Religion (REL)

Academic Catalog 2010–2011

  • John Cha, Chairperson
  • Thia Cooper
  • Blake Couey
  • Casey Elledge
  • Mary Gaebler
  • Philippe Gagnon (Visiting, Fall 2010)
  • Deborah Goodwin
  • Darrell Jodock
  • Sarah Johnson
  • Paul Lutter (Visiting, 2010–2011)
  • Garrett Paul (On leave, 2010–2011)
  • Mary Solberg (On leave, Fall 2010)
  • John Spaulding (Visiting, 2010–2011)

The program of the Department of Religion is designed to meet the needs of all students for a critical appreciation of religion as a basic aspect of human experience, of the Christian faith and its contemporary expressions, and of the methods appropriate to the study of religion.

Because the data of religion are so varied, its study involves the use of perspectives and methods from several fields, including the arts and foreign languages, social sciences and literature, history, and philosophy. Thus the study of religion offers a unique opportunity for the type of integrated study that is desirable in a liberal arts education.

The major and minor are designed to help students deepen their understanding, whether for the sake of their own personal development or to prepare for graduate study in religion, or to provide a broad, pre-professional study in preparation for seminary, law school, medical school, or other professional programs.

The curriculum is organized under four areas of concentration: Biblical Studies; Theological Studies; Religion, Culture, and Society; and History of Religions, along with special courses. Each of the areas of concentration offers a specific approach to defining what is distinctive about religion and toward demonstrating the relations between religion and associated academic disciplines.

There are several excellent opportunities for Religion majors or minors to study abroad. Students emphasizing Biblical Studies may wish to consider study at universities in Israel or at archeological excavations; students emphasizing Theology may especially consider study in Germany, Sweden, or the United Kingdom; and students concentrating in History of Religions or Religion and Culture may find study in India or Japan particularly attractive. In addition to these and other overseas study opportunities, students are encouraged to consider immersion or service learning programs within the United States, such as those in urban areas, in Appalachia, or on reservations.


The major is nine courses selected in consultation with an adviser, including REL-299 and REL-399. No more than two Level I courses may be counted toward the major (REL-130 and REL-135 are not included in this limit). At least two Level III courses must be taken in addition to REL-399. Each of the four departmental areas must be represented among the courses chosen. Students considering seminary or graduate study in religion are strongly urged to study at least one modern research language, such as French or German, and/or a primary language (Hebrew, Greek, Latin), depending on the area chosen for study.


The minor is five courses selected from at least three areas of the department. No more than two Level I courses may be counted toward the minor, and at least one Level III course must be taken. REL-299 is recommended.

Biblical Studies

The canonical texts of the Jewish and Christian scriptures, interpreted through the various theological, textual, literary, historical-critical, and philological approaches. The religion of Israel and the Christian Church as manifested in these texts.

110The Bible(1 course) An introduction to the study of religion through an exploration of the Bible, both in its original setting and as a continuing standard for the worshiping communities which revere it. The class will become acquainted with the Near-Eastern and Greco-Roman cultures that formed its historical context, the oral and literary processes that underlay its present text, and the fundamental problems of meaning and value to which it offers symbolic, mythic, and theological response. Lectures, discussions of shared readings, and examinations will be the central elements of course procedure. THEOL, Fall and Spring semesters.

120Introduction to Biblical Hebrew(1 course) An introduction to biblical Hebrew grammar and the reading of selected texts from the Hebrew scriptures. The focus will be on elementary grammar and on readings from prose texts. The student will begin to attain rudimentary knowledge of Hebrew grammar and be able to read non-complex prose and poetic passages in the Hebrew Bible. The prose reading will focus on Genesis and Exodus, and the poetic readings will focus on Amos and the Psalms. Offered occasionally.

