Admission & Financial Aid

Admission & Financial Aid


Regulations & Requirements

Regulations & Requirements


Amherst College Courses

Amherst College Courses



Professors Doran, M. Heim, Niditch (Chair), and Wills; Associate Professors A. Dole† and Jaffer*; Five College Visiting Professor Mourad; Visiting Assistant Professor Mueller; Visiting Lecturers Girard, Kassor, and Karom.

*On leave 2015-16.

†On leave fall semester 2015-16.

The study of Religion is a diversified and multi-faceted discipline which involves the study of both specific religious traditions and the general nature of religion as a phenomenon of human life. It includes cultures of both the East and West, ancient as well as modern, in an inquiry that involves a variety of textual, historical, phenomenological, social scientific, theological and philosophical methodologies.

Major Program. Majors in Religion will be expected to achieve a degree of mastery in three areas of the field as a whole. First, they will be expected to gain a close knowledge of a particular religious tradition, including both its ancient and modern forms, in its Scriptural, ritual, reflective and institutional dimensions. Ordinarily this will be achieved through a concentration of courses within the major. A student might also choose to develop a program of language study in relation to this part of the program, though this would not ordinarily be required for or count toward the major. Second, all majors will be expected to gain a more general knowledge of some other religious tradition quite different from that on which they are concentrating. Ordinarily, this requirement will be met by one or two courses. Third, all majors will be expected to gain a general knowledge of the theoretical and methodological resources pertinent to the study of religion in all its forms. It is further expected of Honors majors that their theses will demonstrate an awareness of the theoretical and methodological issues ingredient in the topic being studied.

Majors in Religion are required to take RELI 111, “Introduction to Religion,” RELI 210, “Theories of Religion,” and six additional courses in Religion or related studies approved by the Department. In meeting this requirement, majors and prospective majors should note that no course in Religion (including Five College courses) or in a related field will be counted toward the major in Religion if it is not approved by the student’s departmental advisor as part of a general course of study designed to cover the three areas described above. In other words, a random selection of eight courses in Religion will not necessarily satisfy the course requirement for the major in Religion. 

All majors, including “double majors,” are required early in the second semester of the senior year to take a comprehensive examination in Religion. This examination will be designed to allow the student to deal with each of the three aspects of his or her program as described above, though not in the form of a summary report of what has been learned in each area. Rather, the emphasis will be on students’ abilities to use what they have learned in order to think critically about general issues in the field.

Departmental Honors Program. 

Honors in Religion shall consist of RELI 111, RELI 210, and the thesis courses, RELI 498 and 499, plus five additional semester courses in Religion or related studies approved by the Department; satisfactory fulfillment of the general Honors requirements of the College; satisfactory performance in the comprehensive examination; and the satisfactory preparation and oral defense of a scholarly essay on a topic approved by the Department.   Honors students must submit a senior thesis prospectus for the approval of the Department by the end of the second semester of their junior year (mid-April).  This prospectus should be developed together with the student's prospective thesis advisor.

131 Religions of Latin America

(Offered as RELI 131 and ANTH 231.) This course provides an overview of religious traditions in Latin America with an emphasis on how colonialism, migration, missionary activities, and social and political movements have contributed to religious change in the region. The beginning of the course will focus on the religious history of Latin America. Topics to be considered include pre-Columbian religion, the Conquest, colonial Catholicism, church and state, religious syncretism, anti-clericalism in the nineteenth century, and the arrival of Protestant missionaries in the early twentieth century.  The remainder of the course will be devoted to contemporary religious life.  Particular attention will be paid to the entanglements between religious traditions and other social forces: women’s movements, revolution, neoliberalism, and the political mobilization of indigenous peoples and Latin Americans of African descent. The final weeks of the course will examine Latina/o religions in the United States.

Fall semester.  Visiting Lecturer Girard.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2015

181 The Qur'an:  the Text and its Readers

The Qurʾan, according to the majority of Muslims, is God’s word revealed to Muhammad through angel Gabriel over a period of 22 years (610-632 CE). This course will introduce students to Islam’s scriptural text: its content, form, structure, and history. It will also examine the Qurʾan as a seventh-century product and as a text with a long reception-history among Muslims, exploring how it influenced to varying degrees the formulation of salvation history, law and legal theory, theology, ritual, intellectual trends, art and popular culture, and modernization.

Fall semester. Five College Professor Mourad.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2015

224 "Getting” Religion: Religion, Media and American Culture and Politics

Despite predictions to the contrary, the influence of religion on American public life has not waned; 90% of Americans recently reported having some belief in God. In fact, since 9/11—from Islamic terrorism (followed by anti-Islamic hate crimes) and America’s wars in the Middle East to Mitt Romney’s Mormonism and the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate—religion has played a role in almost every major debate in American politics and domestic and foreign policy, and often in American popular culture, too. To understand these debates, Americans open their newspapers (or smartphones), and turn on their radios and televisions. And yet, many journalists and commentators know very little about religion. In this course, we examine why and how the media fails to “get religion,” and how members of the media can get religion better: to write and comment on news events and popular culture with religious components with greater insight and accuracy.

