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At Haverford College

J. David Dawson
Michael A. Sells

Associate Professor:
Tracey Hucks
Kenneth Koltun-Fromm
Naomi Koltun-Fromm, Chair
Anne M. McGuire

Assistant Professors:
John Lardas

Visiting Assistant Professor:
Sarah Schwarz

The religions of the world are as diverse, complex and fascinating as the individuals, communities and cultures of which they are comprised. Religions propose interpretations of reality and shape very particular forms of life. In so doing, they make use of many aspects of human culture, including architecture, art, literature, music, philosophy and science — as well as countless forms of popular culture and daily behavior. Consequently, the fullest and most rewarding study of religions is interdisciplinary in character, drawing upon approaches and methods from disciplines such as anthropology, comparative literature and literary theory, gender theory, history, philosophy, political science, psychology and sociology.

The department’s overall goal is to enable students to become critically-informed, independent and creative interpreters of some of the religious movements that have decisively shaped human experience. In their coursework, students develop skills in the critical analysis of the texts, images, beliefs and performances of religions. Like other liberal arts majors, the religion major is meant to prepare students for a broad array of vocational possibilities. Religion majors typically find careers in business, education, law, medicine, ministry and public service (including both religious and secular organizations). Religion majors have also pursued advanced graduate degrees in anthropology, biology, history, Near Eastern studies, political science and religious studies.

For further information, see the department Web site:

Major Requirements

Eleven courses are required for the major in religion. The exact structure of the student’s program must be determined in consultation with the major adviser, whom the student chooses from among the regular members of the department. All majors should seek with their advisers to construct a program that achieves breadth in the study of various religious traditions as well as concentration in one of the department’s three areas of concentration:

1. Religious Traditions in Cultural Context. The study of religious traditions and the textual, historical, sociological and cultural contexts in which they develop. Critical analysis of formative texts and issues that advance our notions of religious identities, origins and ideas.

2. Religion, Literature and Representation. The study of religion in relation to literary expressions and other forms of representation such as film, music, performance and the plastic arts.

3. Religion, Ethics and Society. The exploration of larger social issues such as race, gender and identity as they relate to religion and religious traditions. Examines how moral principles, cultural values and ethical conduct help shape human societies.

The major program must satisfy the following requirements:

  1. Six courses within one of the department’s three areas of concentration above. These six courses must include the department seminar in the major’s area of concentration: Religion 301 for Area 1; Religion 303 for Area 2; Religion 305 for Area 3.
  2. Religion 399b, Senior Seminar and Thesis.
  3. At least four additional half-year courses drawn from outside the major’s area of concentration.
  4. At least six of each major’s 11 courses must be taken in the Haverford Religion Department. Students planning to study abroad should construct their programs in advance with the department.
  5. Where appropriate and relevant to the major’s program, up to three courses for the major may be drawn from outside the department, subject to departmental approval.
  6. In rare cases, students may petition the department for exceptions to the major requirements. Such petitions must be presented to the department for approval in advance.
  7. Final evaluation of the major program will consist of written work, including a thesis, and an oral examination completed in the context of the Senior Seminar (399b).


Honors and high honors in religion are awarded on the basis of the quality of work in the major and in the Senior Seminar and Thesis (399b).

101a. Introduction to the Study of Religion

An introduction to the study of religion from three perspectives: overviews of several religions with classroom discussion of primary sources; cross-cultural features common to many religions; theories of religion and approaches to its study and interpretation. (staff, Division III)

110a, b. Sacred Texts and Religious Traditions: Hinduism and Islam

An introduction to Hinduism and Islam through close reading of selected texts in their historical, literary, philosophical and religious contexts. (Sells, Division III)

118a. Hebrew Bible: Literary Text and Historical Context

The Hebrew Bible, which is fundamental to both Judaism and Christianity, poses several challenges to modern readers. Who wrote it, when and why? What was its significance then and now? How does one study the Bible from an academic point of view? Using literary, historical, theological and archaeological interpretive tools, this course will address these questions and introduce students to academic biblical studies. (N. Koltun-Fromm, Division III)

