Courses Offered | St. Lawrence University Religious Studies

Courses Offered

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

What is religion? Why are people religious? What power does religion have for individuals and societies? How does religion function as a way of knowing, acting, and being in the world? How did the study of religion arise in the modern West, and how scholars of religion go about studying it? What ways have they devised to grasp the rich varieties of religious experiences and expressions that they classify as religions? Throughout the course, students will study a wealth of material that may be regarded as religious, from societies past and present, literate and non-literate, and from around the globe. Finally, students will reflect on the place of the religious in contemporary society. Offered each semester.  

200. Explaining Religion.

Why are people religious? This seminar explores both classic and modern interpretations of what religion is, does, and means. The course places emphasis on introducing basic methodological and theoretical tools for the study of religions and their intellectual historical background.  This entails exploring a selection of readings that have been and are influential in religious studies, 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. 

2000-2999. Religion in the World

These 100-level  thematic courses are 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.

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? 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.  

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 examine the role that each discipline plays in society, and some points where the two have come into conflict (creation, evolution, bioethics, for example). Finally, we ask whether religion and science are reconcilable or are ultimately hostile to each other.  

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 may include Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Daoism, Judaism, Buddhism, Native American religions and Wicca/ Neo-Paganism. Also offered as Asian Studies 105 and Environmental Studies 103.

104. World Religions.

Being a citizen in the 21st century requires that we understand the beliefs and practices of those religious traditions that have passed the test of time and continue to influence the world in which we live.  The course will begin with an inquiry into the nature of religion and religious belief, and then survey origins, teachings, practices, and present-day situations of Indigenous Religions, the major Eastern (Hinduism, Buddhism, Daoism and Confucianism) and Western religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam). Attention will also be given to how these varied traditions influence contemporary issues such as gender, sexuality, ethics, science and ecology.  Several field trips will be required. Also offered through Peace 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. 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.  Offered every spring. Also offered through  European Studies.

Surveys of Religious Worlds

221. Religious Life of India.

In this course we will explore some of the major religions of South Asia through ritual, text, and daily life. We will learn about Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Islam, Sikhism, and others, through the doctrine and practices of each tradition. In each context we will examine the themes of perfection, eroticism, asceticism, class hierarchy, caste, gender, purity, and violence. Throughout the course of the semester we will also consider representations of diversity across South Asian religious traditions.

Offered every fall. Also offered in Asian Studies.  

222. Buddhist Religious Traditions.

This course offers an introduction of Buddhism from its genesis in India to Buddhism important role as a global religion today. Topics include the basic teachings and practices of early Buddhism in India in the sixth to fifth centuries BCE, the development of sophisticated philosophical teachings, meditational techniques and religious practices, lay and monastic life that arise with the historical spread of Buddhism into Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia, Tibet, China, Japan and, more recently, the West. Offered every other  year. Also offered in Asian Studies.

223. The Religious Life of China.

This course surveys 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. Also offered as Asian Studies 223. Offered every other year.

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. Also offered in Asian 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.

226. The Religious Life of Japan.

At the Far Eastern end of Asia, Japan has benefitted over the centuries from a complex inter-mingling of indigenous and foreign traditions that gave rise to Japan’s unique religious heritage. Students will learn about the different ways of being religious from pre-history to modern times through studying the ways of the kami, religion and the arts (for example, the tea ceremony), Pure Land and Zen Buddhism, State Shinto, new religious movements, and spirituality in contemporary Japanese popular culture. Offered every other year. Also offered in Asian Studies.

227. Religion in Ancient Greece and 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.

231. Christian Religious Traditions.

A survey of the development of Christian traditions from the first century to the present. This course focuses on the historical development of what came to be called Christianity, the diversity of the traditions, and the eventual establishment of what we now  think of orthodox Christian positions on issues like the divinity of Jesus and salvation. This course also focuses on key issues of gender, women's place in Christianity, and church-state relations. Special attention is given to the diversity of beliefs and practices in what we usually imagine as a monolithic tradition.   Offered  annually.

242. Norse Mythology.

This course is an introduction to the pre-Christian religion of Scandinavia, the course examines the major sources for Old Norse mythology.  We will discuss Christian influence and the ongoing expression of myth in a Christian context.  The course ends with some consideration of the continuing reinterpretations and adaptations of Norse mythology in cultural expressions such as Wagner's Ring cycle and Marvel's Thor.

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?

