Why Religious Studies
   at Albright?

The Religious Studies Major



Student Scholarship


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REL 141
Understanding the Hebrew Bible
A course designed to introduce the student to the Hebrew Bible. The focus of the course is on the history of the nation of Israel and the way in which Israelite literature, laws, theology and religious practices developed in the Near Eastern environment. The course also provides background for understanding the subsequent development of Christianity and its beliefs. Emphasis is on reading the biblical text.  General Studies Foundations-Humanities

REL 142
Understanding the New Testament
A critical reading of the New Testament documents through which the early Christians articulated their faith, beliefs, and actions in response to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Special attention is given to the historical and social settings in which Christianity emerged and developed. Students focus on the distinctive purpose and main content of each document, using modern historical-critical methods of New Testament interpretation.  General Studies Foundations-Humanities

REL 151
Understanding Judaism, Christianity and Islam
An examination of the major forms of Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths, including Traditional and Reform Judaism; Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant Christianity; and Sunni and Shiite Islam. Each tradition is studied from the perspective of what it means to be a member of that community of faith. Brief attention is given to historical origins, traditional beliefs, forms of worship and religious expression, and contemporary problems facing each community.

REL 152
Religions of India, China and Japan
A study of the major living religions and spiritual practices of India, China and Japan. The emphasis is on the origins and development of such traditions as Hinduism, Buddhism, Shinto, Confucianism and Taoism. The impact that these traditions have had upon culture and how they have dealt with issues of spiritual meaning and formation is emphasized.  General Studies Foundations-Humanities

REL 154
Introduction to Classical Mythology
This course will be a survey of the stories of the gods and heroes of ancient Greece and Rome. We will focus primarily on approaching these documents as literary works, but will also examine how they were interpreted and how they functioned within the rituals and practices of Classical religions. Selections of mythology (Homer's writings, the plays of Euripides, the poems of Ovid, etc.) will be read in English translation. While we will spend some time looking at how these myths and sacred tales have affected later Western art, philosophy and literature, we will primarily examine these myths within their ancient religious, literary, political and social context.  General Studies Foundations-Humanities

REL 160
"What is Religion?"
This course explores questions regarding the general nature of religious activity and expression, rather than concentrating on a particular religious tradition. It examines the conceptual, ritual, oral, and symbolic forms by which people from various cultures have experienced religious meaning in their everyday lives and become participants in an enduring order and destiny. It suggests how such ordinary areas of life as rites of passage, healing activities, economic and domestic productivity, patterns of social deference, and interpersonal and ecological exchanges often work as microcosmic expressions of a religious imagination and creative power.  General Studies Foundations-Humanities

REL 210
Asia on Film
This course gives students the opportunity to interact with Asian cultural experience through the study of Asian films. Films include those made within Asian countries and also Western films made about Asia. Students are asked to explore the possible layers of meaning in these films, including Asian cultural life, character development, religious and philosophical influences, symbolism and cinematic vision. The class includes both the viewing and discussion of each film to facilitate a deep exploration of interpretation and critique.  General Studies Connections-Global-Humanities

Philosophy of Religion
A consideration of traditional defenses and arguments for God which claim to provide a rational basis for faith. Other topics include: God's nature and attributes, the problem of evil, religious experience, freedom and divine omniscience, and miracles.

REL 231/SOC 231
Cults and New Religious Movements
This course provides an opportunity for students to develop a general sociological understanding and perspective with which to evaluate, interpret and understand new religious movements, also known as "cults." Topics investigated include the historical emergence of new religious movements, recruitment strategies and the use of violence. Several case studies are used throughout the course including: The People's Temple, The Branch Davidians, Aum Shinrikyo, Montana Freemen, Solar Temple, Heaven's Gate and Chen Tao. General Studies Connections-Humanities.

