Sean Burke (department head)
How can people on both sides of a conflict claim that God is on their side? Why do some faith communities affirm women in leadership positions while others do not? How can someone claim faith in a particular religious tradition while also valuing the traditions of another? Through questions like these, courses in the study of religion prepare students for lives of deep reflection and civic engagement by inviting them to think critically about the role that religious ideas, literatures, rituals, institutions, and values play in shaping individuals and societies both historically and in the contemporary world.
The study of religion at Luther College seeks to be interdisciplinary, intercultural, and transformative. It is interdisciplinary in that religion courses draw on a wide array of perspectives from fields such as history, literature, the social sciences, and philosophy to make sense of the role religion plays in the world, helping students to integrate and synthesize learning from their other courses. It is intercultural in that students engage religious faith and practice in a global context, empowering them to move beyond a concern for immediate interests into a greater awareness of their place in a complex and ever-changing world. It is transformative by raising critical questions about fundamental aspects of religious faith and practice in order to expand students' understandings of both self and others, leading to a life of purposeful service in the world.
The study of religion provides a strong complement to programs of study in business, international studies, law, library science, literature, medicine, music, political science, and psychology, while also forming a foundation for careers in ordained and lay ministry, social service, volunteer service, and social advocacy. Many of our majors and minors pursue graduate study in theology and religious studies.
Because the academic study of religion provides a strong foundation for the liberal arts, all Luther students take two religion courses as part of the common ground experience of the general education program. The first of these is a course in biblical literature, where students develop the skills of close reading, analysis, and critical inquiry necessary for further study in religion and the liberal arts. The second course may be drawn from the full array of religion course offerings. Course offerings at the 200 level provide students broad surveys of religious traditions and topics. Courses at the 300 level (excluding REL 380 and 381) provide students the opportunity to study particular religious traditions and topics in greater depth and require more intensive writing and research.
The requirements for the religion major and minor are listed below. Students planning to major or minor in religion should consult with faculty in the department; preseminary students should also consult with campus pastors.
Required for a major: Nine 4-credit courses, distributed as follows: one introductory course (REL 101, 111, 112); two core courses from the Christian tradition (REL 221, 232, 241); two core courses from at least one additional religious tradition (REL 251, 256, 257, 261, 262, 263); one seminar (REL 485); and three electives from departmental offerings in religion (excluding REL 185), two of which must be courses numbered 300-374 or 485. One of the three electives may be chosen from biblical languages (GRK 201, 375; HEB 101, 102, 201) and one may consist of a 4-credit REL 395. Writing requirement completed with REL 485.
Ethical perspective: Because ethics is an important sub-discipline in the study of religion, religion majors will engage in the study of ethical perspectives in most of their courses. Religion majors, therefore, will fulfill this general education requirement by completing the major. Students interested in a special focus on ethics are encouraged to take one or more of the following courses: REL 233, 241, 242, 243.
Writing: Because critical thinking and communication depend on this skill, most religion courses require writing. Departmental offerings in religion numbered 300 and higher (excluding REL 380 and 381) involve intensive writing. Religion majors, therefore, will fulfill this general requirement by completing the major.
Required for a minor: Five 4-credit courses, distributed as follows: one introductory course (REL 101, 111, 112); one core course from the Christian tradition (REL 221, 232, 241); one core course from at least one additional religious tradition (REL 251, 256, 257, 261, 262, 263); one seminar (REL 485); and one elective course numbered 300-374 or 485 from departmental offerings in religion.
Note: Each student must take one introductory course (REL 101, 111, or 112) as a prerequisite to all other religion courses and as partial fulfillment of the general graduation requirements. These courses focus on the academic study of biblical literature and may be taken during the first or second year.
An introduction to the academic study of biblical literature with an emphasis on selected writings, themes, and methods of interpretation. Students will also become familiar with extra-biblical sources (textual and archaeological) which contribute to understanding the Bible in its historical, socio-economic, theological, and literary contexts. Students who earn credit for REL 101 may not earn credit for REL 111 or REL 112.
