Religious Studies Fall 2018 Course Offerings

Department of Religious Studies
Course Offerings for Fall 2018
Director – Morten Schlütter
314 Gilmore Hall, 335-2164

Updated 07/13/2018

***Please check MYUI for the most current information and full descriptions***

Even in a country that values the separation of Church and State, the Bible has a profound influence on virtually every aspect of our political and personal lives. The debate over the role that the Bible plays in our culture is not just one between true believers and atheists, but more importantly also among various groups that would consider themselves to be “true believers.” Should the Bible play such an important role in determining right and wrong in our culture? Which group’s interpretation of the Bible is the correct one? How can we even know?

RELS:1000:0002  FIRST-YEAR SEMINAR:               Turner
New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz, is the most African city in the United States with a long history of cultural and political influences from West and Central Africa, Haiti, Cuba, France, Spain, and the United States. The seminar will explore music, African-American religion and history, Mardi Gras, food traditions, internationalism, and social justice issues in black New Orleans before and after Hurricane Katrina, by using source materials from music, film, literature, and folk culture. Students’ learning will be assessed by discussing assigned readings and films in class and completing a 6-page essay and an oral presentation. The course will emphasize themes of cultural diversity, gender, and social justice that students will encounter as they fulfill their General Education requirements at the university.

RELS:1001             JUDAISM, CHRISTIANITY, AND ISLAM             Dilley
GE: Historical Perspectives
Introduction to the sacred literature, beliefs, and rituals of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, focusing on key aspects of their millennia-old traditions; historical connections of these three religions, as well as their contemporary relationship.

GE: Quantitative or Formal Reasoning
What is information? What does it teach us about societies and cultures? How is information used to shape societies and even personal preferences? What types of information are there and how can we understand and use them? Students work with faculty from multiple disciplines to investigate these questions using inquiry-based activities to build success in critical thinking and teamwork.

RELS:1070             INTRO TO THE HEBREW BIBLE/OLD TESTAMENT              J. Smith
GE: Values & Culture
Introduction to the Old Testament, aka the Hebrew Bible, and examination of individual writings within their historical contexts. Learn how to recognize and analyze the major themes and characters of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, and hopefully gain understanding within the broader cultural background of the ancient Near East, the history of the people who composed the book, and how the literary contents of the Bible reflect, reject, or otherwise interact with the cultural and historical circumstances of the times.

RELS:1130             INTRODUCTION TO ISLAMIC CIVILIZATION               Souaiaia
GE: Values& Culture; International and Global Issues  /    HIST:1030
Historical survey of Islamic institutions, communities, literature, arts, sciences, cultures, and practices since the 7th century. For students with an interest in learning about the Islamic civilization, the religious practices and beliefs, and/or the history or the regions where Muslims are in the majority.  Examine traditions and main social and legal institutions of Islam.

RELS:1225             MEDIEVAL RELIGION AND CULTURE               Mentzer
GE: Historical Perspectives  /    HIST:1025
Explore European religion, principally Western Christianity and its broader cultural setting from the end of antiquity to the eve of the Reformation (ca. 1500).  Examine beliefs and practices among the intellectual and social elite as well as the meaning of religion for the largely illiterate and unlearned majority of the population, including roles of women, religious opposition, the place of the liturgy, religious art and architecture, politics and religion, and the syncretic blend of “official” and folk religion. 

RELS:1404             LIVING RELIGIONS OF THE EAST: Ancestors, Buddhas, Gods, and God           Schlütter
GE: Values& Culture  /    ASIA:1040
Introduction to ways in which people in Asia bring a broad range of religious ideas to life through practice focusing on Hinduism, Buddhism, Daoism, Shinto, and various popular religious beliefs. Includes more recent influx of Christianity in Asia and the impact it has had. Special attention paid to practices that are meaningful to most people, and how this sometimes creates tension with religious leadership hierarchies. See website for full description. 

RELS:1702             RELIGION IN AMERICA TODAY              Nabhan-Warren
GE: Values& Culture
Have you ever been curious about what and why people believe? Do you wonder about why people eat certain things at certain times of the year, why people pray, why they raise their families in certain ways? Explore commonalities and differences among religious and spiritual groups in the United States today. See website for full description.   

