Course Descriptions

For students entering IWU in fall 2021 and beyond, Religious Studies is no longer available as a major or minor.

REL 102 Introduction to Religious Thought (AV)

An introduction to central issues in religious thought and their relevance in the contemporary world. Topics may include the idea "God," the nature of the self, the nature of religious experience, and the question of pluralism. (Offered annually)

REL 104 Introduction to Myths and Rituals (CSI, U)

An introduction to the academic study of religion. Investigation of the basic components of religions through comparison of sacred narratives (myths) and patterned interactions with sacred powers (rituals). Special focus on interpretation of religious experience and the symbolic meanings present in myths and rituals. (Offered annually)

REL 106 Women, Religion, and Spirituality (CSI, G)

A rediscovery of women's religious activities and women-centered spirituality in a variety of cultural and religious settings, ranging from ancient to contemporary traditions, and from local to world religions. Includes cross-cultural comparisons of women's writings about their encounters with the sacred. (Offered in alternate years.)

REL 110 Religions of the World (CSI, G)

An introduction to the variety of religious traditions and communities throughout the world, emphasizing their contemporary cultural and social contexts. Included for study will be the beliefs and practices of the world religions as well as the religions of indigenous peoples. (Offered in alternate years)

REL 120 Introduction to Biblical Studies (IT)

Focuses on understanding the historical, cultural and religious traditions within the biblical narratives, the process of the canonization of the biblical texts, the variety of methods of interpretation used to study the biblical materials. (Offered annually)

REL 123 Jesus at the Movies (AR)

This course will examine Jesus as a movie star.  We will be particularly interested in the problems encountered by and ways in which Hollywood has depicted Jesus on the silver screen.  We will explore how the portrayal of Jesus has varied as social, political, and religious perspectives have shifted over the last century.  (Offered in alternate years, May Term.)

REL 130 Asian Religious Literature (LIT, G)

An introduction to the religious literature of India, China, and Japan. Emphasis on close reading and analysis of a variety of primary texts, with attention paid both to distinguishing stylistic and structural dimensions of individual texts and to situating those texts within their historical and social contexts. (Offered annually)

REL 131 Chinese Religions (CHC, G)

An introduction to the three major Chinese religions: Taoism, Confucianism and Chinese Buddhism. Emphasis is placed on doctrinal and institutional evolvements and changes, as well as the socio-historical factors that affected these changes. (Offered in alternate years)

REL 132 Asian Religious Practice (CSI, G)

A selective introduction to religion as practiced in the cultures of South, East, and Southeast Asia. Emphasis is placed on understanding and comparing such possible topics as life-cycle rites, sacrifice and worship, divination and possession, meditation, monastic life, and pilgrimage. (Offered occasionally)

REL 133 Islam in the Modern World (CHC, G)

This course will introduce students to Islam, its evolution, and the challenges it faces both within and in relation to others.  The students will have an informed understanding of Islam, its historical development, its diversity, inter-religious dialogues, and the major challenges posed by religious violence in the modern world.  (Offered annually.)

REL 135 Zen (CHC)

As a unique form of East Asian Buddhism, Zen has fascinated not only through its wisdom, but also through the expression of such wisdom: haiku, tea ceremony, calligraphy, landscape painting and pastoral poetry. But what is Zen? How does it work as a religion? What are the features that make it unique? And what factors contributed to its appearance and continuation within East Asia? This course seeks to address precisely these questions. (Offered in alternate years)

REL 170 Special Topics

Introductory study of selected topics in textual studies, contemporary religious thought, or the history of religions. May be repeated if subject matter is different. See current Program of Classes to determine if this course fulfills general education requirements. (Offered occasionally)

REL 170 African American Religions (CHC, U)

This course follows the history of African-American religious experiences from their roots in African traditional religions and African Christianity through the development of beliefs, practices, and institutions in colonial and post-colonial United States.

