Religious Studies Courses

The Religious Studies major and minor were revised in the Fall of 2010; the description below incorporates those changes.

Religious Studies

Professors Bernstein-Goff, Boynton, Gardner, Holland, Olson


No area of human thought or action falls outside the consideration of religious thinkers. Religious traditions teach about ultimate values and their relationship to our worldly lives; the study of religious rituals, practices, and systems of thought, both our own and others’, helps us to understand the continually evolving relationship of the individual within those traditions as well as the role of religion in the complex global context. Some of the traditions studied in this major are the oldest extant bodies of thought and remain to this day some of the most vibrant and significant. The study of religion intersects with many fields, utilizing various methodologies and approaches while providing additional meaning to symbols, practices, and rhetoric that in turn enrich the work of other cognate disciplines.

Courses in Religious Studies are divided into three approaches to religion and are further differentiated by five main religious traditions. A course of study in Religious Studies investigates the sources and texts, history and context, and the nature and relevance of religion embodied in these separate traditions.


The Major

Religious Studies majors are required to have a GPA of at least 2.0 in Religious Studies at graduation. All department courses taken at Allegheny on a letter-grade basis are included in that calculation, with the exception of repeated courses for which only the most recent grade counts.  No more than two Religious Studies courses may be taken

Credit/No Credit; one of these must be RS 600, which is only offered Credit/No Credit.

The major in Religious Studies leads to the Bachelor of Arts degree and requires the successful completion of 42 semester credit hours in Religious Studies. A major program should include at least one course from each of the following categories below.  Specific courses may appear in multiple categories, but double-counting courses for multiple categories is not permitted.



(Religious Studies 115, 130, 150, 160, 200, 222, 229, 230, 275, 350, 440);


(Religious Studies 117, 120, 140, 142, 144, 146, 147, 150, 160, 165, 170, 180, 200, 210, 224, 240, 250, 260, 375);

Methodical analysis

(Religious Studies 175, 185, 188, 205, 212, 215, 224, 227, 360, 365, 370, 375, 440, 475).

In addition, the major should include courses in three of the five different religious traditions listed below.  Specific courses may appear in multiple traditions, but double-counting courses for multiple traditions is not permitted.



(Religious Studies 120, 147, 185, 188, 205, 224, 229);


(Religious Studies 130, 185, 200, 240, 250, 260, 350);


(Religious Studies 140, 142, 144, 146, 188, 215, 222, 275, 370, 375);


(Religious Studies 150, 160, 165, 170, 212);

Ancient Mediterranean World

(Religious Studies 115, 117).

Majors in Religious Studies are encouraged to take an approved cognate course from another discipline in fulfilling major requirements, which along with carefully chosen electives, can create an emphasis in a specific area of Religious Studies.  Other than Religious Studies 580, 600 and 610, which are required, students must take two courses above the 100 level and one above the 200 level.


The Minor

A minor in Religious Studies consists of at least 20 semester credit hours of courses in Religious Studies, including at least one course above the 100 level and one above the 200 level.  The minor program should include two of the five different religious traditions listed above.




115 Religion in the Ancient Near East

An examination of religious beliefs, trends, and practices in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Syria-Palestine, from prehistory to the conquests of Alexander the Great. Topics include the history and development of the different religious cultures, the role of sacrifice, kingship, prophecy, mythology, different ideas about the nature of the divine world, and the distinctions between “official” and “popular” religious culture. Students have an opportunity to read primary sources reflecting the diversity of religious beliefs and practices among the civilization of the ancient Near East.

117 Religion in the Ancient Greco-Roman World

An examination of religious beliefs, trends, and practices in ancient Greece, the Hellenistic empire founded by Alexander the Great, and Rome and its empire, from prehistory to the reign of Constantine. Topics include the history and development of the religious cultures of Greece and Rome, the role of augury, astrology and magic, the philosophical challenge to traditional religion, the spread of the mystery religions in the Hellenistic era, and the origins and growth of the Jesus movement. Students have an opportunity to read primary sources reflecting the diversity of religious beliefs and practices among the Greeks and Romans. This course counts toward the Classical Studies minor.


120 The Faith of Ancient Israel

An investigation of the faith and history of ancient Israel as chronicled in the Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament). Both literary and historical critical methods are used to understand ancient Israelite religion and its gradual evolution into the faith that is the basis of Christianity as well as modern Judaism.

