Catalog Year: 2016-2017
Professors Harris, McDaniel, and Sanders
Associate Professors Gorvine (chair) and Williamson
The courses for this program are organized into the following categories:
What is the relationship between religion and contemporary culture? How are religious identities, faiths, and traditions, along with alternative forms of spirituality, community, or moral vision, shaped by and expressed within contemporary social institutions, the arts, politics, and public discourse? This course introduces students to different ways religion intersects with culture and society, introducing students in the process to various ways religion impacts the world, and the variety of ways people relate to the possibility of being religious.
This course introduces students to the teachings, practices, spiritualities, and histories of many world religions. The religions include Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Sikhism, Jainism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and indigenous traditions. Since this course introduces Asian religions in an abbreviated way, students who take this course may also take RELI 111 Introduction to Asian Religions.
This course introduces students to religious traditions rooted in Asia. It examines sources to help students recognize and understand the many ways in which Asian religious communities have attempted to understand the nature of the world, human society, and the individual’s place therein. It includes narrative and philosophical texts, ritual practices, religious experiences, social relationships and historical developments. Since this course does not include Abrahamic religions, students who take this course may also take RELI 110 The World’s Religions: An Introduction.
This course examines the content and significance of this influential book in the Bible. It offers a focused way of beginning to learn about biblical literature by examining one book that has shaped countless generations of Jewish and Christian thinkers and that has deeply influenced Western literature. Attention is given to the various genres contained in the book and how its message can be relevant to today. The course provides some basic hermeneutical skills as well as promote a positive attitude towards Torah.
An introduction to the basic grammar, syntax, and vocabulary of Biblical Hebrew, intended for students who wish to gain reading proficiency in the language of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). Cross-listed as HEBR 110.
A continuation of RELI 121. By the end of the course students read extended narrative texts of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) as well as some poetic texts. Cross-listed as HEBR 120.
An introduction to the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), employing the methodologies of academic biblical scholarship. Attention is given to the major texts, characters, and themes of the Hebrew Bible, with consideration of both the literary character of the text and its relationship to the historical context of ancient Israel.
This course is an introduction to the New Testament, employing the methodologies of academic biblical scholarship. Attention is given to the major texts, characters, and themes of the New Testament, with consideration of both the literary character of the text and its relationship to the historical context of early Christianity. Some attention is also given to the noncanonical texts of early Christianity, including the Gnostic Gospels.
A journey into the religious worlds of the first Americans to find out how religion and life coalesced and how the distinctive ways of life of the various tribes produced diverse religious traditions, which were connected by common perceptions of the humans’ relationships to the world and to each other. In depth study of selected tribes from a variety of geographic regions promotes an understanding of how the relationship of a people to a place shapes their worldview and way of life.
An analysis of the role of religion in the African American community, along with a survey of key themes in the religious thought of African Americans from the antebellum period to the present, with special attention to figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X and theologians such as James Cone and Delores Williams.
What is yoga, and what, if anything, does the practice that some 16 million Americans perform in studios and gyms, spas and ashrams have to do with the religions of India? This course surveys a variety of recent scholarship on the cultural history of yoga in the context of ancient Indian traditions, and also looks at colonial era and contemporary innovations that have contributed to the mass cultural phenomenon that might arguably be called India's greatest cultural export. Readings include early and medieval texts typically associated with yoga, such as the Bhagavad Gita, Patanjali's Yoga Sutras and later tantric material, and we also consider the work of early cultural ambassadors, major modern interpreters and contemporary advocates.
An exploration of contemporary forms of Jewish beliefs, practices, thought, and culture, set within an historical overview. Emphasis is on the spectrum of Jewish self-identities and the lived texture of the worldwide Jewish experience in its various expressions, constructed in both the “great” and “little” traditions. This course is a deepening and expansion of ideas introduced in RELI 110 The World’s Religions: An Introduction, which is recommended as a prerequisite, but not required.
Central to the Buddha's teachings was a presentation of meditation practices designed to calm the mind and evoke insight into the nature of reality. Over time, Buddhist contemplative culture has come to encompass a variety of techniques, such as breathing meditation, cultivation of mindfulness, altruism, compassion, visualization, and recovering innate intelligence. This course introduces how Buddhist meditative states have been linked to doctrine and practice in different historical and cultural contexts. It invites students to participate experientially in an investigation of methods associcated with different Buddhist contemplative traditions, many of which have been researched and adapted for a variety of uses in contemporary secular society.
