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Department of Religion


Leora F. Batnitzky

Departmental Representative

Eric S. Gregory

Director of Graduate Studies

Wallace D. Best


Leora F. Batnitzky

Wallace D. Best, also African American Studies

Eddie S. Glaude Jr., also African American Studies

Eric S. Gregory

Martha Himmelfarb

Elaine H. Pagels

Albert J. Raboteau

Peter Schäfer

Jacqueline I. Stone

Jeffrey L. Stout

Stephen F. Teiser

Judith L. Weisenfeld

Muhammad Q. Zaman, also Near Eastern Studies

Associate Professor

Shaun E. Marmon

Assistant Professor

Jonathan C. Gold

AnneMarie Luijendijk

Naphtali S. Meshel, also Judaic Studies


Kathryn A. Gin


David W. Miller

Associated Faculty

Cornel R. West

Information and Departmental Plan of Study


Any course offered by the department.

Early Concentration

A sophomore may apply for early concentration through consultation with the departmental representative.

Program of Study

Normally, each term juniors and seniors will take two courses offered by the department.

Concentrators are required to complete at least eight religion courses taught by department faculty (including visitors to the Department of Religion) by the end of their senior year. All students are required to complete Religion 222, which is considered one of the eight religion courses. In addition, students are encouraged, but not required, to take two approved cognate courses in other departments. The cognate courses will be calculated into departmental honors. The departmental representative must approve cognate courses.

Students will select at least one course from each of the following three areas:

1. Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean: Judaism and Christianity from Antiquity to the Middle Ages: 230, 231, 244, 245, 251, 252, 340, 350, 351, 352, 353, and occasional courses

2. Religion in America: 258, 319, 320, 357, 358, 360, 361, 367, 371, and occasional courses

3. Religion and Critical Thought: 242, 261, 311, 313, 316, 317, 346, 347, 363, 364, and occasional courses

Students will select two courses in the following area from two different traditions:

Islam and the Religions of Asia: 225, 226, 228, 229, 235, 236, 240, 322, 326, 328, 334, 335, 336, 338, 382, and occasional courses

Not all courses satisfy area requirements. A course may be counted toward one area requirement only. In any year it is offered, 373 Studies in Religion will be assigned to the appropriate area.

When registering for the first semester of senior year, each student will decide upon a focus of study in consultation with the departmental representative. Possible focuses of study include Japanese religions, Chinese religions, Buddhism, Islam, philosophy of religion, modern Jewish thought, religious and philosophical ethics, social criticism, African American religious movements, Biblical studies, ancient Judaism and Christianity, Rabbinic Judaism, and Gnosticism. Senior independent work will be in the student's focus of study, and two courses must be completed in the focus of study by the end of the first term of the senior year. All changes to the focus of study must be approved by the departmental representative.

Independent Work

Junior Year. During the fall term of the junior year, all department juniors will participate in a colloquium (see below for study abroad) with a member or members of the faculty. Students are expected to produce a 10-page research paper at the conclusion of the colloquium. The research paper and colloquium participation constitute 40 percent of the junior independent grade. During the spring term, juniors will do independent reading and write a junior paper under supervision. The departmental representative, in consultation with the director of the colloquium, will assign advisers. The spring junior paper will constitute 60 percent of the junior independent work. At the end of junior year, students will review their work in the department and discuss with a faculty committee their plans for senior independent work.

Senior Year. Every senior will prepare a thesis under the supervision of a faculty adviser.

Senior Departmental Examination

At the end of the senior year, students will take an oral examination concerning their senior independent work, focus of study, and work in the department generally.

Study Abroad

The Department of Religion welcomes study abroad for departmental majors in their junior year. Those juniors who study abroad in their fall semester will be exempt from the colloquium but will be required to write a fall junior paper under the supervision of a religion department faculty member. Juniors who study abroad in the spring semester will write the required spring junior paper under the supervision of a religion department faculty member. Normally, students are expected to have junior year independent work completed before the start of the senior year. Students must consult with the departmental representative before leaving for their study abroad program.

Preparation for Graduate Study

Those students considering graduate work in religion are strongly advised to develop a reading knowledge of languages most appropriate to their focus of study, for example, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, German, and French.

