Current and Upcoming Courses in Religious Studies


Fall 2020

African Religions

RELA 3000 | Women and Religion in Africa

Cynthia Hoehler-Fatton

This course examines women’s religious activities, traditions and spirituality in a number of different African contexts.  Drawing on ethnographic, historical, literary, and religious studies scholarship, we will explore a variety of themes and debates that have emerged in the study of gender and religion in Africa.  Topics will include gendered images of sacred power; the construction of gender through ritual; sexuality and fertility; and women’s agency in indigenous religious movements, Muslim communities and Christian congregations in Africa. 

Readings include works by religious studies scholars, historians, anthropologists and novelists. Main requirements: a brief “issue paper”, midterm and final exams, a 10-page research paper, and active participation in class discussion.

RELA 3730 | Religion in African Literature and Film

Cynthia Hoehler-Fatton

This seminar examines the ways in which religious ideas, practices and issues are represented, and addressed, in African literature and film. How do African authors and filmmakers interweave aspects of Muslim, Christian and traditional religious cultures into the stories they tell? To what extent are questions of religious belief, spirituality, or conflict incorporated into their literary and cinematographic projects? How does “religion” serve as a lens through which to explore various relationships—social, political, emotional—in the works of these artists? The literary (and oral) genres covered in the class include creation myths, novels, memoirs, short stories and plays. The movies—both feature films and “shorts”—are made by African directors and producers. The course offers a sampling of classic works that depict precolonial, colonial and early postcolonial experiences, as well as recent works by a new generation of African writers and filmmakers who engage contemporary contexts and issues.   Requirements: class presentations, short writing assignments, quizzes, midterm and final exams.


RELB 1559 | Buddhist Ethics

Sonam Kachru

RELB 2054 | Tibetan Buddhism Introduction

Andrew Taylor

Provides a systematic introduction to Tibetan Buddhism with a strong emphasis on tantric traditions of Buddhism - philosophy, contemplation, ritual, monastic life, pilgrimage, deities & demons, ethics, society, history, and art. The course aims to understand how these various aspects of Tibetan religious life mutually shape each other to form the unique religious traditions that have pertained on the Tibetan plateau for over a thousand years.

RELB 3495 | Early Buddhism in South Asia

Sonam Kachru
This course explores the origins and development of Buddhism in South Asia. It assumes students have no prior knowledge of Buddhism. The goal is to understand the complex of teachings, practices, and relationships that would become known later as Buddhism and, simultaneously, how such a complex has developed within specific cultural contexts.

RELB 3655 | Buddhism in America

Erik Braun

We will also examine the places of story and imagination in modern life and religious traditions. Is fiction “only” fiction; are metaphors “just” figures of speech; are symbols or symbolic actions “merely” myths and symbols? Are certain forms of fiction especially suited to exploring religious and moral questions? Does fiction ever disclose religious answers? The course will blend lecture and discussion. There will be two guided essays with flexible prompts on assigned material (about 2000 words each), short quizzes, and a short paper on assigned material (about 8 pages, 2400 words) in lieu of a final exam. The course can meet the 2nd writing requirement, upon request.

RELB 5470 | Literary Tibetan V

Steven Weinberger
Advanced study in the philosophical and spiritual language of Tibet, past and present. Prerequisite: RELB 5000, 5010, 5350, 5360, or equivalent.

RELB 5800 | Literary Tibetan VII

Steven Weinberger

Examines the Yogachara-Svatantrika system as presented in Jang-kya's Presentation of Tenets, oral debate, and exercises in spoken Tibetan. Prerequisite: RELB 5000, 5010, 5350, 5360, 5470, 5480 or equivalent.


RELC 1210 | Hebrew Bible/Old Testament

Ashley Tate
Studies the history, literature, and religion of ancient Israel in the light of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. Emphasizes methods of contemporary biblical criticism. Cross listed as RELJ 1210.

