2015-16 catalog


Students may complete a major in Religion at Haverford College.


Naomi Koltun-Fromm, Chair and Associate Professor

Molly Farnath, Assistant Professor

Tracey Hucks (on leave for 2015–16), Professor

Kenneth Koltun-Fromm, Professor

Anne M. McGuire, Kies Family Associate Professor in the Humanities

Terrance Wiley, Assistant Professor

Travis Zadeh, Associate 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 haverford.edu/relg/index.html.

Major Requirements

  • Six courses within 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 dvance 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 performance, music, film, 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 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.

  • 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.
  • Senior Seminar and Thesis, Religion 399b.
  • At least four additional half-year courses drawn from outside the major’s area of concentration.
  • 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.

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.

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 H104A Religion and Social Ethics

Introduces students to debates in Judaism and Christianity about the ethical significance of race, class, and gender in contemporary society. Topics will include racism, incarceration, poverty, gender-based domination, and same-sex marriagage.

RELG H107A Vocabularies of Islam

Provides students with an introduction to the foundational concepts of Islam, its religious institutions, and the diverse ways in which Muslims understand and practice their religion. We explore the vocabularies surrounding core issues of scripture, prophethood, law, ritual, theology, mysticism, literature, and art from the early period to the present.

RELG H111A Introduction to Hinduism

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

RELG H118B 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 archeological interpretive tools, this course will address these questions and introduce students to academic biblical studies.

RELG H122B 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 non-canonical writings, in addition to the writings of the New Testament canon.

RELG H124A 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.|Beretz,Elaine Marie

RELG H128A Reading Sacred Texts

An introduction to reading sacred texts in an academic setting. In this course we will apply a variety of methodological approaches--literary, historical, sociological, anthropological or philosophical--to the reading of religious texts, documents and materials.

RELG H130B Material Religion in America


RELG H132A Varieties of African American Religious Experience

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.
Settles,Shani Salama

RELG H132B Varieties of the African American Religious Experience

As an introduction to the study of African American religious expression and engagement in the US, this class will critically examine the historical and contemporary construction of the “Black Sacred Cosmos.” Focusing specifically on West African faith systems and their dissemination, reconstruction, and re-emergence within the Diaspora we will explore how life is the altar and living is prayer. Attending primarily to the three most visible religious systems in the US -Yoruba/Orisa/Ifa, Santeria, and Vodou- students will gain a holistic understanding of traditions by: (1) engaging multiple theoretical discourses surrounding the study and practice of African Diaspora Religions (2) applying intersectional analyses to traditions to uncover the ways in which they address/contextualize the constructions of race, class, gender, sexuality (3) identifying and describing unique and common key elements/dimensions that constitute belief and praxis of each religious system (4) contextualizing dynamic processes of continuity and change, past and present, and (5) charting chronologies of major historical developments and periods of transmission for each belief system. In so doing, students will be equipped with a foundational knowledge base to further examine the worldviews and ethos of religious traditions of the Diaspora in upper division classes, their own lives, and the world around them.
Settles,Shani Salama

RELG H140A Introduction to Islamic Philosophy and Theology

This course is a survey of major thinkers and debates in Islamic intellectual history. We will 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.
Velji,Jamel A

RELG H144B Reading Comics and Religion

The exploration of how notions of the religious arise in comics and graphic novels that visually depict narratives of and about the sacred. Reading comics is a visual practice, but it is also a study in religious expression, creative imagination, and critical interpretation. The course will engage the multi-textured layers of religious traditions through a reading of comics, and thereby integrate comics within the study of religion even as the very reading of comics challenges our notions of what counts as religion. This is a TriCo course and requires travel to Swarthmore.

RELG H150B South Asian Religious Cultures

An introductory course covering the variegated expressions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Islam, and Sikhism in South Asia.

RELG H202B The End of the World as We Know it

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.
Velji,Jamel A

RELG H203A 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 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.

RELG H206B 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.

RELG H208A 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.

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.

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; gender imagery, mythology and other issues in the interpretation of Gnostic texts.

