Religious Studies

Religious Studies is the critical inquiry into cultural expressions - such as myth, ritual, symbols, and sacred texts - that address fundamental human concerns. The student of religion develops a broad methodological base from areas such as history, sociology, and literature to address comprehensively and cross-culturally such issues as the origins of religious communities, their similar and divergent practices and beliefs, and their literature.

Major Program. The Religious Studies major is designed to introduce students to the study of religious beliefs, practices, and institutions. Its predominant focus is on Christianity but includes the study of other faiths. A major in which the liberal arts come together, Religious Studies uses a variety of methodological approaches (including philosophy, sociology, theology, and anthropology) to understand critically what religious people believe and do.

Major Requirements: Religious Studies

The student learning outcomes for the Religious Studies major are as follows:

  1. She will develop more fully her knowledge of cultural expressions - such as myth, ritual, symbols, and sacred texts - that address fundamental human concerns, with particular attention to Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions;
  2. She will develop a broad methodological base from areas such as history, philosophy, sociology, and literature to address comprehensively and cross-culturally such issues as the origins of religious communities, their similar and divergent practices and beliefs, and their literature;
  3. She will strengthen her abilities to think critically, analyze cogently, organize and articulate thoughts clearly, and develop her own informed opinions.

The Religious Studies curriculum consists of 33 hours, distributed as follows:

Required Courses (12 hours):
REL 100: Theories and Methods in Religious Studies 3 hours
REL 110: Introduction to Theology 3 hours
REL 120: Introduction to Christianity 3 hours
REL 400: Senior Research Project 2 hours
REL 401: Senior Project Presentation 1 hour

Two of the Following (6 hours):
REL 212: The Abrahamic Traditions 3 hours
REL 216: Faith and Doubt 3 hours
REL 225: Exploring the World's Religions 3 hours
REL 290: Readings in Religious Studies 3 hours

Five of the Following (15 hours):
REL 301: Hebrew Bible/Old Testament 3 hours
REL 302: New Testament and Early Christian Literature 3 hours
REL 306: Seminar in Ancient or Medieval Thought 3 hours
REL 309: From Modern to Postmodern 3 hours
REL 310: Religion and Society 3 hours
REL 396: Special Topics in Religion 3 hours
REL 451: Directed Independent Study 3 hours

Integrative Experience. Students in Religious Studies will fulfill the integrative experience within the major as part of the Capstone Experience.

Capstone Experience. The Religious Studies major will culminate in the two-semester long Senior Research Project (REL 400 and REL 401), which will consist of the following components:

1. A senior portfolio containing the following:

  • Several (at least 3) papers the student deems most representative of her work in Religious Studies, though it must include papers from courses taken in at least two different semesters (preferably from different years).
  • A 3-5-page essay reflecting on her progress as a a religious Studies scholar, using her portfolio papers as evidence of her progress and growth.
  • A 2-page document discussing professional plans. This document will be the fruit of discussions with faculty teaching REL 400/REL 401 about student's plans for life after graduation.

2. A substantial research paper in Religious Studies which integrates material and perspectives from at least one other discipline in order to fulfill the Integrative Experience requirement. The student will spend her first semester researching the paper, writing a proposal and literature review, and writing an initial draft. In the second semester, she will complete and refine her arguments and present the paper at a public forum.

Professional Development. Throughout her Wesleyan education each student is given opportunities to explore professional and career choices, and to develop and demonstrate the knowledge and skills essential for professional success. Each student will complete a PDE 400 Professional Development Experience and submit a PDE 401 Professional ePortfolio prior to graduation. In addition, students majoring in Religious Studies will satisfy this requirement by providing her advisor with two documents:

  1. A 2-page summary of one of the following experiences: an internship taken as REL 452, a summer employment experience acceptable to the Philosophy and Religious Studies department, volunteer work deemed acceptable by the Philosophy and Religious Studies department, or other work experience deemed acceptable by the Philosophy and Religious Studies department. The summary will reflect upon how a liberal arts education enhances a student's preparation for a career and further professional growth.
  2. The 2-page document discussing career plans that will be included in her senior portfolio, as discussed above (under Capstone Experience).

