Please note: This is NOT the most current catalog.
Chair, 2009-10: Anantanand Rambachan, Hinduism
Faculty, 2009-10: Torin Alexander, history of Christianity; Mary Anderson, history of Christianity; John D. Barbour, religion and literature, ethics (on leave); Patricia Beckman, history of Christianity, medieval mysticism, women and religions; Mara Benjamin, Judaism; David Booth, theology; Elizabeth Galbraith, theology; Amy Gohdes-Luhman, Bible; James Hanson, New Testament; Peder Jothen, ethics; L. DeAne Lagerquist, history of Christianity, American religion; Eric Lund, history of Christianity; Margaret Odell, Old Testament; Theodore Peters, religion and science; William R. Poehlmann, New Testament; Barbara E. Reed, Buddhism, East Asian religions (on leave Interim and Spring Semester); Jason Ripley, Bible; Edmund N. Santurri, ethics, theology, religion and politics, religion and art; Jamie Schillinger, theology, Islam; Douglas J. Schuurman, theology and ethics; Gary Stansell, Old Testament; Gregory A. Walter, theology; Charles A. Wilson, theology
The study of religion is an integral part of the liberal arts curriculum because religion has always been a major influence on the development of human societies. In order to make sense of past cultural achievements, it is important to recognize the influence of religious symbols, beliefs, rituals, scriptural texts, and traditions. To participate meaningfully in contemporary culture, it is equally important to evaluate the merits of various theological beliefs and religious values.
All St. Olaf students take courses that orient them in a general way to the study of religion and acquaint them with the principal elements of the Christian tradition. The religion department also makes available a range of courses about Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism in order to prepare students to live in our religiously diverse world.
overview of the major
Since the study of religion involves the use of a variety of methodologies and intersects with many other fields of study, students often find that a major in religion helps them integrate their work in other disciplines and develop a focus for their whole liberal arts education. Many students also choose to major in religion as a preparation for seminary or graduate work in religion.
REQUIREMENTS FOR THE MAJOR
The religion major consists of eight courses and requires both broad exposure to major approaches to studying religion and concentrated study in some aspect of religion. The requirements are organized in five parts:
- General education courses in religion: Religion 121 (BTS-B) and a course in theological studies (BTS-T);
- Religion 285 "What is Religion?";
- Study of at least two religious traditions using three different academic approaches: a) sacred texts, b) religion in history and culture, and c) religious thought;
- Intensive studies in religion: At least two Level III courses, at least one of which must be a seminar;
- Elective courses.
Religion majors may graduate with distinction if their grade point average is 3.5 in religion and they submit a research project that meets the approval of a departmental review committee. The Junia Prize is usually awarded annually to the best distinction project of the year.
The Religion Department participates in Foreign Language Across the Curriculum Program, which offers students the opportunity to use their foreign language skills in selected courses. Each year the department offers Interims abroad, some carrying general education credit.
recommendations for graduate study
The religion major offers excellent preparation in breadth and depth of study for graduate programs. We encourage students to take additional Level III courses, Religion Seminars, Independent Studies and to develop competence in a foreign language. Distinction in religion is also recommended. Students should consult with their academic advisor and the religion department chair on specific programs and interests.
Religion courses fulfill a variety of general education requirements. The department offers several options to complete the Biblical Studies (BTS-B), Theological Studies (BTS-T), and Ethical Issues (EIN) requirements. Additional courses count towards requirements in Historical Studies in Western Culture (HWC), Multicultural Studies (MCS-D/MCD; MCS-G/MCG), and Literary Studies (ALS-L).
This course introduces first-year students to the dialogue between the Biblical tradition and the cultures and communities related to it. Students study the Biblical storyline, major Biblical texts and their interaction with, for example, theology, religious practice, ethics, and social values, while considering methods and fields in the study of religion in a liberal arts setting. An additional prospectus describes the theme of each section.
This course introduces students to Christian theology, provides an overview of central Christian beliefs (for example, about God, Christ, creation, salvation, sin, faith, the church) and critically examines their origins, meaning, coherence and contemporary validity. How should Christians understand themselves and the world in light of the God made known in Jesus Christ? Prerequisites: BTS-B.
This course introduces the central matters for argument in Christian theology -- God and Christ -- through close reading and critical analysis of selected classic (pre-1700) and modern theological texts. Students focus on the reasons supporting classic Christian beliefs about God, Christ and related topics and on the modern theological criticism of those beliefs. Is it still possible to be a Christian in the beginning of the 21st century? Prerequisite: BTS-B.
This course treats the major moments of theology by focusing on five or six important theological figures, movements or texts spanning ancient, medieval and modern Christian theology. Prerequisite: BTS-B.
