Students may complete a major in Religion at Haverford College
Tracey Hucks, Associate Professor
Terrence Johnson, Assistant Professor
Kenneth Koltun-Fromm, Professor
Naomi Koltun-Fromm, Associate Professor
Anne M. McGuire, Associate Professor
Travis Zadeh, Assistant Professor
The Department of Religion at Haverford views religion as a central aspect of human culture and social life. 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 religion 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.
A central goal of the department is to enable students to become critically informed, independent and creative interpreters of some of the religious movements, sacred texts, ideas and practices that have decisively shaped human experience. They are encouraged to engage in the breadth of scholarship in the study of religion as well as to develop skills in the critical analysis of the texts, images, beliefs and performances of various religious traditions, including Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Buddhism. Students especially interested in Asian religions may work out a program of study in conjunction with the East Asian Studies department at Haverford and Bryn Mawr and with the Religion department at Swarthmore. 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 www.haverford.edu/relg/index.html.
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. Where appropriate and relevant to the major’s program, up to three courses for the major may be drawn from outside the field of religion, subject to departmental approval.
2. Junior Colloquium: An informal required gathering of the Junior majors once each semester. Students should complete a worksheet in advance in consultation with their major adviser and bring copies of the completed worksheet to the meeting.
3. Senior Seminar and Thesis, Religion 399b.
4. At least four additional half-year courses drawn from outside the major’s area of concentration.
5. 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. Students seeking religion credit for abroad courses should write a formal petition to the department upon their return and submit all relevant course materials. Petitioned courses should be included within the student’s designated area of concentration.
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).
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. Typically offered in alternate years.
Introduction to the foundational concepts of Islam and the diverse ways in which Muslims understand and practice their religion. Topics include scripture, prophethood, law, ritual, theology, mysticism and art.
An introduction to Religion through the close reading of selected sacred texts of various religious traditions in their historical, literary, philosophical and religious contexts.
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.
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. Readings may include the Hebrew Bible, Rashi, Maimonides, Spinoza, Heschel and Plaskow. Offered occasionally.
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 CE, one group, the rabbis, gradually came to dominate Jewish life. Why? This course will study those changes and developments which brought about these radical transformations. Typically offered in alternate years.
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 non-canonical writings, in addition to the writings of the New Testament canon.
Prerequisite: Open only to first-year students as assigned by the Director of College Writing. (Satisfies the first year writing requirement).
Prerequisite: Open only to first-year students as assigned by the Director of College Writing. (Satisfies the first year writing requirement.)
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. Typically offered in alternate years.
This course will examine the history of religion in America as it spans several countries. 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.
An introduction to the theological & philosophical claims raised in Black Religion & Liberation Thought in 20th C America. In particular, the course will examine the multiple meanings of liberation within black religion, the place of religion in African American struggles against racism, sexism and class exploitation and the role of religion in shaping the moral and political imaginations of African Americans.
An introduction to the central concepts of Black liberation thought in 20th century America. The aim is to determine what defines the field and evaluate its contribution to theology and philosophy. Readings from theological, philosophical and literary sources.
An examination of political liberalism in debates on religion, democracy and tradition. Particular attention is given to the relationship between liberal and theological responses to debates on individual rights and the common good.
Why are people always predicting the coming endtime? This course will explore the genre of apocalypse, looking for common themes that characterize this form of literature. Our primary source readings will be drawn from the Bible and non-canonical documents from the early Jewish and Christian traditions. We will use an analytical perspective to explore the social functions of apocalyptic, and ask why this form has been so persistent and influential.
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. Typically offered in alternate years.
The history, literature and theology of Christianity from the end of the New Testament period to the time of Constantine. Typically offered in alternate years.
An examination of the history of Jerusalem as well as a study of Jerusalem as religious symbol and how the two interact over the centuries. Readings from ancient, medieval, modern and contemporary sources as well as material culture and art. Prerequisite: None.
An examination of prophecy as a form of social criticism in colonial and contemporary America. The course identifies the prophetic tradition as an extension of the American Jeremiad. Particular attention is given to Reinhold Niebuhr and Martin Luther King Jr.
Close reading of the thirteen letters attributed to the apostle Paul and critical examination of the place of Paul in the development of early Christianity.
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.
