Religious Studies

Religious Studies at Willamette University offers students the opportunity to engage in the critical study of religion as a pervasive aspect of human culture. In Religious Studies courses students learn how to formulate critical questions about religious traditions and phenomena. They acquire a knowledge base adequate to a nuanced and meaningful understanding of a variety of religions, including beliefs, practices, cultural contexts and distinctive histories. Students develop as well the capacity to assess the truth claims and other contributions to human culture made by the leaders, scholars, communities, and texts associated with religion.

Requirements for the Religious Studies Major (36 semester hours)

Three Required Courses (12 semester hours)

  • REL 115 Introduction to the Study of Religion (4)
  • REL 490 Senior Directed Study (4)
  • REL 496W Directed Senior Thesis (4)

Six additional electives, at least two of which must be at the 300-level, and at least two of which must carry a REL prefix (24)

  • REL 113 Scripting God: A Critical Introduction to the Bible (4)
  • REL 135 Religions of Asia (4)
  • REL 199 Topics in Religion (1-4)
  • REL 214 Religion in America (4)
  • REL 215 How Christianity Began: The History and Literature of Early Christianity (4)
  • REL 225 Forgotten Scriptures: Apocryphal Literature and the Origins of Christianity (4)
  • REL 227 Paganism: The Religions of Greece and Rome (4)
  • REL 299 Topics in Religion (1-4)
  • REL 322 In Search of the Historical Jesus (4)
  • REL 323 The Bible and American Culture (4)
  • REL 335W Race, Class, and Gender in the Life and Letters of Paul (4)
  • REL 390 Independent Study (2 or 4)
  • REL 399 Topics in Religion (1-4)
  • ARTH 107 Introduction to Art History from the Roman to the Byzantine Empire (2)
  • ARTH 108 Introduction to Art History of the Western Middle Ages and Islam (2)
  • ARTH 112 Introduction to South Asian Art History (4)
  • ARTH 259 Medieval Art and Architecture (4)
  • CHNSE 352 Rites of Passage in Chinese Societies (4)
  • CLAS 231W Myth and Cult in the Ancient Eastern Mediterranean (4)
  • GREEK 331W Myth and Cult in the Ancient Eastern Mediterranean: Readings in Ancient Greek (4)
  • HIST 171 History of the Modern Middle East (4)
  • HIST 240 Ancient to Early Medieval European Ideas (4)
  • HIST 259 American Jewish History (4)
  • HIST 374 Love and Reason in the Middle Ages: European Intellectual History 400-1500 (4)
  • IDS 230 Rites of Passage in Japan and the United States (4)
  • IDS 353 Inner Life of Activism (4)
  • PHIL 112 Philosophy of Religion (4)
  • PHIL 235W Philosophical Ethics (4)
  • PHIL 325 Kierkegaard, Meaning and the Self (4)
  • PPLE 314 Politics and Religion in the United States (4)

Note:

At the end of their Junior year, Religious Studies majors will interview with the Religious Studies Faculty to determine the focus for their Senior Experience. The Senior Experience will consist of 2 courses: 1) a Senior Directed Study (REL 490) with an advisor whose expertise most closely matches the interests of the student; 2) a Senior Directed Thesis (REL 496W), normally directed by the same advisor with whom the student has completed his/her Senior Directed Study. In REL 490: Senior Directed Study the student will a) acquire a knowledge base adequate to undertaking a Senior Thesis in an area of interest to him/her, b) survey a variety of methods and theories of religion, and c) develop a theoretical framework and method adequate to pursuing a thesis in his/her area. At the conclusion of the Senior Directed Study the student will complete a thesis proposal. In REL 496W: Senior Directed Thesis the student will write his/her thesis under the supervision of a faculty advisor. Normally the Senior Directed Study and the Senior Directed Thesis will be completed in consecutive semesters. Both of these courses will be offered as multiple sections, each with a different Religious Studies professor enrolling one student. All sections of these courses will include a colloquium meeting bi-weekly for 2 hours with other students engaged in the senior experience and their faculty advisors, where they will present their work to peers and faculty and mark their progress toward the completion of the Senior Experience.

