Please note: This is NOT the most current catalog.


Chair, 2007-08: Anantanand Rambachan, Hinduism

Faculty, 2007-08: Mary Anderson, history of Christianity; John D. Barbour, religion and literature, ethics; Patricia Beckman, history of Christianity, medieval mysticism, women and religions; David Booth, theology; Shoshana Dworsky, Judaism; 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; William R. Poehlmann, New Testament; Barbara E. Reed, Buddhism, East Asian religions; 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.

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.


Religion courses fulfill a variety of general education requirements. The department offers several options to complete the Biblical Studies, Theological Studies, and Ethical Issues requirements. Additional courses count as Historical Studies in Western Culture, Multicultural Studies, and Literary Studies.


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 four parts:

  1. General education courses in religion: Religion 121 [BTS-B] and a course in theological studies [BTS-T].
  2. 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.
  3. Intensive studies in religion: At least two Level III courses, at least one of which must be a seminar.
  4. Elective courses.

Religion majors may graduate with distinction if their grade point average is 3.5 in religion and 3.0 overall, 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. (See FLAC under Academic Programs.) Each year the department offers Interims abroad, some carrying general education credit.


121 Bible in Culture and Community

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 (e.g.) 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.

201 Essentials of Christian Theology

This course introduces students to Christian theology, provides an overview of central Christian beliefs (e.g., 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.

202 Classics and Moderns

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. We will 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.

203 The Greats

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.

207 Christian Theology and the Moral Life

Examining essential Christian beliefs with special attention to their implications for the moral life, students in this course will 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.

208 Christian Theology and Human Existence

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 (e.g., philosophical, psychological, sociological, literary) are also included. Prerequisite: BTS-B.

209 Introduction to Feminist Theology

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.

212 Christian Theology in Historical Context

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.

213 Lutheran Heritage

Analyzing continuity and change within the Lutheran tradition, students will consider Luther's theology and proposals for the reform of Catholicism and evaluate major reappraisals of Lutheran beliefs and practices which 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.

214 Reformation Theology

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.

215 Types of Protestantism

Students examine the major forms of Protestant Christianity, their distinctive beliefs and practices and the historical circumstances which 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.

217 Christian and Islamic Ethics: Conflicts and Cross-Pollination

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.

218 Political and Liberation Theology

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.

221 Jesus in Scripture and Tradition

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.

222 The Biblical God

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.

223 Paul: His Letters, His Gospel

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

225 God and Human Suffering

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 had attempted to respond to these questions, and they will also examine challenges to the Christian perspective. Prerequisite: BTS-B.

226 Christian Theology and Visual Art

Christian theological reflection on the significance of visual art and consideration of selected art works as visual expressions of theological meaning. Specific topics: the didactic, devotional or meditative role of visual art in Christian life, theological critiques and defenses of visual art, works of art as "voices" in theological controversy, Christian conviction and aesthetic evaluation, theological significance of secular, modern and postmodern art. Readings from traditional and contemporary Christian theology and art-historical interpretation, emphasizing theological subject matter. Prerequisite: BTS-B.

227 Jews and Christians after Christendom

The interaction between Jews, Christians and their respective religions in historical and theological perspective. Considers basic features of Jewish belief and practice, past and present views of Jews and Christians about each other's beliefs, impact of Christian 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.

228 Worship and Theology

This course examines what Christians are doing when they worship -- in both senses (actions and intentions). Christian groups in present and history are compared to discover forms, functions and theologies of worship illuminated by connections to Judaism, Israel and other religions. Prerequisite: BTS-B.

230 Theology of Creation

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.

233 God and Faith in Autobiography

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. We study the different ways in which Christians have sought to understand Gods role in their lives by correlating their own experiences with the classic beliefs, symbols and values of the Christian faith. Prerequisite: BTS-B.

240 Understanding Religious Traditions

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.

241 Judaism, Christianity, Islam

This introduction to three different but related monotheistic religions provides insight into the historical development of the religions, the formation of their distinctive beliefs and practices and the role they have played in shaping individual and communal identity. Students compare similarities and differences, examine diversity within each of the communities of faith, analyze past conflicts between the religions and consider future prospects for mutual understanding and dialogue.

243 Living Faith: Theology and Practice at Holden Village

During this study of 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 Interim 2006-07.

245 Theology of Religions & Interreligious Dialogue

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.

246 Islam -- Religion and Community

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.

248 Judaism

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.