An exploration of the religious, social and political dimensions of Shi’i Islam, from its early formation until the modern period. Topics include: authority and guidance; theology and jurisprudence; messianism and eschatology; scriptural exegesis; ritual and performance; gender; intersections between religion and politics. Prerequisite: None.
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. Typically offered in alternate years.
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. Typically offered in alternate years.
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 Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, Ishmael Reed, Maryse Conde and others.
This course offers a constructive, interdisciplinary vision of the ways American Blacks and Jews represent, articulate, enact and perform their religious and cultural identities. Using primary, secondary, visual and material resources, the course will explore an array of themes that speak to the religious and social inter-sectionality of the Black and Jewish experience in America.
Typically offered in alternate years.
This course will examine the influence of forms of Islam on the African American community throughout its history. Though the course will begin with the intra-African slave trade and the antebellum period, the bulk of the course will focus on 20th Century persons and events, particularly the Nation of Islam, its predecessors and successors.
Prerequisite: One 100 level course in Religion, History, Anthropology or East Asian Studies
Overview of the Qur’an, the scripture of Islam. Major themes include: orality, textuality, sanctity and material culture; revelation, translation and inimitability; calligraphy, bookmaking and architecture; along with modes of scriptural exegesis as practiced over time by both Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
An exploration of how Jews imagined themselves, and how others imagined Jews, through various works of art (literature, film, sculpture, painting and photography), with particular focus on modern American visual culture.
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.
Explores literary and philosophical exchanges, alongside religious violence and persecution, amongst Jews, Christians and Muslims in late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Prerequisite: None.
The impact of modernity on traditional Christian thought in the Nineteenth Century West. Readings may include Hume, Kant, Schleiermacher, Hegel, Feuerbach, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard and others.
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 Spinoza, Mendelssohn, Cohen, Rosenzweig, Heschel, Buber and Adler.
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. Prerequisite: None.
This course examines the role of Christianity in shaping America’s religious identity(ies) and democratic imagination(s). The course will also examine whether, if at all, citizens are justified in retrieving their religious commitments in public debates.
An introduction to theories of the nature and function of religion from theological, philosophical, psychological, anthropological and sociological perspectives. Readings may include: Schleiermacher, Marx, Nietzche, Freud, Tylor, Durkheim, Weber, James, Otto, Benjamin, Eliade, Geertz, Foucault, Douglas, Smith, Berger, Haraway.
SEMINARS AND INDEPENDENT STUDIES
Typically offered every Fall.
An exploration of literary and cultural exchanges between Jews, Christians and Muslims in Medieval Spain. Topics include: literary traditions, translation movements, philosophy, martyrdom, pilgrimage, the Reconquista, the Inquisition, orthodoxy/heterodoxy, religious persecution and intolerance.
Typically offered every Fall.
Typically offered every Fall.
From contemplating the cosmos to encountering the monstrous, this course explores the place of wonder in Islamic traditions through readings from the Qur’an, exegesis, prophetic traditions, popular literature, travel narratives, descriptive geography, philosophy and theology. Prerequisite: Consent.
Explores the place of material and visual culture in Islam, examining how Muslims have conceptualized and deployed material and visual forms of religious expressions in a number of historical contexts. Prerequisite: None.
Overview of the literary expressions of Islamic mysticism through the study of poetry, philosophy, hagiographies and anecdotes. Topics include: unio mystica; symbol and structure; love and the erotic; body / gender; language and experience.
This seminar will examine the writings of women of African descent from Africa, North America and the Caribbean. Using primary and secondary texts from the nineteenth to the twentieth centuries, this course will explore the various religious traditions, denominations, sects, and religious and cultural movements in which women of African descent have historically participated. The course will also analyze the ways in which specific social conditions and cultural practices have historically influenced the lives of these women within their specific geographical contexts.
This course will explore various theoretical approaches pertaining to the academic study of black religion. Major issues and debates addressed within the course include: syncretism, origins and retentions, accommodation vs. resistance, womanist challenges to black theology and black church vs. extra-church orientations.
Advanced study of a specific topic in the field. May be repeated for credit with change of content. Prerequisite: Consent.
An examination of various modalities of hidden knowledge and their social implications. Examples derive mostly from the premodern period. Prerequisite: Consent.
T.Hucks/T.Johnson/K. Koltun-Fromm/N. Koltun Fromm/A. McGuire/T.Zadeh/J. Velji
Prerequisite: Religion majors by consent.
Conducted through individual tutorial as an independent reading and research project.