Religion (REL)Academic Catalog: 2019–2020

  • Casey Elledge, Chairperson
  • Marcia J. Bunge (On leave, Fall 2019)
  • John Cha
  • Thia Cooper
  • Blake Couey
  • Mary Gaebler
  • Samuel Kessler
  • Fuad Naeem
  • Sarah Ruble

The Department of Religion educates students in Religious Studies and Theology.

Why Study Religion? At Gustavus, the academic study of religion invites everyone— whether part of a religious tradition or not—to explore life’s big questions and the world’s diverse religions while gaining skills needed in many careers. Throughout the world religion is, and has been, a factor in the lives of billions of people. Today, more than 80 percent of people worldwide identify with a religious tradition, and religions play a significant role in social, political, economic, and ethical life. About one-third of the world’s population identifies with Christianity. One particular branch of Christianity, Lutheranism, has shaped the history and values of Gustavus Adolphus College and is embraced by communities of faith around the world. Given the significance of religions worldwide and the college’s history and mission, the Religion department gives all students the opportunity:

  • to develop a critical appreciation of religion as a basic aspect of human experience
  • to cultivate a mature understanding of Christianity
  • to understand the history and significance of diverse religious traditions, and
  • to explore their own values and spiritual and religious commitments.

Why Study Religion at Gustavus? The Department of Religion offers a variety of courses involving major religious traditions, including Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Taoism. The faculty are trained in a variety of academic fields including Biblical Studies, Ethics, theology, Comparative Religions, Religion and Culture, and Interfaith Studies. The department also offers courses that fulfill the College’s graduation requirement (THEOL). These courses introduce students to the scriptures of Judaism and Christianity, Christianity’s complex history, the theologies of its various forms, and its relationship with other religions. Since religious experience is expressed in many ways and studied from many different perspectives, many courses explore connections between religion and art, music, literature, languages, history, the social sciences, and the natural sciences. Studying religion at Gustavus, in other words, provides essential tools for reflecting thoughtfully on a range of religious, ethical, and global concerns.

Why Major or Minor in Religion? Studying religion prepares students for a number of post-graduate paths, such as:

  • Graduate studies in a variety of fields. While some of our students have pursued graduate degrees in Religious Studies or Theology at institutions such as the University of Chicago, Princeton, and Temple, others have studied Literature, Music, or Public Policy.
  • Professional degrees. Some students enter seminary, law school, or medical school.
  • Careers in public service. Some graduates spend a few years after graduation working for organizations like Teach for America and the Lutheran Volunteer Corps while others work long-term in the non-profit sector.
  • Business careers. Some graduates enter the business world, working in a range of fields from finance to sales.

The department enthusiastically supports students who want to deepen their understanding of religion through off-campus study. Recent students have studied in India, Malaysia, Greece, Israel, and France. Courses offered in approved programs count toward the major.


The major is nine courses selected in consultation with an advisor, including:

  • Four departmental core courses:
    1. REL-115
    2. REL-212 (normally taken in the sophomore or junior year).
    3. REL-200 (normally taken in the sophomore or junior year and must be taken before REL-399).
    4. REL-399 (normally taken in the senior year).
  • Five additional courses of the student’s choice:
    1. No more than two Level I courses (REL-130 is not included in this limit).
    2. At least two Level III courses in addition to REL-399.


The minor is five courses, chosen in consultation with an advisor, as follows:

  1. No more than two Level I courses.
  2. At least one Level III course.

The department strongly encourages students to study away. If you would like a study away course to count toward the major or minor, then you should discuss the course with your departmental advisor before studying away.

Religion Courses

110 The 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.

112 Studies 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, Offered occasionally.

113 Religion 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 occasionally.

115 World Religions (1 course) An introduction to the major world religions, focusing on non-Christian religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Judaism, Islam, and the indigenous religions. The course will focus on the formative periods and historical developments of the great religions, including their contemporary practice and significance, and on the differing ways in which they answer the fundamental religious questions. A combination of lectures, discussions, media, and religious biographies will be used to enrich an understanding of these living traditions. This course counts toward the peace, justice, and conflict studies minor. GLOBLHIPHI, Fall and Spring semesters.