An introduction to the academic study of the literature of the Hebrew Bible and Apocrypha/Deutero-canon with an emphasis on selected writings, themes, and methods of interpretation. Students will also become familiar with extra-biblical sources (textual and archaeological) which contribute to understanding the Hebrew Bible and Apocrypha/Deutero-canon in their historical, socio-economic, theological, and literary contexts. Students who earn credit for REL 111 may earn credit for REL 112 but not for REL 101.
An introduction to the academic study of the literture of the New Testament with an emphasis on selected, writings, themes, and methods of interpretation. Students will also become familiar with extra-biblical sources (textual and archaeological) which contribute to understanding the New Testament in its historical, socio-economic, theological, and literary contexts. Students who earn credit for REL 112 may earn credit for REL 111 but not for REL 101.
The Bible, commonly called the "Word of God," has always been more than "a book" for Christians. Contemporary forms of biblical criticism, however, have posed challenges for many Christians who look to the Bible as a resource for Christian faith and practice. In general, this course will wrestle with two fundamental questions: 1) What is the Bible? and 2) What is faith? In particular, it will examine possible relationships between the Bible and Christian faith. Attention will be given to the "battle for the Bible" between so-called "conservatives" and "liberals." The issues considered in this course will be analyzed within the context of examining the ways in which the relationship between the Bible and one's faith influences how one thinks about and lives in the world and with others.
This course will explore constructions of gender and sexuality in the texts of two or more religious traditions. Students will be introduced to contemporary theories of gender and sexuality that they will use to analyze primary texts in relation to their sociopolitical and religious contexts. Specific topics may include competing representations of men and women, different constructions of marriage, the use of marriage as a metaphor, the role of sexuality in mystical traditions and spiritual manuals, and representations of homoeroticism and bisexuality in religious texts. (Same as WGST 212)
This course will explore the role of archaeology in biblical studies as well as studies of the history of ancient Israel. The course will consist of an examination of the methods and techniques used in Palestinian archaeology; an overview of the role that archaeology has played in biblical studies from the nineteenth century to the present; and an examination of specific archaeological sites and artifacts and their relation to biblical texts. Offered alternate years.
This course will examine writings which were considered sacred by some Jewish and Christian groups but which were not included in the orthodox canons of the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament. Students will analyze selected texts in their social, historical, ideological, and religious contexts, and they will use these texts to identify and to analyze diverse ancient forms of Judaism and Christianity. The sources of texts include the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the New Testament Apocrypha, and the Nag Hammadi Library.
This course will explore contemporary religious diversity through the critical, comparative study of sacred texts from two or more religious traditions. Students will examine the relationship between diversity within and among sacred texts and diversity within and among historical and contemporary expressions of each religious tradition. They will also consider the role of sacred texts in interfaith engagement.
A survey of central events, ideas, and figures in the history of Christianity from the early church to the present. The course will focus on primary texts, and attention will be given to the ways that Christian theology has developed over the centuries within a variety of cultures.
A historical survey of the role of religion in American life, focusing on the interaction between religion and culture in the United States. The course will examine the development of religious pluralism in the U.S. and explore selected issues that have arisen and continue to affect American culture, such as religious liberty, revivalism, utopianism, immigration and ethnicity, slavery, fundamentalism, and the contributions of women and minorities.
A survey of the more prominent critics and criticisms of Western Christianity from the Enlightenment to the present. Students will engage critics from a variety of spheres, including philosophy, theology, politics, science, literature, journalism, and popular culture. Criticisms of traditional Christian beliefs in the existence of God, the afterlife, and the possibility of miracles, among others, will be addressed, as will accusations of Christianity's detrimental influence on constructions of race, gender, and sexuality.
This course closely examines the life and thought of Martin Luther, provides an overview of the development of Lutheran Churches from the Reformation to the present, and explores some of the issues debated in Lutheran Churches today.