Topical Courses

218. Fantasy Religion.

Animated films or anime in Japan are a fascinating part of pop culture that attracts a huge audience of fans.  As part of a global leisure industry, anime can offer an imaginary space not only to entertain, but to explore key questions about spirituality, religion, and the sacred.  By viewing films like Anno Hideaki's Neon Genesis Evangelion, Shiro Masume's Ghose in the Shell, and Miyazaki Hayao's My Neighbor Totoro, this class will explore topics as the nature of the gods (kami), Shinto as nature religion, Christianity Japanese style, apocalyptic (end of the world) themes in anime, evil and the demonic, and so on.

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. Also offered in Global Studies.

245. Medieval Christianity.

Approximately half the history of Christianity is medieval Christianity, from the fall of Rome to the Reformation.  This course surveys that period of history, with particular attention given to changes in monasticism, heresy, the papacy, and popular Christianity.  For popular Christianity, topics will include veneration of saints and their relics, stories of the Grail, and the sacraments.  Also included are major shifts in devotion to Christ and Mary, which are important for both church history and the history of popular Christianity.

267. The Holocaust.

This course focuses on the development  of the Holocaust from 1933 to 1945, within the contexts of Christian anti-Semitism, Nazi ideas of race and empire, and World War II. We also address the relationship between the Nazi genocide against the Jews and Nazi persecution  of other groups such as Slavs, Roma and the disabled. Finally, we consider the Holocaust’s implications for Jewish and German identity, Christian and Jewish theology, international  law, and understanding genocide broadly.  Also offered as History 267 and  through European  Studies and Peace Studies.  

272. The Crusades.

The medieval phrase “taking the cross” described a variety of military actions, often characterized  as God’s will. They were influenced by and generated new ideological expressions of legitimate religious violence. This course looks at crusades to the area known as the “Holy  Land,”  and the expanded  ideology  of crusading that underpinned  attacks against heretics, Iberian Muslims, Jews, pagans, and others. Issues engaged include: crusaders’ motivations; 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.”  

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 who view them,and how they help humans to constitute the worlds that they inhabit.  The course draws upon case studies from multiple religious traditions. Also offered in Asian Studies.

282. Indian Epics.

Epic myths are some of the earliest – and most exciting – forms of religious literature. In this course we will study two of South Asia’s most popular epics, and consider how they have changed over time to remain relevant across several communities. We will read, see, and hear several versions of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, and consider how the stories change in oral, performed, artistic, and film versions. The themes of violence, history, and law will be considered. Also offered through Asian Studies.

3000-3999. Special Topics.

These 200-level courses deal with significant topics in religious studies. Offered occasionally. The content of each course or section will vary and will be announced each semester.

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.

333. Goddesses.

How are goddesses portrayed in different communities and traditions? This course examines the phenomenon of goddess worship from a cross-cultural perspective, drawing upon materials from ancient and contemporary India and China, 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. Also offered as Asian Studies 333.

334. The Ways of the Gods: Shinto in Modern Japan

Shinto or the “Way of the Gods” has long been viewed as the “archaic indigenous religion” of Japan. This course explores how, in fact, Shinto is an invented religion that changed radically throughout modern Japanese history as it evolved 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. Topics include: Shinto mythology, religious ultra-nationalism, emperor worship and the imperial system (also called State Shinto), the Yasukuni shrine war memorial issue, Shinto in popular culture, and the role of contemporary shrines and festivals, and kami worship and ecology. Offered  every other  year. Also offered in Asian Studies.

335. Religion and Violence

This course focuses on the intersection of and assumptions about the relationships between religion and violence.  Looking at various instances of the use of force and coercion, as well as verbal and symbolic violence in religious contexts, this course engages the course topic through specific case studies, both historically distant and contemporary, to draw attention to the intersections of political, economic, and demographic concerns that shape instances of “religious violence.” This course also engages with how we may define “religion,” how we may define “violence,” and how they are perceived and discussed together in cases of terrorism, war, and persecution of minority groups. The primary goal of the course is to examine our own as well as the broader society’s assumptions about religion and violence, and to develop better critical approaches to understanding their relationships to one another. Also offered through Peace Studies

4000-4999. Special Topics Seminars.

These 300-level seminars deal with significant topics in religious studies on an advanced level. Offered occasionally. The content  of each course or section will vary and will be announced  each semester.

412. Cross Cultural Perspectives of Healing.

This class uses healing  traditions  as the lens with  which  to examine culture. During the semester students will have the opportunity  to meet healers from around the world. In a typical semester presenters include a Traditional Chinese Medical practitioner, an Ayurvedic physician (from India), a shaman from Peru, an exorcist, a native American Healer an allopathic physician, new age healers, a Christian Scientist and others. Also offered in Global Studies  and Biology.

Special Courses

360. Majors Seminar.

This 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 the spring of 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 as Asian Studies 450 and 451 at the discretion of the instructor.

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.