120 Introduction 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 basic knowledge of Hebrew grammar and be able to read non-complex prose and poetic passages in the Hebrew Bible. Offered occasionally.

123 Faith, 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? How do religions and the “truths” associated with religious traditions interact with culture? This course addresses these and other basic issues in theology as well as focusing on those ethical commitments arising from deeply held, self-constituting convictions. THEOL, Offered annually.

130 Biblical Hebrew Grammar and Exegesis (1 course) This course completes a survey of biblical Hebrew grammar and allows students to gain proficiency in reading biblical Hebrew prose and poetry. The course will also introduce the concept of biblical exegesis and the use of lexical and grammatical research tools for critical and theological readings of the Hebrew Bible. Prerequisite: REL-120. Fulfills LAP Non-English Language requirement. Offered occasionally.

132 Religion and Ecology (1 course) This course focuses on the role played by religion, especially Christianity, in shaping our perspectives on the natural world and our place in it. As environmental crises multiply and their effects are felt across the planet, often by its most vulnerable Inhabitants, students in this course will investigate whether religious beliefs are part of the problem, part of the solution, or both. The course will include studies of classic and contemporary texts, classroom, discussions, out-of-class investigation (field work), community-based learning opportunities. THEOL, Offered annually.

200 Sources and Methods in Theology and Religion (1 course) This course will explore diverse understandings of religion and the sources and methods employed in the academic study of sacred texts, theology and religion. Students will examine how scholars in the field identify a problem, review and evaluate the relevant literature, formulate an argument regarding that problem, and provide credible reasons for the argument. Students will learn how to take these steps themselves. Prerequisite: one course in religion. Offered annually.

212 Christian Theologies (1 course) This course introduces students to central debates and developments in the history of Christianity. It explores how various Christians have engaged significant questions about God, humanity, and the whole creation. The course also examines complex relationships between Christianity and other religious and philosophical traditions. The course emphasizes the close reading and discussion of primary texts written by classical and contemporary theologians from a variety of Christian traditions and perspectives. THEOL, Fall and Spring semesters.

235 Zen and Japanese Culture (1 course) A study of Zen Buddhism, both as a religious movement and as a window on East Asian 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. In these artistic forms a unique blend of religious and aesthetic principles will be explored. GLOBLHIPHI, Spring semester.

240 Prophets (1 course) Prophets acted as spokespersons for the gods in ancient religions. This course examines prophecy and prophetic literature in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, within an extended context that includes Second Temple Judaism, the New Testament, and the Qur’an. We will also consider modern adaptations of the prophetic role as agent of social, religious, and political change. LARS, Fall semester, odd years

243 Ethics 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 problems associated with the beginning and end of life, the duties of medical professionals and the rights of patients, the meaning of ‘health’ and ‘dis-ease,’ particularly in cross-cultural situations, the social causes of illness, medical research, and the adequacy of health care delivery. Our inquiry will be informed by the perspectives of contemporary Western moral philosophy, religious ethics, and social theory. SOSCI, Offered biannually.

245 Religions of India (1 course) An introduction to the religions and philosophies of the Indian subcontinent, including Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Islam, and Sikhism, and Buddhist, Vedanta, and Sufi philosophies. The historical and religious interactions between these religions will be discussed in detail. Readings and topics will include primary texts, myth, ritual, doctrines, history, philosophy, and religious art and architecture. The interaction of religion, society, and politics will be important considerations at all times. All time periods, including the prehistoric, traditional, colonial and modern eras, will be covered. GLOBLHIPHI, Spring semester, odd years.

250 Women and The Bible (1 course) A study of current trends in feminist biblical interpretation. The course will examine depictions of women in the Bible and their continuing influence upon religious and social institutions. We will also explore gendered imagery for God, the construction of masculinity, and the intersection of gender, ethnicity, and class in biblical texts. This course counts toward the Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies major/minor. LARS, Spring semester, even years.

