The information below is taken from the printed catalog the college produces each year. For more up to date information, including links to course websites, faculty homepages, reserve readings, and more, use the 'courses' or semester specific link to your left.

11. 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 2008-09, the major traditions will be Christianity and Judaism and the theme will be war.  Through a range of classical and modern sources, we will explore the complex ways in which issues in religion relate to the causes and conduct of war.  In addition to working with cases presented in class, each student will prepare an independent study project dealing with religious issues at play in a contemporary conflict.

Fall semester.  Professors Doran and Niditch.

13. 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: ancient Israelite traditions concerning the dead; early Jewish omen texts; televangelist movements; modern apocalyptic groups such as Heaven’s Gate; and recent films, television programs, and role-playing games rich in the occult or the overtly religious.

Spring semester. Professor Niditch.

14.  Introduction to Hinduism.
(Also Asian 17.)  In Hindu traditions there has been a sustained debate about the meaning of life.  Some claim that the highest human achievements are found in social engagement, in having a family, enjoying wealth and power, and in aesthetic pleasure. Others believe such worldly achievements are ultimately unsatisfactory, and that one should break free of social bonds, renounce the world and seek enlightenment. This course follows the debate, from over 2500 years ago to the present, as its participants reflect on human purpose and create different schools of Hinduism.  In following their debates we will explore alternative definitions of dharma, karma, reincarnation, ritual efficacy, meditation, happiness, caste, gender, yoga, gods, food practices, politics, violence, and modernity. 

Spring semester.  Lecturer S. Heim.

17.  The Islamic Religious Tradition.
  Islam is a religious tradition with 1400 years of history and over one billion adherents today in countries around the globe.  This course will aim to equip 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.  It will begin with Islam’s scripture and sacred history.  The course 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 interpreting revelation and working out its implications in the fields of law, theology, and mysticism.  Emphasis will be on the diversity of approaches Muslims have found to these questions and the means by which they 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 the religion in their lives, and trends in contemporary Islamic thought worldwide and in the United States.

Fall semester.  Professor Jaffer.

18.  Philosophy of Religion.  (Also Philosophy 19.) 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.  Limited to 25.  Professor Dole.

19. 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.

Fall semester. Professor Wills.

20. Close Reading: 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 2007-08 the course will focus on the parables of Jesus.  The parables are often seen as the most distinctive feature of Jesus’ teaching.  We will explore what kind of a literary figure is a parable: is it an extended metaphor, or does it owe something to the mashal pronounced by prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures?  Can one “get behind” the parable as articulated by each gospel writer to recover an “original” formulation? We will look not only at parables found in the canonical scripture, but also those found in other early Christian writings. 

Omitted 2008-09. Professor Doran.

21. 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.

Omitted 2008-09.  Professor Niditch.

22. 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.

23. Introduction to Buddhist Traditions. (Also Asian 15.) 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.

Offered 2008-09. Lecturer S. Heim.

24.  Muhammad.  This course deals with the life of Muhammad, the founder and prophet of Islam. The first part of the course deals with the life of Muhammad as reflected in the writings of the early Muslim biographers and historians. It examines the crucial events of Muhammad's life (the beginning of revelation, the night journey, the emigration to Medina, and military campaigns) and focuses on the image of Muhammad in the eyes of the early Muslim community. The second part deals with the veneration of Muhammad in Muslim piety, and the representations of Muhammad in the arts (visual art, music, and literature).

Spring semester.  Professor Jaffer.

26. Theravada Buddhism. (Also Asian 69.) 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.

Omitted 2008-09. Professor Heim.

27. Buddhist Ethics. (Also Asian 58.) 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 2008-09. Professor Heim.

28.  Socially Engaged Buddhism.
How is Buddhism engaged in the world?  This course explores how Buddhism is being used in Asia and the United States to address contemporary issues such as human rights, environmentalism, economic development and gender relations.  The historical development and application of engaged Buddhism will be examined in light of traditional Buddhist concepts of morality, interdependence and liberation in comparison with Western ideas of freedom, human rights and democracy.  Cases of Burma, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Tibet, India and the U.S. will be studied within their broader cultural, historical and political contexts as we look at progressive and conservative responses to social change.  How do globalization and cultural traditions influence the process of religious and cultural change as people deal with social problems?  Prior knowledge or experience with Buddhism or Asian studies is recommended.