Requirements for the Religious Studies Minor (20 semester hours)

  • REL 115 Introduction to the Study of Religion (4)
  • 4 additional electives, at least one of which must be at the 300-level, and at least one of which must carry a REL prefix (16)
    • REL 113 Scripting God: A Critical Introduction to the Bible (4)
    • REL 135 Religions of Asia (4)
    • REL 199 Topics in Religion (1-4)
    • REL 214 Religion in America (4)
    • REL 215 How Christianity Began: The History and Literature of Early Christianity (4)
    • REL 225 Forgotten Scriptures: Apocryphal Literature and the Origins of Christianity (4)
    • REL 227 Paganism: The Religions of Greece and Rome (4)
    • REL 299 Topics in Religion (1-4)
    • REL 322 In Search of the Historical Jesus (4)
    • REL 323 The Bible and American Culture (4)
    • REL 335W Race, Class, and Gender in the Life and Letters of Paul (4)
    • REL 390 Independent Study (2 or 4)
    • REL 399 Topics in Religion (1-4)
    • ARTH 107 Introduction to Art History from the Roman to the Byzantine Empire (2)
    • ARTH 108 Introduction to Art History of the Western Middle Ages and Islam (2)
    • ARTH 112 Introduction to South Asian Art History (4)
    • ARTH 259 Medieval Art and Architecture (4)
    • CHNSE 352 Rites of Passage in Chinese Societies (4)
    • CLAS 231W Myth and Cult in the Ancient Eastern Mediterranean (4)
    • GREEK 331W Myth and Cult in the Ancient Eastern Mediterranean: Readings in Ancient Greek (4)
    • HIST 171 History of the Modern Middle East (4)
    • HIST 240 Ancient to Early Medieval European Ideas (4)
    • HIST 259 American Jewish History (4)
    • HIST 374 Love and Reason in the Middle Ages: European Intellectual History 400-1500 (4)
    • IDS 230 Rites of Passage in Japan and the United States (4)
    • IDS 353 Inner Life of Activism (4)
    • PHIL 112 Philosophy of Religion (4)
    • PHIL 235W Philosophical Ethics (4)
    • PHIL 325 Kierkegaard, Meaning and the Self (4)
    • PPLE 314 Politics and Religion in the United States (4)

Indicators of Achievement

Student Learning Outcomes for the Religious Studies Major

  1. Students will be able to speak cogently about religion as a pervasive feature of human culture.
  2. Students will be able to formulate critical questions about religious traditions and phenomena.
  3. Students will have a knowledge base that includes a detailed understanding of the beliefs, practices, cultural contexts and distinctive histories of several religious traditions.
  4. Students will develop the capacity to think critically about the truth claims and other contributions to human culture made by the leaders, scholars, communities, and texts associated with religion.
  5. Students will acquire and hone discipline-based writing skills.

Faculty

Independent Scholar


Course Listings

REL 113 Scripting God: A Critical Introduction to the Bible (4)

The Bible is a cultural force like no other. As a book, it outsells all others combined. As a source of authority, only the Constitution competes with it for influence. But what is the Bible, really? Where does it come from? What is actually in it? What do scholars say about its perplexing content? This is a course about the Bible for students who wish to know more about it. No prior knowledge is required, only a readiness to think critically about a sacred text.

  • General Education Requirement Fulfillment: Arts & Humanities; World Engagement: CV
  • Offering: Annually
  • Instructor: Patterson

REL 115W Introduction to the Study of Religion (4)

This course will explore a variety of approaches to the study of religion by investigating the key aspects of religions such as myth, sacred texts, beliefs, tradition, community, ethics, ritual and practices. The course will critically examine these approaches and key elements of religions through studying examples from several religious traditions.

  • General Education Requirement Fulfillment: Writing-centered; Arts & Humanities; World Engagement: CV
  • Offering: Annually
  • Instructor: Staff

REL 135 Religions of Asia (4)

A survey of the major religions of India, China and Japan, emphasizing historical development of their various dimensions — theoretical, practical, experiential and sociological. Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, Confucian and Shinto traditions will be explored.

  • General Education Requirement Fulfillment: Arts & Humanities; World Engagement: CV
  • Offering: Occasionally
  • Instructor: Staff

REL 150 Introduction to Islam (4)

What is "Islam," and how do we make sense of this faith tradition in the modern day? This course will first focus on the teachings, the beliefs and practices, of this major world religion. We will then cover a historical survey of Islam from the life of Muhammad onwards, looking in particular at the construction of authority within the Islamic tradition By acquiring a thorough grounding in the major religious teachings of the Islamic tradition and a familiarity with its main institutions, we will then be able to meaningfully engage with contemporary articulations of Islam.