REL 236
God and Doctors:  Religion, Health and Medicine
Is suffering redemptive? Does prayer help the sick to heal faster? Does positive thinking ward off illness? Should faith play a role in modern medicine? Have doctor’s replaced priests, or gods, in the American imagination? Such questions permeate contemporary discussions of religion, health, and medicine. In this course, we will investigate the historical and cultural interconnections between religion and biomedicine that inform recent debates. This class will ask how religious and moral narratives have informed modern understandings of illness and disease, healing and treatment, and conceptions of health and the body. Students will trace Protestant and Catholic influences on the formation of modern medicine in the nineteenth century alongside the development of new forms of religious healing and alternative medicine. Readings will also consider a variety of other religious approaches to thinking about biomedicine as important points of comparison. Topics include the ongoing debate over the role of spirituality in medicine; religious and medical approaches to coping with suffering and illness; the mind/body relationship in biomedicine and complementary and alternative medicine; the role of religion in medical approaches to sexuality and reproduction; the challenges of practicing medicine in a multi-religious world; and whether medicine itself can be seen as a religion. This course counts as an elective for the (co)major in religious studies, the (co)major and minor in Women’s and Gender Studies, and the major in Public Health. It is a Humanities Connections course.

REL 243
Jesus in Literature and Film
The figure of Jesus of Nazareth is a fascinating one to believers and non-believers alike. However, the gospel accounts of his life and ministry leave many questions unanswered. The course explores some of the portrayals of Jesus in modern literature and film, sampling such artists as Nikos Kazantzakis and Pier Paolo Passolini. No prior knowledge of the New Testament is expected.

REL 244
Sex, Gender, Bible 
We have witnessed a revolution in understandings about and attitudes toward gender and sexuality in the late twentieth century and early twenty-first century, especially in the United States.  With changing beliefs and practices, though, have come increased controversies, especially when these changes challenge traditional religions.  The Bible is often at the center of these controversies, used by both sides of the debate to support various positions.  Yet, what the Bible teaches about gender, sex, and sexuality is neither self-evident nor singular.  This course will examine the biblical views on sex, male and female roles, and sexuality.  It will examine the Hebrew Bible (aka Tanak or Old Testament) and the New Testament from historical and literary perspectives (especially feminist and queer interpretation), as well as how contemporary communities interpret the Bible in their understandings of sexual ethics and gender norms. General Studies Connections-Humanities

REL 245
Monsters in the Bible
Religion and horror are inextricably bound. Monsters populate the sacred texts of Judaism and Christianity, as well as run rampant in the popular imagination. This course explores the inter-relatedness of the Bible and monsters through two primary questions: how do monsters function in sacred texts, and how does religion inform our monsters? The course also explores how monsters manifest the deepest fears and desires of the culture that produces them. General Studies Connections-Humanities

REL 247
Apocalyptic Literature
Apocalyptic literature focuses on end-of-the-world prophecies and symbolism and on themes of divine judgment and redemption from evil. This course looks at the nature of apocalyptic symbols and expectations and explores the reasons why apocalyptic literature has continued to be popular from the ancient Jewish and Christian worlds to modern times. Students are asked to reflect on its contemporary expression in religion, literature and film.

REL 248 
Italian Cinema and the Sacred
This course investigates the dimension of the sacred in Italian Cinema in its double aspect, both sacred and desecrated, according to the meaning of the word sacer, which in Latin means both "sacred" and "accursed." We will watch and discuss the works of a range of Italian famous filmmakers (Rossellini, Pasolini, Ozpetek, Moretti, Fellini and Sorrentino) through the lens of the different visions of the sacred of thinkers and religion historians such as Mircea Eliade, Georges Bataille, Renèe Girard and others. The class includes both the viewing and discussion of each film to promote a deeper understanding and critique. The course will be conducted in English. Films will be in Italian with English subtitles. General Studies Connections-Global-Humanities

REL 249
Issues in Biblical Studies
This course investigates ongoing discussions and debates in the area of biblical studies. The content of the course varies from year to year. Possible topics include the basic attitudes of people toward the Bible; the evaluation of various methods of biblical interpretation; the current status of Pauline and canonical studies; attempts to discover the authentic words of Jesus; and contemporary creationism/evolution debates. In some years, the subject matter may deal with issues in Hebrew Bible studies such as the Law, the Psalms, Hebrew prophecy, wisdom literature and so forth. Especially appropriate for third- and fourth year students.