RELC 2050 | Rise of Christianity

Karl Shuve

This course traces the rise of Christianity in the first millennium of the Common Era, covering the development of doctrine, the evolution of its institutional structures, and its impact on the cultures in which it flourished. Students will become acquainted with the key figures, issues, and events from this formative period, when Christianity evolved from marginal Jewish sect to the dominant religion in the Roman Empire.

RELC 2245 | Global Christianity

Daryn Henry

The story of Christianity's emergence in the Middle East and its migration into Europe and then North America is just one aspect of Christian history, which also has a rich and long history in Africa, Asia and other parts of the global South. This course looks at the shape Christianity is taking in non-Western parts of the world and how this growth impacts Christianity in the West.

RELC 2360 | Elements of Christian Thought

Paul Jones

This course considers the complex world of Christian thought by examining various perspectives on the nature of faith, the being and action of God, the identity of Jesus of Nazareth, the role of the Bible in theological reflection, and the relationship between Christian thought and social justice. Students will read important works of Christian theology and become acquainted with a range of theological approaches and ideas. Authors considered include Augustine of Hippo, Karl Barth, Leonardo Boff, John Calvin, Elizabeth Johnson, Delores Williams, and many others.

The course is suitable for those who seek an academic introduction to Christian theology and those who wish to deepen their understanding of this religious tradition. No previous knowledge of Christian thought is required.

RELC 3030 | Jesus and the Gospels

Janet Spittler

This course focuses on Jesus of Nazareth as an historical figure, that is, as he is accessible to the historian by means of historical methods. Our most important sources of information on Jesus are the canonical Gospels, and so much of the course will involve reading and attempting to understand these texts. We will attempt to reconstruct at least the broad outlines of Jesus activity and teachings, keeping in mind the limits of our sources.

RELC 3090 | Israelite Prophecy

Gregory Goering
This course examines the phenomenon of prophecy in ancient Israel. We will read in translation most of the stories from the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament about prophets (Moses, Deborah, Samuel, Elijah, Elisha), as well as the books attributed to prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and The Twelve). Each primary text will be considered in its historical, cultural, and political contexts.

RELC 3150 | Salem Witch Trials

Samuel Wells

Salem Witch Trials will examine the witchcraft trials that rocked Salem, Massachusetts to the core in the early 1690s by analyzing the events of the day, as well as putting the events in a larger historical, geographical, and religious context. The course will also examine the ways in which the trials have become a cultural touchstone in modern literature and culture.

RELC 3222 | From Jefferson to King

Mark Hadley

A seminar focused upon some of the most significant philosophical and religious thinkers that have shaped and continue to shape American religious thought and culture from the founding of the Republic to the Civil Rights Movement, including Thomas Jefferson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Jane Addams, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

RELC 3625 | Christ

Kevin Hart
This course is an introduction to Christology, that part of Theology concerned with the claim that Jesus is the Christ. How is this doctrine built up from Scripture, Church Councils, and the Fathers? What roles do heresies and creeds play in the construction? What events in the life and death of Jesus are most relevant to Christological claims? Particular attention is given to Jesus's preaching of the Kingdom of God.

RELC 4044 | Religion and the American Courts

John Portmann
What is the nature of religion and its role in American society? This seminar will explore the limits of spiritual convictions in a liberal democracy which guarantees religious freedom. This course will examine: 1) the First Amendment; 2) legal methodology; and 3) the contemporary debate over whether citizens and public officials have a duty to refrain from making political and legal decisions on the basis of their religious beliefs.

RELC 5559 | New Course in Christianity: Christian America: Religion and Nationalism in US

Matthew Hedstrom

This course examines the complex interactions between religion and nationalism in the United States, past and present. Considerable attention will be paid to both hegemonic and counterhegemonic cultural formations across a wide range of religious traditions. Topics will include, as examples, civil religion; black nationalism; settler colonialism and empire; and cosmopolitan, diasporic, and internationalist critiques of nationalism.  

