Religious Studies

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The study of religion is essential to a liberal arts education that focuses on diversity, on social, global and environmental responsibility, and on the growth of the intellectual and creative mind. The field of religious studies promotes the academic and multidisciplinary study of religious life. It recognizes that religion has played a profound role throughout human history at the individual and social levels. One cannot claim to have a deep understanding of Western civilizations, past or present, without familiarity with Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; nor can one claim a deep understanding of Asian civilizations without knowledge of Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism. Additionally, in studying contemporary societies and individuals, one must recognize and seek to understand the globalizing intersections of religious traditions, and the ways in which these intersections inform human action and experience.

Students majoring in religious studies will have achieved the following goals:

  1. Critical appreciation of religious experiences within multiple world traditions;
  2. The ability to understand religious life in its historical, cultural and individual contexts;
  3. The capacity to compare, critically and constructively, a broad range of religious phenomena;
  4. Comprehension of a range of methods and theory in the study of religion, and the ability to apply them;
  5. Capacity to construct and support a reflective position pertaining to the religious experience, and to present that position to the public, convincingly and with clarity
  6. The ability to integrate these aims into a final project (St. Mary’s Project or equivalence).

Students who take religious studies as a minor will have achieved the following goals:

  1. Critical appreciation of religious experiences within multiple world traditions;
  2. Knowledge of at least two religious world traditions and an understanding of their broader historical and cultural contexts;
  3. Sufficient familiarity with religious studies terms and approaches to make coherent arguments pertaining to religion;
  4. The demonstrated capacity to integrate their knowledge of religious studies with their other field(s) of academic interests.

Courses in religious studies are designed to achieve the following:

Some courses focus on particular themes and issues related to religion, such as the nature and reality of the sacred, the problem of evil, death and dying, ultimate liberation and salvation, religion and science, or gender bias and the problem of patriarchy in the world religions. Other courses cover the fundamentals of particular religious traditions, such as their sacred scriptures and visions of ultimate reality, their doctrines and world views, as well as their communities, institutions, ritual practices, and cultural and historical expressions. Yet other courses focus on different methodological and comparative approaches to religion. In general, religious studies courses foster research and writing skills, and prepare students to do independent learning and thinking.

Because it is multi-disciplinary, comparative and global in focus, the religious studies major fosters insight into not only one’s own personal, cultural and historical contexts, but into those of others as well. A major or minor in religious studies encourages the development of skills that will be of tangible benefit to students in their pursuit of any professional career: the skills entailed in close textual reading and analysis; detailed ethnographic observations; critical and constructive writing and communication; and clear and convincing verbal argumentation. The religious studies major also prepares students for the promises and challenges of living alertly and conscientiously in today’s globalized world. These skills help to illuminate which careers may be most meaningful and satisfying to particular students.

DEGREE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE MAJOR

To earn a bachelor of arts with a major in religious studies, a student must satisfy the following requirements, designed to establish the breadth and depth of knowledge consistent with the goals of the major:

  1. General College Requirements (see “Curriculum” section).
  2. At least 44-credit-hours in religious studies, in all of which a grade of C- or higher must be achieved, as follows:
    1. Core Courses: 20 credit-hours from the following areas:
      1. Introduction (four credit-hours)
        • RELG 110: Introduction to World Religions
      2. Traditions: eight credit-hours, covering two distinct traditions
        1. Christianity:
          RELG 225: Introduction to Christianity
          OR
          RELG 210: Biblical Foundations
        2. Judaism:
          RELG 215: Introduction to Judaism
          OR
          RELG 216: Jewish Cultures
        3. Islam:
          RELG 220: Introduction to Islam
          OR
          RELG 221: Islamic Civilizations
        4. Asian Religions:
          RELG 230: Introduction to Hinduism
          OR
          RELG 231: Religions and Cultures of India
      3. (Note: A student taking 12-credit-hours of the above 200-level classes in three distinct religious traditions is exempt from RELG 110)
      4. Approaches: eight-credit-hours
        • RELG 370: Approaches to the Study of Religion
        • RELG 465: Colloquium in Religious Studies
    2. Elective courses: at least 16 semester hours in Religious Studies courses, of which 12 credit hours must be at the 300-level or above.
    3. Senior Experience: eight credit-hours

