Religious Studies Minor

College of Liberal Arts
Undergraduate minor

About this program

Religion is a central part of all cultures. From an academic perspective, the study of religion offers powerful insights into human behavior and cultures. Religious beliefs inform what people value and how they act. Religious differences are often used for political purposes, such as those seen in international conflicts and in American politics. On a personal level, many students have grown up with religious beliefs that sometimes sustain, and sometimes restrain, their development. Studying religion provides students, no matter what their upbringing, opportunities to expand both their personal perspectives and their analytical, critical thinking skills.

Sometimes students fear a conflict between the academic study of religion and personal faith. The teachers of the religious studies courses believe the study of religion can strengthen both thinking abilities and personal beliefs. These courses in religious studies present a diversity of traditions and offer students an opportunity to study religion in a supportive academic atmosphere. The courses incorporate multicultural perspectives, especially issues of race, gender, class, sexuality, disabilities and other differences.

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Course requirements

Requirements (20 credits)

Required (4 credits)

This required course may be waived with faculty approval given comparable previous study.

RELS 301 Introduction to Religious Studies

4 credits

This course examines various interpretations and comparative understanding of the definition of religion from perspectives of sociologist, anthropologist, psychologist and theologians. The course also explores theoretical concepts and approaches to major categories and themes in the study of religion. The main purpose of the course is to introduce students to key concepts and categories in the field of religious studies and how they influence their understanding of religious belief and experience.

Full course description for Introduction to Religious Studies

Electives (16 credits)

RELS 301 Introduction to Religious Studies

4 credits

This course examines various interpretations and comparative understanding of the definition of religion from perspectives of sociologist, anthropologist, psychologist and theologians. The course also explores theoretical concepts and approaches to major categories and themes in the study of religion. The main purpose of the course is to introduce students to key concepts and categories in the field of religious studies and how they influence their understanding of religious belief and experience.

Full course description for Introduction to Religious Studies

RELS 302 Introduction to the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament)

4 credits

This course is an introduction to the contents of the Hebrew Bible (often called the Old Testament by Christians, Tanak by Jews), and to the historical conditions that gave rise to and shaped them. Our goals include your familiarity with selected aspects of the ancient Near Eastern context; the contents (including organization, distinct genres, story lines, and select passages) of the Hebrew Bible; scholarly perspectives on Israel's formation and history, and the way that history shaped these writings; awareness of different interpretive stances among different communities today.

Full course description for Introduction to the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament)

RELS 303 Introduction to the Christian Scriptures (the New Testament)

4 credits

This course explores the various historical and religious factors that gave rise to the writing and editing of the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) in their Jewish and Greco-Roman context. Topics include the relationships of the Christian Scriptures to the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament), Paul's theology, the emerging church community and current academic methods of scriptural interpretation. Overlap: RELS 303T Introduction to the Christian Scriptures (the New Testament) Theory Seminar.

Full course description for Introduction to the Christian Scriptures (the New Testament)

RELS 304 Introduction to World Religions

4 credits

Understanding today's world and how nations interact requires some degree of awareness of different religious traditions. This course is an introduction to selected religious traditions and cultures through exploring the history of different religions, reading of classic texts and examination of ways of being religious in a variety of traditions. Religions studied may include Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism and Shamanistic/Indigenous traditions.

Full course description for Introduction to World Religions

RELS 305 Jewish-Christian Encounter

4 credits

This course investigates themes and ways of knowing the history of Jewish and Christian interaction. Students learn historical and social science methods critical to focus on the problems of religious antagonism and racialization as well as efforts at dialogue and mutual understanding over the centuries. Boundary definition, the limits of social tolerance, and the nature of persecution and institutional prejudice are issues. Themes include the rise of separate religions; ghetto processes and ghetto thinking; modernity, secularism and racial Antisemitism; the Shoah (Holocaust); dialogue in the context of disrupting "common sense" about prejudice and recialization in the United States.

Full course description for Jewish-Christian Encounter

RELS 306 The Spiritual Journey

4 credits

What is the difference between religion and spirituality? This class explores some of the literature on spirituality by identifying common themes in a diversity of readings. Students work with those themes analytically and have opportunities to share personal responses to the readings. Key issues include how people come to know the divine, names people give the divine, dimensions of the inward experience, mystery and complexity, disciplines of ritual and practice, and ethical and social concerns.

Full course description for The Spiritual Journey

RELS 307 Civil Religion: Theory, Practice, Analysis

4 credits

Discussions of 'religion and politics' or 'the separation of church and state' often fail to recognize the religious aspects of civic life itself that involve or suggest a sacred aspect of the state. This course explores the theory of 'civil religion' as an expression of the contemporary academic understanding of religion, involving symbol, myth, ritual, and sacred space and time; examines historical examples of civic religion (for example, in the early Roman Empire) and the history of civil religion in the United States; and inquires about evolving aspects of civil religion today as these relate, for example, to immigration and/or Muslims in America.

Full course description for Civil Religion: Theory, Practice, Analysis

RELS 308 World of Islam

4 credits

Islam is the second largest world religion today, yet the least understood of any. This course will begin with Muhammad and the historical origins, pre-modern history, and key teachings of Islam as found primarily in the Quran. We will also consider major historical developments such as the division between the Sunni and Shia branches of the religion, in addition to the vital contributions of Islamic theology, law and mysticism (Sufism). In the second half of the semester we will address issues involving Islam in the modern period--for example, "fundamentalism" or revivalism, neo-revivalism, "religion and politics" in various countries, Islam in the West, and Islam as perceived in the West. Attention will also be given to Muslim ideas and practices regarding sexuality and gender as well as racial, ethnic and class issues.