Examining essential Christian beliefs with special attention to their implications for the moral life, students in this course analyze the meaning and truth of Christian symbols and claims about God, Christ, creation, fall, providence, redemption, etc., and explore their bearing upon ethical perspectives and principles, moral character and community and societal institutions and practices. Readings include classical and contemporary Christian theological sources. Prerequisite: BTS-B.
This course traces the significance of essential Christian theological doctrines (e.g., God, Christ, sin, salvation) for contemporary understandings of human beings and human behavior. Selected comparisons with alternative and/or complementary views of human nature (for example, philosophical, psychological, sociological, literary) are also included. Prerequisite: BTS-B.
Students examine traditional Christian doctrines in light of feminist critiques and reformulations. The course focuses especially upon language and images of God, the person of Christ and the work of redemption and understandings of human nature. Students evaluate arguments for and against the compatibility of Christianity and feminism. Prerequisite: BTS-B.
This course offers an overview of the development of Christian thought and practice in the ancient, medieval and modern periods and analyzes the way Christian beliefs have evolved in response to changing historical situations. Special consideration is given to how different theological perspectives have influenced the activities of religious communities and lives of notable individuals. Prerequisite: BTS-B.
Analyzing continuity and change within the Lutheran tradition, students consider Luther's theology and proposals for the reform of Catholicism and evaluate major reappraisals of Lutheran beliefs and practices that developed in response to new issues and social situations. Topics include Orthodoxy and Pietism, conservative and liberal responses to the Enlightenment, modern European Lutheranism and issues of particular importance to Lutheranism in Scandinavia, America and the Third World. Prerequisite: BTS-B.
Students analyze 16th-century reform movements in light of their theological and historical contexts and their significance for contemporary theology. The course focuses on contributions and lives of the major figures in the Protestant Reformations (Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, etc.) and the Roman Catholic Reform, with special attention to doctrines of Christ, salvation and the Spirit, and to the question of religious authority. Prerequisite: BTS-B.
Students examine the major forms of Protestant Christianity, their distinctive beliefs and practices and the historical circumstances that led to their formation. Topics include study of the contributions of major theologians (e.g., Luther, Calvin, Wesley), comparison of similarities and differences in belief and practice among Protestant churches and modern conflicts between theological liberals and conservatives (sometimes within denominations). Prerequisite: BTS-B.
This course compares Christian and Islamic conceptions of the relationship between God and humanity, as foundations for thinking about moral excellence and obligation. It also considers and compares how theological commitments and methods in each religious tradition affect approaches to particular ethical issues such as sexuality, war and politics. Students work with scripture, film, polemical literature, judicial texts and theological texts. Prerequisites: completion of BTS-B and BTS-T.
This course examines the rise of political and liberation theology movements, the situations and issues to which they respond, theological formulations of political/liberation theologies and the relationship of these theologies to traditional Christian doctrines. Special focus on the relationship between the theological and political, nature of christology and redemption, images and role of God and understandings of human nature. Prerequisite: BTS:B.
This course explores the meaning and significance of Jesus Christ in major New Testament writings: the Gospels, the letters of Paul, Hebrews, Revelation. Students also examine the development of New Testament ideas about Christ in subsequent Christian tradition, both classical and contemporary. Prerequisite: BTS-B.
Students examine key texts in the Old and New Testaments with the aim of exploring the issues such writings pose for Christian theological reflection. In addition, they explore selected readings on the doctrine of scripture and language about God. Prerequisite: BTS-B.
Students read Pauline letters carefully for their major issues, such as apocalyptic, gospel, apostleship, Jew and Gentile, faith, Torah, community. Considering Paul in the context of his times and Paul in the context of later Christianity, students discuss topics such as Jews and Christians, men and women, creation, grace in Paul and present-day experience. Prerequisite: BTS-B
Why does human life involve suffering? If God is omnipotent and good, why does evil exist? Is God responsible, or can all evil -- and the suffering that accompanies it -- be explained by sin or human frailty? Students will explore some of the ways that Christian theology has attempted to respond to these questions, and they will also examine challenges to the Christian perspective. Prerequisite: BTS-B.
This course explores the interaction between Jews, Christians, and their respective religions in historical and theological perspective. Students consider basic features of Jewish belief and practice, past and present views of Jews and Christians about each other's beliefs, impact of Christ attitudes toward the Jews on the formation and development of Christian doctrines, relation between Christian theology and anti-Semitism, and the possibilities for a new relationship between Christians and Jews. Prerequisite: BTS-B.