REL 204 Native American and African Religions (CSI, G, W)

An investigation of the religions of native peoples and tribes in Africa and the Americas. Centers on the nature and definition of religion in the myths, rituals, social roles and political traditions of the tribes. (Offered in alternate years)

REL 209 Myth, Image, and Symbol in South Asian Religion (AR, G) 

An investigation of the interrelationship among textual and non-textual forms of religious expression in South Asian religion. Readings from Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain traditions will be correlated with images and symbols drawn from sculpture, painting, dance, and film. (Offered occasionally)

REL 210 Greek Myth and the Hero (IT) (Cross-listed with GRS 210)

In our society, "myth" is often perceived as "storytelling" that has an element of falsehood built into it. For archaic Greek society, like many traditional societies that operate on ancestral principles, myths are the ultimate way of encoding truth values. Storytelling, therefore, is not just entertainment; it is a set of patterns set up by a specific society that gives the members of the culture a sense of their own identity. In this course we will begin to understand how the storytelling traditions of Greece establish social order and define what it means to be truly civilized. (Offered Annually.)

REL 221 The World of Jesus (CHC, W)

Studies Judaism from the exile by the Babylonians to the Jewish War. Focuses on the Jewish reaction to three historical events: the destruction of Solomon's Temple, the desecration of the Second Temple by the Greeks, and its destruction by the Romans. Reconstructs the religious and political climates which resulted from these historical struggles and which provided the ground for the beginning of Christianity. (Offered in alternate years)

REL 231 Cults, Divination and Popular Religions in East Asian Societies (CHC)

This course focuses on the diverse forms of popular religion in East Asian societies, such as cult, pilgrimage, divination, folk ecology and ancestral worship. While without systematic formulation of doctrines and practices, popular religions are as vibrant as those institutionalized religions, if not more. Thus this course aims to introduce students to the richness of the East Asian culture through a close examination of such popular expressions of religiosity, and the complex and sometimes fluid relationship among these popular religions. (Offered in alternate years)

REL 232 Hindus and Christians (IT, G)

An introduction to the history and theology of Hindu-Christian encounter, with special attention given to colonial rule and missionary ideology in India, strategies of Hindu reform, and the current status of Hindu-Christian dialogue. (Offered in alternate years)

REL 241 Modern Religious Thought (IT)

An intellectual history of 19th and 20th century Christian and Judaic thought, this course is organized around major themes in religious thought (e.g., the idea "God," the relationship between reason and faith, and the nature of history). Representative works by major thinkers in Christian and Judaic theology and philosophy are read to see how these thinkers have dealt with such themes over time and in relation to wider currents in intellectual thought. (Offered in alternate years)

REL 242 Philosophers Read the Bible (IT, W)

Philosophers have long been avid readers of the Bible, frequently debating questions of authority and meaning regarding text. In this class, we will grapple with philosophical debates over the meanings of specific passages of the Bible as well as explore disputes over such topics as revelation and prophecy. (Offered annually)

REL 246 Who is (not) a Jew? (IT)

The institution of 'Jewishness' has carried with it significant religious, ethnic and social connotations. In this course we will examine representations of Jews in countries where Jews are the minorities (especially in predominantly Christian countries) by exploring both how Jews conceive of themselves in regard to non-Jews, and how non-Jews understand themselves with regard to Jews. (Offered occasionally)

REL 270 Special Topics

Intermediate study of selected topics in textual studies, contemporary religious thought, or the history of religions. May be repeated if subject matter is different. See current Program of Classes to determine if this course fulfills general education requirements. (Offered occasionally)

REL 290 Interpreting Religious Experience (IT, W)

What do we mean by calling an experience 'religious'? How has the concept of religious experience come to play such an important role in modern theology and the academic study of religion? Such historical and critical questions will be examined by reading the work of theologians and scholars of religion from the Enlightenment to the present. (Offered in alternate years)

REL 291 Magic, Witchcraft and Religion (CSI, W)

An examination of this historical distinctions between "magic", "witchcraft", and "religion", focusing on disputes over the boundaries and definitions of the terms. Emphasizes the theories and approaches that Western scholars bring to their studies of magic, sorcery, shamanic traditions, and controversial aspects of religion and witchcraft in American history. ( Offered in alternate years.)

