Issues in Religion
REL 204 Religious Experience (W)
Here the emphasis is not on doctrines of religion, but on central
experiences that underlie the institutions of religion. Readings are
drawn from a variety of cultures: from ancient writings to contemporary
ones; from religious traditions and from outside religious systems as
such. Most of the readings concern the experiences themselves, in
material such as the Australian initiation rites, Islamic and Native
American rituals, The Epic of Gilgamesh, biblical narratives, the
enlightenment of the Buddha, mystical experiences, the journals of Etty
Hillesum. Work by several theorists will also be read. Questions will
include: What is the experience like? What is "religious" experience?
How does the experience affect people and their lives?
REL 205 Faith and Disbelief (W) (3hrs., 3cr.)
An examination of questions raised in religious faith and in disbelief,
concentrating particularly on the challenge to religion made by
existentialism. Among the authors to be read are both critics and
defenders of religion: Camus, Buber, Kierkegaard, Teilhard de Chardin,
Sartre, Nietzsche, Tillich, and Bonhoffer.
REL 206 Ideas of God in Contemporary Western Thought (W) (3hrs., 3cr.)
How does contemporary Western theology understand faith in God? What is
meant--or ought to be meant--by the word "God"? How does the reality of
evil figure into faith? Answers to these questions will be our primary
focus as we read works by representative Jewish, Christian, and heterodox
religious thinkers since World War II. Examples will be drawn from
liberal, process, feminist, and radical perspectives, among others.
REL 207 Religious Sources for Morality (W) (3hrs., 3cr.)
Ethics has been defined as the tension between that which "is" and that
which "ought" to be. This course will focus on the origin of the "ought":
How do we decide what is good and evil? What are the sources of our
understanding of what ought to be? Are these sources religious? Have they
to do with belief in God? (What do we mean by "religion" and by God"?) Reading
will be in Buber, The Book of Job, Genesis, Psalms, The Gospel of Matthew,
Wiesel, Kant, Kierkegaard, and Tillich.
REL 208 Religion in Social Justice (W) (3hrs., 3cr.)
While all religions agree that securing a socially just world is a
'constant occupation,' they disagree as to the concrete nature of that
vocation. This course is designed to examine contemporary religious
reflection on four social issues: war, race, the economy, and gender
relations. The issues will be approached from as many sides as possible,
examining them in light of the attitudes they reveal about God, society,
and justice. The course will focus primarily on readings from a range of
different traditions, in large part to illustrate the plurality of
perspectives that exist.
REL 307 Religious ideas in Literature (W) (3hrs., 3cr.)
Storytelling has been a nurturing and necessary activity of the human
species, and a primary medium for conveying religious inquiry and
insight. Through careful reading, discussion, and student essays, this
class will consider the inquiry into key religious issues--e.g., the human
condition and possibilities of transformation, divine justice, the sacred
and society, alienation and meaning--in novels, short stories, and plays by
authors such as Dostoyevsky, Unamuno, Camus, Lagerkvist, Malamud, Baldwin,
O'Connor, Endo, and Atwood. (Auditors require permission of the instructor
REL 308 Religion and the Arts (W) (3hrs., 3cr.)
The arts have always been a medium for transforming spiritual beliefs,
from prehistoric figurines to William Blake’s mystical paintings. Even in
today’s society, the arts serve as a vehicle for religious expression,
reflecting not only the individual’s experience with the sacred but
society’s view of what art constitutes and how religion should be
depicted. But how did we get to this point? We shall examine the
relationship between religion and sculpture, painting, dance, theater,
decorative arts, music and, finally, photography and film from a
chronological and cross-cultural perspective.
REL 309 The Religious Meaning of Sex and Love (W) (3hrs., 3cr.)
Sex remains one of the great powers in human life to which religion has
not been indifferent. This cross-cultural and interdisciplinary course
asks about the relation between the religious and the erotic, inquiring
into such issues as: what lies behind speaking of the gods as sexual
and/or loving; what lies behind speaking of faith as a matter of 'loving'
God; what rationales underlie the various religious codes of sexual
ethics? In short, what are the connections among the love of God, the love
for God, and sexual love between human beings--in both historical and
REL 310 The Religious Meaning Of Death (W) (3hrs.,3cr.)