This course examines what Christians are doing when they worship -- in both senses (actions and intentions). Christian groups in the present and in history are compared to discover forms, functions and theologies of worship illuminated by connections to Judaism, Israel and other religions. Prerequisite: BTS-B.
Christians affirm that God created the world in and through Christ and continues to sustain it by the Holy Spirit. This course attends to the themes of creation and new creation in relation to Biblical texts, to problems posed by science (including evolution and Creationism), and the theological reflections of the created world as fallen and redeemed. Major attention is paid to classic and modern theological discussions of creation and new creation. Prerequisite: BTS-B.
This course focuses on autobiographical texts in which the writer describes his or her life in relationship to God. The course is based on the central Christian theological belief that God is known in historical experience. Students study the different ways in which Christians have sought to understand God's role in their lives by correlating their own experiences with the classic beliefs, symbols and values of the Christian faith. Prerequisite: BTS-B.
The theologies of Thomas Aquinas and Martin Luther influence the lives and beliefs of Catholics and Protestants, yet cause persistent division between them. Students examine the distinctive theological contributions of the two theologians, particularly their respective doctrines of justification, sacraments, and God. Students interpret and evaluate each theologian's doctrines as well as modern efforts to reconcile their differences. Offered annually or in alternate years.
What does it mean to be a Christian? This course explores this question critically and normatively through an examination of the context and work of Søren Kierkegaard. Readings, lectures, and discussions examine three specific theological contexts: the philosophical and theological tradition inherited by Kierkegaard; Kierkegaard's thought; and thinkers influenced by Kierkegaard. Prerequisite: Completion of BTS-B requirement.[an error occurred while processing this directive]
The themes of this introduction to major religious traditions including Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam vary from semester to semester; possible topics include sacred texts, religious experience, images of the divine and the understanding of death and afterlife.
This course examines how the gospel transforms the practices of personal and social life. Students explore the nature of Christian community and the connections between Christian theological beliefs and practices. Students participate in the life of Holden Village, an isolated Lutheran retreat center in the Cascade Mountains of Washington. Prerequisite: BTS-B. Offered during Interim.
Christians and people of other faiths seek to be faithful to their own traditions and also to attend to each other's claims. This course examines ways Christians and other believers develop their doctrinal traditions in the context of religious pluralism. This course gives specific attention to Christian reflection on the doctrines of God, Christ, and salvation in relation to religious reflection by people of other faiths. Prerequisite: BTS-B. Offered annually, each semester, or during Interim.
Students examine the formation of Islamic traditions and institutions and their religious meaning, paying special attention to the dynamism and crises of Islam in the 19th and 20th centuries.
This survey of the historical, cultural and theological developments within Judaism pays special attention to major periods in Jewish life and thought, as well as to contemporary Judaism. Students also consider related issues, such as anti-Semitism, religious pluralism, and Jewish-Christian dialogue.
Through visits to the area around Cape Town and Johannesburg/Pretoria, this course examines cultural diversity in South Africa and the important role religion has played in shaping and sustaining the identity of various ethnic and racial groups. Students study the way religious ideas were used to defend the apartheid system and also to justify protest against it. They analyze organizations, post-apartheid, to build a multi-racial democracy and a just social order. Prerequisite: BTS-B. Offered during Interim 2009-10.
This course explores the historical relation of religion and science, including issues like those raised by Copernicus, Darwin, and post-classical physics. Students compare the nature and grounds of religious and scientific claims, religious issues arising out of new technologies, new cosmologies, and the new biology, theology's responses to modern science, and the role of religion in the relation of science and society.
This course, surveying the general nature and assumptions of Hindu thought, focuses on the diversity of doctrines and practices within some of its major traditions. Students analyze selections from authoritative Sanskrit texts like the Upanishads and Bhagavad-gita, directing special attention to the central issues and developments in Hindu-Christian dialogue.
The Indian Church, which claims the apostle Thomas as its founder, is the "home base" for this historical exploration of Christianity from the apostolic age to the present. The course considers Christian teachings about God and Jesus, biblical interpretation, worship, response to social, political,, and cultural practices through encounters between Indian Christians and other churches. The multiple religions of India, its colonial experience, and its contemporary society are essential context. Prerequisite: BTS-B.
This course introduces the religious and philosophical traditions of China and Japan: Confucianism, Chinese Taoism, Buddhism, Japanese Shinto and the folk traditions. Students read classical texts such as Chuang Tzu and Mencius and analyze fundamental values and concepts such as Tao, yin/yang and humaneness.
This course studies the Buddhist view of the human predicament and its solution. Students examine the life of the Buddha, Buddhist scriptures and the historical and philosophical development of Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism in East and Southeast Asia.