A study of attempts to bring rational justification and clarification to religious beliefs and practice, focusing primarily on the concepts of Christian theology. Topics will include: the existence and attributes of God, faith and reason, death and immortality, miracles and revelation, the problem of evil, and religious pluralism. (Same as PHIL 130)
This course explores the intersections between psychology and religion. It examines how psychological theories can illuminate religious practices and rituals and what religious texts and beliefs can contribute to the understanding of the human mind. In particular, the course focuses on similarities between the trajectory of spiritual progress as proposed in selected religious texts and Analytical Psychology, the use of meditation techniques and rituals in therapy, and the recent dialogue between Buddhist psychology and Cognitive Science. In its analysis of religious rituals, texts, and practices, the course focuses predominantly on spiritual guides, ritual manuals, and meditation theory from Buddhism, Christianity, and Daoism.
A study of teachings basic to the Christian faith using classical and contemporary sources from both the Protestant and Catholic traditions, such as those about God, relations among religions, Jesus, the Church, and creation and its interpretations for today in light of their biblical and historical foundations.
An investigation of how our understanding and experience of gender are connected to our views of God, human beings, and the natural world. The course explores the works of a variety of thinkers and pays special attention to issues raised by feminist theologians who stand both inside and outside the Christian tradition. Possible topics include: language about God, human sexuality, views of women in the Bible, the nature of biblical authority, the feminist movement, the men's movement, images of nature in Western religious thought, and the ordination of women. (Same as WGST 337)
Ever since the rise of modern science in the 17th-century, a lively debate has ensued in the West centered on supposed conflicts between the methods and content of science and those of the religion. Can the universe be explained by appeal to natural processes alone or is it necessary to posit the reality of a non-material (or spiritual) dimension? Where can traditional religious understandings fit into a world dominated by scientific truth? This course will explore these questions through an exploration of the creation/evolution debate, theories of emergence and mind, and modern cosmological theories, considering in each case the implications of how we answer these questions for the building of a sustainable future.
An introduction to the biblical and theological sources of Christian ethics, types of moral theories, and methods of moral deliberation. Students develop a moral framework for a response to a variety of issues related to human sexuality, business, ecology, business, medicine, and war.
An introduction to the life and thought of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran theologian executed for his participation in a conspiracy to assassinate Adolf Hitler. His theological ethics are examined in their historical context through three major primary texts: The Cost of Discipleship, Ethics, and Letters and Papers from Prison. Attention is given to the significance of Bonhoeffer's work for today. Offered alternate years.
A critical examination of issues in environmental ethics from diverse Christian perspectives. The course examines root causes of environmental problems, philosophical and theological assumptions about nature, and resources for response in Christian traditions. Particular attention is given to demographic and economic factors at the global level as well as personal consumption decisions at the local level. Case studies ground reflection in concrete situation. Typically offered during alternate years at Holden Village, a Lutheran retreat center in the Cascade Mountains of Washington state. Offered alternate years.
This course explores the ways religion constitutes a vital force in the 21st century. It explores questions such as: what is religion, how can we study religion, why does religion appeal to people in an age of science, and how does religion facilitate personal and social transformation? The course integrates field trips, critical analysis, literature and films, the study of religious art, and theoretical reflection in order to examine the role religion plays in today's world. Particular emphasis will be given to religious worldviews, practices, art, and ethics. While the course focuses on the phenomenon of religion in general rather than individual religious traditions, the course addresses religious diversity worldwide as well as in the Midwest.
The course will provide a basic introduction to the development of Judaism as a religious culture from its beginnings to the present day. By reading primary texts from the bibical, rabbinic, medieval, and modern periods, students will examine religious experiences, worldviews, beliefs, behaviors, and symbols of the Jewish tradition, and the historical forces - cultural, political, social and economic - that have shaped Judaism. Throughout the course we will address issues raised by the history of Judaism that are particularly relevant today - imperialism, genocide, post-Holocaust theology, the State of Israel, gender, and so on.