  • General Education Requirement Fulfillment: Arts & Humanities; World Engagement: CV
  • Offering: Occasionally
  • Instructor: Staff

REL 199 Topics in Religious Studies (1-4)

A semester-long study of topics in Religious Studies. Topics and emphases will vary according to the instructor. This course may be repeated for credit with different topics. See the New and Topics Courses page on the Registrar’s webpage for descriptions and applicability to majors/minors in other departments.

  • General Education Requirement Fulfillment: Topic dependent
  • Prerequisite: Topic dependent
  • Offering: Occasionally
  • Professor: Staff

REL 214 Religion in America (4)

Religion in North America from prehistory to the present, emphasizing the diverse traditions brought to these shores in continuing waves of immigration and the reshaping they received in the New World context. Popular and civil, as well as traditional institutional manifestations and new traditions made in America will be studied — all in creative interplay with other social, cultural and intellectual forces.

  • General Education Requirement Fulfillment: Arts & Humanities; PDE
  • Offering: Occasionally
  • Instructor: Staff

REL 215 How Christianity Began: The History and Literature of Early Christianity (4)

How did Christianity begin? Who was Jesus, really? Who was the Apostle Paul? What was the world like in that place and time? Who were the first Christians and how can we understand what they wrote and did in the context of the early Roman Empire? And what is the lasting legacy of these remarkable people who somehow created a new religion? These questions and more form the subject matter of this class. There are no prerequisites.

  • General Education Requirement Fulfillment: Arts & Humanities; World Engagement: CV
  • Offering: Annually
  • Instructor: Patterson

REL 225 Forgotten Scriptures: Apocryphal Literature and the Origins of Christianity (4)

A study of apocryphal literature in early Christianity, including Q, the Gospel of Mary, the Nag Hammadi Library, and other recently discovered texts. Topics will include the story of their discovery, their contents and context in early Christianity, and how they are making a difference in how we understand the origins of Christianity.

  • General Education Requirement Fulfillment: Arts & Humanities; World Engagement: CV
  • Offering: Alternate Years
  • Instructor: Patterson

REL 227 Paganism: The Religions of Greece and Rome (4)

The Hellenistic era was a period of extraordinarily rich and diverse religious activity. Greek and Roman religious traditions met and mingled, Judaism was transformed by its encounter with the Hellenistic world, and Christianity was born. This course examines the religious life of the Hellenistic world, including the great temples and their gods, the imperial cult, local and family-oriented practices, magic, philosophy, mystery cults, Gnosticism, and more. Students should have basic familiarity with the history of Greece and Rome, 300 B.C.E. - 300 C.E.

  • General Education Requirement Fulfillment: Arts & Humanities; World Engagement: CV
  • Offering: Alternate years
  • Instructor: Patterson

REL 299 Topics in Religious Studies (1-4)

A semester-long study of topics in Religious Studies. Topics and emphases will vary according to the instructor. This course may be repeated for credit with different topics. See the New and Topics Courses page on the Registrar’s webpage for descriptions and applicability to majors/minors in other departments.

  • General Education Requirement Fulfillment: Topic dependent
  • Prerequisite: Topic dependent
  • Offering: Occasionally
  • Professor: Staff

REL 320 Religion and Science (4)

Relation of religious and scientific perspectives: the historic and philosophical tensions between the Christian tradition and the natural and social sciences and the ways of mutual clarification of these perspectives in the 20th-century.

  • General Education Requirement Fulfillment: Arts & Humanities
  • Offering: Occasionally
  • Instructor: Staff

REL 322 In Search of the Historical Jesus (4)

Who was Jesus, historically speaking? The question has occupied scholars for more than two centuries, when it became clear that the gospels do not offer straightforward historical accounts of his life. In this course students will learn how to read the gospels critically, come to see the traditions that stand behind them, understand the dynamics of oral culture and oral tradition, and learn about the methods historians use to sift through the traditions about Jesus to gain a glimpse of the historical reality behind the elaborated story. Students will also learn about the ancient world in which Jesus lived and how ancient people might have viewed him on their own terms.