In part I, “the Report,” we examine the best and worst practices of religion reporting. In part II, “the Op-ed,” using a series of case studies, we examine how “experts” and “activists” comment on and criticize religious news (or whole religions), and how these debates inform or distort public opinion about the faiths of American citizens. In part III, “the Review,” also using case studies, we study how media critics review art forms from museum exhibits to movies and Broadway musicals. In each part of the course, students put their knowledge to use, producing their own reports, Op-eds, and reviews on contemporary events and culture. For a final group project, students work in teams to create a web-based portfolio of their work.  

Spring semester.  Visiting Lecturer Mueller.

283 Sufism in Theory and Practice.

This class will begin with an exploration of the origins and historical development of Sufism. The historical survey will trace the global development of Sufism during the first few hundred years after the birth of Islam. We will then read a number of classical treatises on Sufi metaphysics written by Ibn Arabi and Abdul Qadir Jilani before delving into the poetry of the Rumi, who is perhaps the best known of all Sufis. During the second half of the course, we will shift our attention to contemporary developments within South Asian Sufism, where significant events contributed greatly to Sufism from the medieval period onward. We will then move to study the establishment of Sufism in Europe and North America before ending the course with a reading of an autobiography of one particular Sufi shaykh who settled and died in the United States, whose shrine has now become a significant pilgrimage site. The aim of the course is to come to a deeper understanding of Sufism past and present by appreciating both its mystical and practical dimensions in the lives of many Muslims throughout the world.

Spring semester.  Visiting Professor Korom.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2020, Fall 2021

322 Religion, Empires, and Secular States in the Nineteenth Century

(See HIST 319)

Departmental Courses

111 Introduction to Religion

This course introduces students to the comparative study of religion by focusing on a major theme within two or more religious traditions.  Traditions and topics will vary from year to year.  In 2015-16 the major traditions will be Christianity and Judaism and the theme will be "the end of the world."  We will trace and compare Jewish and Christian ideas of an end-time often accompanied by expectations of cataclysm, judgment, and new creation and by varying definitions of the blessed saved and the irrevocably condemned.  Our study will include a trajectory from ancient to modern sources and draw from a variety of relevant media, historical moments, and cultural movements.

Fall semester.  Professors Doran and Niditch.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2021, Fall 2022, Fall 2023, Fall 2024

122 The End of the World: Utopias and Dystopias

War, pestilence, famine, flood, and other calamities have been taken in a diverse range of traditions as signs of “the end of days,” as signals that the world as we know it is on the verge of collapse. Some traditions suggest that a troubled and chaotic reality will be replaced by a new and perfect world whereas some predict a much diminished and barren new creation. Others indeed see the destruction as utter and final. While many traditions allow for survivors, some are quite explicit about the identity of this remnant and about the reasons for their salvation. In this course, we will examine a variety of sources and media, ancient and modern, discuss the cultural, sociological, and psychological roots of apocalyptic worldviews, and explore the ways in which ancient texts have been appropriated in subsequent imaginings of the end of the world.

Omitted 2015-16.  Professors Doran and Niditch.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2023

123 Popular Religion

Religions, ancient or modern, are sometimes described as having two modalities or manifestations: the one institutional, of the establishment, the other, popular. The latter is sometimes branded as superstitious, idolatrous, syncretistic, heretical, or cultish. Yet we have come to realize that “popular” religion is frequently the religion of the majority, and that popular and classical threads tend to intertwine in religions as lived by actual adherents. People often express and experience their religiosity in ways related to but not strictly determined by their traditions’ sacred officials, texts, and scholars. In the modern era, mass media have provided additional means of religious expression, communication, and community, raising new questions about popular religion. In this course we will explore examples from ancient and modern times, seeking to redefine our understanding of popular religion by looking at some of the most interesting ways human beings pursue and share religious experience within popular cultural contexts.

Topics for study include: beliefs, traditions, and customs concerning the dead; ancient and contemporary apocalyptic groups; ritual healing; Wicca; and recent films, television programs, and on-line and interactive media rich in the occult or the overtly religious. 

Omitted 2015-16. Professor Niditch.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2015

143 Religion in Ancient India

(Offered as RELI 143 and ASLC 144.)  This course explores central ideas and practices in the religious and intellectual traditions of India up until the medieval period. We consider the range of available archeological, art historical, and textual evidence for religion in this period, though the course focuses mostly on texts. We will read the classic religious and philosophical literature of the traditions we now call Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism.

Omitted 2015-16.  Professor M. Heim.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2013, Spring 2015, Fall 2016, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2021, Fall 2023

152 Introduction to Buddhist Traditions

(Offered as RELI 152 and ASLC 152 [SA].) This course is an introduction to the diverse ideals, practices, and traditions of Buddhism from its origins in South Asia to its geographical and historical diffusion throughout Asia and, more recently, into the west. We will explore the Three Jewels--the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha--and how they each provide refuge for those suffering in samsara (the endless cycle of rebirth). We will engage in close readings of the literary and philosophical texts central to Buddhism, as well as recent historical and anthropological studies of Buddhist traditions.

