Religion

Professors: Anderson (Chair), Gandhi, Haus, Petrey

Religion is a powerful and dynamic force, influencing and shaping the world in which we live in diverse and complex ways.  In the Department of Religion at Kalamazoo College, students learn about what it means to define religion as a field of inquiry.  We offer traditions-based courses in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, other religions of South and East Asia, and religious traditions in the Americas.  We also offer courses on particular questions and methods, including religion and science, sexuality studies, women and feminist studies, material culture, transnationalism, and commodification.  In all of our courses and in our own areas of research, we are committed to investigations of religion and religious experiences from a variety of angles, including questions of theology, history, linguistics, sociology, anthropology, texts, and philosophy.  We examine religion in a comparative context, recognizing that religion reflects and is braided throughout economic, cultural, and political dimensions of human experience.  The study of religion is challenging and invigorating because of the intersections and exchanges that unfold across different disciplines, traditions, and faith commitments.

Requirements for the Major in Religion

Number of Units
Eight units are required, not including the SIP.  The major does not require a comprehensive exam nor a SIP in Religion.

Required Courses
Majors must complete at least four elective courses at the 200-level or above, in addition to both of the following courses:

RELG 390 Junior Seminar in Religion
RELG 490 Senior Seminar in Religion

We  expect students to explore the diversity of religious traditions in close consultation with an advisor in the department.

Requirements for the Minor in Religion

Number of Units
Six units are required.

Required Courses
We expect minors to determine their array of courses in consultation with a member of the department. Minors must take at least three elective courses at the 200-level or above, and at least one of the two following courses:

RELG 390 Junior Seminar in Religion
RELG 490 Senior Seminar in Religion

Religion courses

RELG102Muhammad and the Qur'anIn this course, we focus on the rise of Islam as a religious tradition. We ask the following questions: Who was Muhammad? How did Islam come to emerge as a defined religious tradition? What traditions influenced the establishment of the early Muslim community? What is the Qur'an? The final question asked in this course is how we should study Islam. This course examines pre-Islamic origins in the Middle East through 692.
RELG105From Jesus to ChristianityThis class critically engages the various scholarly narratives that describe the rise of Christianity by taking a close look at the texts used to construct these narratives, often with particular attention to the role of Christian women. How did a single "Christianity" emerge from a welter of alternatives and possibilities? Or did it? How did thinkers from Paul to Saint Anthony navigate the diverse teachings, rituals and social practices associated with Jesus of Nazareth and his followers to produce a religious movement that was oppressed by Roman imperial authority, but later came to occupy that authority?
RELG106Introduction to the New TestamentThis course explores the writings of the New Testament, their relationship to the history and culture in which they were produced, and their relevance to more recent issues in modern religious discourse. We will cover a range of topics, including the historical perspective on who Jesus was, the impact of Paul on Christianity, the formation of the canon, political religion in the Roman empire, ethics, and gender. We will apply several modern approaches as well as survey at various points the "afterlife" of the Christian scriptural traditions in Christianity. No prior knowledge of or experience with the subject is assumed or required.
RELG/HIST107Introduction to Jewish TraditionsThis course explores the development of Judaism from its ancient origins until the present. We will discuss the biblical foundations of Judaism and the impact that different historical contexts have produced on its rituals and beliefs. This approach raises a number of questions, which we will keep in mind throughout the course: What is Judaism? Who are the Jews? What is the relationship between Judaism and "being Jewish"? How have historical circumstances shaped this relationship? What has changed and what has stayed the same, and why? The class will address these questions through discussions and readings.
RELG110Hebrew BibleThis course explores the writings of the Hebrew Bible (Christian Old Testament and Jewish Tanak), their relationship to the history and culture in which they were produced, and their relevance to more recent issues in modern religious discourse. We cover a range of topics, including divine encounters, worship practices, sacred space, political religion, archaeology, ethics, and gender. We apply several modern approaches as well as survey at various points the "afterlife" of the Hebrew scriptural traditions in Judaism and Christianity. No prior knowledge of or experience with the subject is assumed or required.
RELG111Religious History of the United States IThis course is an introduction to the religious history of the United States and the diverse traditions that comprise this critical history. This course is the first of a two-course sequence and focuses on the Colonial, Revolutionary, and Antebellum periods (to 1860).
RELG112Religious History of the United States IIThis course is an introduction to the religious history of the United States and the diverse traditions that comprise this critical history. This course is the second of a two course sequence and focuses on the Civil War and the late 19th and 20th centuries. This class concludes with current events, thus giving student an opportunity to focus on contemporary issues.
RELG115Religions of Latin AmericaThis course is an introduction to the Religions of Latin America. Since Latin America includes 20 different nation-states, and since the divisions between Latin America, the Caribbean, and North America are often fuzzy at best, this class has been organized into seven loosely chronological themes, which will touch on various parts of the geographic region. These themes are: Pre-Columbian Religions; Encounter and Conquest; Slavery and Religion; Rebellion and Revolution; Progressive Catholicism; Protestant Challenges; and Continuous Diversity. Using an array of primary and secondary materials, we will look into the myriad of dynamics that make up the religious histories and narratives of Latin America.
RELG125What Is Religion?Studying religion is not a simple task. Using eight different categories (Studying Religion; Defining Religion; Religion as Function; Word and Belief; Practice and Ritual; Sacred Place and Space; the Arts; and Ethics and Morals), we explore various religious traditions to gain a better understanding of the different aspects of religious traditions and the questions involved in studying religions.
RELG162Introduction to Hindu TraditionsThis course is a basic introduction to the myriad of rituals, texts, practices, values and beliefs that make up Hindu Traditions in South Asia and beyond. This class covers early Hindu history and the various textual traditions, focuses on practices and divine interactions in the everyday lives of Hindus, and examines some of the historical and contemporary issues of conquest, integration, caste, migration and globalization.
RELG171Buddhism in South AsiaAn examination of the historical development of the textual traditions, symbols, doctrines, myths, and communities of Buddhism throughout South Asia. Explores Buddhism's rise and decline in India and its development in Sri Lanka, Tibet, and other Southeast Asian countries through the modern period. This course uses primary sources as well as secondary, and students learn various ways to read texts in conjunction with other types of sources that include inscriptions, art historical materials, and archeological sources.
