Reed College Catalog


The academic study of religion is an integral part of the liberal arts. The aims of the curriculum are two: to introduce students to the various religious traditions of the world—Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, for example—and to acquaint students with a variety of recognized methodologies employed in the study of religion—philosophical, social scientific, and historical. The department’s courses serve both to develop in students the capacity for critical assessment of religious thought and action, and to provide an adequate grounding for independent, analytic inquiry into the history of religious traditions.

The curriculum of the department reflects the staff’s commitment to a diversity of approaches in religious studies. Majors in religion are expected to be familiar with this methodological and theoretical spectrum, and to concentrate upon particular approaches in their research.

While the study of religion is an independent academic field, the department encourages the pursuit of interdisciplinary work in philosophy, classics, literature, history, anthropology, sociology, psychology, and other fields.

Besides providing the foundation for a liberal education, a major in religion can prepare students for advanced study in the field, for the ministry, or for other vocations.

Requirements for the Major

  1. One 100-level introduction in religion.
  2. Religion 201 (theories and methods).
  3. At least five additional units in religion, three of which must be at the 300 level or above.
  4. Religion 399 (junior seminar).
  5. Religion 470 (senior thesis and religion symposium).
  6. Completion of two units in a foreign language of at least the second-year level or demonstration, by means acceptable to the department, of equivalent proficiency. To satisfy this requirement a student must do one of the following: pass a second-year language course at Reed, pass a second-year language course that has been approved by the department at another accredited college or university, or pass a language placement examination at the second-year or higher level. A number of placement examinations are offered at Reed every year during orientation. Students desiring to meet the language requirement by any means other than second-year coursework at Reed should consult with their adviser in advance. The department recommends students study the sacred language of a religion in which they are especially interested.

Recommended but not required: Humanities 210, 220, or 230.

Requirements for the Interdisciplinary Major

  1. One 100-level introduction in religion.
  2. Religion 201 (theories and methods).
  3. Four other units in religion.
  4. Course requirements as specified by the related discipline.
  5. Completion of two units in a foreign language of at least the second-year level or demonstration, by means acceptable to the department, of equivalent proficiency. To satisfy this requirement a student must do one of the following: pass a second-year language course at Reed, pass a second-year language course that has been approved by the department at another accredited college or university, or pass a language placement examination at the second-year or higher level. A number of placement examinations are offered at Reed every year during orientation. Students desiring to meet the language requirement by any means other than second-year coursework at Reed should consult with their adviser in advance.
  6. Religion 399 (junior seminar).
  7. Religion 470 (senior thesis and religion symposium).

Religion 152 - Introduction to Judaism

Full course for one semester. This course is an introduction to the self-definition of Judaism. The course will analyze Judaism’s understanding of itself by examining such central concepts as God, Torah, and Israel. This central self-definition will then be tested by close readings of selected representative texts and investigation of the varieties of Jewish history, as manifested in such phenomena as mysticism, sectarianism, and messianism. Lecture-conference.

Religion 153 - Worlds of Ancient Christianity

Full course for one semester. This course is a chronological survey of the varieties of Christianity from their origins to the sixth century. It requires extensive reading of the Greek, Latin, Syriac, and Coptic sources in English translation. Intended to provide both an introduction to the materials and a narrative context in which to pursue more advanced studies, the course is open to first-year students. Lecture-conference.

Religion 154 - Introduction to South Asian Religions

Full course for one semester. This course is a historical introduction to the religious traditions of South Asia: Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. We examine these three traditions’ distinct understandings of the human predicament and their responses to it, paying particular attention to the ways in which they have been shaped by their interaction and debate with each other. The readings and discussions will focus on important sacred texts in translation, such as the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and Buddhist and Jain sūtras. The course has a strong visual component to it: besides texts, we study the images through which the Hindu gods and goddesses have been envisioned and embodied, as well as Buddhist and Jain visual representations of the cosmos and enlightened beings. Lecture-conference.

