University Bulletin 2002-03
An interdepartmental program
Religious Studies

Courses of Study:
Program website:


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 (Minor)

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

Gila Hayim

Charles McClendon
(Fine Arts)

Jerry Samet

Ellen Schattschneider


The following faculty members are affiliated with the program:

Marc Brettler (NEJS)
Joan Bryant (AAAS)
Stephen Dowden (GERSL)
Sylvia Fishman (NEJS)
ChaeRan Freeze (NEJS)
Gregory Freeze (HIST)
Eli Hirsch (PHIL)
Patricia Johnston (CLAS)
Jane Kamensky (HIST)
William Kapelle (HIST)
Reuven Kimelman (NEJS)
Sarah Lamb (ANTH)
Richard Lansing (ROCL)
Avigdor Levy (NEJS)
Khaleel Mohammed (NEJS)
Leonard Muellner (CLAS)
Yitzhak Nakash (NEJS)
Michael Penn (NEJS)
Michael Randall (ROCL)
Jonathan Sarna (NEJS)
John Schrecker (HIST)
Govind Sreenivasan (HIST)
David Wright (NEJS)
Palle Yourgrau (PHIL)

Requirements for the Minor

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 major, 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
[ nw hum ]
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. Last offered in the spring of 2002.

REL 121a Mysticism and the Moral Life: Abraham Heschel, Howard Thurman, Thomas Merton
(formerly HIP 21a)
[ hum ]
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 third year. Last offered in the spring of 2000.
Mr. Kaplan

REL 131b The Dynamics of Religious Experience
[ hum ]
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. Last 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 110a
Introduction to the Qur'an

NEJS 111a
The Hebrew Bible

NEJS 114b
Biblical Ritual, Cult, and Magic

NEJS 130a
The New Testament: A Historical Introduction

NEJS 132a
Introduction to Christianity

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.

AAAS 81b
Religion in African American History

AMST 167b
The Cultural Work of Religion in America

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

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

HOID 120a
Immorality: Its Sources, Varieties, and Charms

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 115a
The Book of Deuteronomy

NEJS 115b
Women and the Bible

NEJS 119b
Contemporary Jewish Religious Thought

NEJS 123a
Medieval Jewish Philosophy

NEJS 124b
Introduction to Jewish Mysticism

NEJS 127b
The Jewish Liturgy

NEJS 129a
Biblical Narratives in the Qur'an

NEJS 142b
Dealing with Evil in Ancient Babylon and Beyond: Magic and Witchcraft in Antiquity

NEJS 158b
Topics in Jewish Devotional Literature in the Medieval and Later Periods

NEJS 162a
American Judaism

NEJS 163a
Jewish-Christian Relations in America

NEJS 169b
Responses to the Holocaust in Literature

NEJS 196a
Marriage, Divorce, and Sexual Ethics in Islamic Law

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

TUTR 20b
Ancient Mystery Cults

WMNS 195b
The Woman's Voice in the Muslim World