. The format is a combination of lecture and seminar. Religious Studies 206 or permission of the instructor required.

Surveys of Religious Traditions

221. Religious Life of India.

This course introduces the history and diversity of some of the major religions of South Asia, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Islam, and Sikhism. It considers religious ideas and practices that both define and dissolve the boundaries between these traditions, including techniques of bodily and spiritual perfection; visual practices; eroticism and asceticism; hierarchies of class, caste and gender; purity and impurity; and violence and nonviolence. Satisfies HUM distribution and DIV requirements. Offered every fall. Also offered through Asian Studies.

222. Buddhist Religious Traditions.

An introductory exploration of the various classical and contemporary forms of Buddhism. The initial task is to understand the Buddha in the context of India in the sixth to fifth centuries BCE, then to examine the emergence of a sophisticated philosophical and psychological literature, the meditational techniques of Tantra and Zen, the different forms of monastic life, lay practice and more. The course enables students to follow the historical spread of Buddhism into Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia, Tibet, China, Japan and, more recently, the West. Satisfies HUM distribution and DIV requirements.  Offered every other year. Also offered through Asian Studies.

223. The Religious Life of China.

An introduction to China’s unique religious heritage through a selective survey of major thinkers, texts and cultural expressions. The primary emphasis is on the historical development and mutual influence of the “three teachings”— Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism — with special attention given to the relationship between philosophy and popular practice, and to the interaction among political and religious institutions. Topics include gods and the sacred, ritual, ethics, human nature, meditation, mysticism and salvation. Satisfies HUM distribution and DIV requirements.  Offered every other year. Also offered through Asian Studies.

224. Islamic Religious Traditions.

An introductory examination of that religious tradition which, originating in seventh-century Arabia under the inspiration of the Prophet Muhammad, has come to include one-fourth of humankind, and predominates throughout the Middle East, North and East Africa, Pakistan, portions of India and Indonesia. The course considers the career of the Prophet and the growth of the central institutions of Islamic civilization and endeavors to identify the varied aspirations and concerns of Muslims in the contemporary world. Satisfies HUM distribution and DIV requirements. Also offered through Asian Studies and Global Studies.

225. Religious Traditions of Judaism.

An introductory examination of the religious traditions of Judaism from the biblical period through the 21st century. Just as Christianity is no longer the religion of the Hebrew Bible, neither is Judaism. Emphasis is placed on the development of Rabbinic (modern) Judaism and its evolution in the modern world. The course also covers recent movements and events such as the emergence of new forms of Judaism, Zionism, the Holocaust and the birth of Israel.  Satisfies HUM distribution and DIV requirements.  Offered every other spring.

226. The Religious Life of Japan.

A historical and topical introduction to the complex inter-mingling of indigenous and foreign traditions that gave rise to Japan's unique religious heritage combining kami worship, Buddhism and Confucian traditions.  Major topics include religion and the arts (haiku poetry, gardening, the tea ceremony, etc.), monasticism and meditation practices, Pure Land and Zen Buddhism, State Shinto, new religious movements, and spirituality in Japanese popular culture.  Course materials consist of canonical and secondary texts as well as autobiographical accounts, works of fiction and film.  Satisfies HUM distribution and DIV requirements.  Offered every other year.  Also offered through Asian Studies.

227. Religion in Ancient Greece Rome.

This course is an exploration of the development and evolution of religion in the worlds of ancient Greece and Rome.  We first study the religious systems of each, and then examine how these systems affected each other and how each coped with systems that infiltrated from other regions.  Finally, we examine the effect that the religious assumptions of the Greco-Roman world had on Judaism and Christianity (which were but two options among many) and the benefits that all of these systems offered to potential adherents. Offered every other year.

231. Christian Religious Traditions.

A survey of the development of the Christian tradition or traditions from New Testament times to the present. Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and the major streams of Protestantism are considered. Special attention is given to a sampling of significant Christian writers, both men and women, of the past and present. Satisfies HUM distribution requirement.  Offered every spring.  Also offered through European Studies.

334. The Ways of the Gods: Shinto in Modern Japanese Religion.

Shinto or the “Way of the Gods” has long been viewed as the “archaic indigenous religion” of Japan. However, “Shinto,” as the Japanese sociologist of religion Inoue Nobutaka has recently noted, is “notoriously vague and difficult to define.” This course explores how Shinto was “invented” and has evolved throughout modern Japanese history, from local cults worshipping kami to state Shinto and new religious movements in the pre-war period to its modern guise today as religious organizations independent of state control.  Shinto remains a powerful force even after the demise of State Shinto after World War 2 and even in secularized Japan of today.  Topics include: Shinto mythology, religious ultranationalism,  emperor  worship and the imperial system (also called State Shinto), Shinto in new religious movements, Shinto militarism and the Kamikaze pilots, the Yasukuni shrine war memorial issue, Japanese contemporary national identity (Nihonjinron), Shinto in popular culture, the role of contemporary shrines and festivals, and kami worship and ecology. Satisfies the DIV 13 requirement.