Religion 155 - The Rise and Formation of Islam

Full course for one semester. This course is an introduction to the rise and formation of Islam as a prophetic religious tradition. Focused thematically on revelation, empire, ritual, and tradition, it examines the emergence of Islam in Late Antiquity and studies the development of Muslim intellectual traditions and sociopolitical institutions through the eleventh century. Lecture-conference.

Not offered 2011–12.

Religion 156 - Islam in the Modern World

Full course for one semester. This course introduces students to how Muslim institutions and conceptions of authority changed in the modern era in relation to such historical developments as industrialization, scientific progress, European colonialism, the rise of nation-states, and feminism. Readings include literary works and autobiographies of Muslims from different cultural backgrounds as well as ethnographies and historical studies of social groups and institutions. Conference.

Not offered 2011–12.

Religion 157 - The Idea Systems of Chinese Religions

Full course for one semester. This course is a survey of the idea systems in the development of China's three main institutional faiths: Daoism, Buddhism, and Classicist lineage ritual. Known as the “Three Teachings,” these faiths flowered in the second and third centuries and gradually permeated every aspect of Chinese life, from family structure to foreign trade, from cosmological speculation to court politics, from liturgy to landscape painting. We will examine how the three teachings borrowed from one another and yet still delineated their own identities. Lectures will place these religions within a historical and political context and will draw upon surviving religious art to provide a visual component to the course. Conference discussions and readings will focus on translations of sacred texts such as Buddhism’s famous Vimalakirti Sutra and Daoism's Scripture of the inner explanation of the three heavens. Lecture-conference.

Not offered 2011–12.

Religion 160 - Religion and Philosophy in Preimperial China

Full course for one semester. This course is a study of religion and philosophy in preimperial China (i.e., before 221 BCE) alongside their literary and artistic manifestations. While a billion people can today claim an intellectual inheritance from Greece, more than two billion recognize ancient China as their foundation. Beginning with the oracle bones and sacrificial bronze vessels, the course will progress to the Confucian classics and the blossoming of Chinese philosophy. Analyses will include bronze-age material culture (including the new discoveries of Sanxingdui), The book of songs from the Confucian tradition, The Zhuangzi from the Daoist tradition, and the preimperial narrative histories of the Zuo commentary. Conference.

Religion 166 - An Introduction to Eastern Orthodox Christianity

Full course for one semester. An introduction to Eastern Orthodox Christianity as an incarnational religious tradition, this course investigates the various ways that Eastern Orthodox Christians have understood and recapitulated the person and work of Jesus Christ. Historical and phenomenological analyses of Eastern Orthodox art and architecture, ritual practices, and a wide array of liturgical, theological, canonical, and historical texts will provide interpretive strategies for further exploration of the tradition and bases for comparative understanding. The course focuses on nineteenth- and twentieth-century Eastern Orthodoxy with special attention to the diaspora experience. Lecture-conference.

Not offered 2011–12.

Religion 201 - Introduction to Theories and Methods in Religious Studies

Full course for one semester. An introduction to various interpretive frameworks and methodological issues that inform religion as a critical, reflexive, academic discipline. Texts pertaining to the definition and scope of the inquiry and methods of investigation will be critically engaged and their applicability tested with an eye toward their utility for understanding religion and religious phenomena. Prerequisites: Humanities 110 and at least one 100-level course in religion. Lecture-conference.

Religion 305 - History, Hermeneutics, and Religion

Full course for one semester. This course frames a series of critical inquiries into the varieties of rules and practices that affect the historical understanding of religions. It is best understood as motivated by one question: what might it mean to say that one is doing history of religions? It presumes that work in the history of religions requires reflection on the relationships among the human experience of time, the interpretive practices of the historian, and religions construed as an object of social-historical inquiry. The course is open to nonmajors who have met the prerequisites. Prerequisites: at least one 100-level course in religion and Religion 201. Conference.

Not offered 2011–12.