A survey of the major religious traditions that have shaped Chinese culture: Confucianism, Taoism/Daoism, and Buddhism with some consideration of the minority traditions that constitute elements of contemporary religious life in China, including Islam, Christianity, and selected ethnic beliefs and practices. Themes such as ancestor worship, sacrifice and divination, ethics, meditation, and longevity techniques enrich an understanding of some characteristics of Chinese ways of experiencing the self, society, and the world.
This course is designed as an introduction to the myriad forms of South Asian religious expression designated as “Hinduism.” The course surveys Hinduism’s historical roots and developments, philosophical and ritual innovations, social and ethical ideals, and influential works of literature, relying on both primary and secondary sources. The latter part of the course centers on issues of ongoing relevance to modern-day tradition, analyzing, for example, Hindu understandings of religious art and worship, influential works of modern Indian fiction, and current scholarship on contemporary issues and communities.
This course is an introduction to Buddhism, spanning its origins in India, its spread throughout Asia, and its arrival in the West. The course explores the core doctrines, practices and key historical developments that have shaped the Buddhist tradition in India; considers the ways this tradition has been assimilated in an Asian context; and finally reflects upon the perspectives of leading Buddhist writers and practitioners on the relevance of Buddhism for modern society.
Even within the Bible itself, we find people struggling with the apparent meaninglessness of life, the injustice of the world, and the triumph of evil over good. This course examines two of the most profoundly skeptical voices in the Hebrew Bible—the books of Ecclesiastes and Job. Students consider the relationship of each text to the issues of its own day, as well as examining how they have been received, reflected, and reinterpreted in contemporary art, film, literature, and music.
Students engage in close readings of the four New Testament Gospels. While some attention is given to historical context, the focus is on the Gospels as literature and the role of the reader in the production of meaning.
The development of Christian thought and institutions from 100-1500 CE. Discussion of questions surrounding the formation of orthodoxy, the interplay between religion and politics and the variety of ways in which Christians practiced their faith.
A survey of Christian thought and institutions from 1500 to the present. Special attention is given to the Protestant Reformation and the ongoing impact of cultural trends on Christian beliefs and practices.
Who is Jesus and what did he accomplish? This course surveys the widely divergent answers in history including the gospels, the early church councils, the modern search for the historical Jesus, and contemporary portraits.
This course is a survey of religious life in the “Land of Snow,” with particular attention paid to Tibetan Buddhism and its role in shaping religion and culture throughout the Himalayas. In addition to surveying the foundations of Buddhist thought, this course will examine the history of Tibetan Buddhism and its role in shaping Tibetan religious and political institutions. It will also explore sources on contemporary religious culture among ethnic Tibetan communities.
An attempt to understand and to analyze what contemporary social institutions, the arts, politics, and ideas reveal about Americans’ religious perceptions regarding such questions as the means of human fulfillment, the state of the world, and the nature of religious or spiritual experience.
Historical approach to America’s diverse religious traditions that contribute to America’s religious pluralism from selected Native American religions to the American experiences of contemporary Muslims and Buddhists. The course also traces the historical developments of the varieties of Judaism and Christianity in the United States. A key question is “How has religion shaped the history, culture, and sense of place of the American people?”
In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries an important form of religious thinking is emerging called ecotheology. It involves exploring how spirituality is connected with an appreciation of the earth and its many forms of life and how the earth needs to be protected from excessive exploitation. There are Christian versions of ecotheology, Jewish versions, Buddhist versions, and many others, including feminist versions called ecofeminism. This course looks at a wide variety of forms of ecotheology. A component of the course focuses on human relations to animals, with attention to the animal rights movement and constructive religious responses to it.
This course engages students in understanding the complexity of religion through a topic chosen from among the areas of world religions, biblical studies, Christianity, religion and culture, and philosophy of religion and theology. This course can be repeated for additional credits as long as the section topics are different. Check the online course schedule for information about the topics currently scheduled to be taught.