REL 292 Religion in Contemporary Japan (CSI, G)

An exploration of religion as practiced in postwar Japan. Through the analysis of selected themes such as secularization, healing, and new religious movements, students are introduced to the complexity of Japanese religion and to sociological methods for its study. (Offered occasionally)

REL 294 Jesus and the Gospels (IT)

Explores the various portraits of Jesus in the gospel literature of the New Testament and the extra-canonical traditions. By approaching the literature from a historical-literary perspective, we will reconstruct each gospel's interpretation of Jesus and, finally, the "historical" Jesus himself. (Offered in alternate years)

REL 295 The Problem of Interpretation in Buddhism (IT)

This course introduces the practice of scriptural interpretation in Buddhism and, as the basis of that, how Buddhists conceive of the nature of truth, understanding and language. To facilitate a more in-depth appreciation of this subject, the course also introduces the Western theories of Hermeneutics as its methodological framework. (Offered in alternate years)

REL 304 Latin American Religions (CHC, G, W)

Historical study of the religions of the indigenous, imported, and emergent cultures in the Americas, including the traditions of the pre-conquest tribal cultures, religions formed during the contact of indigenous and European peoples, the transformed Christian traditions in modern Latin America, and religions of African heritage. (Offered in alternate years)

REL 307 Voodoo, Santera, and Candombl (CSI, G)

An examination of the distinctive spirituality of the African diaspora, whose religions fuse ideas and expressions from ancestral African traditions with the ancient traditions of Western and American religions in a variety of cultural settings. Emphasis on understanding the persistence and reinterpretation of religious experience in new and dynamic dimensions. (Offered in alternate years)

REL 309 Imagining Modern India (IT, G)

This course explores the many ways Indians have imagined and contested the identity of the modern nation. Students will assess a variety of religious, moral, and artistic visions that have worked to shape the India of today, from Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi to Gurcharan Das and Arundhati Roy. (Offered in alternate years)

REL 310 Cults in America (CSI, U)

A critical investigation of so-called "cults," New Religious Movements, sects, and alternative spirituality formed over the past 150 years in the United States. Includes study of a wide range of phenomena, from millenarian groups to the New Age, and their purpose and place in contemporary society. (Offered in alternate years)

REL 318 Blood Rites and Mystery Cults (CHC)

Ancient Roman religion was uniquely open to foreign influence while respecting its own customs.  This course will examine how the Roman people demonstrated this quality as they adopted or adapted new religious ideas and traditions from the beginnings of the Roman monarchy in 753 BCE to the fifth century CE.  (Offered occasionally.)  (Cross-listed with GRS 318 and HIST 318)

REL 321 Angels and Demons in Biblical Literature (IT)

This course will examine the ideas of Biblical writers with regard to the fundamental role that the spirit world (angels and demons) played in their understanding of the universe. In so doing, we will come to understand how important these ideas were in shaping Christian beliefs generally. (Offered in alternate years)

REL 322 Judaism and Christianity in the Greco-Roman World (CHC)

This course examines the development of Judaism and Christianity during the Roman period from 167 BCE-312 CE. We will study pivotal moments in the development of Judaism and Christianity to see how these religions were affected by Greek culture and the Roman Empire and also how these religions affected the course of Western history. (Offered in alternate years)

REL 323 Christian Controversies and Creeds (IT, W)

Traces the development and meaning of the major doctrinal traditions which gained authoritative status within the ancient Church from the bible to the Council of Chalcedon. We will understand these traditions to be the result of dialogue, contention, and controversy between various groups of Christians. (Offered in alternate years)

REL 324 Sexuality and Christianity (AV)

Studies the development of attitudes toward sexuality and the body in many varieties of Christianity in order to understand the origins, complexity, and continuation of the religious sanctification of sexism in our society. (Offered occasionally)

REL 325 Lost Books of the Bible (IT, W)

This course examines writings from antiquity that were omitted from the Bible such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, The Book of Enoch, and the Gospel of Thomas and considers the complex reasons why these writings were omitted and what they might mean for us today. (Offered in alternate years)

REL 330 Buddhism in India and Tibet (CHC, G)

An overview of the Buddhist religious tradition as it developed in South Asia and Tibet. Emphasis placed on the development of Buddhist doctrine and practice in Theravada, Mahayana and Tantric traditions. (Offered in alternate years)

REL 331 Buddhism in East Asia (IT)

Buddhism assumes various forms in its various homes across East Asia, where the originally South Asian religion has interacted with indigenous religious traditions in a long process of mutual influence and mutual assimilation. Such a process has given Buddhism a uniquely East Asian aspect. This course is designed to explore this East Asian aspect through the examination of the major doctrinal debates either within Buddhism, or among Buddhism and other major East Asian traditions. (Offered in alternate years)