Religion 307 - Early Chinese Cosmology and Its Ritual Response

Full course for one semester. This course is an examination of the diverse cosmological traditions that underpin later institutional faiths, and will explore early Chinese attempts to locate the human being within a larger natural order. Early Chinese scholars wrestled with ideas of a pervasive yin and yang as well as other forms of correlative interaction, and in their application of these ideas they formulated systems that explained everything from the inner workings of the body to the greater astronomical order. The course examines their broader concepts such as time and space as well as specific topics such as astronomy, alchemy, and afterlife. It also considers the ritual response to this cosmology—that is, the means whereby humans accessed the larger natural order. Rituals mimicked cosmological hierarchies, and they also interacted with that cosmology through sacrifice, divination, shamanism, and seasonal festivals. Students will explore the archeological evidence, and their readings will focus upon primary texts in translation. Prerequisite: Religion 157 or 160, and Religion 201. Conference.

Not offered 2011–12.

Religion 308 - Chinese Religious Texts

Full course for one semester. This course is an introduction to the syntax and particles of classical Chinese with an emphasis on translating early religious prose. The course will assist the student in learning classical Chinese by sampling religious texts that are often cited throughout Chinese history. These texts will derive from the three institutional faiths of Daoism, Buddhism, and Confucian lineage ritual. The introduction of classical Chinese will help the student gain direct access to a vast realm of texts, religious and otherwise. Prerequisites: Chinese 110 and Religion 157 or 160, or consent of the instructor. Conference.

Not offered 2011–12.

Religion 310 - Death and Remembrance in Chinese History

Full course for one semester. This course is a historical survey of Chinese attitudes toward dying, death, and the nonempirical realm. From Buddhist hells to Daoist immortals, Chinese religions are preoccupied with rationalizing and resisting human extinction. The course will examine death through the lenses of literature, art, medicine, and philosophy, beginning with the earliest forms of the Shang Dynasty ancestral cult to the medieval period. Prerequisites: Religion 157 or 160 and either Religion 201, Humanities 230, or consent of the instructor. Conference.

Not offered 2011–12.

Religion 313 - Chinese Mahayana Texts

Full course for one semester. This course provides a structured familiarization with the doctrinal foundations of Mahayana Buddhism. After examining the transmission process of texts from India to China, the course will focus upon close reading of sutras in translation from four major schools of Chinese Buddhism. These sutras will include the Flower ornament sutra from Huayan Buddhism, the Pure land sutra from Jingtu Buddhism, and the Diamond and Lankavatara sutras from Chan (Zen) Buddhism. Students will then read early interpretations of these sutras in medieval literature, intellectual discourse, and art. Prerequisites: Religion 157 or 160, and 201 or consent of the instructor. Conference.

Religion 317 - Religion and Gender in India

Full course for one semester. How are gender norms lived out, reinforced, and subverted on the religiously plural Indian subcontinent? This course examines the implications of gender on religious thought and practice in Hinduism and Indian Islam. Themes covered include the construction of male and female roles in ancient religious texts; the relationship between the Hindu goddess traditions and feminist issues; the relevance of gender for attaining spiritual goals or taking on religious roles; metaphorical and literal gender transformations; practices of seclusion (purdah); and the uses of gendered imagery and language in current Hindu nationalist discourse. Through the analytical lens of gender, we will engage larger philosophical and conceptual questions regarding the construction of gender identities and norms, and binaries such as male/female, body/spirit, and religion/politics. Prerequisites: Religion 201. Conference.

Religion 321 - Islamic Thought in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

Full course for one semester. A chronological survey of Islamic thought during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Focusing on conceptions of God and of the ideal human relationship with God in selected Muslim religious writings, the course will analyze the interrelation between sociohistorical and theological developments in the Islamic tradition during this period. The geographical focus of the course will be primarily on the Middle East and South Asia. Among the authors whose theologies we will examine in depth are: Sayyid Ahmad Khan, Muhammad Iqbal, Abu‘l-A‘la Mawdudi, Jamal ad-Din Afghani, Muhammad ‘Abduh, Sayyid Qutb, ‘Ali Shari‘ati, and Ruhallah Khomeini. Prerequisite: Religion 155 or 156. Conference.