In their senior year, majors must complete an eight-semester hour St. Mary’s Project (RELG 493/494). Students who pursue a St. Mary’s Project outside of religious studies must take one additional elective (four credit-hours) in religious studies at the 300-level or higher. Please note: Prerequisite for RELG 493 is RELG 492)

With prior approval from the department chair, cross-listed and other upper level courses on religion from outside the religious studies offering can be counted as electives.

The following model is suggested as a sequence of study that satisfies the above requirements:

DEGREE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE MINOR

To earn a minor in religious studies, a student must satisfy the following requirements:

  1. General College requirements (see“Curriculum” section).
  2. At least 20 credit-hours in religious studies as specified. A grade of C- or better must be received in each course of the minor and the cumulative grade point average of courses used to satisfy the minor must be at least 2.0.
    1. Required core courses: At least two of the following (eight credit-hours) covering two distinct traditions (note: students can combine the RELG 110 with any 200 level class, or take two distinct 200-level classes).
      1. Introduction
        • RELG 110: Introduction to World Religions
      2. Traditions
        1. Christianity:
          RELG 225: Introduction to Christianity
          OR
          RELG 210: Biblical Foundations
        2. Judaism:
          RELG 215: Introduction to Judaism
          OR
          RELG 216: Jewish Cultures
        3. Islam:
          RELG 220: Introduction to Islam
          OR
          RELG 221: Islamic Civilizations
        4. Asian Religions:
          RELG 230: Introduction to Hinduism
          OR
          RELG 231: Religions and Cultures of India
    2. Elective Courses: At least 12-semester hours in RELG courses at the 200-level or above, of which at least eight-semester hours must be at the 300-level or above.

FACULTY

Björn Krondorfer (chair), Betül Basaran, Katharina von Kellenbach, Daniel Meckel, Devorah Schoenfeld

RELIGIOUS STUDIES COURSES (RELG)

RELG 110. Introduction to World Religions (4E)

A comparative study of the history, beliefs, and practices of major religious traditions, such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Daoism, or Native American and African religions. Selected aspects of these traditions are examined (for example, conceptions of human nature, ritual, morality, law, cosmology, visions of salvation). This course satisfies the Core Curriculum requirement in Humanistic Foundations.

RELG 210. Biblical Foundations (4AS)

This course introduces students to the academic study of the Bible, both the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and the Greek Bible/New Testament. It focuses on research skills and methods to interpret Biblical texts in different cultural, religious and political settings. As sacred scripture of Judaism and Christianity, this course also aims to introduce these two religious traditions as seen through their foundational texts. This course satisfies the Core Curriculum requirement in Humanistic Foundations.

RELG 215. Introduction to Judaism (4AF)

This course will cover the basic texts and core beliefs and practices of the Jewish religion and explore how Judaism is practiced as a lived religion in America today. The student will obtain basic research skills in Jewish studies, including the ability to find and work with primary sources in translation. The purpose of this course is for students to acquire the skills to study historical and contemporary Judaism(s) in an academic context, using a variety of approaches. This course satisfies the Core Curriculum requirement in Humanistic Foundations.

RELG 216. Jewish Cultures (4AF)

There is no one Jewish culture. As Jews have lived all over the world in many and varied environments their cultures have differed. Jewish cultures have developed both by adapting to and resisting the cultures around them. In these many Jewish cultures, religious teaching was just one important component. This course will examine the wide variety of Jewish cultures in the modern world and survey the history of Jewish cultures from late antiquity to the modern period. This course satisfies the Core Curriculum requirement in Humanistic Foundations.