Fall semester. Professor M. Heim.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2022, Spring 2023

157 Religion in the Himalayas:  Coexistence, Conflict and Change

This course examines the religious life of the Himalayan regions of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan, paying particular attention to issues surrounding the construction of religious identity. Through text, film and art, we explore practices in Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and local traditions, and investigate the ways in which these practices negotiate political change and modernization. Topics include gender (in)equality in religious institutions and practices, the construction of sacred space and religious boundaries, and the intersection of religion and politics.

Fall semester.  Visiting Lecturer Kassor

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2015

171 Images of Jesus

One of the most dominant symbols in Western culture, the figure of Jesus, has been variously represented and interpreted--even the canonical Christian Scriptures contains four different biographies. This course will explore shifts in the contours of that symbol and the socio-cultural forces at play in such changes, as well as debates about the understanding of the figure of Jesus.  Beginning with recent films about Jesus, the course will turn to examine the biographies in the Christian Scriptures and the heated debate in the fourth century over the identity of Jesus as Son of God.  We will then trace trajectories through the medieval period in the visual and audial image of Jesus. To conclude, we will focus on the "social" Jesus, that is, Jesus the capitalist and the Jesus of liberation theology, as well as on the feminine Jesus, for example, portrayals of Jesus as mother and bride.

Spring semester.  Professor Doran.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2015, Spring 2016

187 Introduction to Islamic Religious Traditions

Islam is a religious tradition with 1400 years of history and over one billion adherents today in countries around the globe. This course equips students with the basic vocabulary needed to engage with the diversity of practices, sects, and intellectual currents found among Muslims over the course of this history. We will begin by studying the life of Muhammad and Islam’s scripture (the Quran). We will then examine the ways in which Muslims have sought to live up to the demands of revelation in their lives by seeking the correct means of interpretation of revelation and working out its implications in the fields of law, theology, and mysticism. Emphasis will be on the means by which Muslims contest the meaning of the tradition. The course will end by looking at Islam in the world today, the various ways in which Muslims view the significance of religion in their lives, and trends in contemporary Islamic thought worldwide. 

Omitted 2015-16.  Professor Jaffer.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2017, Fall 2018

210 The Nature of Religion: Theories and Methods in Religious Studies

What does religious studies study? How do its investigations proceed? Can a religion only be truly understood from within, by those who share its beliefs and values? Or, on the contrary, is only the person who stands “outside” religion equipped to study and truly understand it? Is there a generic “something” that we can properly call “religion” at all or is the concept of religion, which emerged from European Enlightenment, inapplicable to other cultural contexts? This course will explore several of the most influential efforts to develop theories of religion and methods for its study. We will consider psychological, sociological, anthropological, and phenomenological theories of religion, along with recent challenges to such theories from thinkers associated with feminist, post-modern and post-colonial perspectives.

Spring semester.  Professor M. Heim.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2023, Spring 2025

215 Religion in Scientific Perspective

The idea of “scientific explanations of religion” has a long history in the academy, and the fortunes of scientific explorations of religion have been mixed. But the past decade has seen the emergence of new approaches to this project, as a growing body of literature has applied the tools of the cognitive sciences and evolutionary theory to the study of religion. This course will survey the recent literature on the subject, and will bring this material into conversation with “classical” naturalistic theorizing concerning religion. We will read works by David Hume, Stewart Guthrie, Pascal Boyer, Scott Atran, Justin Barrett, Richard Dawkins, Robert Hinde, David Sloan Wilson, and others.

Omitted 2015-16.  Professor A. Dole.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2008, Fall 2012, Fall 2014, Fall 2016, Fall 2018, Spring 2022

223 To Be Religious and Modern

What does it mean to be both religious and modern? What is the relationship between religion and modern understandings of gender, race, and ethnicity? Are religious beliefs and modern science really at odds? How has religion contributed to making the modern world more peaceful and more violent? What role has religion played in creating modern, democratic nations? Through an exploration of the religious cultures of the some of the most historically influential democracies in the modern era—the U.S., France, India, with important side trips to Pakistan and Afghanistan—we will examine these and other questions about religion’s role in the modern world. We do so by exploring the interrelated themes of the “modern nation,” “modern belief,” “modern women (and men),” and “modern violence” in the U.S. and India, whose citizens are considered among the most religious in the modern world, and in France, whose citizens are considered among the most secular.

Fall semester.  Visiting Professor Mueller.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2022, Spring 2025

235 Religion in the United States

An introduction to the historical development and contemporary reality of religion in the United States. The course will survey three phases of historical development: the Atlantic world phase (origins through the American Revolution); the continental phase (from the Constitution to World War I); and the global phase (from World War I to the present). Attention will be given throughout to the changing shape of religious diversity, various (and often mutually opposed) efforts to reform society or forge consensus around religious ideals, and the intersection of religion and the realities of race. Emphasis will also be placed, especially with regard to the “global phase,” on the complex relation of religious movements, ideals, and leaders to the United States’ ever-increasing role as a world power.

