Feb 27, 2020  
Course Catalog 2014-2015 
Course Catalog 2014-2015 [ARCHIVED CATALOG]


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Cynthia R. Chapman, Associate Professor, Department Chair
Joyce K. Babyak, Associate Professor
Corey Barnes, Associate Professor
Cheryl Cottine, Assistant Professor
James C. Dobbins, Fairchild Professor
David G. Kamitsuka, Associate Professor
Margaret D. Kamitsuka, Associate Professor
Mohammad Mahallati, Presidential Scholar in Islamic Studies
Albert G. Miller, Associate Professor
Paula S. Richman, Danforth Professor
Abraham P. Socher, Associate Professor


The Religion major is designed to serve as a focus of a liberal arts education for the general student and as a pre-professional foundation for those pursuing the study of religion beyond the baccalaureate degree. While offering a broad curriculum in the study of religion, the major also affords an opportunity for concentrated study in particular religious traditions and specific areas of religious thought and practice. Students who contemplate graduate study in religion or professional study in seminary or rabbinical school after graduation are advised to consult with the chair or other members of the department as early in their undergraduate careers as possible. 

Approaches to the academic study of religion have developed in engagement with a host of historical factors. Understanding religious studies as an academic discipline requires an appreciation of the intersections and divergences among a variety of approaches. In our major, we focus on the following three influential general approaches:  

  •            The tradition-based approach to the study of religion predates the “invention” of the Western academic study of religion in the 19th century, but continues to be vitally important for the academic study of Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism in our curriculum. Religious tradition-based approaches provide the means for in-depth study of the synchronic and diachronic aspects of religions in global contexts. This approach includes historical, textual, and ethnographic methods of investigation. 
  •             The modern-culture-based approach to the study of religion emerged with the development of modern religious thought in the West and modern religious social ethics. This approach initially focused on modern Western philosophical questions of metaphysical and moral truth and meaning but has expanded to include issues arising from other forms of critical theory such as gender theory and postcolonial theory.  
  •              The geographical religion-based approach analyzes religious forms of life in terms of the history and cultures of a region. Oftentimes historical, anthropological, and archeological frameworks and methods are employed by this approach. This approach has been influential in the modern academic study of ancient Near Eastern religions (including biblical studies) and in the study of East Asian, South Asian, and African religions, and religions of the Americas-previously underrepresented in religious studies. 

Some courses in the Religion Department are cross-referenced or cross-listed with, or generally fulfill requirements of, other programs of study in the College-e.g., African American Studies; Comparative American Studies; East Asian Studies; Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies; Jewish Studies; and Law and Society. Courses offered in the department are grouped in the following categories: 

First-Year Seminars and 100-level Courses. 

First-year seminars and lecture courses at the 100 level are intended primarily for non-majors. First-year seminars are writing intensive and focus on the essential skills of reading, analysis, writing, and discussion. The 100-level Introduction to Religion courses are intended to introduce students to at least three religious traditions. In addition a few colloquia for first- and second-year students are offered in varying years. 

200-Level Courses.

Most 200-level courses serve as “gateways” to our major in that they are designed to introduce students to one or more general approach (described above) and disciplinary subfield in the academic study of religion. In addition, 200-level courses are where the breadth and concentration for the major are acquired. The particular focus of each 200-level course is indicated more fully in the course descriptions below. 

300-Level Seminars.

Advanced 300-level seminars are primarily intended for Religion majors and minors who have completed at least one 200-level course in the applicable subfield.

RELG 300 - Approaches to the Academic Study of Religion.

The overarching learning objective of this course is to train students in the skills necessary for doing primary research in the academic study of religion, particularly in light of the three general approaches to the study of religion of the major. This course will culminate in the development of a prospectus for the student’s Senior Capstone Project along with the relevant subfield literature review. 

RELG 400 - Senior Capstone Seminars  

The senior capstone courses are designed to provide a culminating experience to the Religion major.  There are two paths to completing the capstone experience. 

One option is the RELG 401/RELG 402 sequences that are taken over the fall and spring semesters, respectively.  These courses are designed for those who choose to research and write an extended research paper as a capstone experience.  The second option for the Capstone Reading Seminar is a RELG 405 that is only given in the spring semester.

·      RELG 401 - Senior Capstone Project Colloquium Part I.
The overarching learning objective of this course is to train students in the skills necessary for doing primary research in the academic study of religion, particularly in light of the three general approaches to the study of religion of the major. This course will culminate in the development of a draft of a student’s Senior Capstone Project along with the relevant subfield literature review.

·      RELG 402 - Senior Capstone Project Colloquium Part II.
The colloquium is a team-taught course for senior religion majors only, designed to facilitate independent research that deepens and synthesizes student learning in the major.


·       RELG 405 -Senior Readings Colloquium.
 This course is designed for students, as a capstone experience, to have shared reflection about their academic work in the major through reading and writing reflections on common themes within the field of Religion.