130Biblical Hebrew Grammar and Exegesis(1 course) The course allows students to move beyond a rudimentary knowledge of Hebrew grammar and reading skills. Students will complete an overview of biblical Hebrew grammar and gain proficiency in reading and interpreting prose and poetic Hebrew texts. The course will also introduce the concept of Hebrew exegesis and the use of concordances and other lexical research tools as the student begins to explore the use of Hebrew for doing theological readings of the Hebrew Bible. Prerequisite: REL-120. Fulfills Curriculum I Non-English Language requirement. Offered occasionally.

GRE-202The Greek New Testament(1 course) An exegetical study of the First Epistle of John, the Gospel according to Mark, Paul’s Letter to the Romans, and other texts from the Greek New Testament selected jointly by the students and instructor. In each case the class will also address issues of compositional analysis, historical setting, tradition development, and modern hermeneutical application. The investigation of Mark and Romans will include the writing of a critical essay on each and exercises in Greek composition which help to clarify ancient narrative and epistolary style. Prerequisite: GRE-201 or equivalent. LARS, Spring semester.

240Prophets(1 course) This course examines the writings and roles of the biblical prophets within an extended context that includes prophecy in the ancient Near East, New Testament views of prophecy, and modern adaptations of the prophetic role as agent of social, religious, and political change. Resources will be drawn from non-biblical traditions and works in anthropology, sociology, feminist, and African American studies. Fall semester.

250Women and The Bible(1 course) Several aspects of feminist biblical scholarship will be studied in biblical texts and secondary readings: 1) methods and issues in biblical history and interpretation; 2) depictions of women in the Bible; and 3) kinds of imagery used to symbolize the divine and the continuing influence of such symbols upon religious and social institutions. Offered occasionally.

280Paul and His Letters(1 course) An investigation of the letters and theology of the first-century apostle whose insights have at once richly informed subsequent Christian theology and attracted a broad range of critical assessment. The class will read and discuss Paul’s letters, with emphasis upon their literary features, original historical setting, and theological tendencies. Special concern will also be devoted to major theological interpreters of Paul (such as Augustine, Luther, Schweitzer, and Bultmann) and to more contemporary critical assessments. Students will leave the course with a fundamentally strong grasp of Pauline literature and theology, and the most important critical models for understanding the apostle today. LARS, Fall semester, even years.

290Jesus in Tradition and History(1 course) An investigation of the life and mission of Jesus in the historical context of first-century Palestine. Extensive consideration will be devoted to the life of Jesus as portrayed in the New Testament Gospels and other ancient writings, and to the modern critical quest(s) of the historical Jesus from their origins to more present controversies in Jesus research. Special topics will also include: Jesus within early Judaism, Jesus and the politics of his day, the theology and ethics of Jesus, Jesus and his contemporaries, Christology, Jesus in the religions of the world, and related topics. HIPHI, Spring semester, even years.

360Topics in New Testament Studies(1 course) The communal and social nature of earliest Christianity will be considered from a variety of perspectives. Special concern will be devoted to the earliest Christian communities, major centers of early Christianity, and the origins of Christianity within early Judaism. Students will also explore early Christian attitudes toward worship, spirituality, politics, race, gender, and sexuality. The course will explore these topics with direct reference to New Testament writings and other early Christian literature. Evaluation will be based upon presentations and the writing of a research topic. Prerequisite: one course in Biblical Studies. HIPHI, WRITD, Fall semester, odd years.

Theological Studies

The cognitive dimensions and philosophical questions implicit in, and posed by, religious experience, particularly as considered in historical and contemporary Christian thought.

112Studies in Religion(1 course) Investigations into the nature and function of religious faith and activity. The course asks: What is a religious claim? On what should it be based? How should it be evaluated? What does it mean to those who accept it? The focus is on the Christian heritage and its interaction with religious alternatives and secular culture. Lectures, readings, a writing component, and discussions will revolve around the underlying issues. THEOL, Fall and Spring semesters.