Omitted 2015-16. Professor Wills.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2008, Spring 2010, Spring 2012, Spring 2013

236 Liberal Religion in the United States

Contemporary attention to fundamentalist or conservative religious movements on the one hand and the rejection of all religion on the other has sometimes obscured the influential role in the United States, past and present, of liberal religion. Religious institutions with marked liberal tendencies (most obviously “mainline” Protestantism) may be in numerical decline, but the influence of liberal attitudes toward religion arguably remains very much alive and well in American culture generally and formative in the lives of many communities and individuals. What makes a religious movement “liberal” is hard to specify precisely. One might say it is a rejection of tradition, but liberal religious movements often present themselves as deeply faithful to core elements of tradition. It has also been argued that religious liberalism is itself a tradition and, like all religious traditions, is characterized by many strands and sometimes contradictory tendencies.

This course will trace the development of American religious liberalism, broadly understood, from the Deists and Unitarians of the Revolutionary and Early National period to the “I’m spiritual but not religious” movements of the present day. Emphasis will be placed on the emergence, development, and cultural influence of liberal movements within American Protestantism, but attention will also be given to liberal tendencies within other traditions, e.g., Catholicism and Judaism. The course will examine the various tendencies within religious liberalism to embrace a pluralistic approach to religious truth, to seek a universal form of religion above and beyond any particular religious tradition, or to promote a religious sensibility detached from traditional belief in God. Attention will be given both to influential figures such as Channing, Emerson, James, Dewey and to institutional developments and popular religious movements. Note will be taken of the role of religious liberalism in higher education, e.g., at Amherst College.

Fall semester.  Professor Wills.


2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2015, Spring 2017

237 Catholicism in the United States

This course will survey the historical development and contemporary state of Roman Catholic Christianity in the United States. It will cover such topics as: the early development of Catholicism in the North American colonies of Spain, France, and Britain; the waves of immigration—e.g., Irish and German, eastern European, and Latino—that have successively transformed American Catholicism; changing patterns of Catholic thought and practice, both elite and popular; Catholic social and political movements, e.g. the Catholic Worker Movement; controversies over Catholicism’s place in American politics, from ante-bellum anti-Catholic movements to the present time;  and contemporary American Catholic debates over issues of gender and sexuality. 

Omitted 2015-16.  Professor Wills.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2014, Fall 2016

238 African-American Religious History

(Offered as RELI 238 and BLST 238 [US].)  A study of African-American religion, from the time of slavery to the present, in the context of American social, political, and religious history.  Consideration will be given to debates concerning the "Africanity" of black religion in the United States, to the role of Islam in African-American religious history, and to the religious impact of recent Caribbean immigration.  The major emphasis throughout the course, however, will be on the history of African-American Christianity in the United States.  Topics covered will include the emergence of African-American Christianity in the slavery era, the founding of the independent black churches (especially the AME church) and their institutional development in the nineteenth century, the predominant role of the black Baptist denominations in the twentieth century, the origins and growth of black Pentecostalism, the increasing importance of African-American Catholicism, the role of the churches in social protest movements (especially the civil rights movement) and electoral politics, the changing forms of black theology, and the distinctive worship traditions of the black churches.

Omitted 2015-16.  Professor Wills.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Fall 2017

239 Evangelical Christianity

Evangelical Christianity, or evangelicalism, eludes precise definition.  As most commonly used, the term refers to a sector of Protestant Christianity whose historical provenance runs from the eighteenth century to the present day. Originating in Europe and North America but now a global phenomenon, evangelicalism in the United States has enjoyed periods of pervasive influence and times of cultural marginality--recovering in the late twentieth century a mainstream status it had seemingly lost.  This course is concerned with the history and shifting nature of evangelicalism.  Sometimes regarded as a monolithic movement adhering to a fixed set of traditional Christian doctrines and practices, evangelicalism has been throughout its history innovative, changing, and internally diverse. Sometimes seen as politically reactionary, evangelicalism has at times promoted recognizably progressive reforms. Sometimes seen as serving an ethnically and racially narrow constituency, evangelicalism has also shown a marked capacity to cross ethnic and racial boundaries. How are these seemingly contradictory patterns (or perceptions) to be understood?  Over the course of the semester we will explore questions such as:  How have evangelicals themselves attempted to define the"mainstream" culture in the various environments they have entered?  How has evangelicalism handled racial and ethnic difference? How have evangelicals understood their place in the history of the world and of the Christian tradition?  

Spring semester.  Professors A. Dole and Wills.

252 Buddhist Life Writing

(Offered as RELI 252 and ASLC 252) From the biographies of Gotama Buddha to the autobiographies of western converts, life writing plays a central role in teaching Buddhist philosophy, practice, history, and myth. This course explores the diverse forms and purposes of Buddhist life writing in the literary and visual cultures of India, Tibet, Sri Lanka, China, Vietnam, Japan, and America. Reading the lives of eminent saints and laypersons, charismatic teachers, recluses, and political activists, the course aims to broaden understanding of how Buddhists have variously imagined the ideal life. We will pay particular attention to how literary and cultural conventions of genre guide the composition of lives.