121a. Varieties of Judaism in the Ancient World

From Abraham to Rabbi Judah the Prince, Judaism has been transformed from a local ethnic religious cult to a broad-based, diverse religion. Many outside cultures and civilizations, from the ancient Persians to the Imperial Romans, influenced the Jews and Judaism through language, culture and political contacts. Absorbing and adapting these various and often opposing influences, the Israelite, and then Jewish, community re-invented itself, often fragmenting into several versions at once. After the destruction of the temple in 70 C.E., one group, the rabbis, gradually came to dominate Jewish life. Why? This course studies the changes and developments that brought about these radical transformations. (N. Koltun-Fromm, Division III) Not offered in 2004-05.

122a, b. Introduction to the New Testament

An introduction to the New Testament and early Christian literature. Special attention will be given to the Jewish origins of the Jesus movement, the development of traditions about Jesus in the earliest Christian communities, and the social contexts and functions of various texts. Readings will include noncanonical writings in addition to the writings of the New Testament canon. (McGuire, Division III)

124a. Introduction to Christian Thought

An examination of some central concepts of the Christian faith, approached within the context of contemporary theological discussion. Basic Christian ideas will be considered in relation to one another and with attention to their classic formulations, major historical transformations, and recent reformulations under the pressures of modernity and postmodernity. (Dawson, Division III) Not offered in 2004-05.

128b. Reading Sacred Texts: Jewish Thought and Identity

An introduction to selected thinkers in Jewish history who are both critical and constructive in their interpretations of Jewish texts and traditions. The course examines how readings of the Hebrew Bible generate normative claims about belief, commandment, tradition and identity. (K. Koltun-Fromm, Division III)

132b. Varieties of African-American Religious Experience

This course will examine the history of religion in America as it spans several centuries. Lectures, readings and discussions will explore the phenomenon of religion within American society. The goal is to introduce students to American religious diversity as well as its impact in shaping larger historical and social relationships within the United States. This study of American religion is not meant to be exhaustive; it covers select traditions each semester. (Hucks, Division III) Not offered in 2004-05.

134a. American Spiritualities

With the continuing development of American religious pluralism, the weakening of public faith and the expansion of moral attitudes, "spirituality" has become quite common in descriptions of contemporary American culture. As a practice that cuts across racial, ethnic, class and gender lines, how are we to understand this particular form of religiosity? The goals of the course encompass the study of different forms of spirituality in the United States, past and present. The course will familiarize the student with mainstream as well as alternative spiritual practices, from Catholic Devotions and the Lakota Sundance to Pentocostal worship and the spontaneous bop prosody of Jack Kerouac. (Lardas, Division III)

201a. Introduction to Buddhism

An introduction to Buddhism with a focus on the East Asian Buddhist tradition. Students will learn the basics of Buddhist philosophy and doctrine, and will be exposed to old and current debates in the field of Buddhist studies. We will examine Buddhism both as a textual tradition and a lived religion. (Glassman, Division III) Not offered in 2004-05.

203b. The Hebrew Bible and Its Interpretations

This course will critically study select Hebrew Biblical passages (in translation) as well as Jewish and Christian biblical commentaries in order to understand better how Hebrew Biblical texts have been read, interpreted and explained by an- cient and modern readers alike. Students will also learn to read the texts critically and begin to form their own understandings of them. (N. Koltun-Fromm, Division III) Not offered in 2004-05.