REL 250
Judaism: Religion and Culture
Students are introduced to Jewish history, sacred texts, rituals, prayers, holidays and ethics. Judaism is explored in all its contemporary varieties among diaspora Jews and Israeli Jews. Emphasis is on integrating experiential learning and traditional readings.

REL 251
Islam is often in the news. While media outlets often paint Islam as a violent religion, others defend it by calling it a religion of peace. This course moves beyond such simplifications to introduce students to Islam in some of its many contemporary and historical contexts. In addition, the course serves as an introduction to anthropological and historical methods in the field of religious studies by asking how those to disciplines approach the study of Islam. While students will learn about some of the key principles of Islam, they will also learn about the diversity in how Muslims experience and practice their tradition; explore the relationship between the concepts of religion and culture; and think critically about the history that often shapes American and European perceptions of Islam. GENERAL STUDIES CONNECTIONS-GLOBAL-HUMANITIES

REL 253
History of Christianity to 1600
An examination of the formation of the Christian perspective and its ways of dealing with spiritual meaning and formation. It starts with the emergence of popular Christian beliefs and practices in late antiquity and follows their development through the Middle Ages and Protestant Reformation. The focus is on the diversity within the Christian communities and the ways that various individuals within Christianity experienced what they saw as "new life" in Christ and deliverance from evil.  General Studies Foundations-Humanities

REL 256
The Buddha and His Teachings
This course will trace the life of the historical Buddha and how his teachings evolved in India following his death. It will trace the influence of the Buddha on the historical and philosophical development of the three traditional vehicles of Buddhism: disciples, enlightened beings, and the supernatural beings of tantric traditions.  General Studies Foundations-Humanities

REL 257
Buddhism Across Cultures
The course covers the history of Buddhist thought and practice as it evolved in India and then migrated to Southeast Asia, China, Tibet, Korea, Japan, and most recently to Europe and the United States. It begins with the historical Buddha's life, his teachings and the competing schools of thought that dominated Northeastern India during his time. It continues through the foundations of Indian Buddhism after the Buddha's death, including the early Buddhist schools, the development of the Mahayana, the great philosophers Nagarjuna and Vasubandu, and the emergence of Tantric forms of Buddhism. From the foundations of Indians Buddhism students examine how the religion was interpreted and expressed in its many cultural forms, such as Theravada, Dzogchen, Zen, T'ien Tai and Pureland. General Studies Connections-Global-Humanities

REL 258
Topics in Christian History
An in-depth examination of a specific historical or theological issue in Christianity. Topics vary from year to year. Typical issues include the meaning of conversion in early Christianity; the growth of spirituality and mysticism; the development of Church/State attitudes; witchcraft and demonology in Christian cultures; and the significance of specific figures or doctrines in Christianity. Emphasis is placed on the study of historical texts. Especially appropriate for third and fourth-year students.

Religious Traditions in Latin America
This course examines the many religious traditions that co-exist in the diverse region we know as Latin America. Specifically, the course discusses Catholicism, including Liberation Theology, Indigenous religious traditions that have survived and African traditions that have continued to thrive throughout Latin America. The course emphasizes how these traditions often adapted and blended together to form what we know as syncretic traditions. Finally, the course examines the growing influence of Pentecostalism in Latin America.