Religion and Special Programs. Students who wish to combine the study of religion with work in programs should consult the departmental representative. In recent years, religion majors have received certificates in African American studies, African studies, American studies, dance, East Asian studies, European cultural studies, Hellenic studies, Judaic studies, Near Eastern studies, theater, visual arts, and women and gender studies.


REL 202 Great Books of the Jewish Tradition (see JDS 202)

REL 221 Choral Music (see MUS 221)

REL 222 Religion in Modern Thought and Film (also HUM 222)   Not offered this year EC

This course critically examines influential conceptions of religion, including those of Plato, Augustine, Pascal, Hume, Marx, Freud, Eliade, Durkheim, and Weber. Films by such directors as Hitchcock and Von Trier illustrate the issues covered. Two lectures, one preceptorial, one film screening. J. Stout

REL 223 Introduction to Judaism: Religion, History, Ethics (see JDS 201)

REL 225 The Buddhist World of Thought and Practice   Fall HA

An introduction to the thought and history of Buddhism. Emphasis is upon the beginnings of the religion in India, the interaction between Buddhism and the various cultures of Asia, basic schools of Buddhist religious philosophy, the relationship between thought and practice, and the place of Buddhism in the modern world. Two lectures, one preceptorial. J. Stone

REL 226 The Religions of China (also EAS 226)   Spring EM

A thematic introduction to the history of Chinese religion. Topics include: cosmology, family, shamanism, divination, mortuary ritual, and women. Readings are drawn from a wide range of sources, including sacred scriptures, popular literature, and modern ethnography. Two lectures, one preceptorial. S. Teiser

REL 228 Religion in Japanese Culture (also EAS 228)   Not offered this year HA

An introduction to Japanese religion from ancient to modern times, focusing on its role in culture and history. Representative aspects of Shinto, Buddhist, Confucian, and other traditions will be studied, as well as such topics as myth, ritual, shamanism, and ancestor worship. Two 90-minute classes. J. Stone

REL 229 Great Books in Buddhism (also HUM 229)   Not offered this year LA

Close reading of great stories in the formative period of Buddhism, 50 BC to 400 AD. Examines Buddhist literature against the background of religious doctrine and cultural history. Explores themes such as: previous lifetimes, rebirth and cosmology, genres of Buddhist narrative, parables, personal quests versus social justice, emptiness, and changing conceptions of the Buddha. Two lectures, one preceptorial. S. Teiser

REL 230 Hebrew Bible and Ancient Israel (also JDS 230)   Fall HA

The history of the religion of Israel through the Babylonian exile as it emerges through the study of the Torah, historical writings, and prophets, by means of modern critical methods. The ancient Near Eastern background of the Hebrew Bible, source criticism and the documentary hypothesis, and the beginnings of the editorial process. Two lectures, one preceptorial. N. Meshel

REL 231 Hebrew Bible and Earliest Judaism (also JDS 231)   Not offered this year HA

Wisdom literature and the history of the religion of Israel through the Maccabean revolt as known through biblical and extra-biblical sources. Topics to be studied include post-exilic prophecy, historical writings, the biblical and apocryphal novella, the impact of Hellenistic culture, the rise of apocalyptic literature, and the sources for the Maccabean revolt. Two 90-minute classes. N. Meshel

REL 235 In the Shadow of Swords: Martyrdom and Holy War in Islam (also NES 235)   EM

This course is an examination of the changing concepts of martyrdom, holy war, and suicide in both Sunni and Shi'i Islam. How are war and martyrdom presented in the sacred texts of these traditions? Historically, how have Sunni and Shi'i Islam constructed, idealized, and also questioned the concept of the Islamic martyr and/or the holy warrior? In what ways have modern religious revivalism, revolutionary movements, and struggles for nationhood created a new and still contested understanding of the Islamic martyr? Course materials include sources in translation, films, Internet sites, and journals. Two lectures, one preceptorial. S. Marmon

