Contemporary Americans must contend with an unprecedented plurality of religious viewpoints. In this course, we will seek to address this situation responsibly by examining three prominent Western religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. We will analyze the characteristic beliefs and practices of these three traditions so as to understand and appreciate their similarities and differences. While we will survey the distinctive origins and histories of these religions, we will also study their contact with one another and explore the conditions necessary for dialogue between them. Our approach will be academic rather than confessional or apologetic.
Christians, Jews, and Muslims all claim either physical or spiritual descent from Abraham, a nomad said to have migrated from Mesopotamia to Canaan in the Middle Bronze Age. This explains both the fundamental similarities among the three faiths as well as the sibling rivalries sparked by their many significant differences. This course will trace the historical development of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam over the past two thousand years. We will pay special attention to their shared biblical traditions as well as their unique beliefs and practices as we explore their mutual influence, their mutual competition, and the possibilities for mutual understanding.
An introduction to major Eastern religions as represented by Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism and Shinto. Topics include the nature of religion and religious experience in the East; origins and development of each major religion; sacred literature, formative myths, symbols and fundamental tenets; forms of religious expression, spirituality and worship; and the relationship to the world as seen in ethical orientations and institutions.
This course introduces students to the New Testament as a collection of literary works that interpret first-century Jewish traditions in light of events that affected the first Christians. Such events include life and death of Jesus as well as the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire, the Jewish War, and the persecution of Christians under the Emperor Domitian. We will read six of Paul's letters, the four canonical Gospels, The Acts of the Apostles, and Revelation. In the process, we will become more competent interpreters of these ancient texts.
This course will examine several classic problems in the philosophy of religion and allow students the opportunity to answer some of these important questions for themselves. We will ask about the nature of God, the arguments that might be offered for God’s existence, and whether human language can adequately refer to God. We will also discuss the religious problems of evil and suffering, miracles, and the afterlife as presented in both classic and contemporary philosophical sources.
Stories and commandments in the Bible have done much to shape traditional views about gender in our society – views that have changed dramatically over the past century. How do contemporary interpreters address these changes while adhering to biblical religions? We will explore this dilemma from various angles. As we focus on biblical texts about men and women, we will investigate interpretations from various constituencies – feminist and traditionalist, female and male, academic and religious professionals – adding our own insights as we go along. We will see how these competing interpretations affect religious belief and practice. Ultimately, we will critique these texts and their interpretations, keeping in mind that they are all generated by biased human beings, and that they all have far-reaching ethical implications.