University Bulletin 2001-02 Medieval Studies Program University Bulletin 2001-02
Program in Religious Studies


The modern field of religious studies contributes significantly to a liberal arts education, cultivating the investigation of religious thought, ritual, spiritual insight, culture, history, and sacred texts. The goal of the Program in Religious Studies is to expose students to several scholarly and pedagogical approaches to a variety of religious phenomena, often in a comparative context. The program's course offerings are designed to encourage students to deepen their understanding of religion and its manifestations through the perspectives of several disciplines and departments. Students survey systematic approaches to the field (REL 107a) and complete courses in at least two different religious traditions.

The program fosters interaction between its faculty and students by requiring completion of either an independent study or a senior essay course. The University, with its commitment to ethical responsibility, and the wide range of religious and ethnic backgrounds represented in its student body, provides a unique context for examining religion with open-minded curiosity and sympathetic understanding.

How to Become a Program Member

Students may enter the program at any time in their undergraduate careers, but an early start maximizes a student's range of choice because a number of the courses are only offered every other year. Ideally students should take the core course (REL 107a) early in their career. Students should consult with their advisor and the head of the program to map out their particular design.


Edward Kaplan, Chair

(Romance and Comparative Literature)

Tzvi Abusch

(Near Eastern and Judaic Studies)

Bernadette Brooten

(Near Eastern and Judaic Studies)

John Burt

(English and American Literature)

Arthur Green

(Near Eastern and Judaic Studies)

Marcus Hellyer


Charles McClendon

(Fine Arts)

Richard Parmentier


Jerry Samet


The following faculty members are affiliated with the program:

Ellen Birnbaum (CLAS)

Marc Brettler (NEJS)

Joan Bryant (AAAS)

Stephen Dowden (GERSL)

Sylvia Fishman (NEJS)

ChaeRan Freeze (NEJS)

Gregory Freeze (HIST)

Kim Gutschow (ANTH)

Gila Hayim (SOC)

Eli Hirsch (PHIL)

Patricia Johnston (CLAS)

Jane Kamensky (HIST)

William Kapelle (HIST)

Reuven Kimelman (NEJS)

Sarah Lamb (ANTH)

Richard Lansing (ROCL)

Avigdor Levy (NEJS)

Leonard Muellner (CLAS)

Yitzhak Nakash (NEJS)

Michael Randall (ROCL)

Jonathan Sarna (NEJS)

John Schrecker (HIST)

Govind Sreenivasan (HIST)

David Wright (NEJS)

Luis Yglesias (ROCL

Palle Yourgrau (PHIL)

Requirements for the Program

A. Core Course: REL 107a (Approaches to Religious Studies). Ideally the core course should be taken early in the student's career at Brandeis, but not necessarily as the first course in the program.

B. Students must complete at least two courses covering at least two different religious traditions from the traditions courses listed below.

C. Students must complete at least one course from the list of electives listed below.

D. Completion of one semester of independent study (98a or b), or completion of a senior essay (97a or b) under the direction of one or more faculty members affiliated with the program. A senior thesis in the student's department of concentration, with an emphasis on some aspect of religious studies and read by at least two faculty members in the program, may be substituted for the Senior Essay. Students will normally complete this requirement in the year in which they complete the program, although exceptions may be granted by the program chair in consultation with the student's program advisor.

E. A passing letter grade must be obtained in each course taken for program credit. (Pass/Fail courses are not allowed.) Students must achieve a grade point average of at least 2.00 in program courses.

Courses of Instruction

(1-99) Primarily for Undergraduate Students

REL 97a Senior Essay

Signature of the instructor required.

Usually offered every year.


REL 97b Senior Essay

Signature of the instructor required.

Usually offered every year.


REL 98a Independent Study

Signature of the instructor required.

Usually offered every year.


REL 98b Independent Study

Signature of the instructor required.

Usually offered every year.


REL 107a Approaches to Religious Studies

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Prerequisite: One previous course in religious studies. Enrollment limited to 30.

A historical, multidisciplinary survey that includes classic explanations of religion as a human experience, modern theories, the study of belief systems, religions and society, myth and philosophy, mysticism and shamanism, texts, ritual and language, comparative study, gender issues, and contemporary debates. Usually offered every year. Will be offered in the spring of 2002.