RELS:1810             HAPPINESS IN A DIFFICULT WORLD                 Cates
GE: Values& Culture
Everyone wants to be happy. For many people, being happy involves gaining freedom from factors in their lives that keep them from realizing their full potential and feeling connected to others. Is religion a help or a hindrance in the search for freedom?  This introductory course seeks wisdom from three iconic figures focusing on the religious backgrounds and unique spiritualities of Maya Angelou (an African-American Christian), Black Elk (a Lakota Sioux medicine man), and the Dalai Lama (a Tibetan Buddhist monk). The course encourages students to ponder the many forms of oppression that humans can experience as obstacles to happiness, and the forms of liberation that are possible:  social, political, economic, mental, emotional, and spiritual. 

RELS:1903EXV/EXW      QUEST FOR HUMAN DESTINY          E. Holstein
GE: Values and Culture
Explore three ancient works: The Epic of Gilgamesh and, from the Bible, the Books of Genesis and Jonah, and the differing ways these texts deal with the inevitability of death.  Course includes Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, Tolstoy's "The Death of Ivan Ilych," Stanley Kubrick's film, 2001: A Space Odyssey and others.  See MyUI for complete description.

RELS:1997                HARRY POTTER: MYSTERY & MAGIC OF LIFE             Gerstmyer
Exploration of Harry Potter novels and films that offer millions of people an entrée into a world of wizards, witches, and muggles; this engrossing world created by J.K. Rowling invites readers and viewers to explore the power of human imagination, creates a space for asking questions of personal significance (What defines me as a person? What sort of person am I in the process of becoming? What are the most significant factors that are shaping my identity and destiny?); students read selections and view film segments while exploring these essential questions.

This highly interactive, online course is for everyone who is intrigued by—and wants to explore—the ethical impact that advances in biotechnology, including genetic, reproductive, and neonatal technology, are having in the medical arena and, more generally, on our humanity. It is also for those who want to understand the growing religious diversity of America’s communities and the impact that religion and spirituality can have on people’s ways of confronting matters of life and death.  The central goal of the course is to help you prepare for life and work in contexts where ethical, religious, and spiritual questions simply cannot be avoided and ought to be treated with intelligence and sensitivity.  Onlinr course utilizing virtual reality software (OSGrid and Firefox) in order to transform what can seem like abstract cases into personal encounters within the context of a Virtual Clinic.

RELS:2289                  JERUSALEM: THE HOLY CITY      Cargill
Study the religious, political, and cultural history of Jerusalem over three millennia as a symbolic focus of three faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. We will focus on the establishment and transformation of Jerusalem as a sacred space as reflected by literary and archaeological evidence by examining the testimony of artifacts, architecture, and iconography in relation to the written word. Students will receive an overview of the history of Jerusalem from the 12th C. BCE to modern time, and gain an understanding of the archaeology and how it pertains to the interpretation of the city, with a particular eye toward the relevant religious texts from Judaism, Christianity, and Islam that contribute to the creation of mythic Jerusalem through event, experience, and tradition. Students will gain an understanding of the present day conflict between Israel and Palestine, including relevant diplomatic texts, and will analyze the points of contention and possible solutions in the conflict. Students will also become familiar with new technologies that can be used to visualize and understand the special relationships between historical sites

RELS:2333                  ECONOMICS AND RELIGION       Souaiaia
Students survey theories and ideas from emerging fields of the study of economics of religion and religious economy; special focus on on Islamic and Jewish economic institutions and principles as case studies.

RELS:2540                  THE WALLS BETWEEN US/BIBLE DEFINES THE OTHER       J. Smith
Major events in Western history in which people disagreed about who deserves to be treated as human; students examine how the Bible was used to expand and restrict the circle of humanity, ranging from the Crusades and the Reformation to slavery and women's suffrage.

RELS:2775                  THE BIBLE AND THE HOLOCAUST  (WWW online)         J. Holstein
Study the Nazi war against Jews and Judaism from both perpetrators and victims’ perspectives. We will read three accounts by survivors who found themselves caught in the Nazi web of terror: one hiding out with a Polish Catholic family, another on the lam in the Latvian countryside, and the last in the belly of the beast of the largest killing center (Auschwitz).

RELS:2930                  DIGITAL MEDIA & RELIGION       Supp-Montgomerie
Some characterize the digital age by the rise of science and technology and the death of religion.  This course offers a different perspective.  It explores diverse relationships between religion and technology—from enthusiastic fusion to adamant prohibition—focusing on three questions: What makes a medium digital? How do we connect to and disconnect from the world around us? And is there such a thing as "online religion"? Capitalizing on the vibrant world of digital technology in contemporary lived religion, from kosher cell phones to aboriginal satellites, this course inquires critically into the ways that a humanities approach provides unique and important resources for understanding new media and cultural life.