This course traces the influences of religion in Rome as it was gradually transformed from the capital city of a pagan empire into the administrative center of Catholic Christianity. Students conduct a selective comparison of ancient, medieval, renaissance, baroque and modern religion through visits to historical sites, churches, museums and contemporary cultural events in Rome and to other Italian cities that interacted with Rome. Prerequisite: BTS-B. Offered during Interim 2009-10.
This course introduces students to the history of religion in America in the context of American culture, paying attention to the formal structures and to questions of what "being religious" has meant to Americans. The course considers the range of religious traditions in the U.S.A. while attending to the Christian majority and variety within it. The course focuses specifically on the experiences and contributions of women and minorities.
This course examines religion in Italy and Germany at several decisive turning points in the past and today. Students analyze Catholic theology and church practices, from ancient times to the Renaissance, through site visits and events in Rome (city of the popes) and Florence. They examine emergence of Protestantism through activities in the region around Wittenberg, birthplace of Martin Luther's Reformation. They compare the influence of religion in Italian and German culture.
This course addresses theological understandings of love, desire, embodiment, and relationship in the context of human sexuality. Students study classic theological treatments of sexuality, with attention to the tension between positive and negative appraisals of sex; and they study contemporary theological discussions about subjects that have given rise to controversy, such as marriage, gender, family, or commodification. Prerequisite: BTS-B.
This course examines the faith of Israel in the God of the covenant and how the covenant faith was shaped in the community of Israel and expressed in its literature. Students examine two forms of travel: traditional Buddhist pilgrimages, and modern forms of tourism. The course explores Buddhist and Christian forms of pilgrimage, comparing their motivations, practices, and consequences in relation to each tradition's ethical ideals. Tourism raises ethical issues, including economic justice, environmental impact, sustainability, and the quality of interactions between tourists and local cultures. Prerequisite: BTS-B.
This course explores the notion of sacred place and examines specific sites sacred to ancient people, to Christians, Muslims, and Jews. Students visit both natural places and constructed sites (i.e., temples, churches, mosques, and synagogues). Students attend to scholarly theory, sites' physical characteristics and history, ongoing human interaction, inter-religious dynamics, and their own responses. The interplay of religion, social life, and political power relative to sacred space provides additional thematic focus. Offered during Interim.
This course features close reading of the prophetic literature of Israel with attention to literary forms, historical context, and theological insights. Students discuss the contribution of the Hebrew prophets to Jewish and Christian tradition and prophecy as a religious phenomenon. Prerequisite: BTS-B.
This course presents an opportunity to study the life, thought, and historical significance of the Apostle Paul in the very settings in which he traveled and lived. Visits to archaeological sites in Greece and Turkey enable students to explore: 1) the relationship of geography, culture and religion in the Book of Acts, the Letters of Paul and the Bible generally; and 2) the religious pluralism of the first century Roman world, including the Jewish and Hellenistic roots of Christianity. The course also explores other significant developments in the early church of this region, and considers the Christian encounter with Islam.
This course examines the ethical teachings of Jesus as found in the canonical Gospels (with special focus on the Sermon on the Mount), explores how these teachings have been understood at some major moments in Western history, and brings them to bear on the task of contemporary ethical reflection. Issues examined include, for example, non-violence, social and economic justice, sexuality, and ethnic conflict. Prerequisites: completion of BTS-B and BTS-T.
Philosophy/Religion 278 The Ethics of War
This course is a philosophical and theological reflection on the moral evaluation of war. Can war ever be morally justified? If so, what are the criteria for determining a war's just initiation, just conduct and just termination? Topics considered include a range of normative perspectives in their religious and secular expressions, for example, principled and pragmatic pacifism, just war tradition, realism, crusader ethics, utilitarianism, Kantianism, communitarianism, natural-law theory, feminism. Prerequisite: BTS-T. Offered annually.
Students explore the religious significance of selected works of literature and examine how literary plot, character, symbolism and theme raise religious questions, reveal ethical concerns and imply theological convictions. Prerequisite: BTS-B.
A study of competing and complementary approaches to the study of religion prevalent in the contemporary academy, this course prepares sophomore and junior religion majors for more advanced research seminars. Paying attention to the emphases and presuppositions of each approach, students develop an improved ability to understand the way that these different approaches affect scholarship and contribute to agreements and disagreements about what religion is and should be. Prerequisites: BTS-B, BTS-T.