REL 236 Introduction to Islam (also NES 236)   Spring SA

The doctrines and practices of Islamic communities from the Prophet Muhammad up to and including the modern period. Topics covered include the Qur'an; Sunnis and Shi'is; Islamic law and philosophy; Sufism; Islamic art and architecture; Islamic understandings of physical space and time; the structure of Muslim households; gender issues; Islamic education; modern Islamic "fundamentalist" movements. Materials include sources in translation, films, modern novels. Guest speakers representing diverse Muslim perspectives will be an important component. Two lectures, one preceptorial. S. Marmon

REL 240 Muslims and the Qur'an (see NES 240)

REL 242 Jewish Thought and Modern Society (also JDS 242)   EM

What is the relation of Judaism and the individual Jew to the modern world? Is Judaism a religion, a nationality, an ethnicity, or a combination of these? This course explores various answers to these questions by examining various historical and cultural formations of Jewish identity in Europe, America, and Israel from the 18th century to the present, and by engaging particular issues, such as Judaism's relation to technology, the environment, biomedical ethics, feminism, and democracy. Two lectures, one preceptorial. L. Batnitzky

REL 244 Rabbinic Judaism: Literature, History, and Beliefs (also JDS 244)   Not offered this year HA

Introduction to the world of the Talmudic rabbis, who created the classical and normative literature of Judaism. The course will deal with the historical background of Rabbinic Judaism, the concept of the written and the oral Torah, and rabbinic literature proper (Midrash, Mishna, Talmud, and so on) as well as with some major rabbinic concepts (God, creation, election of Israel, repentance, redemption). It course will focus on the analysis and discussion of primary sources. Two 90-minute classes. P. Schäfer

REL 245 Jewish Mysticism: From the Bible to Kabbala (also JDS 245)   Not offered this year HA

One of the most revolutionary innovations within the history of the Jewish religion is the Kabbala, the summit of Jewish mysticism. It transforms the single, static (and essentially male) God of biblical and Rabbinic Judaism into a dynamic and multifaceted God whose rich inner life can be explored, and influenced, by human beings. The course follows the historical development of Jewish mysticism and examines its major topics, such as God, creation, good and evil, redemption. Two lectures, one preceptorial. P. Schäfer

REL 251 The New Testament and Christian Origins   HA

The birth of Christianity in the cultural environment of Judaism and the Roman Empire. Primary emphasis will be given to a critical reading of the New Testament. Particular topics will include the dialogue between Judaism and Christianity, figure of Jesus, diversity and conflict within the early churches, and the sociopolitical aspects of the new religion. Two lectures, one preceptorial. Staff

REL 252 The Early Christian Movement   Not offered this year HA

Investigation of gnostic gospels and other writings and their significance for understandings of the origin of Christianity. Topics include: conflicting interpretations of Jesus and Paul and their messages; human nature; the origin of the universe; religious experience; sexuality; and organizational politics. Two lectures, one preceptorial. E. Pagels

REL 258 Religion in American Society   SA

The United States as a religiously plural nation, including denominational traditions, sects, cults, social groups, and civic piety. Discussion of theoretical literature on religion and society. Attention to particular topics such as migration, ethnicity, and religion among minority groups, development of religious roles and institutions in the cultures. Two lectures, one preceptorial. Staff

REL 261 Christian Ethics and Modern Society (also CHV 261)   Fall EM

An examination of the meaning of Christian ethics through a study of selected contemporary moral issues: sex and marriage, medical-ethical problems, politics, and the morality of warfare. Two lectures, one preceptorial. E. Gregory

REL 309 Politics and Religion (see POL 309)

REL 311 Religious Existentialism   EC

An in-depth study of existentialist philosophies of, among others, Søren Kierekgaard, Martin Buber, Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Emmanuel Levinas. The course will focus on their respective arguments about the relations between philosophy and existence, reason and revelation, divine law and love, philosophy, religion and politics, and Judaism and Christianity. One three-hour seminar. L. Batnitzky

REL 313 Pragmatism and Religion: James and Dewey   Not offered this year EC

Examines the works of two important classical pragmatists, William James and John Dewey, and their views about religion. Focuses on questions such as: How do James and Dewey understand and respond to evil and death? Is a conception of God important to their thoughts about religion? Attention given throughout the course to the concepts of nature, experience, and piety. One three-hour seminar. E. Glaude

