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Haverford College

Course Catalog

Religion: 2007-2008

DescriptionFacultyMajor RequirementsRequirements for HonorsCoursesDepartment Homepage


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 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.

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. In their coursework, students develop skills in the critical analysis of the texts, images, beliefs, and performances of various religions, 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

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Constance and Robert MacCrate Professor in Social Responsibility J. David Dawson (on leave 2007-2008)
Associate Professor Anne M. McGuire
Visiting Assistant Professor Joshua Dubler
Associate Professor Tracey Hucks, Chair
Assistant Professor Terrence Johnson
Associate Professor Kenneth Koltun-Fromm
Associate Professor Naomi Koltun-Fromm
Assistant Professor Travis Zadeh

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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 a 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. 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 colloquuium: An informal gathering of the Junior majors once each semester.
  3. Senior Seminar and Thesis, Religion 399b.
  4. At least four additional half-year courses drawn from among 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.
  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.

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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).

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  • 101 Introduction to the Study of Religion [A,B,C] HU
    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.
  • 103 Religion in Philadelphia [A] HU
    An introduction both to the study of religion and to the city of Philadelphia, this course explores the history and ethnography of religious practice in the City of Brotherly Love from colonial days to the present.
  • 107 Vocabularies of Islam [A] HU
    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 until the present.
  • 110 Sacred Texts and Religious Traditions HU
    An introduction to Religion through the close reading of selected sacred texts of various religious traditions in their historical, literary, philosophical, and religious contexts.
  • 118 Hebrew Bible: Literary Text and Historical Context HU
    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.
  • 120 Jewish Thought and Identity [A] HU
    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.
  • 121 Varieties of Judaism in the Ancient World [A,B] HU (Cross-listed in Classical Studies)
    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.
  • 122 Introduction to the New Testament HU
    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.
  • 124 Introduction to Christian Thought [C] HU
    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.
  • 129 The Lotus Sutra: Text, Image, and Practice HU (Cross-listed in Writing Program and East Asian Studies)
    Prerequisite: Open only to first-year students as assigned by the Director of College Writing. (Satisfies the freshman writing requirement.)
  • 130 Material Religion in America [C] HU
    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.
  • 132 Varieties of African American Religious Experience HU (Cross-listed in African and Africana Studies)
    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.
  • 137 Introduction to Black Religion and Liberation Thought HU (Cross-listed in African and Africana Studies)
    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.
  • 155 Themes in the Anthropology of Religion SO (Cross-listed in Anthropology and Writing Program and African and Africana Studies)
    (Satisfies the freshman writing requirement.)
    These courses require one course at the 100 level or its equivalent, or consent of the instructor.               
  • 201 Introduction to Buddhism HU (Cross-listed in East Asian Studies)
  • 203 The Hebrew Bible and its Interpretations [A,B] HU
    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.
  • 204 Women and Judaism [C] HU (Cross-listed in Gender and Sexuality Studies)
    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. These interpretations have led to an institutionalized hierarchy within the religion, which has limited women's access to religious ritual and education. Nevertheless, 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. (Satisfies the social justice requirement.)
  • 206 History and Literature of Early Christianity [A,B] HU
    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.
  • 208 Religion, Ideology, Power [A] HU
    Drawing on social theory, anthropology, literature, journalism, legal cases and film, this course explores the various ways that religion may be figured in modern discourses on power, subjugation and emancipation, most especially as it functions within the purview of the State.
  • 210 The Divine Guide: An Introduction to Shi'ism [A] HU
    This course examines 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 hermeneutics and exegesis; ritual and performance; gender and the body; and modern intersections between religion and politics.
  • 215 The Letters of Paul [A,B] HU
    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.
  • 216 Images of Jesus HU
    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.
  • 221 Women and Gender in Early Christianity [A,C] HU (Cross-listed in Gender and Sexuality Studies)
    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. Prerequisite: Major declaration or at least one 200 level and consent of instructor. Typically offered in alternate years.
  • 222 Gnosticism [A,B] HU
    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.
  • 231 Religious Themes in African American Literature [B] HU (Cross-listed in African and Africana Studies)
    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.
  • 240 History and Principles of Quakerism SO (Cross-listed in History and Peace and Conflict Studies)
  • 242 Topics in African American Religious History [A] HU (Cross-listed in African and Africana Studies)
    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. Typically offered in alternate years.
  • 245 Slavery, Catechism, and Plantation Missions in Antebellum America HU (Cross-listed in African and Africana Studies)
    This course will examine the influence of forms of Islam on the AfricanAmerican 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.
  • 250 Jewish Images, Imagining Jews HU
    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. Prerequisite: None