This course will introduce students to the history, development, and theological traditions of Islam. Special attention will be given to Muhammad and the founding of the Muslim community; the Quran and Sunnah (the way of the Prophet) and their roles as sources for Muslim religious traditions; and the various expressions of Islam in the contemporary world, especially revivalism and modernism. The relationship between Islam and Chrisitianity will also be a topic of consideration.
This course explores the development and influence of a variety of Islamic movements that are growing in the contemporary world. After an overview of the basic structure of Islamic thought and of the Islamic Revivialist and Modernist movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, attention will be given to contemporary expressions of these larger trends such as Islamic Democracy, Islamic Economics, Islamic Feminism, and Progressive Islam. Special attention will be given to the role of Islamic thought in the post-9/11 world.
This course will introduce the religious and philosophical traditions of South Asia. Particularly, it will focus on historical, textual, and doctrinal foundations of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. It will analyze excerpts of their sacred scriptures, survey their beliefs, study their practices, and explore their ethical systems. Additional consideration will be given to contemporary issues facing these traditions.
This course will introduce the religious and philosophical traditions of China, Korea, and Japan. Particularly, it will focus on the historical, textual, and doctrinal foundations of Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, and Shintoism. It will analyze excerpts of their sacred scriptures, survey their beliefs, study their practices, and explore their ethical systems. Additional consideration will be given to contemporary issues facing these traditions.
This course introduces students to Mahayana Buddhism. It explores the development of Mahayana Buddhism, its relationship with other religious traditions, and its influence on culture. The primary teaching method is experiential. Students will visit temples in China and/or Japan, have instructions by an abbot, participate in the monastic life, will meet scholars of Buddhism, visit holy sites, and participate in Buddhist worship. The students will spend three days in a temple, joining the monks in meditation and religious practice. In addition to this experiential dimension, the course will familiarize students with the history, scriptures, and beliefs of Mahayana Buddhism through readings from primary texts, lectures, videos, and class discussions. It will further analyze the Buddhist response to general topics and problems, such as the absolute, the notion of self, the problem of human existence, as well as soteriological and ethical issues.
This course explores traditional and new forms of pilgrimages in China and Japan. In particular, it examines two kinds of pilgrimages: traditional ones to sacred mountains, sanctuaries, and other religious pilgrimage sites, on the one side, and pilgrimages to memorials that commemorate immense natural and human catastrophes in Sendai (3/11 earthquake and tsunami), Hiroshima (dropping of the atomic bomb), and Nanjing (1937/8 massacre), on the other. What connects these two kinds of pilgrimages is the importance attributed to memory, the desire for healing, and the need for reflection. The goal of this course is to investigate the religious and political dimensions of memory, self-cultivation, and contemplation. The course accomplishes this goal by examining questions such as: what is the social dimension of religious pilgrimages, what is the moral dimension of memory, and what is the spiritual dimension of healing and reconciliation? Offered only during January term.
This course examines religious themes in and the religious function of various narrative forms in Japan. The narratives studied in this course assume a spiritual topography that includes demons, ghosts, and gods, probe the gender and sexual identities of their characters, and introduce self-cultivation techniques such as martial arts. In particular, this course will focus on two traditional, narrative forms, Kabuki and No, and two contemporary ones, Manga and Anime. Some Kabuki and No plays function as religious ritual, while some Manga and Anime consciously reflect on moral attitudes and religious beliefs. These forms are also the product of various interactions among Japanese, Chinese, and American cultures. Analyzing these four kinds of cultural and religious expressions, the course examines the role of religious ritual and sacred texts in premodern as well as contemporary Japan. The course introduces students to religious studies methodology, critical theory (including gender and queer studies), and intercultural analysis. It will also deepen the skills in textual and literary criticism introduced in the courses fulfilling the Bible requirement. This course exposes students equally to the study of Japanese culture and the religious phenomenon.