  • General Education Requirement Fulfillment: Arts & Humanities
  • Offering: Alternate years
  • Instructor: Patterson

REL 323 The Bible and American Culture (4)

An examination of the unique role the Bible has played in American culture, from the colonial era to the present. Topics include the Bible and literacy in colonial America, the Bible and the formation of the American ethos of conquest and manifest destiny, the Bible as a weapon in the battle over slavery, women's rights, and GLBTI rights, the Bible in American politics, and Biblical themes (especially apocalyptic) in literature and film

  • General Education Requirement Department: Arts & Humanities; World Engagement: CV
  • Offering: Alternate years
  • Instructor: Patterson

REL 334 Liberation Theology and Social Change (4)

A survey of Third World (particularly Latin American) liberation theology and its potential and actual impact on movements for human freedom in the North American context (e.g., those working on Black, Hispanic and Native American issues, feminism, gay liberation and economic justice).

  • General Education Requirement Fulfillment: Arts & Humanities; PDE; World Engagement: CV
  • Offering: Occasionally
  • Instructor: Staff

REL 335W Race, Class, and Gender in the Life and Letters of Paul (4)

Earliest Christians were baptized with the declaration that in Christ there is “neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” This course explores how this utopian vision and the conflicts it inspired were played out in the earliest Christian communities, especially those reflected in the letters of the Apostle Paul. This is a writing-centered course; students will engage in a number of different writing exercises in it, including a final paper shared with peers.

  • General Education Requirement Fulfillment: Writing-centered; Arts & Humanities; World Engagement: CV
  • Offering: Alternate years
  • Instructor: Patterson

REL 354 Topics in Asian Religions (4)

This course studies specific topics in Asia traditions. It investigates either a theme such as ritual, religious literature, good/evil, death and afterlife; or a religious tradition that is normally not offered, such as Hinduism, Islam, Manichaeism or Zoroastrianism

  • General Education Requirement Fulfillment: Arts & Humanities
  • Offering: Occasionally
  • Instructor: Staff

REL 358 Topics in the Western Religious Tradition (4)

This course provides a rubric for the investigation of major topics and issues related to the sources and formation of the Western religious tradition. The course also may be used for the intensive study of selected religious texts from the ancient Mediterranean world.

  • General Education Requirement Fulfillment: Arts & Humanities
  • Offering: Occasionally
  • Instructor: Staff

REL 390 Independent Study (2 or 4)

Intensive study of a selected area. Normally for juniors or seniors who are majors in Religious Studies.

  • General Education Requirement Fulfillment: Arts & Humanities
  • Prerequisite: Departmental approval
  • Offering: On demand
  • Instructor: Staff

REL 399 Topics in Religious Studies (1-4)

A semester-long study of topics in Religious Studies. Topics and emphases will vary according to the instructor. This course may be repeated for credit with different topics. See the New and Topics Courses page on the Registrar’s webpage for descriptions and applicability to majors/minors in other departments.

  • General Education Requirement Fulfillment: Topic dependent
  • Prerequisite: Topic dependent
  • Offering: Occasionally
  • Professor: Staff

REL 429 Topics in Religious Studies (1-4)

A semester-long study of topics in Religious Studies. Topics and emphases will vary according to the instructor. This course may be repeated for credit with different topics. See the New and Topics Courses page on the Registrar’s webpage for descriptions and applicability to majors/minors in other departments.

  • General Education Requirement Fulfillment: Topic dependent
  • Prerequisite: Topic dependent
  • Offering: Occasionally
  • Professor: Staff

REL 490 Senior Directed Study (4)

A one-on-one directed study in which the student develops expertise in an area of special interest to him/her under the direction of a faculty advisor. Students also gain familiarity with a variety of methods and theories of religion and develop a theory and method appropriate to the field in which she/he will pursue a thesis. At the conclusion of the course, students will propose a thesis topic. This course includes a 2-hour colloquium meeting bi-weekly with other students enrolled in REL 490 and their faculty advisors.

  • General Education Requirement Fulfillment: Arts & Humanities
  • Prerequisite: Religious Studies majors only
  • Offering: Fall semester
  • Instructor: Staff

REL 496W Directed Senior Thesis (4)

A one-on-one directed study in which the student writes a thesis under the supervision of a faculty advisor. At the conclusion of the course the student will present the results of his/her work to a gathering of faculty and peers. This course includes a 2-hour colloquium meeting bi-weekly with other students enrolled in REL 496W and their faculty advisors.

  • General Education Requirement Fulfillment: Writing-centered; Arts & Humanities
  • Prerequisite: REL 490
  • Offering: Annually
  • Instructor: Patterson

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