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Religious Studies

The study of religion invites you, in an academic context, into a long tradition of theological and historical questions about the nature of humanity in relation to God and to the world, and it engages you in the interreligious and intercultural encounter that is taking place today.

Majors and Minors: Students who are considering a major or minor in religious studies can select any of the courses listed on the First-Year Student website under Religious Studies. Courses at the 100 level are particularly well-suited to first-year students. A course taken in Montserrat carrying an R designation is usually counted toward the major; it might be counted toward the minor with the approval of the department chair.

RELS 102
Mary in Christian Theology

Common Area: Studies in Religion

Mary, the mother of Jesus, has held great significance for Christians over the centuries. This class will examine the following topics: Mary in the Scriptures, the development of Marian doctrines (the Virgin Birth, the Immaculate Conception, etc.), depictions of Mary in art and film, popular devotions to Mary (the rosary, the scapular, etc.), and Marian apparitions (Lourdes, Fatima, Guadalupe, etc.). The examination of both texts and traditions will help students to understand better the importance Christian theology and culture throughout history.

RELS 106
Common Area: Cross-Cultural Studies or Studies in Religion

An introduction to the Buddhist tradition, from its founder’s life and Indian origins, its spread to the Himalayas and East Asia, to its modern spread to the West. The course surveys basic doctrines and central practices, drawing on texts that have inspired Buddhists for millennia. This class will have a weekly plenary lecture on Monday evenings; students will also take part in a small discussion section.

RELS 107
Common Area: Cross-Cultural Studies or Studies in Religion

Examination of Islamic religious beliefs and practices from the origins of Islam to the present. Particular stress is placed on Islamic religious ideals, institutions and personalities. Central topics include: Islamic scripture and traditions, prophecy, law, rituals, theology and philosophy, sectarianism, mysticism, aesthetic ideals, art and architecture, pedagogy, and modern reinterpretations of the tradition. Also explores wider issues of religious identity by looking at the diversity of the Islamic tradition, tensions between elite and popular culture, and issues of gender and ethnicity.

RELS 114
Introduction to Theology
Common Area: Studies in Religion

This course is an introduction to Western Christian theology as a discipline and an invitation to theologize alongside Christian theologians of yesterday and today. The overarching question of the course is this: “What is Christian Theology?” The two parts of the course are guided by sub-questions: 1) How do we begin? (part one); 2) How are we saved?; 3) How does God reveal Godself to us?; and 4) How must we treat God’s creation? Students will discover both the abiding value of Christian theology’s scriptural and dogmatic foundations, and its applicability to contemporary contexts and questions. The course will entail a significant amount of reading, reflecting, and writing outside of class, and in class it will consist of lectures, discussions, and collaborative in-class work. Students are expected to be fully and actively engaged in all aspects of the course.

RELS 116
Common Area: Studies in Religion

Introduction to the academic study of the beliefs and practices of Roman Catholic Christianity, and of the situation of the church in the contemporary United States. Topics include: approaches to the study of Catholicism; creeds and doctrinal foundations of the Church; structure, authority, and community; spirituality, worship, and the sacramental tradition; Catholic moral and social teaching; current issues and controversies in Catholicism.

RELS 117
History of Christianity I
Common Area: Historical Studies or Studies in Religion

A survey of the origins and development of Christianity, both its theology and its structures, from the apostolic period to the eve of the Reformation. Special attention is paid to the evolution of Christian doctrine and worship during the early and medieval periods of the Christian history. The interplay between orthodoxy and heterodoxy will be stressed in a close examination of heretical movements and their impact on the formation of the tradition. The interaction between Church and society will also be addressed.

RELS 118
New Testament

Common Area: Historical Studies or Studies in Religion

This course provides an introduction to early Christian literature and thought in the context of the early Church. The biblical texts will be investigated as works of literature, historical witnesses to early Christianity, and expressions of theology.

RELS 120
Comparative Religions/ World View
Common Area: Studies in Religion

Systematic exploration of similarities and differences within and among several traditions (Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam) and an examination of several key issues within the academic study of religion.

RELS 126
Hebrew Bible/Old Testament
Common Area: Studies in Religion

This course includes a study of the major themes of the Hebrew Scriptures: creation, exodus, covenant, promised land, the Davidic kingship, prophecy, wisdom, and apocalyptic. The course explores these themes through literary and theological analysis as well as through the reconstruction of the historical background of these themes with reference to ancient Near Eastern sources.

RELS 143
Social Ethics
Common Area: Studies in Religion

This course provides an introduction to moral reasoning and various modes of Christian ethical reflection on contemporary issues. Topics will vary from semester to semester but may include economic justice and poverty; love, marriage, and sexuality; racism; capital punishment and mass incarceration; war and peace; the environment, and Christian political engagement. The course explores a diversity of Christian ethical perspectives on these issues, paying particular attention to how ethical discernment is informed not only by the resources of the tradition (including biblical norms and church teaching), but also by the analytical tools of social theory, including race, gender, and class.

RELS 147

Common Area: Studies in Religion

Introduction to the history, theology, and practices of the Jews which uses the evidence of Judaism to exemplify the interrelationship between a religious civilization and the historical and cultural framework within which it exists. How does what happens to the Jews affect their formulation of their religion, Judaism? By answering this question and by learning the details of Jewish belief and practice, students will come to comprehend both Judaism and the social construction of religion in general.

RELS 199

Common Area: Studies in Religion

Just as there are different ways of being a theist, so too there are different ways of being an atheist. First, we will consider the recent New Atheists, who tend to see atheism as a vindication of science over superstition. We will spend some time on their arguments against God’s existence. Next we will consider more theologically literate atheists such as Ludwig Feuerbach and Friedrich Nietzsche, who attack Christianity at its spiritual core. In the last part of the course, through close attention to Job, John of the Cross, and Pseudo-Dionysius, we will see that theists, no less than atheists, struggle mightily with the negativity in human existence, i.e., the apparent lack of fairness in life, depression, and even doubts about the existence of God. Belief in God does not give one a free pass from human problems. Thus we hope to deflate the antagonism between atheists and theists: atheisms and theisms reflect a range of responses, more and less similar, to existential negativity

RELS 199
Common Area: Studies in Religion

An examination of Hinduism and the Hindu tradition from the Vedas to the present day.  Among the subjects considered:  the Upanishads; the Ramayana and Mahabharata; village Hinduism; Gandhi; and contemporary Hindu political thought. 

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