Religious Studies

Professor Adam L. Porter
Assistant Professor Gwendolyn Gillson

Religious literacy is vital for social networking, civic responsibility, global understanding, and professional work in all fields. Religion is integral to a liberal arts education, as it explores dimensions of human life that have had a profound and decisive effect on our conception of human nature, destiny, and action. All courses in the Religion program emphasize traditional liberal arts skills of thinking and writing. Close reading of primary texts and development of analytical skills allow students to explore ideas and values that form the basis of human civilization. Emphasis is also placed on expressing ideas clearly and persuasively through writing. Courses in Religion are designed to serve as a focus of a liberal arts education, preparing students for a variety of careers: public service, teaching, ministry, law or medicine among them.

Majors & Programs


RE 101: Introduction to the Bible

This course explores the contents, historical contexts, themes, development, and transmission of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and New Testament. Readings will be selected portions of most biblical books, in a translation that offers explanatory notes and other helps. Class sessions will focus in great part on trying to understand these writings in their original situations, and how people ever since have used and interpreted them. No previous knowledge of the Bible is assumed.

RE 105: Afterlives of the Bible

Contrary to popular belief, the Bible doesn't have a single meaning. Rather, it means different things to people depending on the questions they ask, when they live, how they understand the world, and their social location. This class will explore this by reading three Bible stories: Creation and the Garden of Eden, the Exodus, and Revelation. We will then examine how different people (other Biblical authors, ancient Jews and Christians, Renaissance artists and writers, and modern Americans, both black and white) have found different meanings in these texts.

RE 112: Introduction to the New Testament

The New Testament is a collection of documents produced during the earliest period of Christianity. In this course, we will study the history and culture of the New Testament world, both Jewish and Greek, to better understand the messages of Jesus, Paul, and other important figures in the history of Christianity in their original context. A variety of reading methodologies will be introduced, so students will have a better understanding of how biblical scholars work; students will also be able to engage in their own scholarship.

RE 166: Satan in Popular Culture

Satan is hot in popular culture. This course will explore how Satan has been viewed by the West. We will consider Satan's (few) appearances in the Bible but most of the class will be spent looking at more recent representations of Satan in literature, comics, film, music, and television. We will focus on how people have imagined Satan differently and what has prompted these different versions of Satan to be imagined.

RE 167: Cults and the End of the World

What is a cult and why would somebody want to join one? What might the end of the world look like? Why are people worried about the apocalypse? This course will attempt to answer these questions through the study of different groups that have been labelled “cults.” We will explore why people choose to join new religions and why others call those new religions “cults” but why we're supposed to call them “New Religious Movements.” We will also try to discover why many of these new religions focus on the end of the world, the coming apocalypse, and the rebirth of humanity and society. Throughout the semester we will use a variety of groups from America and Asia to illustrate four key themes within New Religious Movements: charismatic leadership, the end of the world, race and gender, and violence.

RE 173: Space, Place, and Religion

Where does religion happen? Why are people so interested in and protective of religious spaces? This class examines the ways that people experience and live religion through interactions with particular spaces and places. We will examine the nature of “sacred space” and why religion, which is considered by many to be relatively abstract, is in fact often grounded in geography at the intersection between the physical and the spiritual realms. Covering religions from across the globe and their interactions across space and time, we will examine the ways that religions interact, develop, and establish themselves in new locations and with new peoples and cultures. We will also look at how various religions understand and interact with the environment.

RE 176: Religion and Business

This course will explore the connections between Business and Economics and Religion. Religion has played a major role in shaping American business practices and continue to influence business decisions especially related to the environment and agriculture. We will also think about how big business has sought to influence American religion.

RE 181: Gods, Monsters, and Sex in East Asia

What do femininity and masculinity look like in East Asia? How many genders are there according to East Asian religions? This course will examine these and other related questions to explore the meaning of gender and sexuality in East Asian religions. Using stories, traditions, and testimonies of gender transformation and fluid sexuality, along with their counterpoints of gender rigidity and restrictive sexuality, it will look at both historical and contemporary expressions of gender and sexuality across East Asia to show the variety of interpretations of women, men, and everything in between that lie at the heart of East Asia. (See HI 181.)