204b. Women and Judaism

Women’s roles in Judaism and Jewish life have been defined by the religious precepts and civil laws described in the Bible and interpreted by the rabbis in a patriarchal age. These interpretations have led to an institutionalized hierarchy within the religion, which has limited women’s access to religious ritual and education. Nevertheless, throughout the ages, women have carved out areas for themselves within the Jewish religious, social and political systems as well as fulfilled the roles prescribed to them. In the modern era, however, many women have challenged the institutions that define these roles. This course will study the development of these institutions and the women of Jewish history who have participated in and shaped Jewish religious, social and cultural life. (N. Koltun-Fromm, Division III)

206a, b. History and Literature of Early Christianity

The history, literature and theology of Christianity from the end of the New Testament period to the time of Constantine. (McGuire, Division III)

209a. Anti-Semitism and the Christian Tradition

An examination of social, religious and cultural features of Christian anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism. Topics include the representation of Judaism, the Jewish people and the Jewish scriptures in the New Testament and later Christian literature, as well as theoretical models for the analysis of Christian anti-Semitism. (McGuire, Division III) Not offered in 2004-05.

215a. The Letters of Paul

Close reading of the 13 letters attributed to the apostle Paul and critical examination of the place of Paul in the development of early Christianity. (McGuire, Division III) Not offered in 2004-05.

216a. Images of Jesus

Critical examination of the varied representations of Jesus from the beginnings of Christianity through contemporary culture. The course will focus primarily on literary sources (canonical and non-canonical gospels; prayers; stories; poems; novels), but artistic, theological, academic and cinematic images of Jesus will also be considered. (McGuire, Division III) Not offered in 2004-05.

221a. Women and Gender in Early Christianity

An examination of the representations of women and gender in early Christian texts and their significance for contemporary Christianity. Topics include interpretations of Genesis 1-3, images of women and sexuality in early Christian literature, and the roles of women in various Christian communities. (McGuire, Division III) Not offered in 2004-05.

222a. Gnosticism

The phenomenon of Gnosticism examined through close reading of primary sources, including the recently discovered texts of Nag Hammadi. Topics include the relation of Gnosticism to Greek, Jewish and Christian thought; the variety of Gnostic schools and sects; gender imagery, mythology and other issues in the interpretation of Gnostic texts. (McGuire, Division III) Not offered in 2004-05.

231b. Religious Themes in African-American Literature

This course will explore African-American literary texts as a basis for religious inquiry. African-American novelists and literary scholars will be examined, using their works as a way of understanding black religious traditions and engaging important themes in the study of religion. Authors may include Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, Ishmael Reed, Maryse Conde and others. (Hucks, Division III)

234a. Religion in American History to 1865

This course surveys American religious history until 1865. It will begin by looking at the interaction between European colonists and established Native American traditions. It will then trace the contours of this initial pluralism as the nation expanded from the 17th to the 19th century. The course will pay particular attention to certain forms of Protestant faith and experience in the pre-Civil War period and how they generated a set of social and cultural attitudes. It will also chart the erosion of Protestantism’s institutional authority as these attitudes were shaped by other traditions and larger patterns of American cultural development. (Lardas, Division III) Not offered in 2004-05.

235b. American Religious History: 1865 to the Present

This course undertakes a cultural history of American religion from the end of the Civil War to the present "war on terrorism." In addition to looking at liturgical forms of religion and surveying various religious movements and groups during this time period, 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 place of religion in the recent history of American modernity. (Lardas, Division III)

240b. History and Principles of Quakerism

The Quaker movement in relation to other intellectual and religious movements of its time and in relation to problems of social reform. The development of dominant Quaker concepts is traced to the present day and critically examined. The course is designed for non-Friends as well as Friends. The course is open to first-year students with permission of instructor. (Lapsansky, Division III)

242b. Topics in African-American Religious History

An investigation of various traditions of the black religious experience from slavery to the present. Religious traditions examined within the course may include slave religion, black Christianity, Gullah religion, Santeria and Islam. The relationship of these religious traditions to American social history as well as how they adapted over space and time will also be explored. (Hucks, Division III)

251a. Comparative Mystical Literature

Readings in medieval Jewish, Christian and Islamic mystical thought with a focus on the Zohar, Meister Eckhart, the Beguine mystics Hadewijch of Antwerp and Marguerite Porete, and the Sufi Master Ibn ’Arabi. The texts are a basis for discussions of comparative mysticism and of the relationship of mysticism to modern critical theories. (Sells, Division III) Not offered in 2004-05.