Omitted 2015-16.  Professor M. Heim

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Spring 2014, Spring 2018

253 Theravada Buddhism

(Offered as RELI 253 and ASLC 253 [SA].) This course introduces the history and civilization of Theravada Buddhism. The Theravada (the “Doctrine of the Elders”) is the dominant form of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar (Burma); in recent decades it has also found a following in other regions in Asia and the west. We will trace the Theravada’s origins as one of the earliest sectarian movements in India to its success and prestige as a religious civilization bridging South and Southeast Asia. We will also consider this tradition’s encounter with modernity and its various adaptations and responses to challenges in the contemporary world. No previous background in Buddhism is required.

Spring semester. Professor M. Heim.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Spring 2011, Spring 2012, Spring 2016, Spring 2021

261 Women in Judaism

(Offered as RELI 261 and SWAG 239.) A study of the portrayal of women in Jewish tradition. Readings will include biblical and apocryphal texts; Rabbinic legal (halakic) and non-legal (aggadic) material; selections from medieval commentaries; letters, diaries, and autobiographies written by Jewish women of various periods and settings; and works of fiction and non-fiction concerning the woman in modern Judaism. Employing an inter-disciplinary and cross-cultural approach, we will examine not only the actual roles played by women in particular historical periods and cultural contexts, but also the roles they assume in traditional literary patterns and religious symbol systems.  This discussion course requires participants to prepare a series of closely argued essays related to assigned readings and films.

Spring semester. Professor Niditch.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2009, Fall 2010, Spring 2014, Spring 2020, Spring 2022

263 Ancient Israel

This course explores the culture and history of the ancient Israelites through a close examination of the Hebrew Bible in its wider ancient Near Eastern context. A master-work of great complexity revealing many voices and many periods, the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament is a collection of traditional literature of various genres including prose and poetry, law, narrative, ritual texts, sayings, and other forms. We seek to understand the varying ways Israelites understood and defined themselves in relation to their ancestors, their ancient Near Eastern neighbors, and their God.  Course assignments are a series of interpretive essays in which students become accustomed to close work with biblical texts, employing methodological approaches introduced throughout the semester.

Fall semester.  Professor Niditch.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2009, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Fall 2021

265 Prophecy, Wisdom, and Apocalyptic

We will read from the work of the great exilic prophets, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Isaiah, examine the so-called “wisdom” traditions in the Old Testament and the Apocrypha exemplified by Ruth, Esther, Job, Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, Susanna, Tobit, and Judith, and, finally, explore the phenomenon of Jewish apocalyptic in works such as Daniel, the Dead Sea Scrolls, 4 Ezra, and 2 Baruch. Through these writings we will trace the development of Judaism from the sixth century B.C. to the first century of the Common Era.  In this critical watershed period, following Babylonian conquest, the biblical writers try to make sense of and cope with the trauma of war, dislocation, forced migration, and colonialism.  Their problems and their responses strike the reader as incredibly contemporary and lay the foundation for critical themes in modern Judaism.

Omitted 2015-16.  Professor Niditch.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2014, Fall 2016, Fall 2024

267 Reading the Rabbis

We will explore Rabbinic world-views through the close reading of halakic (i.e., legal) and aggadic (i.e., non-legal) texts from the Midrashim (the Rabbis’ explanations, reformulations, and elaborations of Scripture) the Mishnah, and the Talmud. Employing an interdisciplinary methodology, which draws upon the tools of folklorists, anthropologists, students of comparative literature, and students of religion, we will examine diverse subjects of concern to the Rabbis ranging from human sexuality to the nature of creation, from ritual purity to the problem of unjust suffering. Topics covered will vary from year to year depending upon the texts chosen for reading.

Omitted 2015-16.  Professor Niditch.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2008, Spring 2012, Spring 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Spring 2020

271 Christianity as a Global Religion

Christianity is often thought of as a European or “Western” religion. This overlooks, however, much of the early history of Eastern Christianity and, more importantly, the present reality that Christianity is increasingly a religion of “non-Western” peoples, both in their ancestral homelands and abroad. This course will trace the global spread of Christianity from the first century forward, with emphasis on modern and contemporary developments. Attention will be given both to the thought and practice of Christian missionary movements and to the diverse forms of Christianity that have emerged in response to them. To what extent can European and American missionaries be seen simply as agents of colonialism--or of a neo-colonial globalization of consumer capitalism? In what ways and with what success has an imported Christianity been adapted to cultural settings beyond the sphere of Western “Christendom”? How have Christians outside “the West” understood themselves in relation to it? Particular attention will be given to the spread of Christianity in Africa and in Asia and to the presence in the United States of Christians of African and Asian descent.

Omitted 2015-16.  Professor Wills.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2010, Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014

273 Christian Scriptures

An analysis of New Testament literature as shaped by the currents and parties of first-century Judaism. Emphasis will be placed on the major letters of Paul and the four Gospels.

Spring semester.  Professor Doran.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2009, Spring 2011, Spring 2013, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2021

274 The Parables of Jesus

The parables of Jesus are often seen as the most distinctive feature of Jesus’ teaching.  Through close reading, we will try to grasp what kind of a story is being told in each parable.  We will then explore to whom each particular story is told in its present literary context in the gospels.  Can one read these parables outside this literary context and recover an “original” formulation more suited to the socio-economic world of first-century CE Galilee?  Are these parables less about describing the heavenly kingdom than about challenging real groups to change their positions?