RELG202Living IslamsThis course examines the diversity of Islam throughout the world, keeping in mind that there are many different faces of Islam. This course presumes some familiarity with the fundamentals of Islam -- Sunni and Shia -- as well as Sufi traditions, with an examination of the Sufi mystical traditions and the roles of women. Finally, we examine the impact of colonialism on Islam in the Middle East as a way to explore the historical and religious contexts of our understanding of Islam today.
RELG/SEMN/ARTX205Religious Art/Material CultureThis course explores the relationship between religion and art. The arts, whether in the form of painting, sculpture, architecture or kitsch, are often vehicles for religious devotion and expression. At the same time, devotion to a divine figure has inspired some of the world's most beautiful pieces of art. Religion and art form a symbiotic relationship which can simultaneously be in tension and/or cohesive. Looking at various primary and secondary sources from a variety of religious traditions, we explore this tension and cohesion, which can be a window into larger societal and cultural issues. Given that we live in a mechanical age, special attention will be paid to the material production of religious kitsch and the place of religious art in the market. This course is a Shared Passages Sophomore Seminar.Prerequisite: Sophomores Only
RELG208Religion and ScienceThis course is a historical and contemporary look into the relationships between religion and science. Beginning with the development of science as an independent system of inquiry and also with the evolving and multiple definitions of religion, this class will trace the contours, the moments of cooperation and the fault-lines of discourse between religion and science. This class seeks to cultivate nuanced and more subtle understanding of religious and scientific viewpoints, and the ways in which they intersect.
RELG213Catholicism in the Americas This class is a history of the diverse group of people and their practices that make up the Catholic community in the United States. The approaches to this subject will be historical, anthropological, and ethnographic. By the end of the quarter students will not only gain an understanding of Catholicism as a religious tradition, but will also have detailed knowledge and grasp of the vast diversity of Catholics in the United States.
RELG/HIST218American Jewish ExperienceThis course will explore the religious, social, political, cultural, and economic history of the Jewish people in America from the first settlement until the present. The major themes of study will focus upon the development of Judaism in America. We will take into account a number of historical factors that shaped that development: the economic, social, and political evolution of American Jewry and its institutions; Jewish immigration to the United States and its consequences; American Jewish self-perception; and the relationship between Jews and non-Jews in American society. Assignments will draw upon a wide range of materials, from secondary historical studies and primary documents to fiction and film.
RELG222Black Religious Experiences in the United StatesWhen enslaved people were forced over the Atlantic from West Africa to the Americas, they did not arrive as "blank slates." The Middle Passage was horrific and tragic, but humans are resilient, and during the darkest of times, divinity, rituals, practices, and beliefs are not only questioned but also embraced. This course looks at which religious traditions were rejected and which were embraced among the enslaved people of the United States. In order to do this, we follow the journeys of enslaved people, from West Africa to the Caribbean and to the plantations of the American South. We also examine the religious changes that Black Americans experienced after the Civil War and during the era of Jim Crow. Finally we examine the role of religions in the Civil Rights movement, as well as the religious lives of new immigrants from various parts of Africa and the Caribbean.Prerequisite: Sophomore standing.
RELG/SEMN230Same Sex, Gender, and ReligionThis sophomore seminar explores the intersection of religions, same-sex affection/love/relations, and the category of gender. At the most basic level we examine what different religions have to say about sexuality, in particular, non-heterosexualities. We look at the role that gender plays in these constructions of these sexualities, and we return to our starting point to analyze the role of religions in these constructions of gender and same-sex sexualities, affections, love, and/or relations. This course is a Shared Passages Sophomore Seminar.Prerequisite: Sophomores Only
RELG231/ANSO 230Sociology of ReligionAn introduction to theories and research in the sociology of religion, with particular emphasis on religious patterns in the United States. Attention will be given to the social sources of the growth and decline of various religious groups and traditions; relationships between religion, ethnicity, and politics; civil religion and cultural conflict.Prerequisite: ANSO-103 or RELG course
RELG235Sex and the BibleThis course is about sex and interpretation, focusing primarily on how Christians have interpreted the Bible around questions of human sexuality. The questions that we will consider are: What does it mean to say a particular view of sexuality and sexual behavior is "biblical" given the sheer variety of possible interpretations? How have changing notions of human sexuality affected the way that the biblical text is understood and deployed? We will explore these questions by reading key biblical texts from the Hebrew Bible and New Testament and their interpretation by thinkers from antiquity up to the present. Topics to be covered include marriage, gender, desire, same-sex relationships, and sexual renunciation.Prerequisite: Previous course(s) in the Department of Religion recommended but not required.
