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Academic Initiatives

Faith Traditions

The following courses address the theme of Faith Traditions, one of the seven institutional learning goals articulated in the Habits of Inquiry and Reflection (HIR). These courses are CAP-approved for the Faith Traditions and Advanced Religious Studies requirements. They are offered by the Department of Religious Studies.

Habits of Inquiry and Reflection (pdf)

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Department of Religious Studies

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Topics in Religious Studies, Spring 2021

MWF 9:05-9:55 a.m.

Michael Romero

What drove the people who came to the Americas? What did the people who were already here think of them? What did the Catholic Church have to say or do about it? This course explores the missionary experience of the Spanish Catholic friars who came to the unexplored Americas to Christianize the native persons whom they encountered from the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries. This period is analyzed from the perspective of the pre-colonial worldviews of the Spanish and the Natives. The main guiding question for the course is two parts: what did the missionaries hand-on to the people they were trying to Christianize, and what did the Native Peoples actually receive. The course focuses on the religious-cultural exchange between the two groups—not merely the traditional conquistador-centered narrative—relying on some primary sources from the missionaries, explorers, and native records.


MWF 10:10-11 a.m.

Laura Coughlin

The history of the papacy is a wild ride. It includes men of great sanctity and deplorable corruption. Some popes are included in lists of those murdered too soon, while others are remembered for the mark they made on the world at a precise turning point. Consider the following from Eamon Duffy’s Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes:

Twelve poor people ate with him every day (Gregory I); Bludgeoned to death…strangled…murdered by his successor…suffocated…horribly mutilated (popes various!); He had not a liberal bone in his body (Pius XI); Virtually single-handedly, he placed the Papacy back at the centre of Catholicism (JPII); Who am I to judge him? (Francis)

This course traverses the full length of Church history through the lens of the papacy. We will use Duffy’s book as our organizing principle. In each period Duffy represents, we look at primary and secondary source documents that speak to papal decisions, changes in society, the relationship between church and state, and the interior functioning of the Church.


MWF 1:25-12:15 p.m.

Cecilia Moore

The experience of African Americans is the experience of America itself. From the late 16th century until the middle of the 19th century, over 12.5 million people of African descent were shipped to the New World to serve as chattel slaves in North America, South America, and the Caribbean. The United States became the home of a significant number of these women, men, and children.

In the United States, these Africans and the many generations of their descendants became consequential in developing all aspects of American life and culture. Throughout their long experience of slavery, African people found strength, solace, meaning, and hope in their religious beliefs. These beliefs included traditional African religions, Islam, Christianity, Judaism and various blends of all of these religious traditions. Africans in America used their religious beliefs and practices to survive the oppressive structures of slavery and racial discrimination and to create theologies, religious institutions, religious denominations, music, and other cultural products that have informed the social, political, educational, economic, and religious perspectives and values of African Americans.


MW 3:35-4:50 p.m.

Ann Huey

Partaking in a faith tradition is a sensuous experience. It involves an engagement with sights, tastes, smells and sounds – in short, an engagement with “stuff.” This course explores the “stuff” of the Roman Catholic tradition, in all its diversity. We will begin with an introduction on “religion and material culture” followed by a brief history of the diverging Christian interpretations of the material world and the devotional practices that engage with this world. The bulk of our time will be spent studying specific Roman Catholic devotional practices and materials from around the world. The students will be introduced to these devotions through in class speakers, videos and individual engagement in the practices themselves.


TR 9:30-10:45 a.m.

Elizabeth Groppe

This course explores theological and ethical questions through the prism of reflection on our daily practices of eating, religious rituals related to food, and agricultural practices. Texts will be drawn primarily from the Christian and Jewish traditions. Students will deepen their knowledge of faith traditions, explore ethical questions that concern both our relations to one another and our relationship to the earth and other creatures, encounter religious diversity, and reflect on personal and professional commitments. Opportunities for experiential learning will be included if possible.


TR 9:30-10:45 a.m.

Brad Kallenberg

It was monks at St. Ursus (France) who built the oldest water mill in Europe, but it was an engineering project (a bridge over the Rhone River) that ended a war between religious factions. This course examines both the influence of religion on engineering and the role that engineering plays in the shaping of religious values and culture.


TR 11 a.m.-12:15 p.m.

Robert Pryor

This course will explore the 2,500-year Buddhist tradition as it has developed in Asia. We will begin by examining the life of Siddhartha, the historical Buddha, and the ancient Indian context within which Buddhism arose. After establishing this foundation, we will study the spread of the doctrine from India to Southeast Asia, China, Korea, Japan, and Tibet. This will allow us to develop an informed appreciation of the varieties of the Buddhist experience as they have evolved in dynamic relationship with their many host civilizations.

Throughout this course we will be concerned with issues of continuity and change, syncretism, and selection as we examine the emergence of various Buddhist traditions over time. Readings highlighting contemporary examples of these traditions will provide living examples of Buddhist perspectives as we encounter them today. In addition, there will be opportunities during the class to experience basic Buddhist meditation techniques which will help to bring these traditions to life.


TR 12:301:45 p.m.

Jusuf Salih

This course will enable students to engage more thoroughly and critically with a tradition the understanding of which is highly significant, both historically and for the contemporary situation. It will study Muslim societies in the modern period by examining the successes and failures in their efforts to redefine their political, societal and religious values in order to be incorporated into the global order of modernity. The course will investigate what has been happening to the Muslim communities in the technical age and what were the Muslim intellectuals’ responses to challenges posed by the Westernization of their societies.

In order to overcome the oversimplified image of Islam often presented in the media, the course will examine the diversity of Muslim thought in dealing with the wide range of issues within the tradition, including such crucial questions such as nationalism, governance, gender, justice, colonialism, democracy, reform and human rights.


TR 23:15 p.m.

Sandra Yocum

This REL 250 section explores the wisdom of holy women, ancient through contemporary Christianity, by reading their own words and considering the meaning of those words in the contexts of their particular lives.

In this course, students will read selected writings of holy women across the history of the Christian tradition. These writings give voice to their profound experiences of God. We will seek to understand these writings in their contexts, i.e., in the particular lives of these women, as well as consider their significance in our contemporary context.


TR 3:354:50 p.m.

Silviu Bunta

This section of REL 250 offers a basic introduction to the history, theology, and life of the Orthodox Church, a church of a 2,000-year-long uninterrupted history from the Apostles to today, and different from western Christianities—Catholic or Protestant.
This section of 250 offers a basic introduction to the history, theology, and life of the Orthodox Church, a church of a 2,000-year-long uninterrupted history from the Apostles to today, and different from western Christianities—Catholic or Protestant. No prior knowledge of Orthodoxy is required.

The course will explore the history of Orthodox Christianity from its inception in the apostolic age to the realities of today. Among the traditions analyzed will be the Orthodox understanding of Christ, the Trinity, humanity, the Church, and deification. The course will also offer a survey of the complex liturgical practices of Orthodoxy. Orthodox faith and worship will be approached in comparison to Catholic and Protestant concepts and practices for greater clarity.


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