Jul 11, 2020  
Course Catalog 2019-2020 
Course Catalog 2019-2020 [ARCHIVED CATALOG]


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Corey Barnes, Associate Professor, Department Chair
Joyce K. Babyak, Associate Professor
Emilia Bachrach, Assistant Professor
Cynthia R. Chapman, Johnston Frank Professor
Cheryl Cottine, Assistant Professor
Andrew Macomber, Assistant Professor
Mohammad Mahallati, Presidential Scholar in Islamic Studies
Shari Rabin, Assistant Professor
Daniel Schultz, Visiting Assitant Professor of Religion

The Religion major serves as a rich focus for a liberal arts curriculum, preparing students for diverse career and educational trajectories. Religion Department courses offer both breadth in the study of religion and opportunities for concentrated study in particular religious traditions and specific ares of religious thought and practice.

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., Africana 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 100-level courses are appropriate for all students. First-year seminars are writing intensive and focus on the essential skills of reading, analysis, writing, and discussion. The 100-level courses introduce students to religious studies through analysis of specific religious traditions, practices, or themes and can function as stand-alone explorations or as gateways to further study.

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 400 - Senior Capstone Seminars  

The senior capstone courses are designed to provide a culminating experience to the Religion major. All majors must complete RELG 401: Capstone Research Methods. The overarching learning objective of this course is to train students in the skills necessary for conducting primary research in the academic study of religion. Throughout the semester students research and write a Senior Capstone Project. RELG 402: Capstone Colloquium is an optional one-semester extension that provides additional time for expansion and refinement of the Senior Capstone Project.




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 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 038, 046, 050, 058, 085, 091, 101, 130, 131, 144, 147, 158, 164, 167, 172, 191) or colloquium for first- and second-year students (RELG 118) or one of the eight “Introduction to Religion” courses (RELG 100, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 107, 108, 109, 118, 123, 135, 137, 154, 190) 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, 252, 253, 254, 255, 257, 258)
  • Islam (270, 272)
  • Christianity (215, 216, 217, 218, 228)
  • Hinduism (231, 234, 238)

The modern-culture-based approach:

  • Modern Religious Thought in the West (223, 224, 225, 226, 227, 229)
  • Religious Social Ethics  (241, 242, 244, 245, 248, 249, 254, 274, 276)
  • Gender & Religion (227, 237, 261, 262, 264)

The geographical region-based approach:

  • Ancient Near East  (202, 203, 205, 208, 210)
  • East Asia (232, 235, 236, 238, 239)
  • South Asia (230, 233)
  • Modern North America (263, 282, 283, 284, 286)

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 (209, 282, 284, 285)
  • East Asian Religions (235, 236, 239)
  • Religious Social Ethics (241, 242, 243, 245, 248, 249, 254, 276)
  • Gender and Religion (261, 262, 263)
  • History of Christianity (215, 216, 217, 218)
  • Islam (270, 272, 275)
  • Jewish and Christian Scriptures (202, 205, 207, 208)
  • Judaism (250, 251,252, 253, 254, 255, 256, 258)      
  • Modern Religious Thought in the West (224, 225, 226)
  • South Asian Religions (203, 231, 233, 234, 237, 238)
  • Africa (281)

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.  Complete Capstone Research Methods (RELG 401), and Capstone Colloquium (RELG 402) is optional. Only students in 402 can be considered for honors.

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

Students must earn minimum grades of C- or P for all courses that apply toward 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.

First- and Second-Year Colloquium

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