When you study the world’s religious traditions, you learn about the histories, literatures, practices, and beliefs that have shaped not only the world’s religious traditions, but also human societies and cultures. You study rituals and festivals that give meaning to time and place; disciplines that develop modes of perception and attention; ideas of holiness, justice, and love through which human beings have expressed their highest ideals; and discourses and institutions that have wielded great political and social power.
Majors in religious studies will be required, above all, to develop the capacities fundamental to the liberal arts: clear communication, critical thinking, and the careful and open-minded exploration of ways of life different from one’s own. Some majors pursue religious studies as preparation for graduate study in religion and a teaching career at a college or university. Some go on to theological school and a career in ministry. Most majors, however, apply the skills and sensibilities developed through the study of religion to a variety of other professions, such as law, medicine, education, or international relations.
Majors generally focus on either Asian or Western religions, but all majors are required to take at least one course in each area. All majors are also required to take the Third-Year Seminar on Theory and Method in the Study of Religion and one other advanced (300-level) seminar. Majors who expect to undertake graduate study should gain a reading knowledge of at least one classical or modern foreign language. All majors are encouraged to study abroad.
A minimum of 32 credits. With permission (see below), up to eight of the 32 credits may be taken in related studies outside the department. Required are:
- One course in Asian religions and one course in Western religions;
- One 100-level course (Religion 111, 115, or 117), with a maximum of two of these courses (Religion 111 plus either Religion 115 or 117) eligible for credit toward the major;
- Religion 311; and
- One other advanced seminar (numbered 350 or above).
Application to the department for approval of credit toward the major for Grinnell courses not listed under the religious studies rubric, and for courses taken at other institutions or through off-campus study programs, needs to be made in writing in advance of taking the course. More information is available from the chair.
To be considered for honors in religious studies, graduating seniors, in addition to meeting the College’s general requirements for honors and the department’s general requirements for the major, must have achieved a minimum G.P.A. within the department of 3.7 and a cumulative G.P.A. of 3.50; produced scholarship judged excellent by members of the department; and demonstrated exemplary academic citizenship.
This course introduces religious studies through a series of case studies, from a study of Nepalese sacred geography, to Japanese memorial rites, to the interior geographies attested to by Christian mystics. We will also consider cases of contested religious spaces and identities in the Middle East and the United States. Together the examples illustrate how diverse religious ideas and practices can be interpreted as ways that people “map” or bring order, meaning, and purpose to their personal and social lives. In considering these religious mappings, we will also be attentive to the ways students of religion themselves map the religious worlds of other cultures as well as of their own.
A comparative study of the beliefs, practices, and formative events of the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions. Some attention given to the interaction among these religions and their influence on Western culture.
A study of the development of Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, and Shintoism in their views of reality, human spirituality, and paths to ultimate fulfillment.
The history, religion, and thought of the Hebrew-Jewish people as recorded in scripture. Special attention given to the formation of this literature and to the rise and development of major biblical motifs.
This course explores what Christians have believed about God, humanity, time, and creation, by focusing on how they have believed their central doctrines. We look at the political and cultural contexts in which specific beliefs have become meaningful and indispensable for Christian communities through particular struggles, practices, authorities, and rituals. The purpose of the course is to consider how Christians have discovered meanings that have guided their many vocations in the world, as individuals and as communities. To do this, we consider historical and contemporary cases.
The history, religion, and thought of early Christianity as recorded in the New Testament. Special attention to the formation of this biblical literature, the theology of the various writers, and the development of major New Testament motifs in relation to the Hebrew Bible.
A study of the way 19th- and 20th-century philosophers and theologians have criticized and reconceptualized religion in light of the intellectual currents, social changes, and historical events that continue to shape Western culture.
An examination of the basic ideas of biblical, rabbinic, and medieval Judaism as presented in the sacred Jewish texts: the Bible, the Talmud, the Zohar, and other Jewish writings. Attention given to modern Jewish thinkers, Holocaust literature, and women in the Jewish tradition.
An examination of the spirit of Islam as presented in the Qur’an, the Sunna of the Prophet, Islamic law, theology, and mysticism. Special attention given to the status of women in Islam. Contemporary movements within the Islamic world discussed.
A historical introduction to Japanese religious ideas and practices, including Shinto, Buddhist, Confucianist, and popular developments, as well as the place of so-called new religions in modern Japan.
An examination of fundamental Confucian, Taoist, and Buddhist ideas and their historical development in China. Emphasis given to views of human nature, morality, ritual, and spiritual discipline as expressed in classical literature.
An examination of the classical doctrines and practices of Nikaya and Mahayana Buddhism and their historical developments in various social and cultural contexts in Asia and the West.
Indian religion is marked by ongoing dialogues among the South Asian traditions we call Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Islam. The interaction between these traditions shows the ways each has defined itself independently and in response to challenges presented by the others. This course will introduce the historical and philosophical foundations for these traditions, as well as familiarize students with these intersecting traditions as living religions. The course will include special attention to the role of women and the links between religion and politics.
From the mystical Upanishads to the rain-drenched saris of Bollywood heroines, the sacred, the erotic and the spectacular have long been intertwined in South Asia. This course will explore themes of love, performance and identity in India both historically and by using Bollywood films as visual texts. We will examine religion’s intimate connections to culture, gender and meaning in the modern world as we ask, “What is Indian about Indian Cinema?”
This course explores debates in the United States over the place of religious discourse in public and political life. Topics include the nature of public discourse, the role of the citizen as a religious and moral actor, ideas of fairness and justice, and interpretations of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
What is the meaning of this age? Are we standing at the dawn of a golden age in history? Or are we at the brink of global destruction and the end of history? In this class, we will take an interdisciplinary approach to examine selected apocalyptic movements and texts in an attempt to understand how meaning is constructed. We will discuss several early Jewish and Christian apocalyptic texts and communities as well as modern apocalyptic communities.
This seminar focuses on the history and assumptions of the comparative method in the study of religion and culture. This genealogical narrative involves a critical examination of a variety of sources and perspectives on religion leading up to and emerging from the European Enlightenment, including the development of various methodological and critical positions in the modern study of religion during the 19th and 20th centuries. Readings from a wide range of contemporary scholarship will illustrate the state of the field today.
Also listed as Philosophy 352. How do we understand “religion” in the 21st century? Is the world becoming more secular? More religious? Does this distinction even work anymore? How might ideas like “saint” and “sacrifice” and “spiritual discipline” help us think and act ethically and politically in the contemporary world? This course explores the ways recent philosophers and theologians have answered such questions by turning to the resources of the Continental philosophical tradition (Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Derrida, Irigaray, etc.) in order to reconceptualize religion, philosophy, and ethics after the “death of God.”
An advanced intensive seminar devoted to selected topics in religious studies. Topics have included mysticism, South Asian saints, and religion and democracy. This seminar may be repeated for credit if content is different.
- College Catalog