122Introduction to Christian Thought(1 course) A survey of central events, ideas, and figures in the history of Christianity from the early church to the present. The course will focus on primary texts, and attention will be given to ways that Christianity has developed within a variety of historical and cultural contexts. The significance of historical developments for the church today will be examined throughout the course, and selected contemporary issues debated within the church will be discussed. THEOL, Fall and Spring semesters.

132God Today(1 course) This course investigates the importance and function of a contemporary, religious understanding of God. How is God to be portrayed? Is such a portrayal credible? What are its implications? How do specific Christian views of God affect human meaning and behavior? The course explores various biblical images of God and re-examines them in the light of 20th-century developments, particularly massive human suffering, despair, and ecological problems. THEOL, offered annually.

222Catholic Lives(1 course) A survey of the history and development of Catholicism, chiefly through the vehicle of autobiography. It involves the study of central Catholic teachings, distinctive religious practices, and the history of the church’s organization through the eyes of representative figures. The course also examines the rich tradition of Catholic dissent and reform, illustrated in the lives and work of Clare and Francis of Assisi, Luther, Teresa of Avila, Dorothy Day, and others. HIPHI, Fall semester, even years.

262God and Gender(1 course) An examination of how one’s understanding and experience of gender are connected to one’s views of God and the natural world. The course explores the works of a variety of thinkers both inside and outside the Christian tradition, paying special attention to issues raised by feminist theologians. Possible topics include: language about God, human sexuality, the nature of biblical authority, images of nature in Western religious thought, views of Jesus, the feminist movement, the men’s movement, and the ordination of women. This course counts toward fulfillment of the Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies minor. Prerequisite: any course in religion. HIPHI, Fall semester, even years.

272Luther and His Legacy(1 course) This course will explore the life, work, and legacy of Martin Luther. Attention will be given to the social, economic, and political milieu of the 16th century and his role as a leader of the Protestant Reformation. Luther’s own writings will be analyzed and assessed. Central to the course will be an examination of the major theological principles at the core of Luther’s thought and their significance for contemporary Christianity. HIPHI, Fall semester.

282Perspectives on Evil, Sin, and Suffering(1 course) “If God is good, where does evil come from? If there is no God, where does goodness come from?” These questions form the basis of this course, which examines how theologians have grappled with the tension between God’s goodness and the presence of evil and suffering in the world. Students will scrutinize “classic” responses to the problem of evil from the viewpoint of their most serious contemporary challengers: feminist theologians from both developed and “Two-Thirds World” countries, and post-Holocaust Jewish theologians. Prerequisite: One course in religion. HIPHI, WRITI, Spring semester, odd years.

312Jewish-Christian Encounter(1 course) Christianity emerged from Judaism, yet until recent decades, the relationship between the two faiths often has been hostile, with tragic results for the Jews of Europe. This course will examine the historical and theological aspects of that relationship: the context out of which Christianity emerged, its eventual separation from its “parent” faith, and its ultimate repudiation of Judaism. The course also considers the theology of Jewish-Christian relations, past and present. How does either faith maintain its claims in the face of the other? In what ways are the two religions linked even while they are in conflict? Prerequisite: one course in religion. HIPHI, WRITD, Fall semester, odd years.

322Foundations of Modern Theology(1 course) The 19th century was a period of enormous ferment and originality in religious thought—and anti-religious thought. This course will cover the chief thinkers in the birth and growth of modern theology and atheism from the French Revolution to the outbreak of World War I. Primary emphasis will be on the movement leading from Kant and Schleiermacher to Troeltsch and the dialectical theology, and the counter-currents of Feuerbach and Nietzsche. The growing interaction of European thought with world cultures in this period will also be engaged, and students will have the option to study religious thought in any world culture, from Europe to America, Asia, and elsewhere. Prerequisite: one course in religion or philosophy. HIPHI, WRITD, Fall semester, even years.

332Contemporary Theologies(1 course) An examination, using primary texts, of theological issues emerging at the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st centuries, with particular attention to theologies from Africa, Asia, and Latin America, as well as feminist, womanist, and African American theologies in North America. The course will account for the ways in which theologians working today draw on and/or depart from earlier 20th century theologians, including Barth, Tillich, Bonheoffer, and others. Prerequisite: one course in religion. HIPHI, Spring semester, odd years.