RELG H229B Black Religion and Womanist Thought

This course invites students to attend to the intersections of black, feminist, and liberation thought and praxis by engaging womanist theology. Through a broad and critical examination of essays, scholarly texts, novels, and documentaries, we will explore discourses around themes of epistemology, spirituality, representation, and activism. We will particularly attend to: (1) assumptions and claims about knowledge production and methods; (2) spiritual, religious and ethical motifs; (3) identity formation, social location, and identity politics; and (4) feminist/womanist activism addressing issues of race/heritage, culture, class, gender, and sexuality. Through daily discussion and written assignments, students will develop critical analytic skills and be equipped with a foundational knowledge base to further examine womanist worldviews and ethos in multiple religious traditions and in the world around them.
Settles,Shani Salama

RELG H230A Religion and Black Freedom Struggle

This course will examine the background for and the key events, figures, philosophies, tactics, and consequences of the modern black freedom struggle in United States. The period from 1955-1965 will receive special attention, but the roots of the freedom struggle and the effect on recent American political, social, and cultural history will also be considered.

RELG H248B The Quran

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.

RELG H254B RAP and Religion: Rhymes about God and the Good

We will explore the origins, existential, and ethical dimensions of Rhythm and Poetry (RAP) music. Giving attention to RAP songs written and produced by African American artists, including Tupac, Nas, Jay-Z, The Roots, and Lauryn Hill, Kanye West, we will analyze their work with an interest in understanding a) the conceptions of God and the good reflected in them, b) how these conceptions connect to and reflect African American social and cultural practices, and c) how the conceptions under consideration change over time.

RELG H260A Getting Medieval

Explores literary and philosophical exchanges, alongside religious violence and persecution, amongst Jews, Christians, and Muslims in the late Antiquity and the Middle Ages.

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 will include both critical and creative writing.

RELG H286B Religion and American Public Life

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.

RELG H299A Theoretical Perspectives in the Study of Religion

Description: 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.

RELG H301A Seminar in Religious Traditions in Cultural Context: Myths of Creation and Redemption

This seminar will focus on the interpretation of myths of creation and redemption within Graeco-Roman, Jewish, and Christian religious traditions. In addition to considering myths and their reinterpretation within each tradition, we will also consider contemporary theories of myth and myth interpretation.

RELG H301B Seminar in Religious Traditions in Cultural Context

This seminar examines the foundation mythologies of a variety of religious traditions, particularly those narratives that revolve around the founding of sacred cities. We will explore the relationship between political founding (cities, nations) and religious origins narratives.

RELG H303A Religion, Literature and Representation

This seminar will consider 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 will draw upon the methodologies of both literary theory and religious studies, and autobiographical examples will range across time, space and religious tradition.

RELG H305A Seminar in Religion, Ethics, and Society

This seminar invites students to attend to lived religious experience through ethnography. Taking an explicitly feminist/womanist approach, students will examine themes of epistemology, hermeneutics, narration, representation, embodiment, and empowerment. Reading and viewing contemporary ethnographic essays, texts and documentaries highlights mixed method approaches to research formation and the writing process. Through daily exercises and a final research project, students will directly participate in reflexive ethnography with a religious community of their choice.
Velji,Jamel A

RELG H305B Seminar in Religion, Ethics, and Society: Religion and Ethnography

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.; This seminar invites students to attend to lived religious experience through ethnography. Taking an explicitly feminist/womanist approach, students will examine themes of epistemology, hermeneutics, narration, representation, embodiment, and empowerment. Reading and viewing contemporary ethnographic essays, texts and documentaries highlights mixed method approaches to research formation and the writing process. Through daily exercises and a final research project, students will directly participate in reflexive ethnography with a religious community of their choice.
Settles,Shani Salama

RELG H306B Of Monsters and Marvels

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.

RELG H312A Ritual and the Body

An exploration of the meaning and function of ritual, and of the ways that rituals shape bodies, habits, and identities. Special attention will be given to the relationship between ritual and gender. Readings include Durkheim, Mauss, Bourdieu, Butler, and Mahmood.

RELG H330A Seminar in the Writings of Women of African Descent

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.
Settles,Shani Salama

RELG H398A Senior Thesis Seminar Part 1

A practical methodology course which prepares senior Religion majors to write their senior theses.

RELG H399B Senior Seminar and Thesis

Koltun-Fromm,Naomi; Koltun-Fromm, Kenneth; McGuire,Anne