2014-15 catalog


Students may complete a major in Religion at Haverford College


Naomi Koltun-Fromm, Chair and Associate Professor
Tracey Hucks (one leave for 2014–15 academic year, Professor
Kenneth Koltun-Fromm, Professor
Anne M. McGuire, Kies Family Associate Professor in the Humanities
Travis Zadeh, Associate Professor

The Department of Religion (haverford.edu/relg) views religion as a central aspect of human culture and social life. Religions propose interpretations of reality, shape very particular forms of life, and 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. We encourage students 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. The department’s programs help students understand how religions develop and change, and how religious texts, symbols, and rituals inform communities and cultures.

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.

Major Requirements

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

    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.

    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.

    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.

    Where appropriate and relevant to the major’s concentration program, the student may count up to three courses for the major from outside the field of religion toward the area of concentration, subject to departmental approval.

  • Junior Colloquium: required of 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.
  • Senior Colloquium: required of senior majors in the fall semester, with senior religion majors from Swarthmore. We invite a recognized scholar in the field to lead an evening seminar in the study of religion.
  • Religion 399b (Senior Seminar and Thesis).
  • At least four additional half-year courses drawn from outside the major’s area of concentration
  • Students must take at least six of each major’s 11 courses in the Haverford religion department. In some rare cases, students may petition the department for exceptions to the major requirements and must presented such petitions to the department for approval in advance. (See below for details about credit for study abroad.)

Senior Thesis

Final evaluation of the major program consists of work completed in Religion 399b (Senior Seminar), which consists of five stages:
I. formulation of a thesis proposal
II. presentation of the proposal
III. presentation of a portion of work in progress
IV. writing and submission of first and final drafts
V. oral discussion with department faculty

Requirements for Honors

The department awards honors and high honors in religion on the basis of the quality of work in the major and in Religion 399b (Senior Thesis).

Study Abroad

Students planning to study abroad must construct their programs in advance with the department. Students seeking religion credit for abroad courses must write a formal petition to the department upon their return and submit all relevant course materials. We advise students to petition courses that are within the designated area of concentration.


RELG H111A Introduction to Hinduism
An introduction to the diverse and fluid tradition known as Hinduism, which we examine through the many streams that feed into it: theological and philosophical beliefs, ritual and devotional practices, literature, visual art, music, and drama.
C. Martinez

RELG H122B Introduction to the New Testmnt
An introduction to the New Testament and early Christian literature. Class devotes special attention 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 include non-canonical writings, in addition to the writings of the New Testament canon.
A.M. McGuire

RELG H124A Introduction to Christian Thought
An examination of some central concepts of the Christian faith, approached within the context of contemporary theological discussion. Course considers sasic Christian ideas 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.
E.M. Beretz

RELG H128A Sacred Texts
An introduction to reading sacred texts in an academic setting. In this course we apply a variety of methodological approaches—literary, historical, sociological, anthropological, or philosophical—to the reading of religious texts, documents, and materials.
K. A. Koltun-Fromm

RELG H130B Material Religion in America
K. A. Koltun-Fromm

RELG H132A Varieties of The African American Religious Experience
This course examines the history of religion in America as it spans several countries. Each week lectures, readings, and discussions 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, not intended to be exhaustive, covers select traditions each semester.

RELG H140A Introduction to Islamic Philos
This course is a survey of major thinkers and debates in Islamic intellectual history. We discuss how these thinkers addressed theological concerns such as God’s attributes in light of divine unity; freewill versus predestination; and mysticism and philosophy as legitimate means of divine worship.
J. A. Velji

RELG H155B Themes Anth Relg
What is it that rituals actually do? Are they enactments (affirmations) of collective ideals or are they arguments about these? Are they media for political action or are they expressions of teleological phenomena? The course is a comparative study of ritual and its place in religious practice and political argumentation. Concrete case studies include an initiation ritual in South Africa, the Communion Sacrament in Christianity, a Holocaust commemorative site in Auschwitz, and the cult of spirit-possession in Niger. Enrollment limited to 20. Preference to freshmen and sophomores.
Z. Noonan-Ngwane

RELG H202B The End of the World
Why are people always predicting the coming endtime? This course explores the genre of apocalypse, looking for common themes that characterize this form of literature. We draw our primary source readings from the Bible and non-canonical documents from the early Jewish and Christian traditions. We use an analytical perspective to explore the social functions of apocalyptic, and ask why this form has been so persistent and influential.
J. A. Velji

RELG H203A The Hebrew Bible and Interpretations
In this course students critically study select Hebrew Biblical passages (in translation), as well as Jewish and Christian Biblical commentaries, in order to better understand how ancient and modern readers alike have read, interpreted, and explained Hebrew Biblical texts. Students also learn to read the texts critically and begin to form their own understandings of them.
N. Koltun-Fromm

RELG H208A The Poetics of Religious Experience in South Asia
An examination of religious poetry from three South Asian traditions: Hinduism, Islam, and Sikhism. Topics may include poetry and religious experience, poetry as locus of inter-religious dialogue, and poetry as religious critique.
C. Martinez

RELG H221A 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.
A.M. McGuire

RELG H222B 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; and gender imagery, mythology and other issues in the interpretation of Gnostic texts.
A.M. McGuire

RELG H240A The History and Principles Quakerism
The development of Quakerism and its relationship to other religious movements and to political and social life, especially in America. The roots of the Society of Friends in 17th-century Britain and the expansion of Quaker influences among Third World populations, particularly the Native American, Hispanic, east African, and Asian populations.
E. Lapsansky

RELG H256A Zen Thought, Culture, and History
What are we talking about when we talk about Zen? This course is an introduction to the intellectual and cultural history of the style of Buddhism known as Zen in Japanese. We examine the development and expression of this religious movement in China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam.
H. Glassman

RELG H267B Religion and Poetry
An exploration of the relationship between religion and poetry, using both sacred and secular poetic texts. How is poetic language used to express religious ideas? How do sacred texts inform secular poetry? Assignments include both critical and creative writing. Enrollment Limit: 25. In case of over-enrollment, priority goes to students with sophomore standing or higher.
C. Martinez

RELG H299B Theory and study of Religion
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, and Haraway.
J. A. Velji

RELG H301B Religious Traditions in Cultural Context
This seminar examines the relationship between religion and magic as expressed in various historical and geographical contexts, with particular attention to the significance of these categories in the development of Orientalist art, literature, and scholarship.
N. Koltun-Fromm

RELG H303A Seminar in Religion, Literature, and Representation
This seminar considers autobiography as both a literary genre and a mode of speech that has often been used to talk about religion. What does the autobiographical voice allow authors to say about religious experience and belief? How are religious selves constructed and presented in this most self-reflexive of forms? Our discussion draws upon the methodologies of both literary theory and religious studies, and autobiographical examples range across time, space, and religious traditions.
C. Martinez

RELG H305A Mahdis and Their Movements
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. Topics and instructors change from year to year.
J. A. Velji

RELG H330A Religious History of African American Women
This seminar examines the writings of women of African descent from Africa, North America, and the Caribbean. Using primary and secondary texts from the nineteenth to the 20th centuries, this course explores the various religious traditions, denominations, sects, and religious and cultural movements in which women of African descent have historically participated. The course also analyzes the ways in which specific social conditions and cultural practices have historically influenced the lives of these women within their specific geographical contexts.

RELG H399 Senior Seminar and Thesis
K. A. Koltun-Fromm/A.M. McGuire/J. A. Velji

RELG H480A Independent Study
Conducted through individual tutorial as an independent reading and research project.
T. E. Hucks