RE 190: World Religions

This class helps students expand beyond their own religious tradition in order to see the way other traditions view their worlds and explore how religion can be understood as a reflection of attempts to comprehend the human condition. In this course, we examine Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Chinese Traditions, alongside a select number of additional traditional and new religious movements to reflect the diversity inherent in religious experiences across the globe. Using the lived experience of religion as a launching point, we compare and contrast these religions and critically examine texts from each one to illuminate how misunderstandings about religion can easily arise. We pay particular attention to the ways that historical practices and beliefs are present in contemporary expressions of religious identity.

RE 207: Killing in the Name of God(s)

In this course, you will learn about global politics as manifest in religious terrorism from five global religions, one case study of a violent new religious movement in the United States, and the intersection of religion and the physical and imagined body. Drawing together historical, textual, philosophical, and theoretical examinations of religion and violence, this class will question the enduring relationship of the two, with a particular focus on the contemporary landscape and all that came to form it. The class will conclude with an examination of responses to religious violence like Martin Luther King Jr.'s and Mohandas Ghandi's work on nonviolence.

RE 214: Healing and Healthcare

Illness is a universal human experience and so is the desire to give meaning to illness. Nevertheless, cultural and religious differences can produce very different interpretations of the meaning and significance of illness for both individuals and those around them. In this course we will examine religiously-informed understandings of illness (of body, mind, and spirit) as well as the interpretative and healing strategies different cultures have developed to explain, address, and alleviate it. We will cover faith healing, Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine, shamanism and a variety of alternative ways of thinking about health and the human body in order to make sense of why people pursue non- Western biomedical forms of medicine. In addition, we will explore how different ways of healing raises questions about the differences between disease and illness, curing and healing, and religion and folk tradition.

RE 216: Religion and Film

Many people's ideas about religion are shaped by how it is presented in film. This class will introduce the vocabulary of film analysis to students and then use it to study a variety of films. We will see that films often reflect the concerns of the time in which they were made, even if they claim to represent the life of Jesus or other biblical figures. Films to be studied include several Bible films (that is, films adapting stories from Bible), films that represent Jewish and/or Christian ideas, and films representing other religions. Films are one of the most complex art forms, but most people watch them passively. In this class we will learn to “read” them carefully, analyze them, and reflect upon them. While the content of the films will be biblical and religious, the skills learned in this class are applicable to any film-based medium.

RE 223: Japanese History and Religion

Japanese history and religion are intimately intertwined; indeed, it is impossible to understand one without the other. This course is intended to assist you in understanding Japan in the context of its history and major religious traditions. It will cover the sweep of Japan's story from its archaeological and mythical beginnings to today. We will explore the development of its primary religious traditions, Buddhism and Shinto, as well as other religions such as Confucianism that play an important part in Japanese history and thought. Readings will include texts by Japanese and non-Japanese alike. No previous knowledge of Japan is assumed. (See HI 223.)

RE 224: China: History and Religion

This course is intended to assist you in understanding contemporary China in the context of its history and major religions. It will cover the sweep of China's story from its beginnings to the 21st century. Traditions treated will include ancient beliefs and practices, Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism, and modern political ideologies such as Maoism. Readings will include texts by Chinese and non-Chinese alike. No previous knowledge of China is assumed. (See HI 224.)

RE 341: Introduction to Classical Hebrew I

A thorough and rigorous introduction to biblical Hebrew, with emphasis on grammar, syntax and vocabulary, in preparation for translation of biblical prose. Readings in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament begin in the first semester and increase in complexity throughout the year. This course is offered upon student request. Please contact Dr. Porter if you are interested.

RE 351: Introduction to Biblical Greek I

A thorough and rigorous introduction to biblical Greek, with emphasis on grammar, syntax and vocabulary, in preparation for translation of biblical prose. Readings in the New Testament begin in the first semester and increase in complexity throughout the year. This course is offered upon student request. Please contact Dr. Porter if you are interested.