REL 316 Public Intellectuals and Religious Traditions: Erasmus, Hume, Arnold, and Said   Not offered this year EM

The course aims to map the emergence of modern public spheres, principally owing to the invention of print and the creation of new social formations, to highlight the plight of the humanist traditions in the face of the forces of modern professionalization and specialization, and to probe the complex role of modern intellectuals in light of the growing role of the academy. The course begins with the Christian humanist Erasmus, then turns to the skeptical humanist David Hume, and ends with two exemplary secular humanists, Matthew Arnold and Edward Said. Two lectures, one preceptorial. C. West

REL 317 Recent Jewish and Christian Thought (also JDS 317)   EM

Explores recent Jewish, Christian, and postmodern thought, all of which seek to criticize universalist conceptions of reason and ethics while defending a view of Jewish, Christian, or philosophical particularity. Examines the historical reasons for and philosophical contents of these arguments and also their philosophical, ethical, and political implications. Seminar. L. Batnitzky

REL 318 Black Women and Spiritual Narrative (see AAS 318)

REL 319 Religious Encounters in the Colonial Atlantic World   Spring HA

The encounter of Europeans, Africans, and native Americans in the world of the colonial Atlantic from the mid-15th to the 18th centuries constituted "America." This course will examine the religious dimensions of the encounter of these different peoples across time and space. Two 90-minute classes. A. Raboteau

REL 320 African American Religious History (also AAS 320)   Not offered this year HA

The religious life, ecclesial and extra-ecclesial, of African Americans from the period of slavery to the present. Topics include African religions in America; religion of the slaves; folk beliefs; independent black churches; the relationships of religion and culture, religion and politics in black American history. Two lectures, one preceptorial. A. Raboteau

REL 321 Black Power and Its Theology of Liberation (see AAS 321)

REL 322 Buddhism in Japan (also EAS 322)   Spring HA

An examination of representative aspects of Buddhist thought and practice in Japan from the sixth century to the present. Possible topics include: major Buddhist traditions (Lotus, Pure Land, Zen, and Tantrism), meditation, ritual, cosmology, ethics, influence on literature, and interaction with other religions. Two 90-minute seminars. J. Stone

REL 326 Buddhist Literature   Not offered this year HA

An intensive reading and discussion of selected Buddhist texts from various cultures, from ancient times to the present. Readings may represent a range of genres, such as Buddhist scriptures, philosophical writings, sacred biography, narrative, sermons, poetry, drama, and fiction. Prerequisite: 225 or equivalent recommended. One three-hour seminar. J. Stone

REL 328 Women and Gender in Islamic Societies (also WOM 328)   Fall SA

This seminar focuses on issues of gender and sexuality in Islamic societies, past and present. Topics include women's lives, women's writings, changing perceptions of male vs. female piety, marriage and divorce, motherhood and fatherhood, sexuality and the body, and the feminist movement in the Middle East. Course materials include a wide range of texts in translation, including novels and poetry, as well as contemporary films. One three-hour seminar. S. Marmon

REL 334 Modern Islamic Political Thought (see NES 334)

REL 335 Moses and Jesus in the Islamic Tradition (also NES 356)   HA

Focuses on the changing representations of the prophets Musa (Moses) and 'Isa (Jesus) within the Islamic tradition. Course materials include readings in translation from the Qur'an, hadith, Sufi poetry, "Tales of the Prophets," as well as modern Islamic texts on social justice. Examines the ways in which these prophets, recognized by Muslims as foundational figures in Christianity and Judaism, played and continue to play a prominent role as monotheistic prophets and as religious exemplars in many diverse aspects of Islamic thought and practice. One three-hour seminar. S. Marmon

REL 336 Pilgrimage, Travel, and Sacred Space: Muslims, Christians, and Jews in the Land of Islam (also NES 336)   Not offered this year HA

Muslim, Christian, and Jewish travelers and pilgrims in the lands of Islam before the period of European dominance in the Middle East. The course uses original accounts (in translation) along with a range of contemporary scholarly literature drawn from history, religious studies, and anthropology. One three-hour seminar. S. Marmon

