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Haverford College

Course Catalog

Religion: 2009-2010

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
Kies Family Associate Professor in the Humanities Anne M. McGuire
Associate Professor Tracey Hucks
Assistant Professor Terrence Johnson
Associate Professor Kenneth Koltun-Fromm
Associate Professor Naomi Koltun-Fromm, Chair
Assistant Professor Travis Zadeh

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Major Requirements

a. 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 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 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.

b. 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 advisor and bring copies of the completed worksheet to the meeting.

c. Senior Seminar and Thesis, Religion 399b.

d. At least four additional half-year courses drawn from among outside the major’s area of concentration.

e. 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.

f. 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.

g. 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.

    108 Vocabularies of Islam HU
    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.

    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
    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.

    128 Reading Sacred Texts: In Quest of the Human [B,C] HU (Cross-listed in Writing Program)
    Religions propose various ways of becoming "fully," "authentically," or "actually" human. Non-religious humanists often counter that religions are not needed to achieve one's humanity, or--in the worst case--positively undermine or destroy it. Taking Christianity as our test case, we'll examine this clash of perspectives and contemplate its implications through reading, discussing, and writing in response to four texts: Augustine's "Confessions," Feuerbach's "The Essence of Christianity," Kierkegaard's "Philosophical Fragments," and Nietzsche's "On the Genealogy of Morals." Small group writing tutorials will be an important component of the course. Prerequisite: Open only to first-year students as assigned by the Director of College Writing. (Satisfies the first year writing requirement.).

    129 The Lotus Sutra: Text, Image, and Practice HU (Cross-listed in East Asian Studies and Writing Program)
    Prerequisite: Open only to first-year students as assigned by the Director of College Writing. (Satisfies the first year 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 Black Religion and Liberation Theology 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 African and Africana Studies)


    Intermediate Religion Courses

    200 Religion and Liberalism [A] HU (Cross-listed in Political Science)
    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.

    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.

    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.

    212 Jerusalem: City, history and representation HU
    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.

    214 Prophetic Imaginations in the American Tradition HU (Cross-listed in African and Africana Studies)
    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.

    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.

    218 The Divine Guide: an Introduction to Shi’ism HU
    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.

    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. 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.

    236 Race, Culture, Representation: Blacks and Jews in America HU
    T.Hucks, K.Koltun-Fromm, T.Johnson
    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.

    240 History and Principles of Quakerism SO (Cross-listed in History and Peace and Conflict Studies)

    242 Topics in Religion and Intellectual History: The Religious Writings of James Baldwin [A] HU (Cross-listed in African and Africana Studies)
    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 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.

    248 The Quran HU (Cross-listed in Comparative Literature)
    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.

    250 Jewish Images, Imagining Jews HU

    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 HU (Cross-listed in East Asian Studies and History)

    260 Getting Medieval: Tolerance, Persecution, and Religious Violence [A] HU
    Explores literary and philosophical exchanges, alongside religious violence and persecution, amongst Jews, Christians, and Muslims in late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Prerequisite: None.

    262 Islamic Literature and Civilization [B] HU
    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.

    270 War and Morality [A] HU
    This course studies Christian, Islamic, and Western secular versions of "just war" tradition, and compares them critically with realist and Christian pacifist approaches to warfare, political justice, and the nature of peace. As often as possible, course discussions will revolve around concrete cases that address past, present, and future (?) wars, as well as the continuing challenge of peace.

    277 Modern Christian Thought [C] HU
    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.

    278 Christian Thought from Modernity to Post- modernity [A,B] HU
    Twentieth-century and Twenty-First Century Christian thought in the West. Readings may include Barth, Bultmann, Reinhold Niebuhr, Rahner, von Balthasar, Segundo, Tracey, Frei, McFague, Irigaray, Cone, Lindbeck, Marion, and others. Offered occasionally.

    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, 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.

    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.

    286 Religion and American Public Life [A] HU (Cross-listed in Political Science)
    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.

    295 Interpretation and the Other: Meaning, Understanding and Alterity HU (Cross-listed in Comparative Literature and English 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, and Derrida.


    Religion Seminars and Independent Study

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

    301 Seminar A: Religion in Cultural Context: The Parables of Jesus [A] HU (Cross-listed in Gender and Sexuality Studies)
    Typically offered every Fall.

    302 Christians, Muslims, and Jews: Religion and Literature in Medieval Spain [A] HU
    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.

    303 Seminar B: Religion, Literature, and Representation: Blake's Religion in Word and Image [B] HU
    Typically offered every Fall.

    305 Seminar C: Religion, Ethics, and Society: Religion, Ethnography, and The Ethical Dimensions of Fieldwork [C] HU (Cross-listed in Anthropology)
    Typically offered every Fall.

    306 Of Monsters and Marvels: Wonder in Islamic Traditions HU (Cross-listed in Comparative Literature)
    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

    307 Imagining Islam: Icon, Object, and Image HU
    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

    308 Mystical Literatures of Islam HU (Cross-listed in Comparative Literature)
    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.

    310 Sex and Gender in Japanese Buddhism HU (Cross-listed in East Asian Studies)

    330 Seminar in the Writings of Women of African Descent [C] HU (Cross-listed in African and Africana Studies and Gender and Sexuality Studies)
    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.

    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
    Prerequisite: Consent.

    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.

    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.

    360 Seminar in Modern Christian Thought [B,C] HU

    370 Topics in Buddhist Studies HU (Cross-listed in East Asian Studies)
    Prerequisite: EAST 201 or PHIL 242 or permission.

    399 Senior Seminar and Thesis [A] HU
    D.Dawson, T. Johnson, K.Koltun-Fromm, N.Koltun-Fromm, A.McGuire, 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 [A] HU

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

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