RELG 220. Introduction to Islam (4AS)

Islam is the second largest religion in the world, and soon will be the second in the United States. This course will familiarize students with the diversity of religious beliefs and practices in Islam, not only as a religion but as a civilization that is part of the contemporary world. Themes to be discussed include the birth and expansion of Islam from the Arabian peninsula to North Africa, Europe, Central Asia, and the U.S., the life and message of the prophet Muhammad, the Quran, Islamic law, Sunni and Shiite branches of Islam, Islamic mysticism (Sufism), and Islam’s relationship with other religions. This course satisfies the Core Curriculum requirement in Humanistic Foundations.

RELG 221. Islamic Civilization (4AS)

This course is designed to introduce students to the key factors shaping life in the Islamic world and to provide exposure to the rich cultural diversity that marks it. It serves as an introduction to the study of Islamic religion, history, politics, and arts, with emphasis on the contributions of the Islamic world to modern science and learning. Discussions will be based on fiction, poetry, and film in addition to academic materials. This course satisfies the Core Curriculum requirement in Humanistic Foundations.

RELG 225. Introduction to Christianity (4AS)

In this course, students are introduced to fundamental theological concepts as they have shaped Christianity in its liturgy, rituals, communal structures, politics and history. Students will study different movements within Christianity, examine internal Christian debates and conflicts, and compare various Christian communities over time. Introducing “theological thinking” as a critical skill, students sample and investigate articulations and expressions of the Christian religion(s) from different epochs, stretching from late antiquity to contemporary times around the globe (Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas). This course satisfies the Core Curriculum requirement in Humanistic Foundations.

RELG 230. Introduction to Hinduism (4AF)

In this introductory course, students will come to know Hinduism in its diverse and colorful images, sounds, practices, and architectural forms, as well as in its myths, epic tales, and philosophical texts. The Hindu traditions are approached along three traditional “paths.” The path of action is about ancient Vedic sacrifice, rituals of the life cycle, sacred pilgrimage, and religious festivals; the “path of knowledge” concerns Hindu philosophical and mystical strivings to understand the nature of reality and illusion, ultimate being, ego and soul, and final liberation; the “path of devotion” looks at major Hindu gods and goddesses, their natures, forms, stories, and their relations to humankind through loving devotion, worship, and ritual possession. This course satisfies the Core Curriculum requirement in Humanistic Foundations.

RELG 231. Religions and Cultures of India (4AF)

An historical and thematic introduction to Indian civilization in its major religious forms. Students will study Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Islam, as these have given shape to distinctive ways of life in India. Students will read historical studies, religious and philosophic texts, examine forms of devotion and ritual, recount the stories of major religious figures (human and divine), and encounter distinctive forms of religious expression through the arts. This course satisfies the Core Curriculum requirement in Humanistic Foundations.

RELG 301. Death and Dying (4A)

The first section of this course examines the morality of death in Western technological cultures, where the dying are hidden and the dying process is shaped by medical technology and legal deliberations. In a second step students look at various conceptions of the continuity of life beyond death, as well as death and mourning rituals in the Western, Eastern and African religious and philosophical traditions. Students in this class will engage in value questions and critical thinking about fundamental life experiences. This course has no prerequisites but students have to be at least in their second year of college.

RELG 302. Religion, Violence and Reconciliation: From Torture to Genocide (4A)

Violence is the assault on the body as well as the mind; it is inscribed into discourses of power that justify certain types of violence imposed on specific groups. Violence can be enforced and justified by religion, nation states, governments, hate groups, or in smaller social units. Violence can also be resisted through religiously inspired non-violent commitments or a willingness to witness “truth” at the price of life (martyrdom). By reading a wide range of texts from the biblical world to modern accounts of genocide--students will examine how violence affects the physical body, the gendered body, the racialized body, and the religious and collective body. Strategies and philosophies of non-violence and reconciliation are also considered. Students in this class will engage in value questions and critical thinking about fundamental life experiences. This course has no prerequisites but students have to be at least in their second year of college.