REL 338 Muslim South Asia (see NES 340)

REL 339 Introduction to Islamic Theology (see NES 339)

REL 340 Ancient Judaism and the Dead Sea Scrolls (also JDS 340)   Fall HA

A study of the history of Judaism in ancient Palestine from the emergence of the Torah as an authoritative document under Persian rule in the middle of the fifth century BCE through the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, with an emphasis on the critical reading of primary sources. Much of the second half of the course is devoted to the Dead Sea Scrolls and their implications for our understanding of ancient Judaism. Other texts to be studied include 1 Enoch, the Wisdom of Ben Sira, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Daniel, Jubilees, and 4 Ezra. Two 90-minute classes. M. Himmelfarb

REL 346 Reason and Revelation in Jewish Thought (also JDS 346)   EC

A critical introduction to some of the classics of medieval and modern thought. Specific topics include prophecy, miracles, and the possibility of knowing the divine, with particular attention to the relation between modern and premodern conceptions of reason and Moslem, Christian, and secular philosophical influences on Jewish thought. Two 90-minute classes. L. Batnitzky

REL 347 Religion and Law (also JDS 347)   EM

A critical examination of the relation between the concepts of "religion" and "law" as they figure in the development of Jewish and Christian law, as well as in contemporary legal theory. Particular attention to the ways in which, historically, theological debates play out in contemporary secular legal arguments about the value underlying law. Two 90-minute classes. L. Batnitzky

REL 350 Demons and Angels, "the gods," God and Satan   Not offered this year HA

The seminar will investigate sources ranging from the Babylonian creation story and Homer's Illiad to passages from Genesis, Exodus, Job, the Hebrew prophets, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the New Testament to see how stories of invisible beings (gods, demons, angels) construct group identity (who "we" are, and who are the "others"--and what characterizes each) and express group values. One three-hour seminar. E. Pagels

REL 351 Golem: The Creation of an Artificial Man (also JDS 351)   Not offered this year HA

The seminar will follow the Golem tradition within Judaism throughout history up to its modern ramifications. It will deal with its origin in the Hebrew Bible, its manifestations in mysticism and magic, in literature, in film and on stage, in art, children's books, and the history of science (computer, Internet). The goal will be to uncover the religious roots of these traditions about the creation of an artificial human being, to explore the variety of reactions it aroused, and to determine what have been considered to be responsible Jewish answers to the ethical problems involved. One three-hour seminar. P. Schäfer

REL 352 Jesus: From Earliest Sources to Contemporary Interpretations   Not offered this year HA

This seminar investigates the earliest sources about Jesus--New Testament gospels, "gnostic" gospels, and Jewish and Roman historical accounts--to explore various views of Jesus in historical context, as well as contemporary interpretations in poetry, fiction, and film. One three-hour seminar. E. Pagels

REL 353 Spiritual Autobiography and Biography   Not offered this year LA

Exploration of some of the classics of religious experience from ancient through contemporary times, using where possible comparison of Eastern and Western sources. Sources range from Western writers as diverse as Augustine, Teresa of Avila, Thomas Merton, Simone Weil to the life of the Tibetan monk Milarepa, and the Hindu Ramakrishna. One three-hour seminar. E. Pagels

REL 357 Religion in Colonial America and the New Nation   Fall HA

Intellectual and cultural aspects of American religion from the 17th century through the early republic. Special attention to early Protestant traditions (Anglican, Puritan, Quaker, and Methodist, among others), the Great Awakening, the Enlightenment, and the transformation of religion through the Revolution and its shape in the new nation. Two 90-minute lecture/seminars. K. Gin

REL 358 Religion in American Culture since 1830   Not offered this year HA

The relationship between religion and society in the U.S. in the 19th and 20th centuries. Attention will be paid to Transcendentalism, the Civil War, the social gospel, Fundamentalism, New Thought, Pentecostalism, civil rights, immigration, and recent religious movements.Two 90-minute classes. Staff

