The Program, Religion | Earlham College Skip to Content

The Program

To study Religion is to reflect both sympathetically and critically on the ways in which human beings understand themselves and act in relationship to the world. This study encompasses matters of faith, action, human existence and the crises that have faced civilizations over time.

In our teaching we strive to acknowledge the rich traditions of the world’s religions and to invite students to explore questions of life’s meaning, purpose and worth from multiple perspectives. Pedagogically, we endeavor to engage in rigorous intellectual study and to honor the personal seeking of our students. Consonant with Earlham’s Principles and Practices, we try to integrate the search for truth(s) and the commitment to a more just and peaceful world. We affirm our students’ identities within historical religious communities and invite them to deeper understanding of their own tradition and those of others. We ask students to approach religious discourse and embodiment in subtle and complex ways, with respect for differences. We recognize the inherently interdisciplinary nature of the study of religion; 80% of our classes are cross-listed as inter- and multi-disciplinary courses.

Graduates of the Religion program have gone on to a variety of fields of study and work. Some prepare for the ministry in one of its traditional forms at a seminary or divinity school. Our majors have gone on to Princeton, Yale, Harvard, Brandeis, Claremont, Union Theological Seminary in New York, the Graduate Theological Union, Starr King, Iliff, Candler, and the Reconstuctionist Rabbinical College. Others have worked throughout the country and the world for social service agencies sponsored by religious bodies, often dedicating themselves to conflict resolution. Some students seek graduate school preparation for careers in secondary or university teaching, and a number become counselors for religious and public service agencies. Still others have gone into such diverse fields as the arts, medicine, public health, business, publishing, public relations, and law.

General Education Requirements

The Religion Department offers three courses that fulfill the Writing Intensive (WI) Requirement: REL 155, 210 and 342; four courses that fulfill the Domestic component of the Perspectives on Diversity Requirement: REL 230, 299, 330 and 350; and nine courses that fulfill the International component of the Perspectives on Diversity Requirement: REL 155, 165, 171, 172, 180, 286, 310, 380 and 425. The Department also regularly offers Earlham Seminars.

The Religion curriculum integrates General Education learning goals with the wider learning goals of the study of religion. Earlham Seminars teach students the essential skills of close analysis of texts, critical thinking, cogent writing, and effective public presentations while introducing them to religion as an academic discipline. Writing Intensives enhance these developing skills with the ability to synthesize themes and materials from different disciplines and genres. Courses fulfilling Domestic and International Diversity introduce students to multiple perspectives on the nature of ultimate reality, humanity, and social relations, and to the role that religion plays in promoting or resisting injustice and violence. They challenge them to entertain multiple worldviews sympathetically, to ponder the nature of religion itself in all its expressions, and to learn to respectfully negotiate differences of culture and belief in classroom and community.

In addition to these general education goals, students majoring and minoring in Religion should be able to understand how religion constructs their own and others' cultures; to grasp religion as a multi-faceted phenomenon and make interdisciplinary connections between religion and other fields of experience and study; to understand the role that religion plays globally in promoting conflict and peace; to demonstrate awareness of the variety of issues and methods in the modern study of religion; and integrate rigorous intellectual inquiry with commitment to a particular faith or way of life.

The Major

Religion as a major field of study provides a center around which to integrate liberal arts studies as well as a background for vocations such as ministry, teaching, counseling and social work.

Students majoring in Religion are expected to take a minimum of 32 credits. Majors will work with their adviser to develop a program that challenges them and meets their particular needs.

