Course Offerings (Spring 2018)

For a full list of religious studies courses, including those not offered this semester, click here.

General education courses are marked with an asterisk (*).


*REL 1000.1 RELIGIONS OF THE WORLD    MWF 8:30-9:20      SMITH

*REL 1000.2 RELIGIONS OF THE WORLD    MWF 9:30-10:20    SMITH

*REL 1000.3 RELIGIONS OF THE WORLD    MWF 12:30-1:20    SMITH

REL 1000 explores the history, teachings, texts, practices, internal diversity, demographic scope, material culture, and controversies surrounding some of the world’s most widespread religious cultures. In addition to surveying a variety of religious traditions, we will also consider the many different ways scholars have theorized about the category “religion,” as well as the ways in which the study of religion differs from the practice of religion. As the semester progresses, students will come to master a historically grounded and evidence-based understanding of religion in the contemporary world.


*REL 1004.1 OLD TESTAMENT    TTH 9:00-10:20    ISBELL 

REL 1004 is a broad survey that covers most of the literature of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and addresses literary, historical, archaeological, and theological issues. We will employ historical-critical methods to examine the religious ideas and practices of ancient Israel against the background of the cultures of its near eastern neighbors, including Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, Greece, and Syria. To prepare for each topic of lecture/discussion, we will read numerous narratives from the Bible, related passages from the required textbook, and selected articles by modern scholars. 


*REL 1004.2 OLD TESTAMENT    TTH 10:30-11:50    IRVINE

REL 1004 is a survey of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) against the background of the history and religious life of ancient Israel. The approach to the literature is strictly historical and intended for undergraduates without prior experience in the academic study of the Bible.


*REL 1005.1 NEW TESTAMENT    TTH 12:00-1:20    STORIN

This course surveys one of the world’s most influential and controversial collections of scriptural texts: the New Testament. Students will meet the historical Jesus, the apostle Paul, the evangelists, and many other early Christians as we examine each of the New Testament writings in its historical context. This course will tour the eastern Mediterranean region as we track how authors of the New Testament writings engaged ancient Judaism and the Roman Empire. Additionally, we will chart the tremendous degree of religious variety within earliest Christianity to discover that the ancient world hosted a slew of “Christianities.”  Ultimately, students will learn how the New Testament became the New Testament and how Christianity became Christianity.


*REL 1005.2 NEW TESTAMENT    MWF 10:30-11:20    BURKETT

This course will introduce you to the history, literature, and religion of the earliest period of Christianity (from about 30 to 150 CE). We will see how Christianity arose out of the Jewish religion and how it spread in the Greco-Roman world. We will examine a variety of writings from this period, including the collection of early Christian literature known as the New Testament. You will learn the historical, critical methods by which scholars study these writings as sources for our knowledge of the origins of Christianity.




This course is an introduction in how to be smart when talking about religion. The approach is that of a “religion and popular culture” course: Each week, we will learn theories and concepts from the academic study of religion and then apply those theories to ideas about religion as expressed in a film, TV show, music video, website, podcast, or video game. The first half of the course will have a backward glance: a critical history of “Religious Studies” as a discipline, which we will conduct through the topics of gods and superbeings, myths, rituals, sacred texts, and religious practices. The second half of the course will have a forward glance: a survey of some of the hottest subfields in Religious Studies today. These will include sex and bodies; animal studies and environmentalism; materiality and commodities; image and aesthetics; play and improvisation; pluralism, race, and postcolonialism; bridging theology and social science; and the ethical dimensions of Religious Studies. Our goal throughout is to connect the conversations happening in this academic field with the conversations about religion happening right now in politics, the natural sciences, the arts, workplaces, friendships and families, and religious communities themselves.


*REL 2027 ASIAN RELIGIONS    MW 3:00-4:20    ARAI

Become more culturally literate in a multicultural world. Asian civilizations have a long history with far-reaching impact and influence on our global community today. One does not need to travel to Asia to be affected by Asian people, economic and political activities, cuisine, arts and entertainment, health treatment options, and religious orientations. To understand Asian civilizations, one must know the contours of the religious landscape. This course will focus on a variety of Asian religious traditions, including fundamental teachings of the Hindu, Confucian, Taoist, Shinto, and Buddhist traditions of India, Tibet, China, and Japan. We will explore how religious values influence decision-making processes in personal and public spheres.




This course is an introduction to the three major western monotheistic traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. We will discuss the historical development, central teachings, beliefs, and practices of each tradition. Students will gain an understanding of their shared histories and interactions and will explore the ways in which their respective ideological frameworks may overlap and diverge. We will also touch on some of the contemporary issues relevant to each of these religious communities. 