Omitted 2015-16.  Professor Doran.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2014

275 History of Christianity--The Early Years

This course investigates the fascinating story of how a movement which started in a small unimportant province of the Roman Empire rose to a privileged status within that Empire.  We will explore the many ways in which followers of Jesus attempted to articulate who Jesus was and the many “Christianities” that arose from these attempts.  Was he divine or human or something in between?  If divine, what was the relationship between God and Jesus?  All of these debates and conflicts were played out against the background of a Greek understanding of the divine, the universe, and what it was to be human, and the backdrop of the Roman Empire where the emperor was held to be divine.  We will examine the Christian separation from Judaism and the growing intolerance towards Judaism.  Finally, we will inquire how Christianity consolidated its creedal formulation once it enjoyed a privileged position under the first Christian emperor, Constantine.  This creedal articulation was to dominate the Western Roman Empire throughout the medieval period but was to cause disunity and fraction within the Eastern Roman Empire.

Omitted 2015-16.  Professor Doran.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

278 Christianity, Philosophy, and History in the Nineteenth Century

The nineteenth century saw developments within Western scholarship that profoundly challenged traditional understandings of Christianity. Immanuel Kant’s critical philosophy had thrown the enterprise of theology into doubt by arguing that knowledge of anything outside space and time is impossible. During the same period, the growing awareness of Christianity’s history and the emerging historical-critical study of the Bible brought into prominence the variability and contingency of the Christian tradition. Particularly in Germany, Christian intellectuals were to wrestle intensely with the problem of knowledge of God and the authority of tradition during this period. Should Christians adapt their understandings of fundamental points of Christian doctrine to advances in historical scholarship? Did developments within philosophy require the abandonment of reliance on claims about the nature of reality, and of human existence, which had been seen as essential to Christianity? This course will be devoted to tracking these discussions. Some of the authors to be treated are Kant, Schleiermacher, Hegel, Strauss, Kierkegaard, Newman, von Harnack, and Schweitzer.

Omitted 2015-16. Professor A. Dole.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2013, Fall 2017, Fall 2020, Fall 2023

279 Liberation and Twentieth-Century Christian Thought

In the middle of the nineteenth century Karl Marx characterized religion as “the opium of the people,” a tool of the ruling classes to keep the poor in subjection. By the end of the century, in the face of rising unrest related to political and economic developments, Christian thinkers in Europe and the United States found themselves facing the question of the church’s role in relation to questions of social and economic justice. Should Christianity be a force for radical social change in a progressive direction, or should Christians instead work for peace and “brotherly love” within existing social structures? This course will track the development of debates on these subjects, discussing the “Social Gospel,” Christian pacifism and realism, German Christianity during the Nazi period, liberation theology and its descendants. Some of the authors to be treated are Adolf von Harnack, Kirby Page, Reinhold Niebuhr, Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Gustavo Gutiérrez, James Cone, and Elizabeth Schüssler-Fiorenza.

Omitted 2015-16. Professor A. Dole.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2009, Spring 2011, Spring 2014

282 Muhammad and the Qur'an

(Offered as RELI 282 and ASLC 282 [WA].)This course deals with the life of Muhammad (the founder and prophet of Islam) and the Qur’an (the Muslim Scripture). The first part deals with the life of Muhammad as reflected in the writings of the early Muslim biographers. It examines the crucial events of Muhammad’s life (the first revelation, the night journey, the emigration to Medina, the military campaigns) and focuses on Muhammad’s image in the eyes of the early Muslim community. The second deals with the Qur’an. It focuses on the history of the Qur’an, its canonization, major themes, various methods of Qur’anic interpretation, the role of the Qur’an in Islamic law, ritual, and modernity.

Omitted 2015-16. Professor Jaffer.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2008, Spring 2009, Spring 2010, Spring 2011, Spring 2013

284 Knowledge Triumphant in Classical Islam

Knowledge was one of the primary concerns in classical Islamic civilization. The search for knowledge dominated all branches of religious and intellectual life, and it pervaded the daily lives of Muslims. In this class we will read the classics from law, theology, philosophy and mysticism that were written in the ninth through twelfth centuries. We will focus our attention on texts in which questions surrounding the theme of knowledge are discussed at length and in detail. Questions we will explore include: What is knowledge and how is it attained? What is its relation to faith and doubt? How does knowledge inform religious practice and ritual? What theories of knowledge were developed in law, theology, philosophy, and mysticism? How does knowledge serve as a tool in these disciplines? Our broader objective is to understand how religious and intellectual life was shaped by discussions about knowledge within these disciplines. 

Omitted 2015-16.  Professor Jaffer.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2014

316 Philosophy of Religion

(Offered as RELI 316 and PHIL 219.) An examination of several major discussion topics in the analytic philosophy of religion: the ethics of religious belief, the “problem of religious language,” the nature of God and the problem of evil. It would seem that it is always irrational to believe that statements about matters which transcend the realm of the empirical are true, since none of these statements can be directly supported by evidence. Thus it would seem that a great deal of religious belief is irrational. Is this the case, or can religious beliefs be supported by other means? Can philosophical reflection bring clarity to such puzzling matters as God's relationship to time, or the question of how a good and all-powerful God could permit the existence of evil? Alternatively, is the entire project of evaluating religious discourse as a set of claims about transcendent realities misguided--i.e., does religious language work differently than the language we use to speak about ordinary objects?