Religion, Culture, and Society

The interface between religion, culture, and society, where the primary focus is on how culture (art, science, learning, etc.) and social institutions (government, economics, medicine, etc.) interact with religion.

113Religion in America(1 course) This course surveys and analyzes the interaction between religion, particularly Christianity, and American culture from the 16th to the 21st centuries. The study emphasizes the influence of church/state debates, immigration, slavery, wars, science, civil rights, and late 20th and early 21st century political realignments upon the religious life and attitudes of the American people. Particular attention will be given to the various ways Americans have negotiated the reality of religious diversity and the desire for cultural unity. THEOL, offered annually.

123Faith, Religion, and Culture(1 course) What is faith? What is religion? Are they optional or necessary in human existence? Who, or what, is God, and what does it mean to have a god? How does religion interact with culture? This course addresses these and other basic issues in theology and religion, with primary emphasis on the Christian tradition in the past, present, and future, and with special attention to the role of symbol, myth, scripture, and ritual in religious teachings and institutions. THEOL, offered annually.

223Christ, Culture, and Nature(1 course) Who or what is God, and what does it mean to have a God? Who is Jesus Christ? What is the relationship of Christ to culture? Of God to nature? Of the Big Bang and evolution to creation? Of religion to politics? How do Christian claims relate to Buddhist, Muslim, or nontheistic claims? This course is designed as an introduction to theology for students who have a working knowledge of the Christian faith and are interested in a systematic and critical approach to meeting the CHRIS requirement. THEOL, offered occasionally.

233Christian Social Ethics(1 course) An investigation into the basic issues, perspectives, and types of historical and contemporary Christian ethics, in connection with social and political analysis of several contemporary social issues. Such issues may include social justice, international politics, gender and sexuality, alternative economic systems, nuclear war, depletion of natural resources, medicine and health care, and ethics in business. HIPHI, Spring semester, even years.

ART-239Christian, Islamic, and Jewish Art: CE 0-1400(1 course) An introduction to the arts of Europe in the Middle Ages. This course discusses the traditions of Christian, Islamic, and Jewish faiths as expressed in art and architecture. The course examines the ways that these traditions intersected each other and created a vibrant visual culture that continues to influence the contemporary world. ARTS, WRITD, Spring semester.

243Ethics and Medicine(1 course) An introduction to the study of ethical problems in the context of health care and the practice of medicine. Issues studied will include the problems that arise at the beginning and end of life, the duties of professionals and the rights of patients, the meaning of “health” and “disease,” the social causes of illness, medical research, and the adequacy of health care delivery. The inquiry will be informed by the perspectives of contemporary Western moral philosophy, historic and contemporary Christian ethics, and social theory. Prerequisite: any Level I course in religion. SOSCI, Fall semester, odd years.

253Science and Religion(1 course) The 400-year-old debate between science and religion seems poised for a fundamental change. Until recently it has presupposed a duality between the rationality of science (its factual, quantitative, and objective outlook) and the faith of religion (its valuational, emotional, and subjective outlook). This course will examine postmodern efforts to replace such dualities with an unity, where rationality and faith are found in both science and religion. Prerequisite: any course in religion. HIPHI, WRITD, Fall semester, odd years.

S/A-259The Anthropology of Religion(1 course) This course reviews comparative anthropological approaches to the study of magic, witchcraft, and religion, primarily in non-Western societies. Focus is on the nature, roles, and varieties of belief and myth; ritual and symbolization; religious experience, including drug and non-drug induced trance states and their psycho-cultural dimensions; and magico-religious social organization. The course will emphasize shamanic and spirit possession religions and radical religious movements, such as nativistic and messianic cults. In relation to all of these, anthropological theories of the origins and functions of magic, witchcraft, and religion in social life and personal experience will be critically examined. NWEST, Spring semester.