130 The New Testament

A literary and historical critical examination of the various interpretations of Jesus Christ, his life and mission, as preserved in the writings of the New Testament. The New Testament is also investigated as an expression of the faith of the earliest Christian communities and as a reflection of the issues that concerned them.

140 Introduction to Islam

An introduction to the Islamic faith through its history and its practices from the seventh century to the present. We consider the way Islam has adapted and changed through time and over different regions, balancing universal aspects of the faith with the particular adaptations encountered in the lived experience of Muslims. Using a variety of media, including music and art, we examine the voices of Arabic-speaking Muslims (in translation), but also Persian, Turkic, and American expressions. This course counts toward the International Studies major and the Asian Studies minor.

142 Early Islamic History (formerly RS 270)

A survey of the social and political history of the Islamic Middle East from the seventh to the eighteenth centuries. Topics include the development of the Islamic empires, the beginnings of the Ottoman empire, and the earliest Shi’ite government. Although the course has an emphasis on the Islamic Middle East, Jewish and Christian historical understandings are also considered as well as Islamic Spain and North Africa.  This course counts toward the History major or minor and the International Studies major.

144 Modern Islamic History (formerly RS 280)

A survey of the political, religious, and social history of the Islamic Middle East from the early eighteenth through the early twenty-first century. Special attention is paid to changes in intellectual currents of the Middle East due to colonization as well as the regions of Islamic Central Asia (including Afghanistan) and Islamic North Africa. Issues related to Muslim migrants to the United States are also considered. This course counts toward the History major or minor and the International Studies major.

146 Islam in America

A survey of the variety of Islamic adaptations in North America from the forced migrations of the first Muslims from Africa through present-day American Muslim youth cultures.  The course examines the practices and self-understandings of the Nation of Islam and other so-called “Black Muslim” movements, as well as the impact of changes over time of racial constructions.  Prior or current study in RS 140 is recommended. This class counts towards the Black Studies Minor.

147 Judaism

A survey of the Jewish experience, examining the historic forces that shape the belief and practices of Judaism. We examine issues in Jewish life such as the relationships among God, Torah, and (the people) Israel through ritual, sacred literature, and theology. Topics include Jewish faith and practice, the Bible from a Jewish perspective, rabbinic literature, the importance of Zionism and the State of Israel, and movements within American Judaism. This course counts toward the International Studies major.

150 Hinduism

An examination of the Hindu way of life from its origins to modern sectarian movements. Emphasis is given to the fundamental problems of human existence and their solution in the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Puranic literature. Includes an examination of the importance of sacrifice, the sacramental and social structure of life, myth, the Hindu temple, puja, festivals and pilgrimage. This course counts toward the Asian Studies minor.

160 Buddhism

An examination of the life and teachings of the Buddha, the rise of the Therevada and Mahayana schools, and the spread of Buddhism to Tibet and Japan (e.g. Pure Land and Zen sects). Major consideration is given to such issues as suffering, non-self, dependent origination, karma, rebirth, world renunciation, meditation and nirvana. This course counts toward the International Studies major and the Asian Studies minor.

165 Zen Buddhism and Japanese Culture

An examination of the origin of Zen, its development in China, and its transmission to Japan forms the historical background for an investigation of the nature of Zen, its philosophy, method of attaining enlightenment, monastic life and important masters (e.g. the Sixth Patriarch, Dogen, Basho, Hakuin). The course also examines the influence of Zen on Japanese cultural phenomena like poetry, tea, painting, rock gardens and the martial arts. This course counts toward the International Studies major and the Asian Studies minor.

170 Religions of China

A study of the major traditions of China, Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, and folk religion. The Chinese religion is considered on four levels: the personal, the family, community, state. The course concludes with a look at religion in contemporary China: Maoism and its decline and the Buddhist struggle to survive. This course counts toward the International Studies major and the Asian Studies minor.

175 Contemporary Religious Thought

An introductory course exploring the basic issues and concerns in 20th-century religious thought around the world and across traditions. Topics include: key religious figures; the place of religious thought in the contemporary world; religion, skepticism, and secularization; religion, violence, and conflict; religion and globalization; religious social ethics and political liberation; religious pluralism and diversity; religion and ecological crisis; religion and technology.