252 Interfaith Understanding and Global Christianities (1 course) Christians have at times oppressed and waged war against people of other faiths, but they also have a long history of positive engagement with other religious traditions, such as Buddhism, Islam, and Judaism. This course introduces students to world Christianity by exploring how and why Christians have sought interfaith understanding and cooperation. By critically examining Christian commitments to interfaith relations, the course sheds light on key elements of Christian theology and practice, introduces students to important figures and events in the history of Christianity, and invites all participants (whether they hold religious convictions or not) to reflect on their own values and the significance of interfaith understanding and cooperation today. THEOL, Spring semester.

253 Science 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 dualism between fact-based science and faith-based religion. This course will examine contemporary efforts to replace that dualism with dialogue. Sciences covered will include evolutionary biology, genetics, neuroscience, evolutionary psychology, quantum mechanics, and astrophysics. Religious questions covered will include God, creation, sin, human nature, consciousness, and eschatology, in both Christianity and Buddhism. HIPHI, Offered occasionally.

255 Islam (1 course) This course is an introduction to the foundations and diverse expressions of the religion and cultures of Islam. The course will examine the central sources of the Islamic tradition, the Qur’an and the life and legacy of Muhammad, and trace the development of Islamic law, theology, mysticism, philosophy, literature, art and fundamental institutions. It will survey Islam from its early beginnings to its multiple expressions in differing cultural and temporal contexts to its encounters with modernity. Historic and contemporary relations between Islam and the West, and Islam and other religious traditions, particularly Christianity, will be studied from a variety of perspectives. HIPHI, Fall semester.

262 God 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 major/minor. Offered occasionally.

272 Luther and Lutheran Diversity Worldwide (1 course) This course will focus on the life, work, and legacy of Martin Luther. Luther will be studied not only as a leader of the Protestant Reformation and a Renaissance figure but also as one whose legacy may be seen in contemporary Christianity. Participants in the course will closely read and analyze various primary texts by Luther and selected Lutheran theologians and explore diverse forms of Lutheranism worldwide. HIPHITHEOL, Fall semester.

273 Religion and Politics in Latin America (1 course) Religion and politics have been interwoven in the Americas since the rise of indigenous American 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. This course counts toward the LALACS and the Peace, Justice, and Conflict Studies majors/minors. GLOBLHIPHI, Fall semester, odd years.

280 Paul and His Letters (1 course) An investigation of the letters and theology of the most significant thinker in the early history of Christianity. The class will read and analyze Paul’s seven undisputed letters, with special concern for their rhetoric as ancient “epistles.” The original settings of Paul’s letters to Mediterranean cities also help to place the first-century church in context through the use of historical and archaeological sources. Studying the theological claims of his letters will show how Paul both informed the later history of Christian thought and contributed to its problems. Students will leave the course with a better grasp of Pauline literature and theology, and the most important critical debates about how to interpret the apostle today. LARS, Fall semester, even years.

282 Perspectives 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. THEOL, Offered occasionally.

283 Insiders 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. HIPHIWRITI, Offered occasionally.

290 Jesus in Tradition and History (1 course) An investigation of the life of Jesus in the historical context of first-century Palestine. Students will study the New Testament Gospels, as well as other “non-canonical” gospel literature. The historical environment in which Jesus lived will also be studied, including the religious, political, and social contexts of his time. The methods and results of Historical Jesus Research will also be analyzed by reading some of the most important contemporary historical theories about his teaching and activity. Special topics will also include: Jesus within early Judaism, the theology and ethics of Jesus, Jesus and his contemporaries, Christology, and interpretations of Jesus in non-Christian religions. HIPHI, Spring semester, even years.

315 Mystics of the West (1 course) What is it like to stand before the Throne of God? To hang all night on the cross alongside Christ? To explore the Heavenly Garden of Hidden Mysteries? This course will explore these and other questions from the writings of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic mystics from the Biblical period to modern times. Beginning with the Israelite prophets, students will explore the lives of individual mystics, engage analytically with mystical texts, and discuss the context and reception of mystical ideas in both the past and present. This course will ask students to ponder the nature of how knowledge is found and who can find it, and learn the ways women have played a unique role in defining the mystical heritage of the West. WRITI, Even years.