Spring semester.  Professor Darlington.

35.  Religion in Mesoamerica. This seminar is an advanced introduction to the history and study of religious expression in the cultural region known as Mesoamerica from prehispanic times to the present. Utilizing a diverse array of primary and secondary materials, we will examine the development of various beliefs, practices, and religious structures, in light of several interpretive approaches to the study of myth, sacred time and space, ritual performance, syncretism, and transculturation. We will explore the nature and symbolism of sacred architecture and ceremonial centers, cosmogonies and worldviews, divination and the ritual calendar, imperial ideologies, sacrificial practices, and concepts concerning the human body, death, and the soul. Attention will be given to regional and cultural variations, continuities and changes over time, and the impact and implications of conquest, colonialism, and the advance of modernity.

Spring semester.  Lecturer Sessions.

37. 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.

Omitted 2008-09. Professor Niditch.

38. 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.

Omitted 2008-09. Professor Niditch.

39. Women in Judaism. (Also Women’s and Gender Studies 39.) 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.

Spring semester. Professor Niditch.

40. 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.

Omitted 2008-09. Professor Niditch.

41. 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.

Fall semester. Professor Niditch.

43. The Holy Wo/Man in Late Antiquity.
The holy wo/man was accorded a special place in late antique society as a link between the human and the divine. Yet what was it about particular humans that drew groups to accord them this special status? Why does standing on a pillar or naked in the open air mark one as holy? In this course we will read lives of pagan, Jewish, and Christian men and women to explore why groups in late antiquity saw in these strange and wonderful rites traces of the divine, and in what way they reflected the values of their groups.

Spring semester.  Professor Doran.

History of Christianity—The Early Years. This course deals with issues which arose in the first five centuries of the Christian Church. We will examine first how Christians defined themselves vis-à-vis the Greek intellectual environment, and also Christian separation from and growing intolerance towards Judaism. Secondly, we will investigate Christians’ relationship to the Roman state both before and after their privileged position under Constantine and his successors. Thirdly, the factors at play in the debates over the divinity and humanity of Jesus will be examined. Finally, we will look at the rise and function of the holy man in late antique society as well as the relationship of this charismatic figure to the institutional leaders of the Christian Church. Note will be taken that if it is primarily an issue of the holy man, what happened to the realization of the claim that “in Christ there is neither male nor female”? What too of the claim that “in Christ there is neither free nor slave”?

Omitted 2008-09. Professor Doran.

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.

Fall semester.  Professor Dole.

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.

Spring semester. Limited to 25 students. Professor Dole.

51. The Problem of Evil. (Also Philosophy 29.) 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 2008-09. Limited to 25 students. Professor Dole.

53. Sufism. (Also Asian 56.) Sufism is a discipline in the Islamic religious tradition through which practitioners aim to realize the annihilation of the self and union with God.  With this basic definition as its starting point, the first step in this course will be the examination of Sufism within the broader context of Islamic belief and practice. It will examine the scriptural basis of Sufism, the history of its emergence and elaboration, its spiritual exercises, key concepts, and lives and contribution of some of its major figures.  It will then return to the basic definition and ask what exactly is meant by annihilation of the self and union with the divine.  We will pursue this question by examining some of the theoretical writings of Ibn `Arabi and the poetry of Jalal al-Din Rumi.

Spring semester.  Professor Jaffer.

55.  Islamic Theology and Philosophy. 
This course is an introduction to the most important philosophers and theologians in classical Islam. It uses primary sources (in English translation) to introduce the concepts that Muslim intellectuals articulated and the movements they engendered in the 9th through 12th centuries. In this course, we will examine questions concerning the nature of God, the immortality of the human soul, causality and miracles, and the creation of the world. Although many of the philosophical and theological problems that we will examine first arose a thousand years ago, the problems are still the subject of debate throughout the Islamic world.

