Religion
Offered by the Religion department.

The department offers courses in a variety of areas in the study of religion, clustered around the particular interests and expertise of the faculty. We have courses that fulfill the requirements for Cultural Diversity, Perspectives on the non-Western World, Writing Intensive, as well as Arts and Humanities. In addition, we offer a Jewish Studies minor.

Major requirements

 Religion major worksheet (pdf)

The religion major consists of nine semester courses.

Requirements

REL 102 Introduction to the Study of World Religions
REL 401 Seminar
and seven courses selected from three of the following areas. At least three courses will be taken from one of these areas; at least two courses from a second area; and at least one course from a third.

Scriptural studies
REL 109 Introduction to the Hebrew Bible
REL 110 Literature of the New Testament: The Real Jesus, Ancient and Modern Views
REL 204 Scripture in Judaism, Christianity and Islam
REL 207 Introduction to Rabbinic Literature
REL 212 Sacred Texts of Asia
REL 310 New Testament: Acts and Letters
REL 342 Liberation Theology

Western religious traditions
REL 204 Scripture in Judaism, Christianity and Islam
REL 223 Religion in Contemporary America
REL 232 Faith after the Holocaust
REL 282 Music and Worship in World Cultures
REL 322 Judaism: Faith and Practice
REL 323 Seminar in Jewish Thought
REL 342 Liberation Theology

Asian and non-Western religious traditions
REL 108 Engaged Buddhism
REL 212 Sacred Texts of Asia
REL 316 Islam: Faith and Practice
REL 325 Hinduism: Thought and Action
REL 326 Buddhism: Thought and Action
REL 357 Indigenous Religions

Contemporary and comparative religious thought
REL 142 Religion and Sexuality
REL 162 Perspectives on Death and Dying
REL 204 Scripture in Judaism, Christianity and Islam
REL 208 Religion in Modern Literature
REL 225 The Philosophy of Religion
REL 230 Mysticism and Spirituality
REL 232 Faith after the Holocaust
REL 242 Religion and Ecology
REL 260 Psychology of Religion
REL 277 Religion and Animals
REL 340 Seminar on Religion in Anthropological Perspective
REL 365 Smells and Bells: The Sensual Dimension of Religions

At least three courses at or above the 300 level, including REL 401 Seminar.

Interdepartmental majors

Majors in religion and philosophy and religion and history are offered jointly with the Philosophy and History Departments, respectively. Students electing either joint major should consult with the chairs of the two departments concerning the courses required.

The Classics and Religion departments have drawn up guidelines for an interdepartmental major in Ancient Studies. For the Dual-Degree Programs with Andover-Newton Theological School, contact Barbara Darling-Smith.

Minor requirements

Religion minor worksheet (pdf)

Minor concentrations are available in comparative religion, Bible, world religions and Jewish studies. A minor consists of five courses approved by the department, one of which must be at or above the 300 level. REL 102, though not required, is strongly recommended. For the minor in Jewish Studies, contact Jonathan Brumberg-Kraus.

  • Religion

    REL 098 – Experimental Course

    From time to time, departments design a new course to be offered either on a one-time basis or an experimental basis before deciding whether to make it a regular part of the curriculum. Refer to the course schedule for current listings.

  • Religion

    REL 099 – Independent Study

    Students, in consultation with the appropriate instructor, may arrange to pursue independent study on topics not covered by the regular course offerings.

  • Religion

    REL 102 – Introduction to the Study of World Religions

    A survey of the major world religions for the beginning student. Religions discussed will include indigenous religions (American Indian and African traditions), religions of India (Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism), China (Taoism and Confucianism) and those originating in the Middle East (Judaism, Christianity and Islam). Religion will be considered as a worldview expressed through doctrine, myth, ethical system, ritual, personal experience and society.

  • Religion

    REL 103 – Introduction to Comparative Religion

    The study of the world’s religions inevitably involves making comparisons. How we go about comparing, and what we bring to the table of comparison, already shapes the possible conclusions. This course brings to the foreground the practice of comparison beginning with a review of some of the earliest historical, theological efforts at comparison, through the 20th century emergence of comparative religion as a field of study with independent scholars and experts, to the present moment of radical inclusion, embodiment, and cultural embeddedness. During the semester students will build a “tool-kit”of techniques and categories facilitating deeper and more nuanced comparisons while examining some of the fundamental problems, puzzles and paradoxes emerging from the comparative enterprise. No-prerequisites.