325 Religion 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.

330 God in the Hebrew Bible (1 course) This course explores the diverse portrayals of God in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, supplemented by archaeological and artistic materials. It also investigates how other ancient religions influenced biblical views of God, how those views changed over time, and how they impacted later Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. We will consider the following questions: Why did ancient Israelites only worship one deity? Is God exclusively portrayed as male in the Bible? How do we interpret texts in which God acts violently or unethically? Where do angels, demons, and Satan fit in the biblical understanding of God? HIPHIWRITD, Spring semester, odd years.

244, 344 Special 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.

350 Apocalypse (1 course) An examination of the early Jewish and Christian apocalypses, including Daniel, 1 Enoch, 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch, Revelation, the Apocalypse of Peter, and other ancient writings such as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Specific attention is also invested in the consideration of Jesus, Paul, and the early church through the lens of ancient apocalypticism. The course concludes with a study of some more recent expressions of the apocalyptic tradition, its ongoing contributions to Christian theology, as well as comparisons with the “eschatologies” of world religions. Prerequisites: One course in Religion, WRITD, Fall semester, odd years.

355 Buddhist 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. GLOBLHIPHIWRITD, Fall semester.

363 The Missionary Impulse in the U.S. (1 course) Since the early nineteenth century, Americans have gone abroad as missionaries. They have preached, taught, and built institutions. They have been praised as self-sacrificing heroes and criticized as arrogant imperialists. This course explores the many valences of U.S. missionary work. By studying U.S. missions over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the class will examine cross-cultural encounters, interfaith dialogue, cultural imperialism, the ethics of conversion, and the impact of people and events abroad on American religion. HIPHIWRITD, Offered occasionally.

365 Hindu Philosophy (1 course) This course covers the major philosophical traditions of India, with an emphasis on the Vedanta school. The first half of the course examines readings from the Vedas and Upanishads, and the Bhagavad Gita, then concludes with a survey of the six orthodox philosophical systems. The second half of the course focuses on Advaita Vedanta; it investigates the development of the metaphysical, epistemological, and theological systems of Vedanta, as well as the criticisms by other philosophical schools. Philosophical problems the course will cover include: consciousness and personal identity; individual agency; valid modes of cognition; ontologies of mind and world. GLOBLHIPHI, Offered annually.

268, 368 Career 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.

373 The Holocaust: Then & Now (1 course) The Holocaust—the planned and systematic destruction of Jews, Gypsies, and other civilian groups by the Nazis during the 1940s—involved millions of people all over Europe: victims and perpetrators, bystanders and beneficiaries, rescuers and survivors. Its legacy and lessons often elude us; the questions it raises continue to haunt us. Through written materials and films, the course examines the intellectual background of the Holocaust, as well as the historical events themselves. Most important, the course challenges us to wrestle with the moral and theological implications of the Holocaust for today, especially to examine our own moral priorities and choices and to look critically at the foundations of our contemporary ethical and theological commitments. Prerequisite: one religion course. This course counts toward the Peace, Justice, and Conflict Studies major/minor. HIPHI, Offered occasionally.

383 Liberation Struggles (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. This course counts toward the LALACS and the Peace, Justice, and Conflict Studies majors/minors. GLOBL, Spring semester, even years.

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

399 Senior Thesis Seminar (1 course) Building on previous coursework, religion majors will explore in-depth an issue of special interest. In this course, students will write a journal length paper, which will demonstrate facility with methods in the appropriate field. The paper will be written under the direction of the seminar instructor, critiqued by seminar students, and students will be expected to make a public presentation to an appropriate scholarly or professional audience. Prerequisite: prior to registration, seminar instructor must approve student’s thesis proposal and students must successfully complete REL-200. Offered annually.

  • ART-239 Christian, Islamic, and Jewish Art: CE 0–1400 (1 course)
  • GRE-202 The Greek New Testament (1 course)
  • S/A-259 The Anthropology of Religion (1 course)