Minor Requirements: Religious Studies. A minor in Religious Studies consists of 18 semester hours as follows:

Required Courses (3 hours):
REL 100: Theories and Methods in Religious Studies 3 hours

Any two from the following list. At least one course at the 200 level (6 hours):
REL 110: Introduction to Theology 3 hours
REL 120: Introduction to Christianity 3 hours
REL 212: The Abrahamic Traditions 3 hours
REL 216: Faith and Doubt 3 hours
REL 225: Exploring the World's Religions 3 hours
REL 290: Readings in Religious Studies 3 hours

Any three from the following list (9 hours):
REL 301: Hebrew Bible/Old Testament 3 hours
REL 302: New Testament and Early Christian Literature 3 hours
REL 306: Seminar in Ancient or Medieval Thought 3 hours
REL 309: From Modern to Postmodern 3 hours
REL 310: Religion and Society 3 hours
REL 396: Special Topics in Religion 3 hours

REL 451: Directed Independent Study 3 hours


Resources for Non-Majors. Religion courses are open to all students and are excellent resources for learning about other cultures. Also, for students in the humanities and social sciences, the study of religion represents an excellent opportunity to practice the various methodologies used in other areas of study.

Postgraduate Opportunities. The study of religion prepares a student for graduate programs in religion, for professional programs in religion or religious education, or for any profession in which creative and critical thinking is a requirement.

Pre-Seminary Program. Wesleyan College offers no pre-seminary major as such. Students interested in pursuing graduate studies in a theological seminary, with either some form of professional ministry or higher graduate work in view, should consider the recommendation of the Association of Theological Schools and take a broad range of courses in literature, history, natural sciences, social sciences, fine arts and music, languages, and religion (Christian and non-Christian).

Pre-seminary students frequently choose to major in fields such as English, history, religion, and philosophy, but any liberal arts subject is appropriate including the sciences and mathematics and the fine arts.

The Religious Studies program provides courses in Old Testament and New Testament, along with courses on non-Western religions, religion and society, and a range of special topics on various other religious themes. The Philosophy program has courses that supplement these offerings, including Self and Social Responsibility, Ethics, and Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Philosophy. Pre-seminary students not majoring in either of these programs should consider electing at least some religion and philosophy courses in consultation with faculty members.

In addition to enrolling in some of the above courses, pre-seminary students should consult with the pre-seminary program advisor. Pre-seminary students are also encouraged to participate in periodic information sessions on graduate programs, round-table discussions with local ministers, and internship, all of which help students discern their vocations and prepare for post graduate study.

Religious Studies (REL) Gen. Ed. Course Descriptions

100: Theories and Methods of Religious Studies.
Goal: To introduce students to methodologies for the critical study of religion, and to study those characteristics of religion and the religious experience that seem to pervade a variety of religious traditions.
To develop a working definition of religion as well as an appreciation of the cross-cultural dimension of the religious experience and the role this experience plays in self-development.
Content: Introductory texts in religious studies; primary sources from particular religious traditions.
Taught: Annually.
Gen. Ed. Category: Exploring; Individuals & Communities (HUM).
Credit: 3 hours.

120: Introduction to Christianity.
Goal: To introduce students to the teachings and practices of the various forms of Christianity. The class surveys the sweep of Christian history from Its Biblical foundations to the present, including the shift from the western world to the southern hemisphere and contemporary movements such as ecumenism, evangelicalism, and charismatic/pentecostalism.
Content: Primary religious texts and scholarly works on the history, culture, and teachings of Christianity.
Taught: Annually.
Gen Ed. Category: Exploring; Individuals & Communities (HUM).
Credit: 3 hours.
 