RELG/CLAS255Religion From Alexander to ConstantineThis course examines various forms of ancient religion and worship in the classical world. Topics included are concepts of divinity, varieties of religious space and practices, distinctions between civic and private worship, religious festivals and rituals, attitudes towards death and afterlife, importations of Near-Eastern and African religions, and political and philosophical appropriations of religion. Specifically, the course will focus on classical Greek and Roman religion, new religious movements, Judaism, and Christianity within classical culture. Students will become acquainted with a variety of texts, archaeological sites, and religious art and artifacts. (This is a designated Greek and Roman literature or culture course in Classics.)
RELG259Feminist Studies in ReligionThis course explores questions that lie at the intersections of the ideas about women, men, and gender in the academic study of religion. We examine the transformation of scholarship about religion based on feminist studies in of religion. We look first at the academic study of religion, and then at the experiences of women and men in different religious traditions, and move to more complex questions about the ways in which the lives of women and men are shaped by gendered categories. We pay particular attention to issues of identity, voice, history, and agency. Previous coursework in Religion is desirable, but not required.
RELG/CLAS261Judaism in AntiquityThis course examines the history and literature of Judaism from the Second Temple Period to the beginnings of Rabbinical Judaism (400 BCE - 400 CE). This course explores the diversity of ancient Judaism and explores themes of religious and cultural identity. We shall consider the political and religious implications for Jews living under the Persian, Greek, Roman, and Christian empires, while briefly ruling themselves in the Hasmonean period. We will read a series of primary sources in translation from ancient Jews and non-Jews, as well as modern scholarly treatments of these works.
RELG/HIST263Jews in a Changing Europe, 1750-1880Between 1780 and 1880 enormous changes took place in Jewish religious, political, social, intellectual, and economic life. These changes worked in tandem with developments in general European life to create new forces within Judaism and new ways of looking at the connections between Jews. In this course, we will study these developments as they affected the Jews on the European continent. In so doing, we will explore their consequences for both Jews and non-Jews, and the issues and questions they raised.
RELG/HIST264Jewish Revolutions: 1881-1967Between 1881 and the period immediately following the Second World War, the world's Jews experienced momentous demographic, religious, political, economic, and social changes. These changes in turn shaped their relationship to non-Jews with whom they lived. This course will study the context of change across the globe from Europe and America to the Middle East and North Africa. Through primary and secondary documents, we will explore the forces that produced these changes and the results they produced for both Jews and non-Jews.
RELG/HIST265Zionism: From Idea to StateThis course explores the origins, development, and manifestations of Zionism. The course examines the transformation of traditional religious conceptions of the connection between Jews and the Land of Israel (Palestine) into a nationalist ideology in the 19th century. This transformation entailed parallel changes to the idea of Jewish peoplehood. Through the use of primary documents we will follow these trends through intellectual, religious, social, and political changes that culminated in the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.
RELG/ANSO266/SEMN 201Culture, Religion, and NationalityDesigned as a Sophomore Seminar, this course focuses on the connections and disjunctures between culture, religion, and nationality. By conducting ethnographic research with religious communities in the Kalamazoo area, students will develop a set of intercultural knowledge, attitudes, and skills that can be applied during their study abroad and will leave the course with an understanding of the ways that the processes of culture, religion and nationalism, transnationalism, and immigration play out in their own lives and in the dynamics of faith communities in the U.S. This course is a Shared Passages Sophomore Seminar.Prerequisite: Sophomores only.
RELG/HIST267Women and JudaismThis course explores the religious and social position women have historically occupied in Jewish society. We will discuss religious practice and theological beliefs as well as social and economic developments as a means of addressing questions such as: What role have women played in Jewish tradition? How are they viewed by Jewish law? How has their status changed in different historical contexts, and why might those changes have taken place? What are contemporary ideas about the status of Jewish women, and how have these ideas influenced contemporary Jewish practices and communal relations? What do the historical and religious experiences of Jewish women teach us about the way that Judaism has developed?