256a. Zen Thought, Zen Culture, Zen History

(Glassman, Division III; cross-listed as East Asian Studies 256a) Not offered in 2004-05.

262a. Islamic Literature and Civilization

Islam refracted through its diverse cultural expressions — poetic, Sufi, Shar’ia, novelistic, architectural — and through its geographic and ethnic diversity —from Morocco to Indonesia, focusing on Arab and Persian cultures. (Sells, Division III)

263a. The Middle East Love Lyric

The love lyric of the Middle East within the Arabic, Hebrew, Persian and Turkish traditions. Special attention will be paid to the "remembrance of the beloved" as a cross-cultural symbol from medieval Andalusia to India. Poems are read in modern English translations. (Sells, Division III) Not offered in 2004-05.

264b. Religion and Violence

The role of religions in motivating, justifying, channeling and mobilizing violence. The course will also examine the role of religion in violence prevention, conflict resolution and fostering human rights. (Sells, Division III)

269b. Culture and Religion in Modern Fiction

The encounter of traditional religious and cultural values with the modern West as reflected in novels, short stories and folk tales. (Sells, Division III) Not offered in 2004-05.

277a. Modern/Postmodern Christian Thought

The impact of modernity and post-modernity on traditional Christian thought in the West. Readings may include Barth, Cone, Feuerbach, Frei, Hegel, Hume, Irigaray, Kant, Kierkegaard, Lindbeck, Marion, McFague, Milbank, Nietzsche, Rahner, Schleiermacher, Segundo, Tracey and von Balthasar. (Dawson, Division III) Not offered in 2004-05.

279a. Tradition, Identity, Textuality

A critical analysis of three interrelating themes that inform contemporary studies of religious thought. Notions of tradition, identity and the "text" have all been challenged by contemporary subversions of historical continuity, narrative structure and textual meaning. We will enter the debate by examining readings that undermine these paradigms as well as readings that seek to reconceive tradition, identity and textuality in the face of postmodern attacks. (Dawson, K. Koltun-Fromm, Division III) Not offered in 2004-05.

280a. Ethics and the Good Life

This course examines how ethical theories, both secular and religious, inform notions of the good. We begin by tracing the impact of classical conceptions of justice and the good life through close readings from Plato, Aristotle and the tragedians together with medieval and modern accounts that draw heavily from these sources. We conclude by investigating how some contemporary Christian and Jewish ethical thinkers rely on, revise or subvert the perspectives of classical ethics. (Dawson, K. Koltun-Fromm, Division III) Not offered in 2004-05.

281a. Modern Jewish Thought

Jewish responses to modern philosophy and science that challenge traditional Jewish religious expression and thought. The course examines how Jewish thinkers engage modern debates on historical inquiry, biblical criticism, existentialism, ethics and feminism. Our goal will be to assess those debates and determine how these thinkers construct and defend modern Jewish identity in the face of competing options. Readings may include Adler, Buber, Cohen, Heschel, Mendelssohn, Rosenzweig and Spinoza. (K. Koltun-Fromm, Division III) Not offered in 2004-05.

284a. American Judaism

An exploration of the cultural, social, and religious dynamics of American Judaism. The course will focus on the representation of Jewish identity in American culture, and examine issues of Jewish material, gender, and ritual practices in American history. We will study how Jews express identity through material objects, and how persons work with objects to produce religious meaning. (K. Koltun-Fromm, Division III)

286a. Religion and American Public Life

The place and role of religion in American public life as reflected and constructed in U.S. Supreme Court rulings on the religion clauses of the First Amendment, ethical and philosophical writings on religion and the liberal tradition of public reason, historical studies of religious and political influences on the formulation of the U.S. Constitution and its subsequent interpretations, and contemporary debates about the public character of theology. (Dawson, Division III) Not offered in 2004-05.

