Curriculum Overview 

The Department of Religious Studies is committed to exploring and analyzing religion in a non-sectarian way. Our courses cover a variety of religious traditions embedded in myth, ritual, art, ethics, doctrine, philosophy, literature, asceticism and other social practices. First and foremost, the study of religion engages the human—the limits of human beings as they have multifariously expressed them: in their audacious explanations of the invisible, the immaterial and the transcendental; in the extremity of their practices and beliefs; in the ordinary ways in which they confront the overwhelming presence of violence, suffering and death; in the emotive terms they provide to explain the significance of the past and the future; and in the constant struggle to come to terms with themselves and others. These activities, whether explicitly identified as religious or not, represent the persistent grappling of human beings with what different cultures throughout world history have articulated as beyond and more than the human. This human engagement with the variously formulated more-than-human Other, this engagement manifesting itself variously in many arenas of cultures, is the object of the academic study of religion. As such, the field demands an interdisciplinary approach drawing on the methodologies native to the humanities and social sciences as well as on the theoretical approaches developed specifically in the study of religion.

A major in Religious Studies consists of 11 courses. Two of these are mandatory: Introduction to Religious Studies (RST 111); and Interpreting Religion (RST 420), a senior-year capstone seminar. In each of five areas (American Religions, Asian Religions, Christianity, Judaism, Islam), students must take a 100- or 200-level course. Of the remaining four courses, at least three must be at the 300- or 400-level.

A joint major in Religious Studies consists of eight courses: RST 111, RST 420; one course (100 or 200 level in Judaism; one course (100 or 200 level) in Christianity; one course (100 or 200 level) in Islam; one course (100 or 200 level) in American religions; one course (100 or 200 level) in Asian religions; and one course at the 300 level.

A minor in Religious Studies consists of six courses. Requirements: RST 111; any other three courses at the 100- or 200-level; one course at the 300-level; and the senior capstone seminar, RST 420.

The writing requirement in the Religious Studies major is met by completion of the normal courses required to complete the major.

Students interested in taking courses at Lancaster Theological Seminary can sometimes do so with the permission of the Religious Studies chair (consult the rules on “Exchange Opportunities” in the latter part of this Catalog for further details).

Majors in the Department of Religious Studies have studied abroad in the following programs in recent years: Tohoku Gakuin University (Japan); Israel University Consortium; School for International Training (India, Nepal, South  Africa,Tibet); History of Christianity at Aberdeen University (Scotland); South India Term Abroad (Madhurai, India); IFAS Butler Cambridge, Pembroke College, Cambridge University (United Kingdom). See the International Programs section of the Catalog for further information.

Introductory Courses

A list of regularly offered courses follows.Please note the key for the following abbreviations: (A) Arts; (H) Humanities; (S) Social Sciences; (N) Natural Sciences with Laboratory; (LS) Language Studies requirement; (NSP) Natural Science in Perspective; (NW) Non-Western Cultures requirement.



111. Introduction to Religious Studies. (H)
Asks the question: “What is religion?” and provides a variety of answers by looking both at representative religious documents from a wide array of traditions and at theories about religion in the West.     

112. Judaism. (H) (NW)
This course introduces students to central aspects of Judaism from the ancient period to the early modern period and beyond. Judaism will be explored from three different yet complementary aspects: history, religious practice, and textual culture. Judaism has manifested itself in a variety of forms around the world and throughout history. It has developed through negotiations with the traditions of the past as well as with the changing conditions of the present, almost invariably influenced and affected by local non-Jewish cultures. Students shall acquire familiarity with the Jewish understandings of certain key notions (creation, law, chosenness, prophecy, exile, redemption) and the continuing debates around them. Same as JST 112.     

113. Christianity. (H)
Surveys a variety of topics in the history of Christianity. Topics include the origin of the religion, its persecution by Rome and the eventual conversion of the Roman Empire, the development of Trinitarian theology, the ascetic and monastic movement, scholasticism, the Crusades, mysticism and reform movements in the Latin church of the Middle Ages, the Protestant Reformation and the development of liberal and evangelical theologies in the 20th century.     

114. Islam. (H) (NW)
This course is an introduction to the intellectual and political history of Islam in both pre-modern and contemporary times. Several major aspects of Islamic religious thought will be covered including the Qur’an and its interpretations, the persona and prophetic authority of Muhammed, law and theology, law and gender, Islamic mysticism, and contemporary Muslim reform movements. We will use a range of sources including primary religious texts (all in translation), anthropological works, novels, films etc. to examine the diversity and complexity of Muslim thought and practice, both past and present. While focusing on Islam, this course will also familiarize students with larger conceptual questions and problems in the academic study of religion.     