RELG/HIST/SEMN268Jews on FilmIt will examine themes in Jewish history and culture as expressed through the medium of film. Through readings, lectures, and class discussions, students will explore issues such as assimilation and acculturation, anti-Semitism, group cohesion, interfaith relations, Zionism, and the Holocaust. We will consider questions, such as: How are Jewish characters portrayed on film? Which elements of these portrayals change over time, and which remain constant? How do these cultural statements speak to the historical contexts that produced them? What choices do filmmakers make regarding the depiction of Jewish life, and how do those choices influence perceptions of Jews in particular, or minorities generally?
RELG270Buddhas and Buddhist PhilosophiesThis course begins with an examination of the biography of Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism. Focusing first on the traditions of Theravada Buddhism, we explore the construction of the Budda's life story with attention to the Buddha as a model for the attainment of nirvana. We turn next to the explosion of Buddhas in Mahayana Buddhism and to the fundamental categories of the teachings of the Buddha. Questions at the center of this course are: Why have the teachings changed over time and throughout the spread of Buddhism throughout Asia? What remains "Buddhist" throughout the centuries? We examine these questions by examining the teachings of Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism using primary sources.
RELG273Buddhism in East AsiaAn examination of the historical development of the textual traditions, symbols, doctrines, myths, and communities of Buddhism throughout East Asia. Explores the introduction and establishment of Buddhism in China, Korea, and Japan, and compares the different schools of Buddhism that developed in dialogue with Daoism and Shinto.
RELG/AFST/HIST274Islam in AfricaThis course explores the spread of Islam from the Arab peninsula to the African continent in the seventh century through the nineteenth century and limns the factors which facilitated this advance. It examines the methods and principles of Islam and how the religion affected the life styles of its African neophytes and adherents. As a result of the interaction between Muslim and African civilizations, the advance of Islam has profoundly influenced religious beliefs and practices of African societies, while local traditions have also influenced Islamic practices. Muslims were important in the process of state-building and in the creation of commercial networks that brought together large parts of the continent. Muslim clerics served as registrars of state records and played a role in developing inner-state diplomacy inside Africa and beyond.
RELG280Contemporary Biblical StudiesSince the rise of the modern era in the 18th c., scholars have read the Bible as a historical text that can reveal something about ancient history. This method portrayed itself as an objective historical alternative to the theological readings informed by tradition and dogma. In the postmodern era, scholars have begun to read the Bible differently, revealing not only the political interests of so-called objective history of the Bible, but also articulating new ways of readings these texts. This course examines a bit of the history of biblical studies, but pays particular attention to feminist, queer, African American, and post-colonial biblical studies from recent decades. Prerequisite: RELG-105 RELG-106 or RELG-110
RELG/HIST295Jews, Medicine, & Science in Medieval EuropeThis course introduces students to the scientific culture of medieval Jews, from their first encounter with the Islamic philosophical and scientific thought, to the pre-modern contributions of Jews to individual sciences like alchemy, astronomy, medicine and mathematics. Topics include the impact of Maimonide's thought, the transmission of science and philosophy to the Jewish communities of Medieval Spain, France and Italy, the rise of the kabbalah, the reception of scientific thought by different communities, and historical perspectives.
RELG390Junior Seminar in ReligionThe study of religion is comprised of a set of intersecting questions and issues with its roots in the nineteenth century. This course is designed to introduce students to those questions, to wrestle with those questions again. There is no single definition of religion, but there are conversations and questions that rest at the heart of the academic study of religion. The goal of this course is to learn how to consider religious experiences as aspects of dynamic and evolving interactions between thought and action, the immediate world and that which lies beyond, and individuals and communities. Required for religion majors in their junior year. Minors are required to take either this course in their junior year or RELG490, the Senior Seminar in Religion, in their senior year.Prerequisite: Two courses in Religion and Junior standing or permission
RELG490Senior Seminar in ReligionStudents examine a variety of theories of religion and use them to consider retrospectively some of the topics already considered in their various courses undertaken as part of their concentration. Designed as the capstone seminar for majors and minors, to be taken during the senior year. Required for religion majors in their senior year. Minors are required to take either this course in their senior year or RELG390, the Junior Seminar in Religion, in their junior year.Prerequisite: Major or minor in Religion or permission of instructor
RELG593Senior Individualized ProjectEach program or department sets its own requirements for Senior Individualized Projects done in that department, including the range of acceptable projects, the required background of students doing projects, the format of the SIP, and the expected scope and depth of projects. See the Kalamazoo Curriculum -> Curriculum Details and Policies section of the Academic Catalog for more details.Prerequisite: Permission of department and SIP supervisor required.