273Religion and Politics in Latin America(1 course) Religion and politics have been interwoven in the Americas since the rise of indigenous American cultures. Starting with the initial clash between European Christianity (missions and conquistadors) and the indigenous cultures, this course will analyze the interaction of religion and politics through time, including struggles for independence, continuing political upheavals, resistance movements, and theologies of liberation and revolution. It asks why so many Latin Americans choose to be Christian. Theological investigations include the role of the poor, conflicts over land, and current popular movements such as Brazil’s Landless Workers’ Movement. HIPHI, NWEST, Spring semester, odd years.

283Insiders and Outsiders in American Religion(1 course) Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Amish, Black Muslims, Zen Buddhists—just a few of the thousands of different religious groups in America. But who’s “in” and who’s “out” when it comes to American religious groups? This course will examine the world of American religion by exploring the tensions between “insider” and “outsider” religious groups, how these distinctions are drawn, and whether the distinctions make sense. The course will focus on Christian groups as well as world religions that have found a home in America. We will also explore issues of race and gender as they affect these distinctions. HIPHI, WRITD, Fall semester, odd years.

293God and Globalization(1 course) We live in an era of globalization, but what does this mean? As boundaries of religion and culture blur, are humans moving closer together? Does globalization describe economic and political changes? And what does God have to do with this? This course examines how people of faith around the world define globalization and respond to its various ethical and theological challenges. These challenges include responses to capitalism, democracy, debt, poverty, the environment, and the power of corporations. The course aims to discover and assess the beliefs and values underlying globalization, and in turn our beliefs and values. NWEST, Fall semester, odd years.

325Religion and Politics in America(1 course) This course is the same as POL-325. The complete course description can be found in the Political Science listings.

373The Holocaust and Theology(1 course) An examination of the moral and theological implications of the planned and systematic destruction of Jews, Gypsies, and other civilian groups by the Nazis during the 1940s. Attention will be given to the historical events and their background, but the course will focus on the implications of the Holocaust for today: for understanding Western culture, human behavior, moral priorities, Jewish identity, and Christian theology. Prerequisite: one religion course. This course counts toward the Peace Studies minor. HIPHI, WRITD, Spring semester.

383Liberation Struggles in the 2/3 World(1 course) This course explores contemporary struggles for justice in the face of both globalized and local oppression. Faith-based liberation movements continue to thrive in Latin America, Southern Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and among native North American peoples. Focusing on the issues these people of faith are wrestling with--including race, gender, class, land, and the environment--the course will examine how and why they seek to transform their daily realities and the larger systems behind them, as well as their visions for the future. NWEST, WRITD Spring semester, even years.

History of Religions

The great religious traditions of the human race, understood through their sacred texts and practices, historical development, and philosophical and religious thought. Contemporary prospects for interreligious dialogue and conflict.

115World Religions(1 course) An introduction to the major non-Christian world religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and Islam. The course will focus on the formative periods and historical developments of the great religions, and on the differing ways in which they answer the fundamental religious questions. A combination of lectures, discussions, slides, films, and religious biographies will be used to enrich an understanding of these living traditions. This course counts toward the Peace Studies minor. HIPHI, NWEST, Fall and Spring semesters.

125Sanskrit I: Introduction to Classical Sanskrit(1 course) In this course students will learn to read and write the Devanagari script (the most common script of Indian literature) and study the grammar of the classical Sanskrit language. Simple readings from Sanskrit literature will be introduced gradually into the lessons to develop in students the ability to analyze closely and to read simple texts in classical Sanskrit. The overall aim is to expose students to the literary and religious culture of India. Offered occasionally.

135Sanskrit II: Introduction to Classical Sanskrit(1 course) This course is the second of a two-semester sequence that will emphasize more advanced forms of classical Sanskrit grammar and close reading of texts. Readings from actual Sanskrit literature will be included in the lessons regularly to enhance the students’ ability to analyze closely, to read, and to translate texts in classical Sanskrit. The overall aim of the course is to develop in students a deeper understanding of the literary and religious culture of India. Prerequisite: REL-125. Offered occasionally.