This course focuses on the dynamics of globalization as they affect people's religious and spiritual self-understandings. Particular focus is on modernization in Latin America and China. For China, emphasis is placed on an intellectual movement in China called "Constructive Postmodernism" which seeks to integrate Western and Chinese ways of thinking into a single whole. Emphasis is also placed on the rise of Christianity and Buddhism, and on the orientations of people who think of themselves as "spiritually interested but not religiously affliated." For Latin America, discussion centers on the concept of syncretism, both in an historical context and in contemporary society, and on the ways in which religious affiliation connects to other aspects of an indivdual's social identity. Cross-listed as ANTH 314.
An exploration of historical perspectives on the nature of the relationship between religion and politics as evident in such concepts as “the separation of church and state,” disestablishment, and “the free exercise” of religion, combined with an examination of factors that have altered the religious and political landscapes, in particular some important Supreme Court decisions. Also involves an analysis from a variety of perspectives some pressing issues facing American people.
The course explores contemporary methods in biblical interpretation such as feminist criticism, postcolonial criticism, critical race theory, and queer theory. While some attention is given to scholarly works employing these theories and methods, the focus of the course is on students developing their own interpretive abilities. The specific biblical texts considered varies by semester. Prerequisite: RELI 123 or RELI 124 recommended.
This course considers the sources and methods used by scholars to reconstruct the history of ancient Israel, including biblical texts, archaeology, and ancient Near Eastern epigraphy, among others. Attention is given to contemporary scholarly debates over the history of Israel, particularly concerning the extent to which the Bible may be considered a reliable historical witness. Prerequisite: RELI 123 or RELI 124 recommended
Issues related to women’s roles in religious institutions and questions about the nature of women’s spiritual lives and experiences are considered along with questions related to the ways that religious traditions have understood the nature of human sexuality
This course examines the New Testament book of Revelation as a call to for resistance to Empire in both its historical context and today. Attention is given to both the literary and historical contexts of Revelation within the early Christianity of the Roman Empire. More contemporary interpretations of Revelation are considered, including popular “End Times” prophecies, among others. The course requires engaged learning outside of the classroom, exploring what “resistance to Empire” may mean in Conway, Little Rock, and beyond.
What is God like? Should God be understood as a person or a force? How is God related to the world? This course surveys primarily Western thinkers from the times of the biblical writers, through Plato, Aristotle and early Jewish and Christian sources to the development of modern atheism and beyond it to contemporary understandings of God. Issues such as evil, human responsibility and prayer are discussed in relation to divine power and knowledge. Cross-listed as PHIL 332.
What makes for an extraordinary life from a Buddhist perspective? How do literary works portray the lives of highly accomplished Buddhists? Beginning with the Buddha, this course explores the life-narratives of ideal monks, masters and meditators, examining the religious values, literary practices and cultural dynamics evident in religious biographies over the centuries. We also consider the veneration of living Buddhist “saints” past and present, with a view to how such exemplary people function in the lives of those who revere them.
What does the idea of the shaman tell us about indigenous peoples, their religious identities, and their cultural practices? Who or what are spirits, and how do they function amidst ordinary life and in times of crisis, illness, and healing? And how do people who "shamanize" understand and represent themselves in the present context? In addressing these questions, this course examines various ways in which anthopologists, historians of religion and others - including native people themselves - have attempted to articulate and interpret the dimensions of global indigenous culture deemed "shamanic." In the process, the course considers contemporary perspectives on the value and problems associated with comparative studies, ethnographic representation, and intercultural communication; examines ethical and philosophical issues in light of cross-cultural (mis)understandings of healing modalities; and discusses contemporary shamanism as an aspect of popular culture.
A study of the life and thought of John Wesley followed by a survey of the leading people, organizations, ideas and practices of the Wesleyan tradition in America.
In the twenty-first century Buddhists are developing ways of thinking and approaches to life that are intended to be relevant throughout the world. Some contemporary Buddhist thought engages in dialogue with the natural sciences; others stress the relevance of Buddhism to environmental concerns; still others emphasize the role that Buddhism can play in enabling people to live spiritually in an age of consumerism. Focus is on contemporary Zen and Tibetan writing. The course includes an engaged component that involves undertaking a regular practice of breathing meditation or doing a creative art project.
In the twenty-first century Muslims are developing ways of thinking and approaches to life that are intended to be relevant to contemporary Muslims and the wider world. Some build upon the mystical traditions of the Muslim past, especially Sufism; some build upon what they call “liberal” or “progressive” currents of more recent Muslim history, seeking to show how Islam can promote freedom of thought, democracy, respect for the rights of women, appreciation of science. Other strands of contemporary thinking emphasize that Islam provides a constructive alternative to Western ways of thinking.