REL 121a Mysticism and the Moral Life: Abraham Heschel, Howard Thurman, Thomas Merton

(Formerly HIP 21a)

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This course may not be repeated for credit by students who have taken HIP 21a in previous years. Enrollment limited to 25.

A study of three exemplary American religious activists: Abraham Heschel, a Jewish theologian and activist; Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk; and Howard Thurman, a black minister. Focuses upon the relationship between their inwardness and social and political commitments. Usually offered every second year.

Mr. Kaplan

REL 131b The Dynamics of Religious Experience

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Enrollment limited to 25.

A comparative study of religious experience, including Christian, Jewish, non-biblical, and feminist responses to modern anguish and the quest for identity and absolute meaning. Topics include doubt, sin, conversion, prayer, mysticism, holiness, and social action. Usually offered every third year. Will be offered in the spring of 2002.

Mr. Kaplan

Traditions Courses

The following courses are approved for the program. Not all are given in any one year. Please consult the Course Schedule each semester.

ANTH 80a

World Religions

CLAS 170a

Classical Mythology

HIST 181a

Seminar in Traditional Chinese Thought

IMES 104a

Islam: Civilization and Institutions


Foundational Course in Judaic Studies


The World of the Ancient Near East

NEJS 111a

The Hebrew Bible

NEJS 114b

Biblical Ritual and Cult

NEJS 130a

The New Testament: A Historical Introduction

NEJS 132a

Introduction to Christianity

NEJS 135a

Jesus of Nazareth and the Christian Faith

NEJS 143b

Shi'ism and Political Protest in the Middle East

NEJS 153a

Hasidism as a Religious and Social Movement

NEJS 155b

Judaism and the Religious Quest

NEJS 156b

Ancient Near Eastern Religion and Mythology

Elective Courses

The following courses approved for the program are not all given in any one year, and therefore, the Course Schedule for each semester should be consulted.

ANTH 105a

Symbol, Myth, and Ritual

ANTH 154b

Selected Topics in Comparative Religion: Seminal Works in the Study of Religion

ANTH 199b

Problems and Possibilities in the Study of Religion

CLAS 125a

Israel in Egypt: An Introduction to Alexandrian Jewish Literature

COML 179a

Life Stories, Spiritual and Profane

COML 194b

Topics in Myth, Literature, and Folklore

FA 13b

Buddhist Art

FA 42b

The Age of Cathedrals

FA 45a

St. Peter's and the Vatican

GECS 182b


HIP 20a

Imagining How We Are: East and West I

HIP 20b

Imagining How We Are: East and West II

HIST 110b

The Civilization of the High and Late Middle Ages

HIST 123b

Reformation Europe (1400-1600)

HIST 129b

Science and Religion: The Trial of Galileo

HIST 135b

Evolution and Creationism in Historical Perspective

HIST 148a

Religion and Society in Modern Russia

HIST 152b

Salem, 1692

HUM 10a

The Western Canon

IECS 140a

Dante's Divine Comedy

NEJS 105b

The Philosophy of Jewish Law

NEJS 112a

The Book of Genesis

NEJS 115b

Women and the Bible

NEJS 118a

An Introduction to Philo of Alexandria

NEJS 119b

Contemporary Jewish Religious Thought

NEJS 124b

Introduction to Jewish Mysticism

NEJS 127b

The Jewish Liturgy

NEJS 142b

Dealing with Evil in Ancient Babylon and Beyond: Magic and Witchcraft in Antiquity

NEJS 150a

The Perception of the Other

NEJS 158b

Topics in Jewish Devotional Literature in the Medieval and Later Periods

NEJS 162a

American Judaism

NEJS 163a

Jewish-Christian Relations in America

PHIL 24a

Philosophy of Religion

PHIL 146a

Idea of God

PHIL 172b


PHIL 178b

Major Figures in the Christian Faith: Simone Weil

REL 121a

Mysticism and the Moral Life: Abraham Heschel, Howard Thurman, Thomas Merton

REL 131b

The Dynamics of Religious Experience

SOC 128a

Topics in the Sociology of Religion

WMNS 195b

The Woman's Voice in the Muslim World