REL 261 
Witches, Preachers and Mystics: US Relgious History, Pre-contact-1893
American religious history contains the stories of the many religious traditions that exist on American soil.  It tells the stories of the thinker, the congregation, and the commune. It explores of the maintenance of tradition and the process of social experimentation.  It asks how race, gender, wealth, poverty, environment, and migration shape all of those stories. Moving through US history until 1893, we will learn how scholars go about investigating the incredibly complex and diverse history of religions in the United States. One of our key strategies will be to use primary source documents to ask questions like: What has separation of church and state meant at different moments in US history?  Where are the boundaries between religion and culture?  What counts as a religious practice?  What counts as a religion?  How have the different religious traditions in the United States affected each other? How have religious and racial minorities faired in the American colonies and in the United States? How has gender shaped American religious experience?  General Studies Connections Humanities

REL 262 
Immigrants, Evangelicals, and Atheists: US Religious History, 1859-the Present 
American religious history contains the stories of the many religious traditions that exist on American soil.  It tells the stories of the thinker, the congregation, and the commune. It explores of the maintenance of tradition and the process of social experimentation.  It asks how race, gender, wealth, poverty, environment, and migration shape all of those stories. Moving through US history from the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species to the present, we will learn how scholars go about investigating the incredibly complex and diverse history of religions in the United States. One of our key strategies will be to use primary source documents to ask questions like: Where are the boundaries between religion and culture?  What counts as a religious practice?  What counts as a religion?  How have the different religious traditions in the United States affected each other? How do religions intersect with social movements? This course satisfies the General Studies Connections-Humanities requirement and can be used by majors as a departmental elective.

REL 266
Asian Cultural Life
This course will look at the ways that the religious systems of Asia have impacted society and culture, not only in Asia, but also globally. Special attention will be given to the ways religion has shaped styles of life, intellectual and social values, art, architecture, economics, politics, and popular culture. General Studies Connections-Global-Humanities

REL 268
The Sacred Paths of Native Americans
This course examines the sacred myths, rituals and culture of diverse American Indian tribal groups from Ancient America through the twentieth century. It explores the diversity of native traditions and how those traditions responded to issues of resistance and assimilation to the dominant Anglo-European cultures of America. The continued meaning and vitality of these traditions are examined.

REL 269
Issues in Religion and Society
An exploration of areas in which religion has shaped the cultural values and social attitudes of the modern world. Topics vary from year to year, but include religion and the history of the family; religious perspectives on death and dying; religion and biomedical ethics; religion on race, class and gender; religion and political attitudes; religious nonconformity and social deviance; and so forth. Especially appropriate for third- and fourth-year students.

REL 274
Religion at the Movies
Film is one of the great mythmaking forces of the twentieth century. This course focuses on how many contemporary popular films use religious images, motifs, and themes to embed a transcendent dimension in the viewing experience. Emphasis is placed on developing skills in viewing and evaluating films and discussing how films may create particular kinds of moral and spiritual responses in the viewing audience.

REL 278
Death and Dying
This course includes a number of dimensions in the study of death and dying. First, it explores how the major religions of the world understand and respond to the problem of death and dying, including the questions of afterlife, the meaning of salvation and the ritual participation in death and loss. Second, students discuss the human experience of dying and its effects on the dying patient, their families and the medical community. Third, students respond to the difficult ethical issues of death and dying, including patient's rights, euthanasia, violence and capital punishment. General Studies Connections-Humanities.

REL 279
Issues in Religion and Meaning
This course explores various questions concerning the meaning and function of religious ideas and symbols today. Specific topics vary from year to year. They include religion and science; religion and the social sciences; Christianity and other religions; the problem of evil suffering; and so forth. Especially appropriate for third- and fourth-year students.

REL 280
Religion and the Environment
This course examines how the teachings and practices from various world religions have affected the human understanding of our relation with the natural world. It examines both the positive and negative impact of religious communities on ecological communities. In doing so, the course attempts to clarify to what extent, if any, we might turn to religious systems as a foundation for environmental stewardship.