REL 332 The Hindu Religious Tradition (CHC, G)

An introduction to the major themes of thought and practice that characterize the Hindu religious tradition. Attention will be paid to exploring the relationship between the religious life of ancient India and the subsequent development of classical and modern Hindu movements. (Offered in alternate years)

REL 333 Islam from Mecca to Malcolm X (CHC, G)

A study of Islam through its core religious doctrines, texts, practices, and leaders in the diverse cultures in which the religion has thrived. Includes a focus on the central issues of Islamic development in the contemporary U.S., especially as shaped by Malcolm X and the immigrant communities. Prerequisite: Senior or junior standing or consent of instructor. (Offered in alternate May Terms)

REL 334 Reading Hindu Texts (LIT)

A course in the close reading of selected texts from the ancient and classical Hindu tradition, with special attention to issues of historical context; genre, style and structure; commentary, interpretation, and translation; and the development of religious and philosophical systems. Texts chosen may include the Upanisads, Bhagavad-gita, Yoga-sutras, or classical Vedanta texts. (Offered in alternate years)

REL 335 Reading Buddhist Texts (LIT, W)

Dedicated to a close reading of selected Buddhist texts, this course focuses on issues of historical contexts, formation and development of major religious teachings, interaction among texts, and their impact on the cultures in which they have been and are still being widely circulated. (Offered in alternate years)

REL 336 The World of Thought in Ancient China (IT)

This course introduces the world of thought in ancient China (500-200 BCE) as one of the intellectual and moral fountainheads of East Asian civilizations. It focuses on the competing views about the relationship between Man and an impersonal God, as well as Man's response to the Way of the Tao, of that God. (Offered in alternate years)

REL 337 Encountering Religious Diversity (CSI, G)

This course facilitates an informed cross-cultural comparison on issues related to religious diversity, and helps students understand how some of the major world religions share their sacred mythologies, religious ethics, philosophies, ritual practices, and social institutions. It will also provide contest for inter-and-intra-religious research. (Offered in alternate years, May term.)

REL 341 Religious Tolerance and Pluralism (AV)

In the contemporary world, religious differences are a major cause of conflict. How are we to contend with these differences? This class debates various arguments about tolerance and pluralism such as whether or not Jews and Christians are morally obligated to adapt their religious world-views to these principles. (Offered in alternate years)

REL 342 Judaism through the Ages (IT, W)

A survey of the varied nature of Judaism focusing on history, theology, philosophy, and politics. Subjects covered will include the Hebrew Bible, Second Temple Judaism, Rabbinic theology, Maimonides, the Haskala (Jewish Enlightenment), Hasidism, Zionism, and the diversity of contemporary Judaism. (Offered in alternate years)

REL 343 American Jewish Thought (IT)

How have developments in history, philosophy, science and especially the multicultural nature of society in the twentieth and twenty-first century US, shaped Jewish self-understanding? Of particular interest are the contested issues of Chosenness, the meaning of God, ethnicity, and religious observance.

REL 370 Advanced Topics in Religion

Investigation of selected topics in textual studies, contemporary religious thought, or the history of religions intended for more advanced students and students with previous study in religion. May be repeated, if subject matter is different. See current Program of Classes to determine if this course fulfills general education requirements. (Offered occasionally)

REL 397 Internship in Religion

Students may arrange internships on an individual basis in areas related to religious and social agencies. May be repeated in a different area for a maximum of two units. Prerequisite: two other courses in religion or consent. Will not satisfy university general education requirement. (Offered each semester.)

REL 450 Independent Study

Designed to allow students to develop individual interests. Prerequisite: one course in religion and consent of instructor. May be repeated if the subject matter is different. (Offered each semester.)

REL 490 Senior Seminar in Religion

Arranged in consultation with individual members of the Religion Department. Student will select a topic and conduct research toward a substantial paper while participating in a guided study of methods in religion. Prerequisites: senior standing, Religion majors only. (Offered each fall)

REL 491 Senior Honors Research Project

Arranged in consultation with individual members of the Religion Department. Continuation of research conducted in Religion 490, emphasizing original research and leading to the completion of a research honors project. Prerequisites: Religion 490, Research Honors candidacy. (Offered each spring)