180 Religion in American Life

A social history of Protestant, Catholic, and non-Christian groups in the U. S. context; the role of women and African Americans in various religions is included along with the emergence of sects and denominations, and the religious faiths of immigrant and ethnic populations. Issues of civil religion, regionalism, and racism in American religions are also explored. This course counts toward the American Studies minor.

185 Jewish and Christian Relations

An exploration of the on-going historic encounters between Judaism and Christianity and the impact of those encounters on the theology, liturgy, and sacred festivals of both monotheistic faiths. Students explore the constructive potential in the relationship between these two faith communities in the face of both Anti-Semitism and Philo-Semitism.

188 Muslim Jewish Relations

An investigation of the religious sources in both Islam and Judaism of the current conflict between Jews and Muslims in the Middle East. We explore the significant points of contact between Judaism and Islam from the time of Muhammad until the present to determine whether peace, understanding, and accommodation are possible between Jews and Muslims in the 21st century. The current Arab/Israeli conflict is examined with special focus on the role religious messianic ideology in both Judaism and Islam.

200 Christian Ethics

An introduction to the study of Christian ethics considered within an ecumenical framework, focusing on the primary issues that arise for any ethic that is identifiably Christian. This inquiry also involves learning to analyze and construct moral arguments. Among the moral issues that may be discussed are abortion, genetic engineering, euthanasia, war and peace, and church-state relations. This course counts toward the VESA minor.

205 Jewish Perspectives on Ethics Dilemmas

An examination of contemporary ethical issues using the lens of the Jewish ethical tradition, including Orthodox, Conservative, Reform & Reconstructionist Jewish perspectives . The course takes a holistic approach as the views of Christian ethicists are also considered to illustrate commonalities and contrasts with Jewish ethical perspectives and aid students to clarify their own personal ethical values regarding the ethical dilemmas.

210 Native American and African Religious Traditions

A study of the cosmology, myths, supreme beings, ritual process, types of religious authority, millenarian movements, messianism, and eschatology in selected peoples of North America and Africa.

212 The Problem of the Self: East and West

(also listed as Philosophy 212)

An examination of the problem of the self in a cross-cultural context. The Eastern traditions are represented by early Buddhism, the Advaita Vedanta philosophy of Sankara, Taoism and Zen Buddhism. The Western tradition is represented by the existential thought of Soren Kierkegaard, the dialogical philosophy of Martin Buber, the deconstructive theology of Mark C. Taylor, and others.  This course may alternatively be counted toward a philosophy major or minor. This course also counts toward the Asian Studies minor. Prerequisite: At least one course in Philosophy or Religious Studies.

215 Gender and Sexuality in the Islamic World

An examination of constructions of gender in the literature, languages, and cultures of the Middle East from the seventh century through the present. We contrast the constructions of gender in the Islamic Middle East with those in Jewish and Christian worlds.  Islamic law and cultural understanding of homosexual and homosocial activity as well as intersex individuals are discussed.  No previous knowledge of the Arabic language, Islam, or the Middle East is assumed. This class counts toward the Women’s Studies major and minor, the International Studies major, and the minor in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Studies.

222 The Qur’an

An examination of one of the dominant scriptural sources in Islam, the Qur’an, in English translation.  Through a close reading of the text, students study the ways Muslims draw on the text in prayer, find meaning from the text, and have used interpretations to provide meaning to new generations.

224 Jewish Theology and the Holocaust

An examination of the character of God, revelation, and redemption by exposure to the enormous range of theological viewpoints and methods that have characterized Jewish theological reflection in modern times. Students study Holocaust theologians, theological reflections on the significance of the modern State of Israel, as well as essays by prominent Jewish feminist theologians.

227 Religion and the Challenge of Modernity

(also listed as Philosophy 227)

An exploration of the philosophical study of religion, particularly in light of the contest between traditional modes of religious expression and the rise of a critical mentality in the modern West.  Issues to be addressed may include the ethics of belief, theories of rationality and their relevance to religion, the problem of evil, religious experience, and the epistemic status of belief in God. This course counts toward the VESA minor.

229 The Rabbi’s Bible

An examination of the Hebrew Bible and the rabbis’ unique process of interpretation called midrash. This course encourages a multi-faith conversation on the challenges posed by these texts to people of the twenty-first century and cultivates awareness of the contemporary relevance of the so-called “Old Testament.” Scripture is approached as a source of practical wisdom that may form a basis for personal and collective self-understanding. This course counts toward the International Studies major.