RELG 310. Ascetics, Saints and Sinners: Western Religious Thought (4A)

A critical appraisal of selected religious thinkers in the Jewish and Christian traditions. Introduces the student to the conflicts in the formation of the religious, theological, mystical and gendered Christian identity. Primary texts ranging from the ancient to the medieval and contemporary worlds will be studied. Prerequisite: one course in RELG, or consent of the instructor.

RELG 314. Islamic Empires in the Medieval and Early Modern Eras (4A)

This class is a general survey that introduces Islamic political thought as manifested by the Islamic states of medieval and early-modern times. It examines Islamic notions of law, state and authority that emerged as a response to current political developments such as the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates, the extinction of the caliphate by the Mongols in 1258 and the political fragmentation that followed, and finally the rise of the so-called Gunpowder Empires. The survey will focus mainly on the Ottoman Empire, but also explore the interactions between the Ottoman, Safavid, and Mughal Empires. Prerequisite: One course in HIST or one course in RELG, or consent of the instructor.

RELG 318. Feminism and Religion (4A)

An introduction to feminist critiques and reclamations of religion. Major feminist thinkers from the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions will be discussed as they revise the central theological concepts of God, revelation, morality, and community. Prerequisite: One course in RELG, WGSX, or PHIL, or consent of the instructor.

RELG 325. Topics in Biblical Studies (4A)

The Bible has been one of the most influential books, shaping the religious, philosophical, literary and political imagination of the West, and in modern times, around the globe. This course will explore different topics in the study of the Bible and focus either on different methods of interpretation of the Hebrew Bible and/or New Testament or the history of interpretations in the Jewish and Christian traditions and its reception by medieval and modern, Christian and Jewish, religious, secular, postcolonial, or feminist readers over time. This course may be repeated for credit where the topic is not repetitive. Prerequisite: RELG 110, or consent of the instructor.

RELG 327. Psychoanalysis and Religion (4A)

A close and critical examination of the major psychoanalytic approaches to religion. Beginning with Sigmund Freud and developing in radically new directions, these approaches view religious life as deeply embedded in unconscious desires, anxieties, hatreds, love, attachments, and fantasies. Students will explore and evaluate these views. Introductions to a range of psychoanalytic perspectives will be interlaced with studies of ritual and worship, notions of God(s), mystical experience, sacred symbolism, art and mythology. The course is writing-intensive and uses film, fiction, psychiatric case studies, religious biography, and self-exploration. Prerequisite: At least one course in RELG or in PSYC, or consent of the instructor.

RELG 328. Topics in Religion and Psychology (4A)

Advanced studies of diverse topics and thinkers at the interface of religion and psychology. Topics to be explored include “Religion, Healing and Mental Illness,” “Religion and Neuroscience,” “Possession, Ecstasy and Divine Madness,” “Religious Life and Family Systems,” “Psychology of Mysticism,” “Religion and the Imagination” and “Faith, Morality and Human Development.” Thinkers and theories include William James and phenomenology, Carl Jung and archetypal psychology, Ana-Maria Rizzuto and object relations theory, Heinz Kohut and self psychology. This course may be repeated for credit where the topic is not repetitive. Prerequisite: At least one course in RELG or in PSYC, or consent of the instructor.

RELG 330. Modern Religious Thought (4A)

Introduces students to major twentieth-century theological and religious thinkers as they wrestle with some or all of the following questions: Who or what is God? Why do good people suffer? How are salvation, redemption, liberation envisioned in the modern world? What constitutes a religious community? How do different religious faiths relate to each other, the secular world and the natural environment? Cross-listed with PHIL 330. Prerequisite: one course in RELG or PHIL, or consent of the instructor.

RELG 340. Jewish Ethics (4A)

This course will explore the resources in the Jewish tradition for confronting contemporary ethical problems. It will examine the development of the Jewish legal system through the Talmud, Responsa and legal codes as well as how contemporary Jewish thinkers have used these sources in recent times. Prerequisite: One course in RELG at the 200 level (recommended: RELG 215), or consent of the instructor.