  • Coursework must include four common courses:
    • REL 301 Religion Majors and Minors Colloquium
    • REL 310 Is Religion "T(t)rue"?
    • REL 360 World Faiths, World News
    • REL 488 Senior Capstone Experience: Research Seminar
  • At least one course from Block A and one from Block B:
    • Block A
      • REL 171 Sacred India: Tradition and Transformation
      • REL 172 Buddhist Traditions
      • REL 180 Islam
      • REL 286 Judaism
      • REL 380 Religions of East Asia
    • Block B
      • REL 155 Hebrew Scriptures
      • REL 165 New Testament
      • REL 210 Quakerism
      • REL 230 History of African American Religious Experiences
  • Three upper-level (300+) elective courses in Religion
  • Remaining credits from among any of the offerings in Religion

The Minor

A Minor in Religion consists of at least 20 credits, which together must satisfy the following requirements:

  • At least two upper-level (300+) courses, including REL 320 Is Religion "T(t)rue"?
  • REL 301 Religion Majors and Minor Colloquium
  • At least one course from Block A and one from Block B:
    • Block A
      • REL 171 Sacred India: Tradition and Transformation
      • REL 172 Buddhist Traditions
      • REL 180 Islam
      • REL 286 Judaism
      • REL 380 Religions of East Asia
    • Block B
      • REL 155 Hebrew Scriptures
      • REL 165 New Testament
      • REL 210 Quakerism
      • REL 230 History of African American Religious Experiences
  • Electives from general Religion offerings

* Key

Courses that fulfill
General Education Requirements:

  • (A-AP) = Arts - Applied
  • (A-TH) = Arts - Theoretical/Historical
  • (A-AR) = Analytical - Abstract Reasoning
  • (A-QR) = Analytical - Quantitative
  • (D-D) = Diversity - Domestic
  • (D-I) = Diversity - International
  • (D-L) = Diversity - Language
  • (ES) = Earlham Seminar
  • (IE) = Immersive Experience
  • (RCH) = Research
  • (SI) = Scientific Inquiry
  • (W) = Wellness
  • (WI) = Writing Intensive
  • (AY) = Offered in Alternative Year

REL 144 BIBLE IN POLITICS (3 credits)
The Bible is the foundational sacred text for more than 2 billion people — and a source of political conflict, ethical dispute and cultural inspiration. This introductory course focuses not only on the historical and geographical contexts in which the Bible arose, but on its "afterlives" as well. This course will consider the variety of ways in which the Bible is employed in contemporary political and geopolitical conflicts, and its influence on modern literature. Also listed as JWST 144.

*REL 150 EARLHAM SEMINAR (4 credits)
Offered for first-year students. Topics vary. (ES)

*REL 155 HEBREW SCRIPTURES (4 credits)
An examination of the religion of Israel expressed in selected portions of the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) in light of the results of modern critical study and within the context of ancient Near Eastern culture and history. Prerequisite: An Earlham Seminar or consent of the instructor. Also listed as JWST 155. (WI, D-I)

Once a week hour-long discussion of a Quaker text, past or present.

*REL 165 NEW TESTAMENT (4 credits)
A close reading of the entire New Testament, with the goal of understanding its messages in historical context. Attention given to various theories of interpretation, the theological and ethical import of scripture, other influential and suppressed early Christian writings, the role of women in the Jesus Movement, and cultivation of one's own informed perspective. (D-I)

(4 credits)
An encounter with the poets, pilgrims, gurus, gods, goddesses and ordinary devotees of major Indian Traditions, including Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Tibetan Buddhism. Explores the sacred texts of the Vedas, the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita; the epic Ramayana; everyday worship practices at home, in the temple and on the road; contemporary sages; and Hindu nationalism. Includes several films, including Gandhi and Kundun. (D-I) (AY)

Introduction through teachings, films and videos, and memoir to the three Buddhist "turnings of the wheel": Theravadan Buddhism in India, Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia; Tibetan Tantric Buddhism; and Zen in East Asia. Students will learn methods of meditation, maintain a journal, and discuss readings and experiences together. Also listed as JPNS 172. (D-I) (AY)

*REL 180 ISLAM (4 credits)
Topics include the early community and the life of Muhammad, portions of the Qur'an, the historical development of Islamic civilization, Sufism and issues in the contemporary Islamic world (such as the role of women, the nature of jihad and Islam's relationship to other religions). (D-I) (AY)

*REL 210 QUAKERISM (3 or 4 credits)
An introduction to the Quaker movement and its key figures and historical turning points. Focuses on the distinctive aspects of Quaker theology, including the range of views and the current areas of debate. Students become familiar with aspects of worship, business procedures and the testimonies as they are currently being practiced by Quakers "in the neighborhood" and around the world. (WI when taken for 4 credits.)

