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Religion at Haverford College

Students may complete a major in religion at Haverford College.


J. David Dawson, Provost and Constance and Robert MacCrate Professor in Social Responsibility
Tracey Hucks, Associate Professor (on leave 2005-06)
Kenneth Koltun-Fromm, Associate Professor
Naomi Koltun-Fromm, Associate Professor and Chairperson
John Lardas, Visiting Assistant Professor
Anne M. McGuire, Associate Professor
Sarah Schwarz, Visiting Assistant Professor
Barbara von Schlegell, Visiting Assistant Professor

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 art, architecture, music, literature, science and philosophy — 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, psychology, political science 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 law, public service (including both religious and secular organizations), medicine, business, ministry and education. Religion majors have also pursued advanced graduate degrees in anthropology, history, political science, biology, Near Eastern studies and religious studies. For more information, see the department Web site at

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 advisor, whom the student chooses from among the regular members of the department. All majors should seek, with their advisors, 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.

The major program must satisfy the following requirements:

1. Six courses within one of the department’s three areas of concentration:

A. 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.

B. 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.

C. 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 to shape human societies.

These six courses within the area of concentration must include the department seminar in the major’s area of concentration: Religion 301 for Area A; Religion 303 for Area B; Religion 305 for Area C.

2. Senior Seminar and Thesis, Religion 399b.

3. At least four additional half-year courses drawn from among outside the major’s area of concentration.

4. At least six of each major’s 11 courses must be taken in the Haverford Department of Religion. 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 some 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, Religion 399b.

Requirements For Honors

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

RELG H101 Introduction to the Study of Religion [A]

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)

RELG H118 Hebrew Bible: Literary Text and Historical Context [A, B]

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 archeological interpretive tools, this course will address these questions and introduce students to academic biblical studies. (N. Koltun-Fromm, Division III) Not offered in 2005-06.

RELG H121 Varieties of Judaism in the Ancient World [A]

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., the rabbis gradually came to dominate Jewish life. This course will study those changes and developments which brought about these transformations. (N. Koltun-Fromm, Schwarz, Division III)

RELG H122 Introduction to the New Testament [A, B]

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, Schwarz, Division III)

RELG H130 Material Religion in America [C]

An introduction to various forms of religious material practices in America. We will examine how persons and communities interact with material objects and media to explore and express religious identity. Topics may include religion and sports, dance and ritual, food and dress, and the visual arts. (K. Koltun-Fromm, Division III)

RELG H132 Varieties of African American Religious Experience [A]

This course will examine the history of religion in America as it spans several centuries. Each week 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 the shaping of larger historical and social relationships within the United States. This study of American religion is not meant to be exhaustive and will cover select traditions each semester. (Hucks, Division III) Not offered in 2005-06.

RELG H134 American Spiritualities [A, C]

With the continuing development of American religious pluralism, the weakening of public faith and the expansion of moral attitudes, “spirituality” has become 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 this course encompass the study of different forms of spirituality in the United States past and present. The course will explore mainstream as well as alternative spiritual practices, from Catholic Devotions and the Lakota Sundance to Pentecostal worship and the spontaneous bop prosody of Jack Kerouac. (Lardas, Division III)

RELG H201 Introduction to Buddhism [A]

This course is 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 also be exposed to old and current debates in the field of Buddhist Studies. We will examine Buddhism both as a textual tradition and as a lived religion. There are no prerequisites. (Glassman, Division III; cross-listed as EAST H201a) Not offered in 2005-06.

RELG H203 The Hebrew Bible and Its Interpretations [A, B]

This course will critically study select Hebrew Biblical passages (in translation) as well as Jewish and Christian Biblical commentaries in order to better understand how Hebrew Biblical texts have been read, interpreted and explained by ancient 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, Schwarz, Division III)

RELG H204 Women and Judaism [C]

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. 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) Not offered in 2005-06.

RELG H206 History and Literature of Early Christianity [A, B]

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

RELG H221 Women and Gender in Early Christianity [A, C]

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)

RELG H222 Gnosticism [A, B]

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)

RELG H231 Religious Themes in African American Literature [B]

This course will explore African American literary texts as a basis for religious inquiry. Throughout the course we will examine African American novelists and literary scholars using their works as a way of understanding black religious traditions and engaging important themes in the study of religion. Authors discussed may include James Baldwin, Maryse Conde, Zora Neale Hurston, Ishmael Reed and others. (Hucks, Division III) Not offered in 2005-06.

RELG H234 Religion in American History to 1865 [A, C]

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. This 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 2005-06.

RELG H235 Religion in American History: 1865 to the Present [A, C]

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) Not offered in 2005-06.

RELG H240 History and Principles of Quakerism [A]

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 for Friends. The course is open to first year students with consent of the instructor. (Lapsansky, Division III; cross-listed as GNPR H240b and HIST H240b)

RELG H242 Topics in African American Religious History [A, C]

This course will investigate 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. We will examine the relationship of these religious traditions to American social history as well as explore how they adapted over space and time. (Hucks, Division III) Not offered in 2005-06.

RELG H256 Zen Thought, Zen Culture, Zen History [A]

(Glassman, Division III; cross-listed as EAST H256a)

RELG H281 Modern Jewish Thought [C]

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; cross-listed as PHIL H281a) Not offered in 2005-06.

RELG H284 American Judaism [A]

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) Not offered in 2005-06.

RELG H299 Theoretical Perspectives in the Study of Religion [A, B, C]

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: Asad, Benjamin, Derrida, Douglas, Durkheim, Eliade, Foucault, Freud, Geertz, Haraway, Hegel, James, Kant, Marx, Nietzche, Otto, Schleiermacher, Smith, Tylor and Weber. (Lardas, Division III)

All Religion department seminars may be repeated for credit with change of content.

RELG H301 Seminar in Religious Traditions in Cultural Context [A]

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)

RELG H303 Seminar in Religion, Literature, and Representation [B]

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)

RELG H305 Seminar in Religion, Ethics, and Society [C]

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 to shape human societies. (staff, Division III)

RELG H330 Seminar in the Religious History of African American Women [C]

This seminar will examine 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 course will also analyze 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. (Hucks, Division III) Not offered in 2005-06.

RELG H338 Seminar in American Religion [A, C]

(Lardas, Division III)

RELG H343 Seminar in Religions of Antiquity and Biblical Literature
[A, B]

Advanced study of a specific topic in the field. The course may be repeated for credit with change of content. Prerequisite: consent of instructor. (McGuire, Division III)

RELG H399 Senior Seminar and Thesis

Research and writing of the senior thesis in connection with regular meetings with a thesis advisor from the department. Prerequisite: Religion 301, 303, or 305 and the approval of the Department of Religion. (staff)

RELG H480 Independent Study

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

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