  • Religion

    REL 104 – Unprotected Texts: The Bible, Gender and Sexuality in Western and Non-Western Religious Traditions

    This course will consider foundational ideas about bodies, sexuality, and gender in Bible and in other world religious traditions. Drawing upon each of their areas of expertise, Professor Brumberg-Kraus will highlight the formative roles of gender and sexual violence in ancient Hebrew Bible and New Testament texts, and Professor Darling will focus on sexuality and bodies in an array of religions around the globe. Together their different emphases and different gendered points of views will complement one another so as to present the religious constructions of gendered bodies from a comparative, cross-cultural perspective.

  • Religion

    REL 107 – Introduction to Hinduism

    Hinduism, dominant in south Asia and one of the world’s great religions, is explored through a variety of approaches. An introductory textbook will provide the framework for a poly-methodic examination of the Hindu traditions. Ancient texts, modern literature, a visit to a Hindu temple, experiential learning with a yoga instructor, art and film together will contribute a foundational understanding of Hinduism as an ancient wisdom tradition, and as a modern national identity.

  • Religion

    REL 108 – Engaged Buddhism

    An introduction to contemporary Buddhist thought and practice, exploring the role of Buddhism in addressing issues of social and environmental concern. Basic concepts, text traditions and history of Buddhism will provide the foundation for understanding the contemporary developments of “engaged Buddhism” and its response to issues of social justice, race, gender, ethnicity, consumerism, advertising culture, info-age technology and the natural environment.

  • Religion

    REL 109 – Introduction to the Hebrew Bible

    An overview of the diverse, sometimes conflicting, religious perspectives represented in the Hebrew scriptures concerned primarily with the biblical texts as the expressions of religious beliefs and ways of life. Examination of the historical contexts and literary forms and traditions of the texts and the concrete social situations to which these texts are religious responses. Focus on the Bible’s treatment of general themes in the study of religion, such as ideas of the holy, religious language and myth, ritual, monotheism and goddess worship, prophecy, theodicy, salvation, gender, the religious value of the secular and interpretation.

  • Religion

    REL 110 – Literature of the New Testament: The Real Jesus, Ancient and Modern Views

    The literature of the New Testament, with special attention to the form and content of the New Testament documents, their relationship to one another and their witness to the character of early Christianity.

  • Religion

    REL 142 – Religion and Sexuality

    A study of religious views on sexual choices, life styles and problems of today, including love, marriage, sex roles, homosexuality, celibacy, contraception, abortion, and sexual and domestic violence.

  • Religion

    REL 162 – Perspectives on Death and Dying

    Study of the grief process. Exploration of cross-cultural rituals surrounding death and speculation from various religions on immortality, resurrection and reincarnation. Investigation of end-of-life moral questions.

  • Religion

    REL 180 – #BlackLivesMatter, Religion and Politics

    Close attention will be given to ground roots activism and history of race and activism in America as frames for understanding the more recent phenomenon of Black Lives Matter and the interrelationship of political theory, social justice, economics, racism, violence, and human rights. While Black Lives Matter is not explicitly religious, the concerns of religion and the methodologies of religious studies nevertheless shed important light on the movement. The course’s modes of investigation will be historical, philosophical & theological as well as political & practical. Students will consider texts, music, video, and oral histories as source material.

  • Religion

    REL 198 – Experimental Course

    From time to time, departments design a new course to be offered either on a one-time basis or an experimental basis before deciding whether to make it a regular part of the curriculum. Refer to the course schedule for current listings.

  • Religion

    REL 199 – Independent Study

    Students, in consultation with the appropriate instructor, may arrange to pursue independent study on topics not covered by the regular course offerings.

  • Religion

    REL 204 – Scripture in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

    This course focuses on the religious function of sacred scriptures in the three Western religious traditions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Attention will be paid to scripture as myth of origins; the relative importance of sacred story, prophecy and law in the three traditions; authority; and the importance of interpretative traditions. We will also investigate the ritual functions of scripture, artistic representations and contemporary efforts to interpret the relevance of textual traditions.