The fact of death is at the center of the study of religion. The meaning
one gives to death often determines the direction of one's life. This
course will explore the various meanings which different cultures in
different historical periods have discovered in the reality of death.
Attention will also be given to contemporary formulations. Material
studied will be cross-cultural and interdisciplinary. Discussion will
center on the assigned readings.
REL 311 Women and Religion (W) (3hrs., 3cr.)
The focus is on contemporary feminist theologies. Feminist students of
religion contend that male-defined traditions have set the patterns of
religious and societal life, without adequate attention to women's
experiences, insights or participation. The course focuses mainly on the
traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam (some other traditions are
included and welcome from the class), and explores the what and why of
patriarchy, the power of symbols, feminist sources and methods for doing
theology, as women reclaim their traditions or envision new ones,
with new models for the sacred, the self and society.
REL 312 Religion and Politics (W) (3hrs., 3cr.)
This course examines the interplay between religion and politics: how
religious beliefs influence politics and how historical, cultural, and
social factors affect religious views. Examined are contemporary
situations in which religion is playing a visible role in the aims and
understandings of political purposes. Included are "fundamentalist"
movements in Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, and theologies of
liberation in Latin America, U. S. Black Churches, and the feminist
movement. The religious foundations and historical backgrounds of each
movement will be considered, as will the present religious perspectives
and interpretations of tradition that underlie specific political
REL 313 Spirit and Nature (W) (3 hrs., 3 cr.)
The religious traditions of the world give expression to--and are
frequently the supports for--many of our attitudes towards the natural
world; both conscious and unconscious. The religious traditions treated
in the course are chosen to present a typology of the different ways
religions have conceptualized and thereby evaluated nature and animal
life; whether, for example, the human is conceptualized as being kin to
nature (as among Australian Aborigines and Native Americas), or part of
nature (e.g., Taoism and Buddhism), or indeed "above" nature (e.g., the
Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). At the same time,
the course is rounded out by an exploration of religious grounds for
and against vegetarianism.
REL 315 The Problem of Evil (W) (3hrs., 3cr.)
Is it possible to say that we are living in an "age of evil," that the
events of our time reveal the presence of a "spirit of evil" in our midst?
What does religion have to say about such a phenomenon? How does religion
think about and define evil? Who or what is responsible? Can anything be
done about it? These are the questions this course will address by
way of Eastern and Western religious materials.
REL 334 Mysticism (W) (3hrs., 3cr.)
A critical analysis of the patterns
and nature of mystical experiences. Analyzing mystical reports
and writers from a variety of traditions and eras, we will explore the
nature of the transition processes which lead to these experiences and the
experiences themselves. We will also ask of the commonalities and
differences of the thoughts of mystics, and explore several typologies of
them. Finally, we will look at the very lively contemporary debate about
these experiences, focusing on the question of the role of language,
background, and expectations in mystical experiences.
REL 335 Myth and Ritual (W) (3hrs., 3cr.)
What does a ritual do for its practitioners? How does it do it? What does
the recitation of a myth do for people? Does a ritual or myth bring or
express the infinite to its participants? What is the relationship of
ritual or mythical events to people’s ordinary lives? The course, which
assumes a working knowledge of more than one religious tradition, will
look at rituals and myths from a variety of traditions including our own
“secular” life. Focusing on the motifs of “heroes” and “goddesses,” we
will identify and explore patterns of ritual/mythical life, and ask of
their philosophical, social, psychological and theological significance.
REL 340 Homosexuality in World Religion (W) (3hrs., 3cr.)
This course surveys and analyzes typical ways in which homosexuality has
been understood, evaluated and, in some cases, institutionalized in a
variety of religious traditions, attending especially to implicit
constructions of gender.
REL 261 Special Topics: Issues in Religion (W) (3hrs., 3cr.)
Study of particular religious topics or thinkers. Different subject each
REL 361 Special Topics: Issues in Religion (W) (3hrs., 3cr.)
Study of particular religious topics or thinkers. Different subject each time offered.