Before declaring the major in Religion, students must complete the following forms, in consultation with an advisor (a continuing faculty member in the department): (1) a Plan for the Major and  (2) a Majors Checklist (available on Blackboard) and  (3) the Declaration of Major form (available from the Office of the Registrar).  The Plan for the Major should describe the student’s intentions and goals for the major as well as a strategy for achieving those goals. The student and advisor should re-visit the Plan for the Major several times during the student’s work in the department and revise it as appropriate. 

The Religion major consists of a minimum of 9 courses in the department. Under ordinary circumstances, no more than one first-year seminar (FYSP 050, 058, 085, 091, 101, 124, 131, 144, 147, 156, 158, 164, 172, 186, 194) or colloquium for first- and second-year students (RELG 118) or one of the eight “Introduction to Religion” (RELG 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 107, 108 and 109) courses may be counted in the 9 courses required for the major. 

Students majoring in Religion must complete the following:

1.  At least one course in each of the three general approaches to the academic study of religion. 

The tradition-based approach:

  •          Judaism  (250, 251, 253, 254, 258)
  •           Islam (270, 272, 273)
  •          Christianity (217, 218, 228)
  •          Hinduism (231, 238)

The modern-culture-based approach:

  •           Modern Religious Thought in the West (225, 226, 227, 229)
  •          Religious Social Ethics  (241, 242, 245)
  •           Gender & Religion (247, 261, 262)

The geographical region-based approach:

  •           Ancient Near East  (202, 203, 205, 208, 210)
  •           East Asia (235, 236, 239)
  •          South Asia (233)
  •          Modern North America (263, 282, 284)

2. Take one 200-level course in at least four of the subfields represented in our major.  (Courses identified under the general approaches requirement may also count toward this subfield requirement.)

  •          American Religious History (282, 284, 285)
  •          East Asian Religions (235, 236, 239)
  •          Religious Social Ethics (241, 242, 243, 245, 249)
  •          Gender and Religion (247, 261, 262, 263)
  •           History of Christianity (217, 218)
  •           Islam (270, 272, 273)
  •           Jewish and Christian Scriptures (202, 205, 208)
  •           Judaism (250, 251,253, 254, 258)      
  •          Modern Religious Thought in the West (225, 226, 227)
  •           South Asian Religions (231, 233, 234, 238)

3.  Take at least one additional 200-level course in one of the four subfields (along with a 300-level seminar), thus forming a subfield concentration.

4. Take at least one 300-level seminar.  Majors will normally take the seminar within their subfield concentration.


5. Take one of two paths for completion of the 400-level Capstone experience: either the RELG 401/RELG 402 sequence, or RELG 405:

 RELG 401/RELG 402 sequence: 

·      Take Senior Capstone Colloquium Part I (RELG 401) in the first semester of the senior year.  Students must have completed at least one 200-level course in two of the three general approaches to the study of religion as a prerequisite for RELG 401.  RELG 401 is normally taken in fall semester of senior year.  Students are strongly encouraged to have completed an advanced 300-level seminar before taking RELG 401.   

·      Take the Senior Capstone Colloquium part 2 (RELG 402) in the second semester of the senior year.  RELG 401 is a prerequisite for RELG 402.  The Senior Capstone Colloquium is a team-taught advanced course where students work on a substantive independent research project while also participating in a colloquium setting to discuss the research process and engage in peer-review and interdisciplinary exchange with department faculty. The course culminates with the completion of the Capstone Project.  Only students who have completed RELG 401/ RELG 402 may be considered for Honors.

RELG 405

·      This one semester course is designed for students, as a capstone experience, to engage them in critical works within the field of religious studies in light of their own coursework in the major through reading and writing on common themes within the field of Religion.   This course is only be open to students taking it to fulfill their major requirement.  Students do not write a capstone thesis for this course, but will have regular writing assignments that cover not only the content of the readings but also the process of writing.  The course will be led by one faculty convener with the participation of several additional religion faculty. 

6.  Students planning graduate or professional study in Religion are encouraged to take at least one year of foreign or classical language study at the college level.


The minor in Religion consists of 5 full courses.  One of these courses must be a 300-level seminar.

Minimum Grade

Courses in which a student has earned a letter grade lower than a C- or P cannot be used to fulfill the requirements of the major.

Transfer of Credit

Students wishing to transfer credit toward the Religion major are advised to provide the department with as much information about the transferred course as possible (including the syllabus, papers, and exams). The department will not normally count more than two full courses of transfer credit toward the major and does not normally accept transferred courses to satisfy distribution requirements in the major. Students should seek preapproval from the Chair for coursework they intend to take elsewhere and transfer to Oberlin.


Students will be considered for honors based on their performance in the major, the quality of their senior capstone project, and an oral examination.  Please consult with the Chair of the department for further information about honors.

Winter Term

Faculty in the Religion Department sponsor a wide variety of Winter Term projects, particularly projects related to their areas of scholarly expertise. Students planning projects are invited to approach individual faculty members to discuss their ideas and plans.

Colloquia for First- and Second-Year Students

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