An introductory survey of the central historical events, people and faith perspectives that have shaped African American (or Black) religious experiences in the United States. Includes the Middle Passage and "New World" Slavery, The Great Awakening and later Revival(s), Emancipation, Reconstruction, migration and urbanization; Jim/Jane Crow, Civil Rights, Black Power and Black Humanism. Also listed as AAAS 230. (D-D) (AY)

REL 243 ISLAM AND FILM (4 credits)
This course explores Islam as portrayed in selected films, most from regions with a historically significant Muslim population, and some from the West. Through the films and readings students will explore gay and lesbian life in various Muslim countries, women’s roles in Afghanistan under the Taliban, relationships between historically Muslim countries and the West, tensions between Muslim, non-Muslim culture in India and Pakistan, and more. Prerequisite: Earlham Seminar. Also listed as FILM 243.

*REL 286 JUDAISM (4 credits)
An introduction to the major texts, themes, ritual practices, and holidays of the Jewish tradition from its inception to the present. The course is divided into three main sections: 1) the Jewish textual tradition; 2) the Jewish liturgical calendar; and 3) Jewish life-cycle events and daily practices. By looking at a variety of accounts of the tradition — textual, theological, autobiographical, ethnographic — we will examine the similarities and differences between Judaism as it is presented “on the page” and the way it is understood and practiced by Jews today. We will also consider some themes and events in twentieth-century Jewry including the Holocaust, the creation of the State of Israel, and Jewish participation in the feminist movement. Also listed as JWST 286 (D-I)

Bringing to bear written texts, music, film and other media sources, this course explores the definition and moral significance of Hip Hop as a religious and cultural phenomenon within popular culture. Specific issues explored in this course include the syncretism of religious symbols and sensibilities in Hip Hop; the racial, ethnic, sex-gendered, and class dynamics of Hip Hop; as well as the language and aesthetics of Hip Hop. Also listed as AAAS 299 and FILM 299. (D-D)

Discussions will focus on the intersections among courses in Religion and courses in other disciplines with religious content or implications. Meet once a week during fall semester. Required for majors and minors in Religion. Prerequisite: Sophomore standing and above.

REL 305 SEMINAR (4 credits)
Topics determined by the instructor. Recent topics have included: Religion and Culture of Hip Hop; Sex; Ethics of Jesus; Quakers and the Mystical Traditions; Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X (El Hajj Malik El Shabazz); Black and Womanist Theology; Topics in Islam; Religions of the African Diaspora; Quaker Women; “Human Nature” and Social Change. Prerequisite: Sophomore standing and above.

This course is a study of Black religious women in the U.S., and how they wrote about their religious beliefs and experiences. Students will encounter leaders who changed or led established movements such as Zilpha Elaw and Jarena Lee, women who had religious visions such as Shaker Rebecca Cox Jackson, and literary writers who interrogated religious groups and practices such as Nella Larsen. Students will be asked to consider how religious belief and practice might shape the way people conceptualize what it means to be a Black woman in the U.S. Also listed as AAAS 309 and ENG 309.

*REL 310 IS RELIGION "T(t)RUE"? (4 credits)
A critical survey of influential modern proposals concerning the nature, function and value of religion in human life. Engages students in close primary and secondary readings and analysis of (representative) major figures and themes in the global study of religion, both academically and confessionally. Incorporates resources from philosophy, theology, the social sciences and cultural studies. Prerequisite: Earlham Seminar I and II and consent of the instructor for non-Religion and Philosophy majors and minors. (D-I)

REL 315 BIBLICAL SEMINAR (4 credits)
An advanced textual study and exegesis in one or more biblical books, or study in biblical theology. Biblical courses at Earlham School of Religion may be credited under this listing.