Spring semester. Professor A. Dole.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2009, Spring 2013, Spring 2016, Spring 2021

318 The Problem of Evil

(Offered as RELI 318 and PHIL 229.) If God is omnibenevolent, then God would not want any creature to suffer evil; if God is omniscient, then God would know how to prevent any evil from occurring; and if God is omnipotent, then God would be able to prevent any evil from occurring. Does the obvious fact that there is evil in the world, then, give us reason to think that there is no such God? Alternatively: if an omnibenevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent God does exist, then what could possibly motivate such a God to permit the existence of evil? This course will survey recent philosophical discussions of these questions. We will read works by J. L. Mackie, Nelson Pike, John Hick, Alvin Plantinga, Robert and Marilyn Adams, and others.

Omitted 2015-16.  Professor A. Dole.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2010, Spring 2015, Fall 2018

323 Religion and Conspiratorial Thinking

Conspiracy theories are not inherently religious, but they are frequently informed by religious conceptions and valuations, and often circulate within particular religious communities.  If religious and conspiratorial thinking can get along fine without each other, why do they intersect as often as they do within history?  Addressing this question will require locating religion and conspiracy theorizing in relationship to each other within a broader field of thinking about the dynamics of human social interaction.  Readings for this course will include prominent examples of religiously-informed conspiracy theories from the modern period and works that explore the characteristic features of religious and conspiratorial thinking.  Of particular interest will be works that stand on the margin between conspiratorial thinking and social critique.  Authors will include John Robison, Jedediah Morse, Friedrich Nietzsche, Paul Blanshard, E. E. Evans-Pritchard, David Noebel, Pat Robertson, and Michel Foucault.  

The course will require the close reading and understanding of challenging texts, engagement with the ideas these present in class discussion, and the written exposition of positions and arguments.

Omitted 2015-16.  Professor A. Dole

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2014, Spring 2022

335 American Religious Thought: From Edwards to Emerson--and Beyond

The eighteenth-century Calvinist Jonathan Edwards and the nineteenth-century Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson are among the most complex and influential figures in the history of American religious thought--an influence that has grown, not receded, in recent decades. Both were innovative and very distinctive thinkers, yet each also serves as a major reference point for ongoing and centrally important tendencies in American religious life. American Evangelical Protestantism has for the most part long since departed from the Calvinism that Edwards espoused, yet many of its core convictions (e.g., the necessity for conversion and the prospects for a wider spread of Christianity in the world) nowhere receive a more powerful analysis and defense than in the works of Edwards. Emerson stands in similar relation to very different currents of thought and practice, both within and beyond American Protestantism, that emphasize self-realization and an inclusive, pluralistic attitude that draws insights from a diverse range of religious traditions. This course will closely examine selected texts by both figures, but will also place them in the context of New England religious thought from Puritanism to Transcendentalism and consider their engagement with some of the major issues of the period (e.g., issues of race and slavery). Attention will be given to the similarities that exist alongside their differences. The course will conclude by examining their relation to subsequent (and contemporary) trends in American religious thought and practice.  

Omitted 2015-16.  Professor Wills.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2009, Fall 2010, Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013

352 Buddhist Ethics

(Offered as RELI 352 and ASLC 352.) A systematic exploration of the place of ethics and moral reasoning in Buddhist thought and practice. The scope of the course is wide, with examples drawn from the whole Buddhist world, but emphasis is on the particularity of different Buddhist visions of the ideal human life. Attention is given to the problems of the proper description of Buddhist ethics in a comparative perspective.

Omitted 2015-16.  Professor M. Heim.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2010, Spring 2011, Fall 2012, Spring 2015, Spring 2017, Fall 2020, Fall 2021

362 Folklore and the Bible

This course is an introduction to the cross-discipline of folklore and an application of that field to the study of Israelite literature. We will explore the ways in which professional students of traditional literatures describe and classify folk material, approach questions of composition and transmission, and deal with complex issues of context, meaning, and message. We will then apply the cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural methodologies of folklore to readings in the Hebrew Scriptures. Selections will include narratives, proverbs, riddles, and ritual and legal texts. Topics of special interest include the relationships between oral and written literatures, the defining of “myth,” feminism and folklore, and the ways in which the biblical writers, nineteenth-century collectors such as the Brothers Grimm, and modern popularizers such as Walt Disney recast pieces of lore, in the process helping to shape or misshape us and our culture.

Spring semester. Professor Niditch.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2009, Spring 2013, Spring 2016, Spring 2018

363 The Body in Ancient Judaism

The body is a template; the body encodes; the body is a statement of rebellion or convention, of individual attitude or of identity shared by a group. Dressed in one way or another or undressed, pierced or tattooed, shaggy or smooth, fed one way or another, sexually active or celibate, the body, viewed in parts or as a whole, may serve human beings as consummate and convenient expression of world-view. In this course we will explore ancient Israelite and early Jewish representations of the body juxtaposing ancient materials and modern theoretical and descriptive works. Specific topics include treatment of and attitudes towards the dead, hair customs, views of bodily purity, biblical euphemisms for sex, food prohibitions, circumcision, and God’s body.  The presentation of relevant theoretical material and instruction in the reading of classical and modern Jewish sources is integral to the course itself.