122. Asian Religions. (H) (NW)
Historical and thematic survey of the major religious traditions of Asia, concentrating on the more influential traditions of India, China, Japan and Tibet. Covers select traditions of ancient and modern forms of Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Daoism. Focuses on doctrine, myth and ritual in particular cultural and historical contexts.     

167. American Spiritualities. (H)
Surveys the dominant tradition of American religious practice: spirituality. The goals of this course encompass the study of different forms of spirituality in the United States past and present. The course will familiarize you with mainstream as well as alternative spiritual practices, from Puritan Devotions and the Lakota Sundance to evangelicalism, political radicalism and various modes of artistic production. The course seeks to trace major outlines of development from past to present and to illuminate the meaning of spirituality for our time and in relation to American history. Same as AMS 167.    

203. Cultural History of American Religion. (H)
Examines the relationship between religion and culture in the United States from approximately 1492 to the present. In addition to looking at liturgical forms of religion and surveying various religious movements and groups, we will explore 1) how cultural forms serve as vehicles of religious meaning; 2) how religious values are expressed and/or criticized in everyday social life; and 3) the interaction between religion and developments within the political, social, economic and philosophical spheres. Same as AMS 203.     

212. Hebrew Bible. (H) (NW)
Study of the writings of the Hebrew Bible. Seeks to understand the historical development of Israel in the biblical period and the religious forms of thought and practice that arose during this time. Same as JST 212.     

213. The New Testament: Jesus and the Gospels. (H)
A study of the New Testament centered on Jesus and the writings that present his life, teachings and the new religion based around him. Analyzes the origin of the Jewish religious movement arising around Jesus, which became Christianity after his execution and the proclamation of his resurrection by his followers. Course seeks to understand the practices and beliefs of the earliest Christians by examining the earliest Christian writings. Focuses on New Testament gospels, but also examines a selection of apocryphal and gnostic gospels.     

215. The New Testament: Paul, the Epistles and Revelation. (H)
A study of the New Testament centered on the letters of the apostle Paul and his role in the transformation of the Jewish religious movement that became Christianity. Analyzes the New Testament writings by Paul and those writings influenced by him (letters written in his name; the book of Acts; and Revelation), as well as the interpretation of his writings by ancient Christians and modern scholars. Course seeks to understand how the conversion of Paul and his missions contributed to the growth and formation of early Christianity.     

248. Buddhism. (H) (NW)
Buddhism is constituted by many traditions that have spread throughout Asia and, more recently, throughout the world. This course surveys some of the most influential forms in both ancient and modern manifestations. We begin with Buddhism in ancient India, then move to Tibet, China and Japan. Finally, we will look at some of the transformations of Buddhism that have occurred as Buddhism has encountered modernity and the West. This course considers multiple dimensions of these traditions including philosophy, meditation, social relations, ethics, art and ritual.     

Religion and Culture 

250. Witchcraft and Sorcery in a Global Context. (S) In this course we will consider how the categories of “witchcraft” and “sorcery” have been used in Anthropology, both to describe mystical acts (particularly mystical attacks) and as an ethnographic metaphor to discuss the pressures of communal life for individuals. Course content will consist of, but not be limited to, witchcraft and sorcery as a “social strain gauge,” witchcraft and sorcery as expressions of symbolic power, the gendered name of witchcraft and sorcery, as well as witchcraft and sorcery under conditions of Western-style modernity. Same as AFS/ANT/WGS 250.

330. Anthropological Studies of Religion. (S)
This course takes account of various aspects of religious and ritual practice, using material from both contemporary and classic ethnographies. Topics of special interest for the course will include, but are not be limited to: cosmological constructions; initiation; possession; commensality; magic; witchcraft and sorcery; ritual aesthetics; and performance. Prerequisite: ANT 200. Same as ANT 330.     

332. Religion and Politics. (H)
Begins with Christian classics, St. Augustine and Calvin, and their vision of the relation of Christianity to the State or to the pursuit of power and wealth. Moves to the last few centuries, in which a Christian vision has been challenged by thinkers such as Rousseau and Nietzsche. Course ends with readings from contemporary period, in which the place of Christianity in the public sphere is again shifting.     


Area Studies


153. Premodern Jewish History: Jews of East and West Through the Middle Ages. (NW) (S)
Introduction to Jewish history, beginning with first centuries of the Common Era and continuing to the end of the 17th century. Examines central themes and patterns in Jewish history. Readings consist of narrative as well as documentary histories with discussion of different theoretical approaches to the writing of Jewish history. Same as HIS/JST 153.   