251 Religion and Cultural Diversity in South Africa (Abroad)

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. Study of the way religious ideas were used to defend the apartheid system and also to justify protest against it. Analysis of organizations, post-apartheid, to build a multi-racial democracy and a just social order. Prerequisite: BTS-B. Offered Interim 2007-08

252 Theology and Music

This course explores the critical and constructive significance of the musical arts for Christian theological reflection. Specific musical works, musical styles, and issues in philosophical aesthetics are considered in conjunction with central themes and figures in Western theology from antiquity to the present. Students investigate the ways in which musical feeling, form, and performance can function as theologically formative. Prerequisite: BTS-B. Offered during Interim.

253 Hinduism

This class, 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.

256 Religions of China and Japan

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.

257 Buddhism

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.

259 Religion and Culture in Rome (abroad)

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 which interacted with Rome. Offered Interim, 2007-08. Prerequisite: BTS-B.

260 Religion in America

This course introduces students to the history of religion in America in the context of American culture, paying attention both to the formal structures and leadership of Christianity and Judaism in America and to questions of what "being religious" has meant to people in the pews. The course also focuses specifically on the voices and contributions of women and minorities.

262 Catholic Rome, Lutheran Wittenberg (abroad)

Students examine religion in Italy and Germany at a crucial historical turning point: the 16th century Reformation. Analyzing the development of Catholicism in the Middle Ages and Renaissance and the emergence of Protestantism from the reforming efforts of Martin Luther, students compare Catholic-Lutheran relations then and now. Study of religious thought and practice is connected with site visits and events. Offered only during Interim. Offered Interim, 2006-07. Prerequisite: BTS-B.

270 Old Testament/Hebrew Bible

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. Prerequisite: BTS-B.

273 Hebrew Prophets

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.

275 Historical Geography and the Bible (abroad)

This course concentrates on the historical and geographical background of the Bible. Visits to archaeological sites in Galilee, Judea and Jerusalem especially enable students to understand the religious pluralism of ancient Palestine as well as the Jewish roots of Christianity. A secondary emphasis of the course is on the current diversity of worship and piety in Jerusalem. May be repeated if topics are different. Offered during Interim. Offered Interim, 2007-08. Prerequisite: BTS-B.

276 The Ethics of Jesus

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, e.g., principled and pragmatic pacifism, just war tradition, realism, crusader ethics, utilitarianism, Kantianism, communitarianism, natural-law theory, feminism. Prerequisite: completion of BTS-T. Offered annually.

280 Religion and Literature

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.

285 What is Religion? Approaches and Methods

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.

289 Buddhism, Peace and Justice

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. Prerequisite: completion of BTS-T.

294 Academic Internship

295 Religious Pluralism and the Nature of Community

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: completion of BTS-T.

296 Love, Justice and Social Relations

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: completion of BTS-B and BTS-T.

297 Christian Ethics, Life and Death

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

301 Roman Catholic Theology

Students consider the present situation and future prospects of Roman Catholic theology through an engagement with the figures and events which 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.

302 History of Christian Thought I

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.

303 History of Christian Thought II

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.

304 History of Christian Thought III

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 which 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.

320 Interpreting Sacred Texts

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 will vary. Students may repeat the course with different primary texts. Prerequisite: BTS-B.

341 Conscience and Its Critics

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.

344 Feminist Perspectives and Christian Ethics

How might the Christian ethical systems which 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.


390 History of Religions Seminar

May be repeated if topics are different. Prerequisite: BTS-B.

391 Biblical Seminar

May be repeated if topics are different. Prerequisite: BTS-B. Fall 2007: Bound Sons, Interpretive Binds: Approaches to Biblical Interpretation.

392 Studies in Religion Seminar

May be repeated if topics are different. Prerequisite: BTS-B.

393 Theological Seminar

May be repeated if topics are different. Prerequisite: BTS-B. Fall 2007: The Jewish Holocaust: Precedents and Theological Implications. Spring 2008: "What is Christic, About the New Jesus?"

394 Internship

395 Ethics Seminar

May be repeated if topics are different. Prerequisite: BTS-B. Spring 2008: Aids to Resaon -- Faithfulness, Humility, and Charity.

396 Directed Undergraduate Research: "Topic Description"

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. Offer based on department decision.

397 Religion in Dialogue

May be repeated if topics are different. Prerequisite: BTS-B.

398 Independent Research

399 Thematic Seminar

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.