Ritual in Latin America
This course examines the phenomena of ritual and festival by using case studies from Latin America. It examines first the linkages between religion and society, and then focuses on the symbolic action of ritual in order to learn how to "read" ritual action. Some of the rituals that are examined include: the peyote ritual in Northern Mexico; Christmas rituals and Day of the Dead, also in Mexico; the rituals of Vodun and Santeria that are practiced in Haiti and Cuba respectively; the Afro-Brazilian ritual of congado (the devotion to Our Lady of the Rosary); rituals to the ancestors in highland Bolivia; and others.

REL 286
Women and Religion
Women make up more than half of the world's population, but have been under-represented among theologians, mystics, mendicants and religious leaders. In this course, students examine both women's traditional roles and how contemporary women are changing rituals, traditions, and teachings within their religious traditions. Students will study representatives from Eastern religions, Western religions and neopagan/wiccan religions.

REL 296
Yoga: Philosophy and Practice
This course offers an exploration of both the philosophy and practical application of yoga, one of the major systems of thought underlying the Hindu religion. Included is a study of the early Hindu investigation of ritual and freedom, the instruction of Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, the royal yoga of Patanjali, and the Tantric systems of body-mind transformation. There will also be the opportunity to experience the actual practice of these disciplines with classes throughout the semester dedicated to meditation and Hatha yoga.  General Studies Connections-Global-Humanities

Sociology of Religion
This course provides an opportunity for students to develop a general sociological understanding and perspective with which to evaluate, interpret, and understand religion and religious institutions. Topics investigated include: the role of belief, values and symbols; religious recruitment; how religious organizations are formed and maintained; the link between religion and social inequality; and how religion has changed and adapted in American culture. Various contemporary expressions of religion in the U.S. including cults, civil religion, fundamentalism and the commercialization of religion are also explored.

Religion & Popular Culture
How do popular culture and the mass media affect religion? Conversely, how does religion affect our popular culture and mass media? What are we to think of Christian forms of commercial entertainment like "religious rock music," "Christian hip-hop," and "Christian romance novels" or motion pictures? Several critics have pointed out that the industry that produces these things is nothing more than an attempt to make money off of religion. Others, feel that this industry provides an important role in maintaining and reinforcing religion by giving people what they want - religious commercial entertainment. This course provides an opportunity for students to explore the role religion plays in creating and maintaining culture through popular cultural expressions such as music, television, motion pictures, sports and fashion. They will also analyze how popular culture affects religion and how religion, in turn, affects popular culture and society.

REL 360
Gender and Sexuality in American Religion
This course uses historical material, film, memoir, and literature to explore themes in Gender, Sexuality, and Religion in the United States. We will particularly consider the relationships between religion and patriarchy and religion and hetero-normativity, asking how religion both supports and can be used to combat dominant cultural paradigms. This course satisfies General Education requirements for Humanities Connections and can be used by (co)majors in Religious Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies as a departmental elective.

REL 375
Religious Responses to the Holocaust
Faced with the suffering and evil of the Holocaust, many have cried out, where was God? Others have responded, where was humanity? This course examines the challenge the Holocaust presents for both Christianity and Judaism. Each religious tradition has had to grapple with the question of theodicy (explanations for evil in the world). Students explore the wide-range of Christian theologies and Jewish responses to the Holocaust, from Hasidic folk tales to the more radical death-of-God theologies in both religious traditions. General Studies Connections-Humanities

REL 390
Topics in Religious Studies
An in-depth investigation of a topic in religious studies. The content of this course will vary from year to year and span the broad spectrum of fields in religious studies-textual, historical, philosophical, ethical, and cultural. Possible topics include the life and letters of Paul and Asian sacred texts. Students will have the opportunity to explore and engage in scholarly debates. This course will also emphasize research and writing in religious studies, and is especially appropriate for religious studies concentrators, co-concentrators, and for third- and fourth-year students.

REL 491
Senior Seminar
A seminar for concentrators and dual concentrators in religious studies that examines ways to integrate the different disciplines used in the study of religion around specific questions of religious belief, faith and practice. Participants engage in guided research and are expected to contribute to seminar presentations. Open to seniors and qualified juniors only.