REL 360 Women and American Religion (also WOM 360)   Not offered this year SA

An exploration of women's roles and experiences, and constructions of gender in diverse settings within North American religion. The seminar will examine female religious leaders and participants in such subcultures as Puritanism, evangelicalism, Catholicism, Judaism, African American Protestantism, native traditions, and American Islam. Emphasis on the dilemmas faced by women in religious institutions as well as the creative uses women have made of their social and religious "place." One three-hour seminar. Staff

REL 361 Festival, Celebration, and Ritual in American Culture (also AMS 361)   Not offered this year SA

An examination of a variety of festivals and rituals in American history and culture, including carnival traditions, evangelical camp meetings, Christmas and Chanukah, African American emancipation celebrations, and Roman Catholic Marian festivals. A range of questions about ritual and tradition, gender and race, pluralism and ethnicity, are broached through topical focus on holidays. One three-hour seminar. Staff

REL 362 Migration and the Literary Imagination (see AAS 365)

REL 363 Religion and Ethical Theory   Not offered this year EM

This seminar will examine philosophical accounts of what it means to live well, focusing mainly on works written in the last half century that are relevant to issues in religious ethics: whether morality requires a religious foundation, the ethical significance of divine commandments, and the concepts of virtue, goodness, evil, horror, holiness, sainthood, faith, and the sacred. Among the philosophers to be discussed are Richard Rorty, John Finnis, Alasdair MacIntyre, Iris Murdoch, Stanley Cavell, and Robert Merrihew Adams. One three-hour seminar. J. Stout

REL 364 Love and Justice   Spring EM

Analysis of philosophical and theological accounts of love and justice, with emphasis on how they interrelate. Is love indiscriminate and therefore antithetical to justice, or can love take the shape of justice? What are the implications for moral, political, and legal theory? The seminar also considers recent efforts to revive a tradition of political theology in which love's relation to justice is a prominent theme. One three-hour seminar. E. Gregory

REL 367 The American Jeremiad and Social Criticism in the United States (also AAS 346)   Not offered this year HA

An examination of the religious and philosophical roots of prophecy as a form of social criticism in American intellectual and religious history. Particular attention is given to what is called the American Jeremiad, a mode of public exhortation that joins social criticism to spiritual renewal. Michael Walzer, Sacvan Bercovitch, and Edward Said serve as key points of departure in assessing prophetic criticism's insights and limitations. Attention is also given to the role of black prophetic critics, such as James Baldwin, Martin Luther King Jr., and Cornel West. One three-hour seminar. E. Glaude

REL 368 Topics in African American Religion (see AAS 368)

REL 370 Re-Enchanting the World: Religion and the Literature of Fantasy   Fall LA

This course will look at the role of story, in the forms of folktale, legend, and myth, in depicting the world as an enchanted place. We will read and discuss several works of modern fantasy literature that attempt by adapting or imitating older tales, legends, or myths to re-enchant the world. One three-hour seminar. A. Raboteau

REL 371 Religious Radicals   Not offered this year HA

Offers students an opportunity to reflect upon the lives and writings of several 20th-century American religious figures whose socially radical visions were based upon religious experiences and ideals. Examines the interrelationship and cross influences among biographical, historical, social, intellectual, and religious factors in the lives of these figures. One three-hour seminar. A. Raboteau

REL 373 Studies in Religion   EM

A study of a selected topic such as mysticism, scriptures of the world religions, or of particular religious movements, leaders, and thinkers. Staff

REL 382 Death and the Afterlife in Buddhist Cultures   Not offered this year HA

A study of Buddhist approaches to death, dying, and the afterlife with a focus on South Asia, Tibet, and East Asia. Topics may include: anthropological studies of mortuary rites; Buddhist cosmology and doctrines of karmic causality; Buddhism, the family, and rites for ancestors; Buddhist deathbed and funerary practices; accounts of afterlife journeys; placation of ghosts; and changes in contemporary Buddhist funerals. Buddhist doctrinal teachings and social roles with respect to death and the afterlife as well as interactions of Buddhism with local religious cultures are considered. Two 90-minutes classes. J. Stone

REL 412 Anthropological Approaches to the Study of Religion (see ANT 412)

REL 435 The Madrasa: Islam, Education, and Politics in the Modern World (see NES 435)