Additional  Courses

238. Global Christianities.

This course explores Christianity outside the United States and Europe. Catholic and Protestant Christianities in addition to newer forms of Christianity are included, and case studies are drawn from Africa, Asia and Latin America. Pentecostal Christianity (also called Charismatic Christianity) is a particular focus. The course considers the conflict and interplay of older forms of Christianity, often part of the inheritance of colonialism, with more recent arrivals; probes the relationship between religion and the processes of globalization; and questions whether any of these forms of Christianity can be described as globalized, and, if so, whether global Christianity resists or supports globalization.  Satisfies the DIV requirement.

266. History of the Middle East, 1914-1967.

272. The Crusades.

In the Middle Ages, the phrase “taking the cross” was used to describe a variety of military actions, often characterized by religious leaders and others as God’s will.  These military actions were influenced by and generated new ideological expressions of legitimate religious violence and its targets.  This course looks at both the crusades to the area known at the time as the “Holy Land,” and the expanded ideology of crusading that underpinned crusading against heretics, Muslims in Spain, Jews, pagans, and others.  Issues engaged in the course include: motivations of the first and later crusaders; ideas of Christian holy war and just war; Islamicate perceptions of the crusades; pogroms against Jews; the Military Orders such as the Knights Templar; and cultural interaction and non-interaction among western Christians, eastern Christians, and Muslims in the “Latin East.” 


367. History of the Middle East 1967-present.

This two-course sequence surveying the history of the Middle East from World War I to the present examines the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the rise of Zionism and Arab nationalism, and the development of modern Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, the countries of the Arabian Peninsula, Israel and the Palestine Authority.  The first course covers the period up to 1967; the second continues this study for the period after the 1967 War.  The first course satisfies the DIV requirement and is also offered as History 260 and through Global Studies and Peace Studies; the second is also offered as History 367.  The first semester may be taken without continuing to the second, but is a prerequisite for admission to the second semester.  Dual-listed as Hist. 260 and Hist 367.  Offered every other year.

267. The Holocaust.

The development of the Holocaust from 1933 to 1945, within the larger contexts of Christian anti-Semitism, Nazi ideas of race and empire, and World War II. We consider the Holocaust’s implications for Jewish and German identity, for Jewish and Christian theology, and for an understanding of racism, genocide and modernity. Course texts include scholarly analyses, philosophical essays, memoirs, images and poetry. Also offered as History 267 and through European Studies and Peace Studies.

273. Religion and Visual Culture.

This course considers the interaction between visuality and religion, the role that seeing  might play in religious practice and the role that religion might play in visual practice.  It explores not just the ways that images and objects can embody and communicate meaning, but also how they can elicit powerful responses (e.g. fascination, excitement, faith, desire, or fear) in those that view them, and how they help humans to constitute the worlds that they inhabit.  To better understand the ways in which seeing and what is seen are part of social history and material culture, the class considers the extent to which vision changes from culture to culture, religion to religion.  It draws upon case studies from a variety of religious traditions including Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Vodou, Christianity, and Neo-Paganism, with possible forays to Papua New Guinea, the Central Desert of Australia, and West Africa.  Satisfies HUM distribution and DIV requirements.  Also offered through Asian Studies.

282. Indian Epics.

To convey the foundational importance of India’s two best-known epics, the scholar A.K. Ramanujan once remarked, “In India and Southeast Asia, no one ever reads the Ramayana or the Mahabharata for the first time. The stories are there, ‘always already.’” In order to understand their significance in South  Asia and beyond, and to appreciate their richness and depth, this class examines the Mahabharata and the Ramayana in their classical Sanskrit tellings (abridged and translated) as well as in oral, vernacular, performed and artistic versions.  Satisfies HUM distribution and DIV requirements.  Also offered through Asia Studies.

288. Cults and New Religious Movements.

The rise of new religious and spiritual movements (NRMs) in North America since the 1960s is a response to the rapidly changing religious, social and political conditions of the modern world. The objective of this course is to explore the origins, nature, beliefs and practices of NRMs. Who joins these groups and why? Do NRMs “brainwash” their followers? Are NRMs dangerous and violent? How have NRMs been portrayed in the mass media and in particular by the news media?  Satisfies DIV requirement.