  • 251 Comparative Mystical Literature [B] HU
    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.
  • 256 Zen Thought, Zen Culture, Zen History SO (Cross-listed in East Asian Studies and History)
  • 262 Islamic Literature and Civilization [B] HU (Cross-listed in Comparative Literature)
    Islam refracted through its diverse cultural expressions (poetic, Sufi, Shar'ia, novelistic, architectural) and through its geographic and ethnic diversity (from Morocco to Indonesia, focusing on Arab and Persian cultures).
  • 264 Religion and Violence HU
    Drawing on rich anthropological and theological traditions, this course will explore the logic, function and rhetoric of phenomena such as sacrifice, martyrdom, and scapegoating. Our efforts to understand touchstone works of modern philosophy and anthropology will be aided by the screening of thematically related movies. Prerequisite:
  • 278 Christian Thought from Modernity to Post- modernity [A,B] HU
    Twentieth-century Christian thought in the West. Readings may include Barth, Tillich, H.R. Niebuhr, Rahner, von Balthasar, Segundo, Tracey, Frei, McFague, Irigaray, Cone, Lindbeck, Marion, Milbank. Offered occasionally.
  • 280 Ethics and the Good Life [C] HU
    D.Dawson, K.Koltun-Fromm
    This course examines how ethical theories, both secular and religious, inform notions of the good. We begin by tracing the impact of classical conceptions of justice and the good life through close readings from Plato, Aristotle, and the tragedians, together with medieval and modern accounts that draw heavily from these sources. We conclude by investigating how some contemporary Christian and Jewish ethical thinkers rely on, revise, or subvert the perspectives of classical ethics.
  • 281 Modern Jewish Thought [C] HU (Cross-listed in Philosophy)
    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, biblicalcriticism, 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.
  • 284 American Judaism [A] HU
    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
  • 286 Religion and American Public Life HU
    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. The course will include readings from W.E.B. Du Bois, Jeffrey Stout, Richard Rorty, Ronald Thiemann, and Seyla Benhabib.
  • 288 Religion Ethics and Politics [A] HU
    This course investigates the relationship of moral and religious traditions to domestic and international political order.
  • 295 Interpretation and the Other: Meaning, Understanding and Alterity HU (Cross-listed in English and Comparative Literature and Philosophy)
    D.Dawson, S.Finley
    Offered occasionally.
  • 299 Theoretical Perspectives in the Study of Religion [A,B,C] HU
    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: Kant, Schleiermacher, Hegel, Marx, Nietzche, Freud, Tylor, Durkheim, Weber, James, Otto, Benjamin, Eliade, Geertz, Foucault, Douglas, Smith, Haraway, Derrida.

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

  • 301 Seminar A: Jerusalem: History and Representation [A] HU (Cross-listed in Gender and Sexuality Studies)
    Prerequisite: Major declaration or at least one 200 level and consent of instructor.
  • 303 Al-Andalus: Religion & Literature in the Iberian Peninsula [B] HU (Cross-listed in Comparative Literature)
    Prerequisite: Major declaration or at least one 200 level and consent of instructor.
  • 305 Seminar C: Ethical Dimensions of Fieldwork [C] HU
    This seminar will involve close readings of ethnographic studies that explore the area of religious culture. The course will engage themes such as the ethical dimensions of ethnographical fieldwork, race and gender in cultural context, author/subject interaction, religious and cultural analysis and interpretation. Authors discussed may include Victor Turner, Clifford Geertz, Loudell Snow, Marcel Mauss, Robert Orsi, Karen McCarthy Brown, Traci West, and the anthropological works of Zora Neale Hurston. Prerequisite: Major declaration or at least one 200 level plus approval of instructor.
  • 307 Before the Sublimity of God: Wonder in Islamic Traditions [A] HU
    This seminar explores how Muslims have understood, approached, and represented the sublimity of God's creation.
  • 309 Religion and Prison in America [A] HU
    This seminar explores the intersection of religious practice and incarceration in America.
  • 310 Religion and Gender in Premodern Japanese Literature HU (Cross-listed in East Asian Studies)
  • 318 Religion, Modernity and Colonialism [A] HU (Cross-listed in African and Africana Studies)
  • 330 Seminar in the Religious History of African-American Women [C] HU (Cross-listed in African and Africana Studies and Gender and Sexuality Studies)
    This seminar will examine the religious history of African American women in the United States. Using primary and secondary texts from the nineteenth to the twentieth 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. (Satisfies the social justice requirement.)
  • 332 Seminar: Theoretical Approaches to the Study of Black Religion [A,C] HU (Cross-listed in African and Africana Studies)
    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.
  • 338 Seminar in American Civil Religion [A,C] HU
  • 343 Seminar in Religions of Antiquity and Biblical Literature [A,B] HU
    Advanced study of a specific topic in the field. The course may be repeated for credit with change of content. Prerequisite: Consent of instructor.
  • 345 Seminar in the History of Christianity [A] HU
  • 349 Seminar in Modern Jewish Thought [C] HU
    Advanced study of a specific topic in the field. May be repeated for credit with change of content. Prerequisite: Consent of instructor.
  • 353 Seminar in Islamic Philosophy and Theology [B] HU
    Selected topics and figures in Islamic philosophy, scholastic theology (kalam) or mystical philosophy. The relation of Islamic philosophy to Greek, Jewish and Indian thought are also discussed. Prerequisite: Consent of instructor.
  • 399 Senior Seminar and Thesis [A] HU
    A.McGuire, T.Hucks, N.Koltun-Fromm, K.Koltun-Fromm, T.Johnson, J.Dubler, T.Zadeh
    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.
  • 460 Teaching Assistant HU

  • 480 Independent Study [A] HU
    Conducted through individual tutorial as an independent reading and research project.

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