RELG 350. Islam in the Modern World (4A)

Introduces students to the diversity of the Muslim world and its early-modern and modern history, focusing especially (but not exclusively) on the Middle East and North Africa. This history is intertwined with the history of Europe and North America, which constitutes an integral part of our survey. Includes brief overview of the origins and development of the Islam, followed by an examination of the relations between Islamic communities and the West since the colonial period. The later sections are organized thematically and focus mainly on issues including political trends, terrorism, fundamentalism, secularism, democracy, women’s rights and human rights. Students will be participating in presenting and analyzing the class material regularly. Prerequisite: RELG 110 (and recommended: RELG 220 or 221), or consent of the instructor.

RELG 351. East Asian Philosophies and Religions (4F)

A systematic study of the major schools of thought in China and Japan, including Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism, and Shinto, as well as works by contemporary Japanese philosophers. Particular attention will be paid to the historical development of East Asian thought and its contemporary relevance. Cross-listed as PHIL 351. Students may receive credit for either course, but not both. Prerequisite: One course in RELG or PHIL.

RELG 352. South Asian Philosophies and Religions (4S)

An intensive and extensive study of the history, beliefs, and practices of Hinduism, Indian Buddhism, and Jainism as reflected in their canonical texts, with special reference to the Vedic scriptures, Upanishads, Bhagavad-Gita, and early Buddhist sutras. The interplay between philosophical and theological concerns will be studied and the contemporary relevance of the tradition will be examined. Cross-listed as PHIL 352. Students may receive credit for either course, but not both. Prerequisite: one course in RELG or PHIL.

RELG 355. Women in Islam (4A)

A survey beginning with the advent of Islam up to modern times that provides a broad sense of the religious, cultural, and political roles played by women in Islamic societies. Topics include theoretical questions about the concept of gender and the validity of focusing on gender in trying to understand Islamic societies, the political implications of the study of women in the Middle East and North Africa, and the development of feminist trends and dilemmas faced by Muslim women in asserting themselves as legitimate voices in the contemporary global world, including Muslim women in the United States and Europe. Prerequisite: one course in RELG, WGSX, or consent of the instructor.

RELG 360. Comparative Religious Fundamentalism(s)(4A)

This course aims at understanding and comparing fundamentalist movements in the world religious traditions. Students will examine the term “fundamentalism” as it has evolved from describing an American Protestant form of religiosity to signifying a global phenomenon. How do religious fundamentalists describe themselves, how are they described by others? What are the grievances, ambitions and goals of fundamentalists? Differentiating between fundamentalist piety and religious extremism, students learn about the intersection of religious with ethnic, national and political identities. Do fundamentalists of different religious backgrounds share common world views? What are the roles of men and women? Prerequisite: RELG 110, or consent of the instructor.

RELG 370. Approaches to the Study of Religion (4S)

A rigorous introduction to classical and contemporary theories and methods in the field of religious studies. By taking this course students will expand and enhance critical toolkit for approaching religion. Students will read and critique the works of major intellectual figures that represent different methodological approaches. Content will vary depending on instructor. Prerequisite: two courses in RELG or consent of the instructor.

RELG 380. Topics in Religious Studies (4A)

This course is an intensive study of a theme, thinker, topic or problem in religious studies. The topic chosen may vary from semester to semester. This course may be repeated for credit where the topic is not repetitive. Prerequisite: RELG 110 and one additional course in religious studies, or consent of the instructor.

RELG 390. Holocaust: History and Meaning (4A)

A critical and systematic study of the Holocaust in historical perspective and the impact of this history on religious and moral thought and behavior. The reading of selected primary sources and the scholarly literature covers a variety of themes relevant to the understanding and interpretation of the Holocaust. Examining the European context and modern ideology is important for probing human behavior under extreme conditions. This course is cross-listed as HIST 390. Prerequisite: One course in RELG or HIST, or consent of the instructor.