Full course description for World of Islam

RELS 309 Justice, War and Peace in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

4 credits

This course examines selected scriptural, traditional, and modern texts dealing with war and peace from the three major monotheisms in an attempt to assess the cumulative importance of a pro-peace, or even pacifist, perspective in the three religions. A comparative approach will be used to study the three traditions. In contrast to the tendency to focus on violent militant groups found within Judaism, Christianity, and especially Islam, this course will highlight individuals and groups within the three traditions that have opposed war while promoting just and peaceful relations both internally and externally. Attention will be given to the scriptural sources and historical development of their positions, along with their impact on their political and social contexts both in the past and in the modern world. Examples of the involvement of such individuals and groups through various activist movements, for example, active nonviolence will also be examined.

Full course description for Justice, War and Peace in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

RELS 312 Religious Traditions of China

4 credits

This course invites students to discover the range of Chinese religious traditions, in both their ancient origins and their modern expressions. It explores indigenous forms of Chinese religious practice; the development of high/deep traditions of Confucianism and Daoism/Taoism; the impact of foreign religions, such as Buddhism, Islam and Christianity; and seeks to understand the ways in which all of these traditions are changing in the context of contemporary China's economic growth and social progress. Wherever possible, the course will provide students with opportunities to explore the experience of Chinese people and their distinctive spiritual and religious concerns.

Full course description for Religious Traditions of China

RELS 322 American Indian Spirituality

4 credits

American Indians have a wonderfully rich tradition of wisdom and spirituality. This course looks at the spirituality of at least two nations of American Indians from a variety of perspectives including historical, sociological, anthropological and political. Students have the option to explore other American Indian nations if desired. Some community research is expected. Significant focus is given to issues of race and racism.

Full course description for American Indian Spirituality

RELS 333 Race and Religion

4 credits

Does religious belief matter in our daily lives? Can religious teachings and values be applied universally or must the history of the people be taken into consideration? This course explores these questions in the lives of American racial and ethnic groups. It examines the role and function of religious belief in their struggle for survival and liberation. Topics of discussion include the concepts of identity, selfhood, community, spirituality, social responsibility, salvation and freedom. Certain religious traditions, for example, African American, American Indian and Asian American, are discussed in the light of histories of these groups.

Full course description for Race and Religion

RELS 344 Religion and Psychology

4 credits

What common and contrasting views of human nature do religious thinkers and psychologists hold? How are religious and psychological concepts blending together in "self help," recovery and humanistic psychology movements? How do emerging new religions reflect changing understandings of human nature and religious authority? This course explores these questions and more by considering the works of such thinkers as William James and Carl Jung, as well as readings from feminist psychology and the Buddhist theory of mind.

Full course description for Religion and Psychology

RELS 344 Religion and Psychology

4 credits

What common and contrasting views of human nature do religious thinkers and psychologists hold? How are religious and psychological concepts blending together in "self help," recovery and humanistic psychology movements? How do emerging new religions reflect changing understandings of human nature and religious authority? This course explores these questions and more by considering the works of such thinkers as William James and Carl Jung, as well as readings from feminist psychology and the Buddhist theory of mind.

Full course description for Religion and Psychology

RELS 366 Religion, Morality and Contemporary U.S. Society

4 credits

The general public seems to agree that despite technological and global change religion remains a pervasive influence on culture. The American society is no exception. Americans from all walks of life continue to reflect on their moral struggle over matters concerning themselves, their family, their community and their environment. Often this includes a call to apply religious values on public policies. This course investigates structures of religious beliefs, values and traditions from both religious left and right and their attempts to become a moral voice of society. The course includes an inquiry why spirituality is the new religion of the new millennium.

Full course description for Religion, Morality and Contemporary U.S. Society

RELS 377 Women and Religion

4 credits

Does religion view women positively? Do certain religious teachings impact the quality of women's lives and their role and status at home and in society? From a religious viewpoint, how can women and men work together toward change for the betterment of society. This course examines religious teachings and treatment of women as well as the role of religion in women's struggle for social change. Topics include analyses of women's structural and personal oppression; critique of the role of gender, race, class and other diversity issues as they impact religious doctrines; and religious teachings about women and women's spirituality. This course may at times approach its subject matter in terms of a particular religious tradition, such as, Christianity or Buddhism, or it may be taught from a comparative religious perspective.

Full course description for Women and Religion

RELS 380 Muslim Identities in the United States

4 credits

This course examines Islam as a cultural, political, social and faith identity in the United States. Topics may include: gender, family, and sexuality; immigration, acculturation, and assimilation; stereotypes, xenophobia, and Islamophobia; race, racism, and ethnicity; media and popular culture representations; American Muslim organizations and leadership; and the relationship of US Muslims to Muslim global communities.

Full course description for Muslim Identities in the United States

RELS 390 Zen Buddhism in American Culture

4 credits

This course explores the historical background and cultural impact of Zen Buddhism as it has been inherited and assimilated into American life. It includes a survey of historical Buddhism and its transmission lines from China, Japan and Vietnam, and an overview of Zen philosophy and psychology; approaches to diet and health; Zen arts and social ethics; and Zen impact on American religious seekers. The class also considers political activism among the students of Zen and American women's role in transforming traditional patriarchal Zen. Field trips to a Zen temple and a Zen center are required.

Full course description for Zen Buddhism in American Culture