A philosophical investigation into the phenomenon of religion, including an examination of the problems of meaning and truth in religious language and praxis. Also listed as PHIL 320.

An exploration of intersections between religion and psychology with attention to the nature of self and wholeness in multiple traditions, "West" and "East." Topics will typically include Western psychologies and science of mind in dialogue with the Hindu understandings of Soul and Buddhist theories of consciousness. Prerequisite: Earlham Seminar I and II and one Religion course or consent of the instructor. (AY)

A critical examination of the social functions and theories of contemporary criminal justice in the United States. Special attention to the collateral social consequences of the "prison industrial complex," paramilitary policing and the death penalty. Fosters moral interpretations that contribute to popular movements for positive change. Prerequisites: Earlham Seminar I and II. Also listed as AAAS 330 and PAGS 331. (D-D) (AY)

The overarching goal of the course is to unpack the many ways in which Arab Muslims have embodied genders and to explore the range of intimate practices that constitute “sexuality” in the present and past. This course is decidedly interdisciplinary and is structured by categorical inquiry into the meanings and practices of gender and sexuality. Prerequisite: POLS 111. Also listed as AAAS 333 and POLS 333. (D-I)

Examines the Christian tradition from the Jesus Movement to the 21st century, taking account of global trajectories but focusing on the Mediterranean and Europe. Topics include origins of the faith; the formation and practices of the first Christian communities; martyrs, monks, mystics, scholars and pilgrims; historical and theological developments in the Western and Eastern Orthodox churches; Christian engagement with Judaism and Islam; reforms of the 16th century, and modern challenges. Prerequisite: Earlham Seminar I and II and at least one course in Religion or consent of the instructor. (WI) (AY)

Considers the religious aspects of crucial current events, explores emerging religious movements, analyzes ongoing developments within religious groups world-wide, and tries to make (some) sense of it all. Topics typically include: cyber-ethics, fundamentalism, religious pluralism, liberation theologies, post-modern critiques of religion and New Religious Movements. Required of Religion majors. Prerequisite: Coursework or experience in Religion, Peace and Global Studies, Politics, Journalism, or activism with consent of the instructor. Also listed as PAGS 360.

An exploration of the religious and philosophical thought and practice of East Asia, including Popular, Shinto, Confucian, Taoist and Buddhist traditions as manifested in the classical periods of cultural development as well as contemporary society. Prerequisite: One course in Religion (preferably in World Religions), one course in Japanese Studies or consent of the instructor. Also listed as JPNS 380. (D-I)

Considers the impact of Asian religions and Jewish and Christian teachings on social conflict, and the history of teachings on war, social violence and nonviolent resistance, with case histories from the Quakers, Gandhi and other figures. Prerequisites: One course in both Religion and History, Sociology/Anthropology or Psychology. (D-I) (AY)

Traces the histories of women in the church and explores the emergence of feminist/womanist theology in the 20th century. Focuses on current feminist/womanist thought and action in today's societies. Also listed as AAAS 440 and WGSS 440. (AY)


REL 482 SPECIAL TOPICS (4 credits)
Selected topics determined by the instructor for upper-level study.


Collaborative research with faculty funded by the Ford/Knight Program.

REL 485 INDEPENDENT STUDY (1-3 credits)
Investigation of a specific topic conceived and planned by the student in consultation with a faculty supervisor. Culminates in a comprehensive report prepared in the style of a thesis or research paper.

A two-semester research seminar designed to provide an informative, structured and supportive group environment for the preparation and oral defense of a major research project in the study of religion. Class time devoted to identifying, developing and accomplishing this project in conversation with one another and faculty. The paper and oral interview fulfill the Senior Capstone. Prerequisite: Senior standing or consent of the instructor.

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