RELS:3245                  MYTHOLOGY OF OTHERWORLDLY JOURNEYS          Cargill
Examination of mythology of otherworldly journeys from earliest religions to Hellenistic period; historical context; comparison for common themes in their evolution over time; directed readings of mythological texts dealing with otherworldly journeys; ways in which past cultures confronted larger mysteries of life and death.

RELS:3333                  ECONOMICS & RELIGION              Souaiaia
  IS:3333                       Theories, Institutions, and Ideas of Economics and Religion                       
This course is about the origins, functions and impact of Islamic and other religions' ideas and practices in the realms of economic development, financial services and products, business ethics and practices, and business models. Students will explore the ways such ideas and practices affect legacy issues like property rights, poverty, and access to healthcare, education, and social security. Lastly, students will examine the impact of religious ideas and practices on social justice matters that touch on individual and group identity along class, gender, ethnicity, and race, as well as, the role of religion in formulating public policy and directing international relations.

RELS:3520                  DYING FOR THE PROMISED LAND: MARTYRDOM           J. Smith
How martyrdom evokes images of innocents who are killed for their faith and terrorists who commit suicide bombings; how these groups may appear distinct, but share a heritage that relates absolute obedience to God and (often human) sacrifice to conquest and possession of a Promised Land; development of martyrdom ideology and its uses in religious and political conflict in Western history; examination of the Crusades, Reformation, and modern religious and political conflicts beginning with works from the Bible, Greco-Roman culture, and early Jewish and Christian literature.

RELS:3655                  ZEN BUDDHISM           Instructor TBD
Introduction to the teachings, history, and study of Zen Buddhism. Examine the history and doctrinal developments of the Zen school in China, Japan, Korea, and the Western world, focusing on the role and practice of Zen in contemporary society. A major component of the course will be a consideration of various theoretical and methodological problems that arise in the study of Zen and Zen practice, and a critical exploration of the historical study of Zen. We will also discuss larger issues raised by Zen's claims of enlightenment and ineffable experience, in the light of recent studies of the brain and theory of mind. Readings will include both secondary sources and primary sources in translation.


This course explores the history of interactions between African-American religion, politics, and music in the 20th century. The objective of the course is to provide students with the opportunity to engage in critical interpretation of the African-American religious experience by focusing on topics such as: Black Christianity and Islam; the Civil Rights, Black Power, and Black Lives Matter movements; Black feminism and womanism; the Great Migration; and the religious sensibilities of Rhythm and Blues and Hip Hop music in contemporary society. 

RELS:3976                  AMERICAN INDIAN ENVIRONMENTALISM       Pesantubbee
Clean water, plant diversity, animal health as worldwide issues; Native American relationships and responsibilities to the living things of their homelands—from the earth itself to the raindrops that fall from the sky—and how those relationships have been altered in the last 150 years; explore innovative Native American efforts to restore their relationships to plants, animals, and landscapes that have been damaged by resource development, manufacturing, population growth, and political interests.

RELS:4155               RELIGIOUS CONFLICT: EARLY-MODERN PERIOD           Mentzer
Exploration of conflict and its relationship to confessional identity and religious practice in early modern Europe with particular reference to Christianity. Initial lectures, readings and discussions will assess the medieval antecedents. Primary emphasis will be on state-sponsored hostilities as well as popular, more spontaneous violence, to include collective massacres and individual acts such as assassination between the late Middle Ages and the Enlightenment. Topics include connections between violent behavior and religious ritual, the legitimization or sanctification of violence, group protests, and emerging voices of toleration. 

Independent Study

RELS:4970                    HONORS TUTORIAL
Independent Study

RELS:4975:0IND          HONORS ESSAY
Independent Study

RELS:5100                   TEACHING AND PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT           Cates


RELS:6150                    AMERICAN RELIGIOUS HISTORIES           Nabhan-Warren

RELS:6625                    SEMINAR: RELIGION & HEALTH                Smith, F
                                         Religious and Cultural Constructions of Disease and Healing 

Independent Study

Independent Study

Independent Study

Independent Study

Independent Study

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Independent Study

Independent Study

RELS:7950                    THESIS
Independent Study

Updated: 7/13/2018

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The University of Iowa
Department of Religious Studies
314 Gilmore Hall