RELG 402. Philosophy of Religion (4A)

A descriptive analysis of religious experience past and present, and an assessment of its validity. Also to be studied are such topics as the spiritual dimension of humanity (including human/earth relations, human/divine relations), reasons for believing in God, miracles, and the role of religion in different cultures. This course is cross-listed as PHIL 402. Students may receive credit for either course, but not both. Prerequisites: two courses in RELG or PHIL.

RELG 460. Religion and Ethics (4A)

Analyzes the intersection between religious and ethical questions. The course will examine religious ethics in relation to such areas as the natural environment, gender, sexuality, race ethnicity, politics, economics, violence and social justice. Prerequisites: two courses in RELG or PHIL.

RELG 465. Colloquium in Religious Studies (4F)

This course is designed for majors and minors in religious studies. The theme of this seminar will depend on the instructor, but it will provide an opportunity for students to share their research as it develops. Assignments will be structured around the students’ research interests and will give opportunities for students to reflect on and engage with topics that they are researching from different perspectives. Students will select the readings for the second half of the course in consultation with the instructor. Possible themes include Religion and Change, Religion in the Contemporary World, Religion and Ethics, Religion and Society. Prerequisite: Seniors who are engaged in research in religious studies, or consent of the instructor.

RELG 492. SMP Proseminar (1S)

Meeting approximately five times during the semester preceding the initiation of the St. Mary’s Project (SMP), the SMP Proseminar is designed to aid the student in producing an informed proposal for an SMP that meets the requirements of the College and the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies. The SMP proposals are then circulated to the faculty in the department for the purpose of assigning students to mentors to begin the SMPs. Successful completion of the proseminar is measured by the student developing a SMP proposal acceptable to the departmental faculty. This is a one-credit prerequisite for registering for RELG 493. (Note: Students who expect to be away from the College during the spring of their junior year have two options: either (a) complete the work for the SMP Proseminar in the fall prior to departure, or (b) be in regular contact during the spring with the faculty of the department, in order to complete and submit an acceptable SMP proposal by the same due date governing those on campus.) Credit/No Credit grading.

RELG 493/494. St. Mary’s Project in Religious Studies (1-8E)

The student-initiated project will draw on and develop the understanding, analytic skills, and creativity of the student’s previous academic work. The project may assume many forms, including cooperative efforts. The student will identify an area to be explored and articulate a method of inquiry or style of presentation appropriate to the subject matter. The project will also exhibit a student’s reflection on the social context, body of pertinent literature, or the conceptual framework to which it is a contribution. It will be presented to the College community in a form agreed upon by both the student and his or her mentor. The subject of the project may be within religious studies or involve religious studies in cross-disciplinary study areas. The work is to be supervised by a faculty mentor. With the approval of the department chair, this requirement may be satisfied by a St. Mary’s Project in another discipline or cross-disciplinary area. Prerequisite: Completion of RELG 492; approval of the faculty mentor and the department chair.

RELG 199, 299, 399, 499. Independent Study (1-4E)

This course consists of an independent creative or research project designed by the student and supervised by a religious studies faculty member. The nature of the project, the schedule for accomplishment, and the means of evaluation must be formalized in a learning contract prior to registration. (See “Independent Study” under “Academic Policies” section.)

RELG 385 Classroom Assistantship in Religious Studies (1-4E)

Supervised experience in the understanding and explanation of religious concepts and methods. Meeting regularly with the instructor, classroom assistants help an instructor in duties that may include convening meetings with students outside of regular classtime, reading drafts of students’ papers, correcting (but not grading) short homework assignments and drafting examination questions. This course will follow the general college guidelines. Students eligible for classroom assistantships must have a minimum GPA of 2.5, be of junior or senior standing or must have completed 2 courses of 200-level or above work in religious studies. May be repeated for a total of eight credits.