This course explores issues of religious identity and interfaith engagement in a pluralistic world. Through a variety of methods, including textual study, theoretical reflection and a case study approach, we will discuss questions such as: what is religious identity, is it possible to identify with more than one religious tradition, can one remain committed to a single religious tradition in a pluralistic world, and how can people of different faiths build relationships with each other and work together for the common good? In addition, this course will examine interreligious encounters in a variety of contexts (in the United States and globally), and analyze responses to religious pluralism from a number of different religious perspectives.
Using archaeological, literary and artistic sources together with the Bible, this course examines the environment within which the biblical books were written. Both Old and New Testaments are examined in the light of outside sources.
In this course, students will apply interpretive methods to biblical texts in order to develop an understanding of the context and significance of these texts, then develop educational programs for use in a congregational setting that reflect this analysis. The entirety of the course will consist of collaborative work in groups. Class time will consist of four weekdays and Sunday mornings; a significant amount of the course will consist of group work outside of class. In groups of 4-5 people, students will choose a text appropriate for a specific age group, apply interpretive methods to that text, and develop a Sunday School lesson for that age group. Groups will rotate to different Sunday School classes each week. In addition, students will develop an outline for an adult education series, and assess existing curricular materials after the experience of developing their own programming.
An examination of the different ways in which the Jesus tradition was assimilated in the first two centuries of the Common Era. The course centers its attention on the four New Testament portraits of Jesus because they became the accepted interpretation of Jesus. Those portraits will be compared and contrasted with other ancient options available from recent discoveries. Topics studied will include: the canonical Gospels and the Synoptic problem, several non-canonical Gospels (including especially the Gospel according to Thomas), and the quest for the historical Jesus.
All religious traditions are in some measure shaped by their conceptions of human nature. Academic theories of religion, too, are shaped by conceptions of human nature. Human self-understanding is therefore central both to the believer's search for religious meaning and to the scholar's search for the meaning of religion. This course will examine the roles played by conceptions of human nature in various religious traditions and in various theories of religion. The course will also assess whether and how contemporary scientific accounts of human nature challenge traditional belief systems. Offered alternate years.
This course will explore the construction of gender and the role of sexuality in a variety of mystical and spiritual traditions. It will investigate gender and the sexual politics in primary texts and sexual imagery employed to describe spiritual progress and transformation. Specifically, it will investigate what gender and sexual imagery is used in religious scriptures that outline the progress of spiritual transformation, what the role of sexuality is in mystical traditions and meditation manuals, what the political implications of using the metaphor of marriage to describe spiritual practice and the beliefs they are based on are. In addition, the course will analyze feminist readings of mystical writings and meditation manuals from within a variety of religious traditions. Prerequisite: one of 101, 111, or 112. (Same as women's and gender studies 362.)
This course will explore one particular topic in the field of Asian religions. Likely topics include meditation theory, nationalism and religion, and theories of justice. This course is designed for students with a particular interest in Asian studies, religious studies, or philosophy. Offered alternate years.
Religious diversity is a reality that we can no longer avoid. It challenges us to take seriously the spiritual and religious commitments of others and to reflect more critically on our own questions about and commitments to religion. This course will introduce students to the larger theological issues involved in interreligious dialogue and learning, a field known as comparative theology. Incorporating thinkers from at least three religious traditions and putting them into conversation with one another, the course will explore the following questions from a theological perspective: How does globalism and the fact of religious diversity influence my beliefs? What are various ways of thinking about god, the world, and our place in it? What is the significance of my neighbor's faith for my own? How might an engagement with other religious traditions shape and transform my own religious identity?
A contemporary Muslim scholar, Amin Ahsan Islahi, has stated that Jesus urged his disciples on to wage jihad. Given the negative images often associated with a concept like jihad, this might seem like a heretical statement. Several new lines of research, however, suggest that connecting Jesus with jihad might provide an interesting way to rethink the fields of comparative religion studies and interfaith relations. This course will combine newer insights emerging in the study of the New Testament, early Islamic history, and theoretical approaches to the study of religion to consider whether the Jesus/jihad connection makes sense, though perhaps in a way different than Islahi intends. Could connecting Jesus with jihad provide a new way to conceive of the relationship between Christians and Muslims?