A survey of the key thinkers, issues and movements that shaped Christian thought in the twentieth century. The course studies the rise of Protestant liberalism, the Neo-Orthodox reaction (e.g. Karl Barth) and the contemporary proliferation of different types of theology such as liberationist, feminist, process, evangelical, and Asian.
Topics such as God, sin, salvation, morality, meaning, and truth are examined in light of the interdisciplinary field known as cognitive linguistics. Students are first introduced to the key ideas of cognitive linguistics such as embodied cognition, image schemas, radial categories, conceptual metaphors, and cultural frames. This approach to human cognition is then applied to biblical and theological concepts.
Study and evaluation of classical and contemporary arguments regarding such issues as the nature and existence of God, the nature of religious faith and its relationship to reason, the meaning and epistemic value of religious experience, the “problem of evil,” and the relationship between religion and morality. Cross-listed as PHIL 370. Prerequisite: a previous course in philosophy or consent of instructor.
In the twentieth century a form of philosophy emerged called “process philosophy.” Influenced by the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, it sees the whole world as a dynamic process of becoming, emphasizing that all living beings are dependent on all others, and that even God is “in process” along with the world. This course introduces students to the philosophy of Whitehead and its religious expressions, with special focus on Christian process theology. The course also includes ways process philosophy is being applied to contemporary social issues.
There can be no peace in the world unless there is peace among religions. This course explores ways in which people of different religions approach one another at theoretical and practical levels. The course introduces various Christian approaches to inter-religious dialogue, both liberal and conservative. The course then introduces Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, and Jewish approaches to dialogue. The course includes hands-on component in which students develop and facilitate inter-religious dialogues in central Arkansas.
This course focuses on religious experience rather than on doctrine or belief. Mysticism lies in experiencing the presence of natural world, invisible spirits, the divine reality, or the fathomless source of life in the immediacy of the present moment. Prayer lies in listening to a divine reality and communicating with that reality through various emotions. Meditation ranges from quiet, to shamanic experiences in which one pays attentions to disclosures of the unconscious, to dancing and gardening. The course introduces students to mysticism, meditation, and prayer as they are found in world religions, and to the spiritual disciplines involved. It includes an engaged component in which students spend one day fasting and one day in silence.
This course, a prerequisite to RELI 497: Senior Thesis, prepares students to conduct advanced research and critical thinking in the academic study of religion. Students examine several major theorists who have historically defined "religion" as a field of academic inquiry, and who represent a variety of methodologies for understanding it - including psychological, sociological, phenomenological and anthropological approaches. The course also considers issues of theoretical importance in the present-day study of religion, considers the relationship of religious studies to philosophy and theology, and introduces students to several major areas of current scholarly research.
An intensive analysis of a critical issue in the study of Asian religion. This course can be repeated for additional credits as long as the section topics are different. Recent topics range from a thematic treatment of religious phenomenon across more than one tradition (e.g., Pilgrimage, Saints and Sages, Death and Afterlife, Gender and Status) to an in-depth study of particular texts and traditions (Hindu Epic and Devotional Literature, Tibetan Meditation). Check the online course schedule for information about the topics currently scheduled to be taught. Prerequisite: Junior standing and two courses in religion or instructor’s consent Recommended: one of either RELI 110, 121, 221 or 223
A topics course in Biblical studies. This course can be repeated for additional credits as long as the section topics are different. Check the online course schedule for information about the topics currently scheduled to be taught. Prerequisite: Consent of instructor
A topics course in religion and culture. This course can be repeated for additional credits as long as the section topics are different. Check the online course schedule for information about the topics currently scheduled to be taught. Prerequisite: Consent of instructor
A topics course in the philosophy of religion and theology. This course can be repeated for additional credits as long as the section topics are different. Check the online course schedule for information about the topics currently scheduled to be taught. Prerequisite: Consent of instructor
The colloquium is a writing intensive course that functions as the capstone for the Religious Studies major. At the judgment of the department, the course consists of either (1) a thesis project involving substantial individual research or (2) a seminar in which students write one or more significant papers. Philosophy and Religious Studies majors and interdisciplinary studies majors who have taken RELI 395 Approaching the Study of Religion may elect this course for their senior capstone.
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