216: Faith and Doubt.
Goal : To introduce students to the philosophical issues raised by faith and doubt concerning "the Divine," including the nature of religious language and institutions and the impact such faith and doubt has on views of reality and ethics.
Content: Faith in some conception of a "Divinity" is still an important component of human societies, in spite of increasing attacks against faith and in favor of doubt. These debates about faith and doubt employ interesting philosophical arguments and have important philosophical, social, and political ramifications. Students will engage texts that argue for and against the rationality of belief in divinity, the importance of faith and doubt on views of social and ethical life, and differing views of reality connected with faith and doubt.
Taught: Alternate years.
Gen. Ed. Category: Exploring; Individuals & Communities, (HUM).
Credit: 3 hours; cross-listed as PHI 216.

225: Exploring the World's Religions.
Goal: To introduce students to the basic teachings and practices of various religious traditions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Daoism, Confucianism, Shinto, the Abrahamic faiths, as well as more recent and alternative traditions. Blending the study and discussion of primary and secondary texts, research into related sacred scriptures, visits to places of worship and ritual, and guest lectures by religious leaders and scholars, the course encourages direct experience of these traditions. Throughout the course, special attention will be given to interreligious dialogue, the roles and experiences of women, and other contemporary issues in the study of religion.
Content: Primary texts (including the Hebrew Bible, New Testament, Qur'an, Hadith and Sufi writings) and scholarly works on the history and cultures of the Abrahamic traditions.
Taught: Alternate years.
Gen. Ed. Category: Developing; Writing Competency; (HUM).
Prerequisite: Satisfactory completion of College writing proficiency requirement.
Credit: 3 hours.

 

290: Readings in Religious Studies.
Goal: To introduce students to the sorts of questions and issues discussed in religious texts and the ways that scholars of religion discuss these questions and issues. To help students develop their own skills in the reading and analysis of texts in religious studies.
Content: The class is configured to focus either on a particular issue, movement, time period, or thinker within religious studies. Representative topics might include Faith and Doubt in Modernity, C.S. Lewis and Friends, Fundamentalisms in World Religions, Feminist Theology, Religious Issues in Modern Literature, Literary Analysis of the Bible, Religion and the Scientific Worldview, and New Religions in America. The class can be understood as an introductory-level special themes course.
Taught: Alternate years.
Gen Ed. Category: Exploring; Individuals & Communities, (HUM).
Credit: 3 hours.

309: From Modern to Postmodern.
Goal: To engage students in the critical reading and assessment of significant philosophical and religious thinkers or philosophical and religious trends from the Modern period until today.
Content: Students will examine in detail the philosophical and religious ideas of a particular thinker, school of thought, or philosophical/religious trend from the early modern period until today. Emphasis will be given to the characteristics of Modernism (in a range of different fields, including philosophy, theology, literature, and art) and the critiques of it in Postmodernism.
Taught: Alternate years.
Gen Ed. Category: Synthesizing, (HUM).
Credit: 3 hours;cross-listed as PHI 309.


Religious Studies (REL) Other Course Descriptions

110: Introduction to Theology.
Goal: To introduce students to important figures, themes, concepts, and practices in the history of Christian theology. Based on analysis and discussion of primary and secondary texts, students will be equipped to inquire and dialogue about critical developments in theology, including: Christology, the Trinity, hermeneutics, ethics, eschatology, current issues of gender, race, and sexuality, and the roles and experiences of women.
Content: Introductory texts in theological studies and primary readings by influential theologians.
Taught: Alternate years.
Credit: 3 hours.

212: The Abrahamic Traditions.
Goal: To explore the Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Stemming from research into the historical and theological foundations of these traditions, students are equipped to engage in constructive dialogue about the common heritage and distinctive ideas and practices of each tradition. Building on their study of history, theology, the Hebrew Bible, New Testament, and Qur'an, students also consider critical themes in Jewish-Christian-Muslim relations, ethics, geopolitics, and the roles of women.
Content: Primary texts (including the Hebrew Bible, New Testament, Qur'an, Hadith and Sufi writings) and scholarly works on the history and cultures of the Abrahamic traditions.
Taught: Alternate years.
Credit: 3 hours.