Students examine contemporary Buddhist moral teachings on social issues such as violence and peacemaking, human rights and social justice and humanity and the environment. Coursework focuses on the writings of Vietnamese monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh, Tibetan leader-in-exile Tenzin Gyatso (Fourteenth Dalai Lama), American ecologist Joanna Macy and others. Students consider the moral paradigms of Christianity and Buddhism: Christ and the Bodhisattva. Prerequisites: BTS-B, BTS-T.[an error occurred while processing this directive]
The nature and boundaries of communities, as well as the quality of relationships within communities, are determined by theology as well as by social, political, and ethnic factors. Students examine the ways in which the world's religions, particularly Christianity, have interpreted each other's significance and truth claims and considers the ethical implications of these different responses. Prerequisite: BTS-T.
This course examines theological and ethical aspects of Christian social responsibility. It examines the meaning and normative import of Christian faith for justice and love in relational spheres (politics, economics, marriage and family, gender relations). It also explores the ethical implications of central Christian doctrines (vocation, sin, grace, two kingdoms, creation). Issues raised include civil disobedience, use of lethal force, distributive justice, love and self-sacrifice, and gender roles. Prerequisites: BTS-B, BTS-T.
An examination of the ethics of killing and letting die from the perspective of Christian belief. Possible topics include abortion, suicide, euthanasia, war, capital punishment, global hunger and starvation, and the killing of non-human animals. Special attention to the place of Christian moral views in modern secular or pluralistic societies. Readings from classic and contemporary Christian ethical sources as well as from contemporary secular, moral, legal, and political theory. Prerequisites: BTS-B and BTS-T.
298 Independent Study
Students consider the present situation and future prospects of Roman Catholic theology through an engagement with the figures and events that have most deeply shaped Catholic theology in this century. The course also examines recent Catholic views on the central topics of Christian theology, God, Christ, salvation and the Church, and the relationship of these views to Protestant ideas about the same issues. Prerequisite: BTS-B.
Students critically analyze the development of Christian thought from its beginnings to the 9th century. Special attention is placed on the theological controversies which led to the formation of the Christian community's central doctrines: God as Trinity, Jesus Christ as divine and human, salvation as divine action and human response. Students read from Irenaeus, Origen, Athanasius, Augustine and others. Prerequisite: BTS-B.
This course provides a critical analysis of the development of Christian thought in the Middle Ages and Reformation, 11th through 16th centuries. Particular attention is paid to the great theological systems of the Middle Ages and to the theological aims of the 16th-century reforming movements, drawing upon readings from Anselm, Aquinas, Bonaventure, Luther, Calvin and others. Prerequisite: BTS-B.
This course offers a critical analysis of the development of Christian thought in the modern period, 17th century to 1970. Students pay special attention to the rise of modern historical and philosophical outlooks that challenge traditional Christian claims and to the appropriation and criticism of these outlooks in modern theology. Students read from Edwards, Schleiermacher, Barth, Bultmann and others. Prerequisite: BTS-B.
Careful study of selected sacred texts provides students with the opportunity to learn and use various tools and methods of interpretation. Students increase their understanding of the origins, structure, use and interpretation of sacred texts in various religious communities. Specific texts and traditions vary. Students may repeat the course with different primary texts. Prerequisite: BTS-B.
Students examine traditional and recent Christian views of conscience, as well as alternative views and criticisms from various normative perspectives. Considering philosophical theories, psychological views, feminist thought, political issues and literary texts, students explore difficult cases of conscience. Prerequisite: completion of BTS-T.
How might the Christian ethical systems that have dominated western culture look different if women's experiences and perspectives had been more centrally included? This course focuses on the continuities and contrasts between traditional Jewish and Christian ethics and the feminist and womanist ethical challenges to them which have emerged over the last quarter century. Prerequisite: completion of BTS-B and BTS-T.
LEVEL III SEMINARS FOR MAJORS
May be repeated if topics are different. Prerequisite: BTS-B.
May be repeated if topics are different. Prerequisite: BTS-B. Fall 2009: The Death of Jesus.
May be repeated if topics are different. Prerequisite: BTS-B. Fall 2009: The Religious Sensibility of Abraham Lincoln.
May be repeated if topics are different. Prerequisite: BTS-B.
May be repeated if topics are different. Prerequisite: BTS-B.
This course provides a comprehensive research opportunity, including an introduction to relevant background material, technical instruction, identification of a meaningful project, and data collection. The topic is determined by the faculty member in charge of the course and may relate to his/her research interests. Prerequisite: Determined by individual instructor. Offered based on department decision.
May be repeated if topics are different. Prerequisite: BTS-B.
398 Independent Research
This integrative seminar focuses on the pursuit of research, the explanation of research to fellow students and the exploration of connections among diverse approaches to the selected topic, which changes annually. May be repeated if topics are different. Prerequisite: BTS-B.