  • Religion

    REL 208 – Religion in Modern Literature

    This course examines modern fiction as a means of exploring diverse views on the nature and meaning of human existence and the search for faith. The writings of such novelists as Katherine Paterson, Zora Neale Hurston, Umberto Eco, Aharon Appelfeld, Nagib Mahfouz, Orhan Pamuk, Flannery O’Connor and some contemporary religious poets are to be considered.

  • Religion

    REL 212 – Sacred Texts of Asia

    A study of some of the major religious traditions that have emerged in South and East Asia. Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism will be explored by considering representative scriptural texts and subsequent commentary traditions as a way to uncover their respective answers to fundamental questions about ultimate reality, humanity and salvation.

  • Religion

    REL 223 – Religion in Contemporary America

    An overview of the wealth of diversity in religions practiced in the U.S., including a study of mainstream Protestantism, Judaism and Roman Catholicism, as well as Native American traditions, Evangelicalism, African American religion, Eastern religious traditions and feminist spiritualities.

  • Religion

    REL 225 – The Philosophy of Religion

    A study of questions emerging from the philosophical analysis of religious thought. Both religious and anti-religious thinkers will be considered on fundamental issues: the existence of God, the status of revelation and faith, the problems of conflicting truth claims of different religions, immortality and human destiny. Special attention will be given to contemporary challenges to traditional, patriarchal theology.

  • Religion

    REL 230 – Mysticism and Spirituality

    An examination of mysticism as well as other forms of personal religious consciousness and the way individuals have integrated religious experience with their general understanding of existence. Attention will be given to accounts of mysticism and spirituality found in different cultures and historical periods. Fundamental issues include: the character of religious experience, the significance of gender in spirituality, self-realization and self-transformation, the relationship of interior experience and public life and altered states of consciousness.

  • Religion

    REL 232 – Faith after the Holocaust

    The death of six million Jews at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators in World War II represents a radical challenge to faith in Judaism, in Christianity and in Western humanism. The course begins with an historical overview of the Holocaust and then uses literature of Holocaust survivors and the philosophical and theological response of Jewish and Christian authors to articulate the challenge of the Holocaust to faith. The course concludes with a discussion of the implications of the Holocaust for Western culture. Because the questions that this course explores are highly varied and defy simple answers, a variety of disciplines, texts and media will be employed, including films and outside experts.

  • Religion

    REL 242 – Religion and Ecology

    An exploration of resources from various religious traditions for developing a healthy respect for nature and the environment, as well as a study of the religious roots of the current environmental crisis. Also includes discussions of ecofeminist spiritualities and deep ecology.

  • Religion

    REL 277 – Religion and Animals

    This course analyzes what religions have had to say about human relationships with other animals and whether religious traditions have included or excluded animals from humans’ moral responsibilities. Topics include an exploration of animals in story and animals as religious symbols; an exploration of similarities between human animals and nonhuman animals; and a look at how religious traditions can foster ethical regard and compassion for animals.

  • Religion

    REL 282 – Music and Worship in World Cultures

    See Musc 282 for course description.

  • Religion

    REL 285 – Russian Jewish Culture

    See Russian and Russian Studies 285 – Russian Jewish Culture (RUSS 285) for course description.

  • Religion

    REL 298 – Experimental Course

    From time to time, departments design a new course to be offered either on a one-time basis or an experimental basis before deciding whether to make it a regular part of the curriculum. Refer to the course schedule for current listings.

  • Religion

    REL 299 – Independent Study

    Students, in consultation with the appropriate instructor, may arrange to pursue independent study on topics not covered by the regular course offerings.

  • Religion

    REL 310 – New Testament: Acts and Letters

    This course studies Pauline Christianity through an examination of the Letters of Paul and Luke’s Acts of the Apostles. We will pay special attention to the social historical context and structures of Pauline Christianity. We will discuss its ideals of community and authority, its Christian self-definition in regard to emerging Rabbinic Judaism, the significance of religious conversion for Pauline Christianity, and the relationship of early Christian literature and ethics to other Greco-Roman literary and cultural conventions (e.g., Acts and ancient novels).