301: Hebrew Bible/Old Testament.
Goal: To introduce students to the Hebrew Bible and subsequent literature from a variety of scholarly approaches.
Content: Primary texts from the Bible, Second Temple literature, and midrash, and scholarly works on historical-critical, literary, and feminist approaches to the Hebrew Bible.
Taught: Alternate years.
Credit: 3 hours.

302: New Testament and Early Christian Literature.
Goal: To introduce students to the New Testament and Early Christian literature, culture, and history.
Content: Primary texts from the Bible and early Church writings, books on early Christian culture and social history, including the role and experience of women in the Church.
Taught: Alternate years.
Prerequisite: One course in REL or permission of instructor.
Credit: 3 hours.

306: Seminar in Ancient or Medieval Thought.
Goal: To engage students in the critical reading and assessment of significant philosophers/theologians or philosophical/theological trends from the pre-Socratics through the High Middle Ages.
Content: Students will examine in detail the philosophical/theological ideas of a particular philosopher/theologian, school of philosophy/theology, or philosophical/theological trend from the pre-Socratics through the High Middle Ages, such as the close examination of the works of a single thinker (e.g., Plato or Augustine), a school of thought (e.g., Neoplatonism or Aristotelianism), or philosophical/theological issue (e.g., problem of universals, nature of sacraments, or mysticism).
Taught: Alternate years.
Credit: 3 hours;cross-listed as PHI 306.

310: Religion and Society.
Goal: To introduce students to sociological methods as they are applied in the study of religion and to the understandings of religion which are gained by these methods.
Content: Writings in the sociology of religion, including not only a survey text which provides a general overview of the field, but also monographs and/or essays which develop particular sociological perspectives in more detail.
Taught: Alternate years.
Prerequisite: One course in REL or permission of instructor.
Credit: 3 hours.

396: Special Topics in Religion.
Goal: To introduce students to the in-depth study of a special area of religion.
Content: Primary and secondary texts appropriate to the topic. Examples of special topics include a focus on a particular religious thinker or religious thought or broader topics like psychology and religion or apocalyptic literature.
Taught: Alternate years.
Prerequisite: Any 300-level REL course or permission of instructor.
Credit: 3 hours. A student may take a maximum of six to eight semester hours (two courses) of special topics in any one field.

400: Senior Research Project.
Goal: To provide advanced Religious Studies students with the opportunity to engage in a lengthy, meaningful research project in Religious Studies and to reflect on her development as a Religious Studies scholar and on how her major informs her
future plans.
Content: Students will create a Religious Studies portfolio that includes several representative papers, a reflection on her growth as a Religious Studies scholar, and a reflection on how her Religious Studies major can inform her future plans. She will also engage in extensive research on a problem in Religious Studies that will issue in a work that will be presented in a public forum.
Prerequisite: Four REL courses (or permission of the instructor).
Credit: 2 hours.

401: Senior Research Presentation.
Goal: To provide advanced Religious Studies students with the opportunity to complete and present a lengthy, meaningful research project in Religious Studies and to complete reflections on her development as a Religious Studies scholar and on how her major informs her future plans.
Content: Students will complete a Religious Studies portfolio that includes several representative papers, a reflection on her growth as a Religious Studies scholar, and a reflection on how her Religious Studies major can inform her future plans. She will also complete her extensive research project and present it in a public forum.
Credit: 1 hour.

451: Directed Independent Study.
Goal: To encourage students to develop skills for independent and creative research into selected problems in religious studies.
Content: To be selected in consultation between student and instructor.
Taught: Fall, Spring.
Prerequisite: Permission of instructor and program director.
Credit: 1-6 hours.

452/199: Field Study.
Goal: To introduce students to on-site experience of specific vocations in religion.
Content: Actual work experience.
Taught: Fall, Spring.
Prerequisite: Permission of instructor and program director.
Credit: 1-12 hours.


499: Honors Thesis. (Fee required)

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