REL 2120 THE HOLOCAUST    TTH 10:30-11:50    ISBELL

Often the “Holocaust” is taught as a consciousness-raising exercise, virtually a case study in “victimology.” Another method of teaching the “Holocaust” involves intense focus on a specific twelve-year period of time in Europe. But the Holocaust did not start in 1933. In this course, we will put a great deal of time into the effort to describe and comprehend the political, theological, and social factors that came together in 1933 Germany to reveal the Nazi Sho’ah as a logical outcome of the two millennia of European attitudes and actions that preceded Hitler and his minions. After learning the facts about the rise and development of anti-Semitism leading up to World War II, we will analyze the manner in which anti-Semitism morphed into the Nazi “Final Solution,” the effort to exterminate every Jew in Europe.



Since Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt and Palestine in 1798, archaeologists have discovered a vast quantity of artifacts and texts from the ancient Near East. This course examines a selection of the archaeological finds that relate to the historical study of the Bible and Israelite religion. The main goal is to become conversant with the interpretive issues and scholarly debates. The class format will combine lecture and student discussion.



Comparative Mythology offers a wonderful opportunity to explore myths from various cultures, past and present. Students will be introduced to theories of myth and asked to apply these theories to the myths in order to gain insight into the different thought patterns. Students will also learn methods of comparison so that students will be able to recognize both the similarities and differences of myths from different cultures. Textual and visual sources will be examined.


REL 4050 A HISTORY OF GOD    W 6:00-9:00 PM    BURKETT

This course explores a significant dimension of religion: belief in a divine being or beings. It is focused on, but not limited to, conceptions divine beings in Western civilization. From a historical perspective, we trace early conceptions of the gods from animism to polytheism to Jewish monotheism. From a literary perspective, we consider God as a character in the Hebrew Bible, using Jack Miles’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning study God: A Biography. Turning to Greek traditions, we consider the god of Greek philosophy and Hellenistic conceptions of the divine human. We consider how Christian belief in Jesus as God developed into the concept of the Christian Trinity. From philosophical and scientific perspectives, we consider arguments for and against the existence of God. From a modern perspective, we consider the “death” of God in the thought of writers such as Feuerbach and Freud. In contemporary developments, we consider the rebirth of the goddess in goddess-centered religions. In contemporary literature, we read Franco Ferrucci’s novel The Life of God (as told by Himself). We also view the Carl Reiner film “Oh, God!” starring George Burns as God.



What is/was the Harry Potter phenomenon all about? What explains its astounding popularity? Is it the moral example Harry and his friends provide? Is it their ability to work together and persevere through great hardship? Is there a religious dimension to the Potter narrative, for instance, in the cosmic battle between good and evil? Or is it the wealth of magical images, ideas, and practices which abound in the Potter books and films? Ultimately, this course examines the Harry Potter universe in order to learn more about the role of magical thinking and magical practices in contemporary American culture. We trace the deep history of the term "magic," consider many different scholarly attempts to define it, and discuss together the surprisingly wide range of cultural practices (past as well as present) that may be read as "magical." 



Fathoming the depth and complexity of human religious experience is exhilarating and daunting. We will explore what theories, methods, approaches, and concepts have helped develop the scholarship on human religiosity. The range of lenses will include cultural anthropological, theological, philosophical, psychological, sociological, art, ritual, gender, race, and class. Each approach illuminates a dimension at the same time it obscures another dimension. No single tool enables a scholar to see and understand all dimensions of human religiosity. We will also consider which approaches would be well suited to which types of research projects.



From its earliest period to the modern day, Christianity has counted within its ranks women and men who have dropped out of mainstream society to spend all hours of every day in devotion to the divine. They call themselves monks—“the solitary ones.” In spite of their title, the solitary life marked but one strand of monastic practice. This course will survey the fascinating variety of Christian monastic practice, communities, and thought. Throughout Christian history, to be a monk was to subject oneself to bodily discipline: abstinence from sex (celibacy), food (fasting), and sleep (vigilance) were standard fare within monastic practice, as were religious acts of constant prayer, worship, and repentance. Occasionally, monks engaged in extreme and bizarre acts of bodily mortification, sometimes in isolation, sometimes in a community of like-minded individuals. Students will read the accounts of monastic communities and ideas from ancient, medieval, and modern writers—Antony the Great, Symeon the Stylite, Benedict of Nursia, Julian of Norwich, Francis and Clare of Assisi, Ignatius of Loyola, Marie Madeleine Hachard, Thomas Merton, and even Dorothy Day. Ultimately, this course will investigate the motivations for embarking upon such a lifestyle, as well as the ways that scholars have understood the phenomenon.