230 Topics in Biblical Studies

Investigations of selected topics relevant to both the religion of Israel and Christianity through the use of the biblical texts. Topics will vary and the course may be repeated for credit if the topic is different.

240 History of Christianity 1: The Triumph of the Church

A study of the development of the Christian tradition from the New Testament era to the papacy of Gregory the Great at the dawn of the seventh century. Particular attention is given to the various controversies that determined the shape of Christian doctrine and the social and cultural factors that defined the church as a part of the Roman imperial society. This course counts toward the Classical Studies minor.

250 History of Christianity 2: The Age of Faith

A study of Western Christianity from the fall of the Roman empire to the end of the religious wars in Europe in 1648. The medieval era and the Renaissance are studied in terms of theological, intellectual, and social movements, the growth of nationalism, and the impact of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. This course counts toward the Medieval and Renaissance Studies minor.

260 History of Christianity 3: The Eclipse of Christendom

A historical survey of Christianity from the 17th century to the middle of the 20th century. Students explore theological shifts in relation to important political and social changes that have altered the relationships of the Christian churches to Western culture.

275 The Middle East in Film

An exploration of films produced in a particular Middle Eastern country in an effort to understand the complex idea of “culture.” The careful analysis of location, clothing, music, and historical setting is emphasized. Topics may include childhood and its representations, women and family life, and representations of the rural and urban. Course texts focus on the cinema of the country studied, supplemented with readings on the subtopics of the films and histories of the region.

350 Paul the Apostle

An examination of the life, works, and legacy of Paul of Tarsus within the context of the Jesus movement and early Christianity in the eastern Mediterranean during the first centuries of the Roman Empire.  Students examine Paul’s letters as literary products that reveal both the teachings and the personality of their author. Paul’s influence on the Christian movement is considered through letters written by others but attributed to Paul, and through second, third, and fourth-century oral and literary traditions about Paul’s missionary activities.

360 Religion and Ecology

(also listed as Environmental Science 360)

An exploration of the intersection between religion and ecology, and how religion can both contribute to and help address environmental problems. Topics include religion’s role in shaping human relationships with nature, ecological themes that cut across religions and worldviews, and issues of environmental justice as it relates to gender, race, and class. In considering how religious communities can address ecological problems, students take part in service learning projects in local congregations or environmental groups. Prerequisite: ES 110 or at least one course in Religious Studies.


365 Theory and Method in the Study of Religion

A critical examination of the different theories about the nature of religion and methodological approaches to the study of the subject from the nineteenth to the twenty-first centuries.  Students study the origins of the discipline of Religious Studies in the quest for the origin of religion and the possibility of a science of religion as well as the various methods applied to the study of religion, including phenomenology, history, sociology, anthropology, psychology, ecology, biology, feminist, and postmodern.

370 Islamic Ritual Practices

An examination of the ritual practices of a variety of Islamic groups over time. Students study the details of such everyday practices as the five daily prayers, as well as more esoteric practices including shrine visitations. Sectarianism, gender differentiation, and regional variation are considered. Course work may include visits to regional mosques. This course counts toward the International Studies major. Religious Studies 140 is recommended.

375 Muhammad in the Eyes of Muslims

An examination of the life of Muhammad b. ‘Abdullah, considered by most Muslims the final prophet of Islam.  Students study how this important figure has been historically interpreted and reinterpreted, from the earliest Islamic biographies to modern, post-9/11 presentations of Muhammad.  Prerequisite: Upper-class standing or permission of the instructor.

440 Issues in Religious Studies

An upper-level course enabling in-depth study of a particular religious figure or issue in Religious Studies across various perspectives. Topics change each time the course is offered.

475 Psychology and Religion

(also listed as Psychology 475)

An examination of the Judeo-Christian religious belief and experience from psychological and religious studies perspectives. Cognitive, theological, historical-critical, and psychodynamic theories are explored and applied to empirical studies and biographical accounts of the faith lives of men and women, past and present. The course is mainly discussion, based on primary sources. Prerequisites: One course each in Psychology and Religious Studies.

580 Junior Group Tutorial

This course may not be taken on a credit/no credit basis.

590 Independent Study


600 Senior Tutorial

A course involving preparation for the Senior Project such as preliminary research and project proposal. Credit: Two semester hours. To be taken on a Credit/No Credit basis.

610 Senior Project

A course consisting of the presentation and defense of the Senior Project.