Fall semester.  Professor Jaffer.
57. Islamic Ethics. (Also Asian 39.) This course examines classical and modern sources in Islamic ethics to understand the place of moral and ethical thought in Islam. By looking at Islamic scripture, legal and theological writings, as well as literary sources, we will explore a wide scope of topics such as biomedical, reproductive and sexual ethics, as well as attitudes toward war and violence. The overall purpose of the course is to understand diverse Muslim understandings of what it means to live an ideal life, both individually and collectively.

Omitted 2008-09.

58. Religion in the Atlantic World: 1441-1808. (Also Black Studies 28.) An examination of the religious history of the Atlantic world, from the beginning of the Atlantic slave trade to the Anglo-American withdrawal from that trade. Emphasis will be placed on the encounter of African and European religions. How did the religion(s) of Africans and the religion(s) of Europeans differ and how were they alike at the time of their meeting in the Atlantic world? How did they change in response to one another along the west coast of Africa, and in the Caribbean and the Americas? Attention will be given to both West African and Kongo-Angola religious traditions, to both Catholicism and Protestantism, to both elite and popular religious patterns, and to the role of Islam in Africa and the New World. Two class meetings per week.

Spring semester. Professor Wills.

63. Suspicion and Religion. This course traces the rise of what has been termed the “hermeneutics of suspicion,” particularly in connection with the criticism of religion. The discourse of suspicion arose out of the German Idealist tradition of the philosophy of religion, flourished in the later nineteenth century, and lives on in present-day academic and popular treatments of religion and of the study of religion. In this course we will read both the classical suspicious authors (Hegel, Feuerbach, Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud) as well as their latter-day descendants. In discussion of these two authors our primary concern will be to understand the characteristic structure and the appeal of suspicious treatments of religion; but we will also be interested in the question of what makes religion specifically an attractive target of suspicion.

Omitted 2008-09. Professor Dole.

64. 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. One class meeting per week.

Spring semester. Professor Wills.

65. 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.

Fall semester.  Professor Dole.

68.  Apocalyptic Renewal in the Western Tradition.  Apocalyptic leaders have called for the end of the present world order and the inauguration of a new one, sometimes to be brought about by peaceful means, sometimes by violence.  This course will explore apocalyptic thought in writings of Second Temple Judaism and in formative writings of early Christianity, its reappearance in late Antiquity and its flourishing in the medieval period before turning to its influence on such movements as the Millerite movement and Waco.

Fall semester.  Professor Doran.

71. Buddhist Literary Cultures. (Also Asian 31.) This course studies Buddhist literature and literary aesthetics from South Asia, China, Tibet, Japan. We will consider several genres including biographies of the Buddha, hagiographies, sutras, epics, folk tales, poetry, short stories, plays, and novels. We will explore how literature may be uniquely empowered to generate and reflect certain sensibilities and to make certain truths known. We will also be focusing on what the texts mean for the people who write, hear, read, and preserve them and how these meanings occur over time. By examining how literary ideals inflect religious, ethical, and political values (and vice versa), we will be attentive to how literary communities and institutions work. Students in the course will experiment with writing and appreciating poetry by participating in a “Haiku Slam.”

Omitted 2008-09.  Professors Heim and Zamperini.

77. 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.

78D. Senior Departmental Honors. Required of candidates for Honors in Religion. A continuation of Religion 77. A double course.

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

97, 98. 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 semesters. The Department.


Indian Civilization. See Anthropology 21.  Fall semester. Professor Babb.

Religion and Society in the South Asian World. See Anthropology 34. (Also Asian Studies 60.) Spring semester. Professor Babb.

Myth, Ritual and Iconography in West Africa. See Black Studies 42.  Spring semester. Professor Abiodun.

The Reformation Era, 1500-1660. See History 29. Spring semester. Professor Hunt.