235Zen and Japanese Culture(1 course) A study of Zen Buddhism, both as a religious movement and as a window on Oriental culture. The course will trace the peculiar methods and teachings of Zen, from its origins in Indian Buddhism and Chinese Taoism, to its Chinese and Japanese developments. Corresponding attention will be given to the cultural expressions of Zen, particularly in Japan: haiku poetry, sumi-e painting, the Noh theatre, raku ceramics, the tea ceremony, the martial arts, landscape gardens, and flower arrangement. In these artistic forms a unique blend of religious and aesthetic principles will be explored. HIPHI, NWEST, Spring semester.

255Islam(1 course) This course is an introduction to the foundations of the religion and cultures of Islam: Muhammad, the Qur’an, and the sources of Islamic faith and practice. The course will survey the development of Islamic philosophy, theology, fundamental institutions, and the spread of Islam from its early beginnings to its present worldwide expression in diverse cultural settings. The history of Islam’s major civilizations will be surveyed and important cultural achievements will be explored. Historic and contemporary relations between Islam, Christianity, and Judaism will be studied from a variety of historical, cultural, and academic perspectives. HIPHI, NWEST, Spring semester.

265World Religions in America(1 course) America is a religiously pluralistic country, and almost all the religions of the world can be found here. Some of these world religions are well established while others are new arrivals, but all share the struggles of adapting to the new and distinct religious world of the United States. This course will focus on the non-Christian religions that have found a home in America, about their struggles to adapt and flourish, and the strategies they have employed to become a permanent force in modern America. NWEST, Spring semester, odd years.

355Buddhist Philosophy(1 course) This course will examine writings of three of the most influential religious philosophers in 20th century Japan: Nishida, Tanabe, and Nishitani. We will focus on how these authors employed Western and Buddhist philosophies to construct a “uniquely Japanese” subjectivity in response to “Westernization.” The guiding theme in this study will be the tension between traditional religious values and the social/cultural changes brought on by modernization. The course will examine the attempts by these thinkers to construct a philosophy that would seriously and effectively address the problems of the modern world and also disclose a uniquely Japanese cultural/religious identity. HIPHI, NWEST, WRITD, Fall semester.

Special Courses

244, 344Special Topics in Religion(1 course, 1 course) These courses, offered occasionally, provide an opportunity to investigate in depth a selected topic in religion that is not the primary subject of any of the regular catalog courses. Prerequisite: for REL-244, one course in religion; for REL-344, two courses in religion or permission of instructor.

299Sources and Methods in Theology and Religion(1 course) This course will explore diverse understandings of religion and the methods employed in the academic study of theology and religion. It will analyze and assess how evidence is presented and arguments constructed. Students will examine how scholars in the field identify a problem, review and evaluate the relevant literature, formulate a proposal regarding that problem, and provide credible reasons for the proposal. They will learn how to take these steps themselves. Attention will be given to the purpose(s) of an investigation and the audience(s) to whom the results are addressed. Prerequisite: one course in religion. WRITD, Fall and Spring semesters.

268, 368Career Exploration, Internship(Course value to be determined) Off-campus employment experience related to the student’s major. See description of the Internship Program. Prerequisite: junior or senior status. Fall and Spring semesters and January Interim.

291, 391Independent Study(Course value to be determined) Fall and Spring semesters and January Interim.

399Senior Thesis Seminar(1 course) The senior seminar provides an opportunity for the major to explore in depth an issue of special interest in religious studies. The thesis will be associated with one of the four departmental areas, and will reflect careful consideration of relevant methodological problems. The thesis will be written under the direction of the seminar instructor, critiqued by seminar students, and defended before three members of the department. Prerequisite: prior to registration there must be approval of a thesis proposal by the seminar instructor. Fall and Spring semester.