  • Religion

    REL 316 – Islam: Faith and Practice

    Pagan Arabia, the life and teaching of Muhammad, the spread of Islam, the development of Muslim thought, Islamic mysticism and modernism. Course may involve field trips to an Islamic center and interviews with contemporary Muslims.

  • Religion

    REL 322 – Judaism: Faith and Practice

    This course introduces the distinctive dimensions of Jewish religious and cultural worldviews in theory and in practice. Students will study not only classic Jewish texts, but also visit local synagogues, observe celebrations of Jewish holidays and conduct interviews with members of the local Jewish communities.

  • Religion

    REL 326 – Buddhism: Thought and Action

    A thematic and conceptual inquiry into some of the most important religious and philosophical traditions within Buddhism. Attention given to the major schools of Buddhist thought, as well as topical inquiries into issues regarding women in Buddhism, meditation practices, Buddhist art and architecture and the influence of Buddhism on contemporary Western religious pluralism. The course features close readings of Buddhist texts in translation and regular audiovisual presentations.

  • Religion

    REL 340 – Seminar on Religion in Anthropological Perspective

    See Anth 340 for course description.

  • Religion

    REL 342 – Liberation Theology

    Theology is rational reflection upon faith; liberation theology is reflection by people of faith who find themselves in situations of oppression. In this course we will read the writings of various groups–global women and men, African American women and men, and white women–and their struggles to relate Christian and Jewish teachings to liberation.

  • Religion

    REL 357 – Indigenous Religions

    An exploration of the rituals, myths and symbols of indigenous religions and the interconnection between these religious forms and native ways of life. Focuses on Native North American religious traditions, but indigenous religions in Africa, Australia and Latin America will also be considered.

  • Religion

    REL 365 – Smells and Bells: The Sensual Dimension of Religions

    This course is devoted to acquiring both “book knowledge” and experiential knowledge about the meaning of the sensual dimension of religion. Thus we will study the religious use of smell in rabbinic Judaism, sight in Hindu devotion, taste in medieval Christian and Jewish piety, sound in Muslim music and Qur’an recitation, and touch across different religious traditions. And we will also engage in performance related activities both inside and outside of class to gain “experiential knowledge” about what goes into a ritual.

The rituals we study, perform, and design are intended to integrate these two types of knowledge in a single activity, so that we will not only know in our heads what the activities we perform mean, but we can also feel, see, taste, and act it out. Rituals get us to know things not only in our minds but also in our limbs and sense organs. They are not just things that are handed down to us, or imposed by others upon us as passive recipients. We have the power to shape old and create new rituals that say exactly what we know and mean to say about our relations with other people and with nature. That’s what we’ll be doing when we design collaboratively the end of semester “interfaith banquet” ritual for our class. In this and activities, including guest specialists who will present some aspect of each of the five senses, we will explore the role of embodied, symbolic behavior that rituals and dramatic performances share. And we’ll gather and prepare local food as part of our celebratory end of semester feast, and invite all our guest speakers and presenters to join us.

  • Religion

    REL 398 – Experimental Course

    From time to time, departments design a new course to be offered either on a one-time basis or an experimental basis before deciding whether to make it a regular part of the curriculum. Refer to the course schedule for current listings.

  • Religion

    REL 399 – Independent Study

    Advanced students, in consultation with the appropriate instructor, may arrange to pursue independent study on topics not covered by the regular course offerings.

  • Religion

    REL 401 – Seminar

    Selected topics will be chosen to integrate and supplement the work done in the major. Each member of the seminar will write a paper and will present an oral report to majors and members of the Religion Department.

  • Religion

    REL 499 – Independent Research

    Offered to selected majors at the invitation of the department.

  • Religion

    REL 500 – Individual Research

    Open to majors by invitation of the department for work culminating in a senior honors thesis.

Barbara Darling-Smith

Assistant Professor of Religion

Jordan Miller

Visiting Assistant Professor of Religion

Jeffrey R. Timm

Professor of Religion; Chair of the Religion Department