154. Jews in the Modern World. (S)
Introduction to Jewish life in the modern era from late 18th century Emancipation and Enlightenment through the present, tracing the transformations of Jewish life. Broad historical sketches are combined with close readings of particular texts, movements and thinkers to flesh out the contours and dynamics of the Jewish experience in the Modern world. Major events of Jewish history of 20th century (the Holocaust, foundation of the State of Israel and mass migration of European Jews to the Americas) are examined through secondary and primary sources. Hoffman Same as HIS/JST 154.    

252. Modern Jewish Thought. (H)
Studies Jewish thinkers from the Enlightenment to the present, through their philosophical writings, political essays, religious reflections and fiction. The chief question was how to make the Jewish tradition adapt or respond to the modern Western State and to modern Western culture. This is a course about the Jews and the West. To what degree is there harmony? To what degree is there conflict? Same as JST 252.     

405. Selected Studies in Jewish History. (S) (E)
Readings and research on various topics, periods, and problems of Jewish history. Same as HIS 405.


335. Destroying Images: Art and Reformation. (A)
This course examines the doctrinal and political conflicts between the Roman Catholic Church and the “reformed” religions of northern Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries, focusing on the impact on the visual culture of the period. The course examines “high” art and architecture, but pays particular attention to the attitudes towards images more broadly, the ideologies that drive them, and their operations across all sectors of society. Same as ART 335 and GST 335.    

RST 384. Soul in Search of Selfhood: The Writings of St. Augustine. (H)
This course will be an intensive study of some of the major writings of Augustine with a view toward obtaining a basic understanding of the main lines of his thought on human existence, free will, justice, the state, and the nature of God. We will focus on his intellectual and spiritual struggles, his mature conceptions of the Christian religion, and his integration of the cultural achievements of Mediterranean antiquity into Christianity. The emphasis will be on understanding Augustine's individual life and thought against the background of his own culture and times.


370. Islamic Law and Ethics. (H) (NW)
An exploration of the Islamic legal tradition (the Shari‘a) in both historical and contemporary contexts. This class will familiarize students with the key concepts, categories, and questions connected to the content and application of Islamic law. After a thorough overview of the historical narrative and the conceptual categories of Islamic law, the class shifts to in-depth discussions on critical questions of ethics such as jihad and the limits of just-war, minority rights, history, brain death, and gender.  


322. Buddhism in North America. (H)
Focuses on some of the distinctive forms that Buddhism has taken in North America. Discusses a number of traditions, including Theravada, Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, comparing their American versions with those in Asia and addressing the transformations of various Buddhist traditions to accommodate American lifestyles and views. Also addresses a number of issues pertinent to Buddhism in America and the West, such as Buddhist identity, ethnicity, gender issues, authority and social activism. Same as AMS 322.     

337. Hindu Literature and Practice. (H) (NW)
An exploration of selected thematic elements of Hinduism. Begins with a focus on texts, doctrines, myths and rituals of Hinduism from the early period. This will give us some basic Hindu ideas on selfhood, the nature of the cosmos and divinity, and concepts of gods and goddesses and how one should relate to them. After this, we will look at the modern period beginning with Hindu reformers such as Gandhi and Vivekananda. Then we explore the varied and colorful world of contemporary Hinduism.            

367. Self, Society and Nature in Chinese and Japanese Religions. (H) (NW)
A thematic exploration of self, society, nature and their interrelationships as conceived in Chinese and Japanese religions, especially Daoism, Buddhism and Confucianism. Addresses these issues through translations of classical Chinese and Japanese texts and examines how these themes play out in a number of historical periods. We will end with some examples of recent East Asian concepts and practices that embody certain themes in ancient traditions while adapting to the unique challenges of modernity.             


313. African American Religion. (H)
Surveys a variety of religious traditions and expressions of African Americans throughout the history of the United States. Of particular interest to our study will be the problems of slavery, colonization and racialism as they have been embodied in the history of African American religion. Same as AFS 313.    

Advanced Seminars

420. Interpreting Religion. (H)
What are the major theories in the West about the nature of religion? How do they help or hinder us in our interpretation of the documents of specific religious traditions? We will read some of the major theorists of religion in depth and see how they shed light on religious texts and movements.  

490. Independent Study.
Independent study directed by Religious Studies staff. Permission of chairperson and departmental faculty.

Topics Courses Expected to be Offered in 2020-2021 

  • Israel/ Palestine: Beyond the Binary.     Feldman
  • Buddhist Meditative Traditions.     McMahan
  • Crowds and Power.     Modern