Omitted 2015-16. Professor Niditch.

2023-24: Not offered

365 Personal Religion in the Bible

In contemporary discussions about the role of religion in the lives of individuals we often hear questions such as the following: Does God hear me when I call out in trouble? Why do bad things happen to good people? How do I define myself as a believer? What is the role of prayer? Do I have a personal relationship with a divine being, apart from the institutional religion?  What roles do material objects, personal images, and private practices play within my religious life?  This course will suggest that questions such as these are entirely relevant to the study of early Judaism in the late biblical period, a time when the preserved literature and the evidence of material culture place great emphasis on the individual’s spiritual journey.  This course introduces students to ways of thinking about personal religion and applies that theoretical framework to the study of a variety of sources in the Bible and beyond.  Topics include the Book of Job, the confessional literature of the prophets, psalms of personal lament, visionary experiences, vow-making, incantations, ancient graffiti, and memoirs written in the first person. This course has no prerequisites and provides students with the methodological and historical background to appreciate this interesting corpus, its social context, and its composers.

Omitted 2015-16.  Professor Niditch.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2010, Spring 2013

370 Close Readings:  The Classics of Judaism and Christianity

This seminar offers an opportunity for students to engage in the close reading of one or two classic works in the history of Judaism or Christianity. The texts chosen will vary from year to year. In fall 2013 the course will focus on the biblical book of Judges.  We will read the vivid and violent stories of Judges as a reflection of the actual emergence of the Israelites as an ethnic group in the central highlands, and ask how well the text reflects the historical reality, as best we can reconstruct it archaeologically.  We will also read Judges as a collection of tales gathered together later in Israelite history, near the end of the independent life of Israelites under a native monarchy: what social work did these stories of ancient days do for their readers? We will introduce ourselves to the work of anthropologists and sociologists on how ethnic identity is constructed in the modern world, and ask how this research can be applied to ancient Israel.  Finally, subsequent communities of interpreters have used the stories of Judges to build their own identities, and we will study and compare the readings of the early church fathers, rabbinic writings, and later thinkers, including the ongoing influence of Judges in literature and art. 

Omitted 2015-16.  Professor Doran 

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2022

382 Debating Muslims

(Offered as RELI 382 and ASLC 382 [WA].) This course introduces students to the intellectual tradition of Islam. It focuses on the pre-modern period. We will explore works of theology, philosophy, and political theory that were composed by Muslim intellectuals of various stripes. We will use primary sources in English translation to examine the ideas that Muslim intellectuals formulated and the movements that they engendered. In our discussions we will investigate questions concerning the rise of sectarianism, language and revelation, prophecy, heresy and apostasy, God and creation, causality and miracles, the role of logic and human reasoning with respect to the canonical sources (Quran and Hadith), and conceptions of the Islamic state.

Omitted 2015-16. Professor Jaffer.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2008, Fall 2013, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018

385 The Islamic Mystical Tradition

(Offered as RELI 385 and ASLC 356 [WA])  This course is a survey of the large complex of Islamic intellectual and social perspectives subsumed under the term Sufism. Sufi mystical philosophies, liturgical practices, and social organizations have been a major part of the Islamic tradition in all historical periods, and Sufism has also served as a primary creative force behind Islamic aesthetic expression in poetry, music, and the visual arts. In this course, we will attempt to understand the various significations of Sufism by addressing both the world of ideas and socio-cultural practices. The course is divided into four modules: central themes and concepts going back to the earliest individuals who identified themselves as Sufis; the lives and works of two medieval Sufis; Sufi cosmology and metaphysics; Sufism as a global and multifarious trend in the modern world.

Omitted 2015-16. Professor Jaffer.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2021

490 Special Topics

Independent Reading Course. Reading in an area selected by the student and approved in advance by a member of the Department.

Fall and spring semester. The Department.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Spring 2013, Fall 2013, Spring 2014, Fall 2014, Spring 2015, Fall 2015, Spring 2016, Fall 2016, Spring 2017, Fall 2017, Spring 2018, Fall 2018, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Spring 2022, Fall 2022, Spring 2023, Fall 2023, Fall 2024

Senior Departmental Honors Courses

498, 499D Senior Departmental Honors

Required of candidates for Honors in Religion. Preparation and oral defense of a scholarly essay on a topic approved by the Department. Detailed outline of thesis and adequate bibliography for project required before Thanksgiving; preliminary version of substantial portion of thesis by end of semester.

Open to seniors with consent of the instructors. Fall semester. The Department.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Spring 2023, Spring 2025

499 Senior Honors

Spring semester.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Spring 2023, Spring 2025

Related Courses

BLST-315 Myth, Ritual and Iconography in West Africa (Course not offered this year.)HIST-319 Religion, Empires, and Secular States in the Nineteenth Century (Course not offered this year.)