299a. Theoretical Perspectives in the Study of Religion

An introduction to the history of the study of "religion" in the modern West. Beginning with Kant’s distinction between natural and revealed religion we will follow the curious and contested history of second-order reflection upon religion as it has been carried out in theological, philosophical, psychological, anthropological, and sociological spheres. Readings may include: Kant, Schleiermacher, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Tylor, Durkheim, Weber, James, Otto, Benjamin, Eliade, Geertz, Foucault, Douglas, Smith, Haraway, Derrida, and Asad. (Lardas, Division III)

Note: All 300-level seminars may be repeated for credit with change of content.

301a, b. Seminar in Religious Traditions in Cultural Context

Advanced study of topics in the department’s concentration in Religious Traditions in Cultural Context. Religious traditions and the textual, historical, sociological and cultural contexts in which they develop. Critical analysis of formative texts and issues that advance our notions of religious identities, origins and ideas. (staff, Division III)

303a, b. Seminar in Religion, Literature and Representation

Advanced study of topics in the department’s concentration in Religion, Literature and Representation. The study of religion in relation to literary expressions and other forms of representation, such as performance, music, film and the plastic arts. (staff, Division III)

305a, b. Seminar in Religion, Ethics and Society

Advanced study of topics in the department’s concentration in Religion, Ethics and Society. Examination of larger social issues such as race, gender and identity as they relate to religion and religious traditions. Examines how moral principles, cultural values and ethical conduct help shape human societies. (staff, Division III)

310a, b. Gender and Religion in Premodern Japanese Literature

(Glassman, Division III; cross-listed as East Asian Studies 310) Not offered in 2004-05.

330a, b. Seminar in the Religious History of African-American Women

An examination of the religious history of African-American women in the United States. Using primary and secondary texts from the 19th to the 20th centuries, this course will explore the various religious traditions, denominations, sects and religious movements in which African-American women have historically participated. The ways in which specific social conditions such as slavery, migration, racial segregation and class and gender discrimination have historically influenced the religious lives of African-American women are also analyzed. (Hucks, Division III)

331b. Theoretical Approaches to the Study of Black Religion

(Hucks, Division III)

338b. Seminar in American Civil Religion

Lardas, Division III)

343a, b. Seminar in Religions of Antiquity and Biblical Literature

Advanced study of a specific topic in the field. Prerequisite: permission of instructor. (McGuire, Division III)

348a, b. Seminar in Ancient Judaism

Advanced study of the development of Judaism from the biblical period to the talmudic period. What constitutes Israel- ite religion? By what processes does it become rabbinic Judaism? What were its various manifestations along the way? Readings are drawn from the Bible, the Apocrypha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Hel- lenistic Jewish literature and rabbinic literature. (N. Koltun-Fromm, Division III) Not offered in 2004-05.

353a, b. Seminar in Islamic Philosophy and Theology

Selected topics and figures in Islamic philosophy, scholastic theology (kalam) or mystical philosophy. The relation of Islamic philosophy to Greek, Jewish and Indian thought is also discussed. Prereq- uisite: permission of instructor. (Sells, Division III)

360a, b. Seminar in Modern Religious Thought

Advanced study of a specific topic in the field. Prerequisite: permission of instructor. (Dawson, K. Koltun-Fromm, Divi-sion III) Not offered in 2004-05.

399b. Senior Seminar and Thesis

Research and writing of the senior thesis in connection with regular meetings with a thesis adviser from the department. Prerequisites: at least six courses in religion, including 101 and 398. (staff)

480a, b. Independent Study

Conducted through individual tutorial as an independent reading and research project. (staff)

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