331. Pilgrimage as a Spiritual Journey.

This course explores the experiences, rituals, stories, beliefs, temples/shrines, images and traveling communities associated with the religious phenomenon of pilgrimage. What kind of travel is pilgrimage? Does it have a particular structure? Are there different kinds of pilgrimages? What kind of religious experience does pilgrimage provide? These and other questions are examined through a close study of selected pilgrimages in Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism.  Satisfies DIV requirement.

333. Goddesses.

This course examines the phenomenon of goddess worship from a cross-cultural perspective, drawing upon materials from ancient and contemporary India, pre-Christian Ireland, classical Greece, contemporary Haiti and present-day America. It analyzes the ways in which gender is used religiously, and the ways in which religion operates within gendered social relations, in order to consider the question of the relationship between female divinities and the roles and status of human women.  Satisfies DIV requirement.  Also offered through Asian Studies.

335. Religion and Violence

This course focuses on the intersection of religion and violence.  It looks at various manifestations of the use of force, coercion, verbal and symbolic violence in religious contexts, using religious language and symbols and so forth.  The course engages three religions through case studies: Christianity, Islam and Buddhism.  A few other religions will be touched on in some of the class readings.  The organizing issue of the course is this question: what is religion (as a separate term) and what is violence (as a separate term), and what are they when you put them together?  As such the course includes sections on martyrdom and asceticism as forms of religious violence that may or may not be the result of violent force, per se.  The primary goal of the course is to produce a provisional definition of religious violence that accounts for a variety of religious practices and discourses.

336. Tolkien: Religion & Theology

This is a seminar in which we will discuss the question of the theology of the fantasy world of J.R. R. Tolkien and whether or not there is a "religion" that derives from that theology and in which I will be working along with you as a researcher.  In order to determine the existence of these phenomena in Tolkien's world, we must first decide what we mean by "Theology" and what we mean by "religion."  Does Tolkien posit a sacred world inhabited by sacred beings?  If so, for whom are they sacred?

370. Asian Religions in the Modern World.

A seminar that examines the transformations that the religious traditions of Asia — Islamic, Indian, Chinese and Japanese — have undergone during the past century. Attention is paid to (1) institutional and ideological changes in the Asian traditions themselves and (2) the increasing presence of Asian religious motifs in Western culture. Also offered through Asian Studies.

380. Mythology and Popular Religious Thought in India.

This seminar has two goals: (1) to familiarize students with the great myths of India and the variety of ways they have been woven into the fabric of Hindu culture; and (2) to explore some contemporary theories about the nature of myth. Emphasis throughout is on student discussion and research, on engagement with the values of Indian culture, and on seeing those values in relation to the concerns of modern Western scholarship. Also offered through Asian Studies.

Special Courses, Spring 2015

3003. Religious Life of Tibet

3004. Literature of South Asian Religions

3005. Religion and Race


360/361. Majors Seminar.

This course is an in-depth examination of theoretical and methodological approaches to the study of religion that will enable students to do sophisticated independent research. Required of all majors in religious studies, ideally in their junior year.

450, 451. Directed Studies in Religion.

An individual study program for candidates for honors in religious studies or others showing special interest and aptitude in the study of religion, as approved by the department chair and the instructor under whom the work will be completed. A term paper is required as the product of the special study. (A 2.5 average is required.) Also offered through Asian Studies.

489, 490. SYE: Senior-Year Experience.

An individual study program for candidates for majors in religious studies that fulfills the requirements for their SYE and may be taken in place of Religious Studies 360 with approval of the department chair. (A 2.5 average is required). An extended term paper is required as the product of the special study.

498, 499. SYE: Honors.

This is a departmentally approved honors project requiring an extended term paper that is the product of the special study. A cumulative GPA of 3.5 in the department is required to do an honors project.


101-102. Hebrew.

An introduction to Hebrew language, the form of which (biblical, rabbinic, modern) is determined by the interests of the class. No prior knowledge is presupposed. In the first semester, students are introduced to the script and basic grammar and vocabulary. If modern Hebrew is taught, there is an emphasis on conversational skills; if biblical or rabbinic Hebrew, the emphasis is on ability to read the relevant texts. Offered occasionally by request.


111-112. Hellenistic Greek.

The first term and much of the second are spent mastering the essentials of Greek grammar and vocabulary of the period necessary to proceed in the second semester to readings in the New Testament. Offered occasionally by request.


101-102. Classical Sanskrit.

This introduction to Classical Sanskrit begins with learning to read and write the Devanagari script, understanding the grammar of the language, and acquiring a basic vocabulary. By the second half of the second semester, students should be able, with the help of a dictionary, to read simple, narrative Sanskrit. Offered occasionally by request.