Not offered 2011–12.

Religion 325 - The Mosque in Islamic History

Full course for one semester. The mosque is perhaps the most central institution of Islam. Through careful examination of a number of case studies, this course will explore the role of the mosque in the historical development of varying aspects of Islamic life, including ritual practice, education, community formation, politics, material culture, and aesthetics. Prerequisites: Religion 155 or 156. Conference.

Religion 332 - Semantics of Love in Sufism

Full course for one semester. Sufism broadly refers to a complex of devotional, literary, ethical, theological, and mystical traditions within Islam. More specifically, it refers to the activities associated with institutionalized master-disciple relationships, which define the paths (turuq) through which Muslims have sought experiential knowledge of God. In both the broad and narrow sense of Sufism, love has been a prominent means of Sufi self-representation. In this course we will explore the ideas and practices semantically associated with love in the Sufi tradition and analyze the ways in which these ideas and practices have both shaped and been shaped by individual lives, religious institutions, and sociocultural contexts. Prerequisite: Religion 155. Conference.

Religion 341 - Christian Asceticism: The Regulation of the Christian Body

Full course for one semester. By investigating ancient literatures of askesis, this course will explore early Christian conceptions of the body and its regulation. Readings will include material drawn from among the apocryphal acts, sermons, monastic regulations, Biblical commentaries, homilies, and encomia. Prerequisite: Religion 153. Conference.

Not offered 2011–12.

Religion 373 - Special Topics in Jewish History

Full course for one semester. This course is a research seminar devoted to the investigation of a particular topic in Jewish history. Prerequisite: Religion 201. Conference.

Constructions of Jewishness in Cinema
Full course for one semester. The aim of this course is to examine constructions of Jewishness—conceptual, polemical, visual, literary, historical, and mythological—in cinema. In contrast with other more conventional identity models centered on “ethnic” film and representations of Jews on screen, we shall devise a broader theoretical framework, and situate the films under study within a larger corpus of Jewish modernist and postmodernist creative endeavors. In drawing on rich critical traditions of delineating Jewish poetics and discourses, we shall ask whether one can speak of a special cinematic Jewish language and if so, how one would arrive at defining it. Topics to be discussed include 1) negotiation and reversal of sacred and scriptural paradigms within a secular artistic realm; 2) responses to catastrophe, including the Holocaust; 3) uses of memory, biographic, collective, and canonical; 4) interrelationship between Jewish and Christian paradigms; and 5) intertextual relationship between film and text in light of the auteur theory. In analyzing these topics, we shall investigate the films’ cultural, intellectual and historical contexts, from the prewar New York Yiddish culture to the French New Wave to Soviet Jewish politics to the history of Hollywood to the tension between Zioinism and traditional Judaism within the Israeli imagination. We shall watch and discuss films by Maurice Schwartz, Edgar Ulmer, Jean-Pierre Melville, Alexander Askoldov, Woody Allen, Amos Gitai, the Coen brothers, Paul Mazursky, and Sidney Lumet among others. Prerequisite: Religion 201. Conference.

Religion 383 - Reading Pseudo-Dionysius

Full course for one semester. This course provides an introduction to a major writer in the Christian mystical tradition. The course situates the thought of the Pseudo-Dionysius within the social-historical environment and the main intellectual currents of the Mediterranean world of the fifth century of the Common Era. Prerequisites: Religion 153 and 201, or consent of the instructor. Conference.

Religion 399 - Junior Seminar

Full course for one semester. This course offers intensive study of a particular topic, drawing on various methodologies in the study of religion. Members of the religion faculty will attend and participate. While the course is intended to prepare department majors for the senior program, it is open to all qualified students. Prerequisites: junior standing, Religion 201, and three other religion courses. This course may be repeated with departmental approval. Conference.

Religion 470 - Thesis and Religion Symposium

Full course for one year.

Religion 481 - Individual Work in Special Fields

One-half or full course for one semester. Prerequisite: approval of instructor and division.