RELC 5730 | Theology and Culture

Larry Bouchard

Theological assessments of culture, considered as the human-made environment comprising: language and patterns of living; structures of belief, norms, and practices; and forms of work, thought, and expression.  Topics include cultures as contexts for identity, secular experience and secularization, critiques of religion as an aspect of culture, cultural conflict and religious plurality, and theological interpretations of culture and nature.


10.0pt;line-height:115%;font-family:"Times New Roman",serif;mso-fareast-font-family:

RELC 5980 | The Theology of Karl Barth

Paul Jones

This seminar engages the thought of Karl Barth, arguably the most important Protestant theologian of the twentieth century. While we will deal with some of Barth’s early work – specifically, The Word of God and Theology and the second edition of The Epistle to the Romans – our primary focus will be the Church Dogmatics. Topics considered include the role of the Bible in theological reflection, theological epistemology, the doctrine of God, election, Christian ethics and political life, the human being, sin and evil, Christology and atonement, and the Christian community.

RELC 7515 | Themes and Topics in Christian Thought: Ecotheology

Willis Jenkins

Advanced seminar on relation of contemporary Christian theologies to environmental thought. Surveying environmental formulations of Catholic (including magisterial and liberationist), Protestant (including evangelical and anabaptist), and Eastern Orthodox traditions, as well as projects to ecologically reconstruct Christianity (ecofeminism and creation spirituality), this seminar assumes previous training in systematic theology.

General Religious Studies

RELG 1010 | Introduction to Western Religions

Adjunct TBA
Studies the major religious traditions of the Western world; Judaism, Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, and Islam.

RELG 1500 | Introductory Seminar in Religious Studies: Religion and Pandemics

Natasha Heller

Temples, synagogues, mosques, and churches emptied in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but religious practice didn’t cease: holy days were observed in new ways, and of necessity new rituals emerged. This course will consider how religious institutions have responded to pandemics, both in the past and in the present. We’ll look at claims of religious healing, the sites and materials of religious practice, ritual innovations, and digital religion. Throughout the course we’ll ask how the current pandemic helps us to understand key concepts for the study of religion, and how this in turn can illuminate our own, and our community’s responses

RELG 1559 | New Course in Religious Studies: Religion Matters

Charles Mathewes

This course introduces students to the study of religion at the university. It offers a survey of the present situation of religion in the world, attending as well to the history of how we got here and what the future holds for religion, all as a way of introducing the multiple disciplinary routes that scholars of religion use to understand their field of study. It looks at topics such as the earliest origins of human ritual practices, the place of religion in "modernity," the question of secularism, the relationship between spirituality and religion and the "rise of the nones," the relationship between theological and non-theological modes of inquiry, the history of inter-religious dialogue, the reality of "Political Islam," the explosion of Christian Pentecostalism, and other issues of pressing concern to the world today, and in the future.

RELG 2150 | Religion in America to 1865

Spencer Wells

This course will examine American religious life and thought prior to the Civil War, including but not limited to Puritanism, the "Great Awakening," slavery, the American Revolution, reform movements, and the Civil War.

RELG 2190 | Religion and Modern Fiction

Larry Bouchard

Are there intrinsically “religious” or “spiritual” questions? Modern fiction—in the 20th and 21st centuries—often raises questions that appear to be religious, spiritual, or ethical in character. Fiction may ask about “human spirit” and “human nature,” evil and suffering, identity and community, reason and revelation, grace and transformation. We will explore writers who pursue such questions, and how they imagine traces of the sacred or transcendent through their works’ distinctive language, forms, imagery, and experiences.

The writers in this course collectively tell a story of late modernity, from the early 20th century into the 21st. Some of them (such as Elie Wiesel, Shusaku Endo, Marilynne Robinson) write fictions that explicitly reflect religious traditions they identify with. Others (Hermann Hesse, Kamila Shamsie) write mostly or apparently secular narratives that nonetheless have religious, spiritual, or ethical implications. Others (N. Scott Momaday, Toni Morrison, Yann Martel) employ a variety of traditions to create new and distinctive spiritual visions.

RELG 2559 | New Course in Religious Studies: Bullets, Ballots and Bibles

Kai Parker

This course will examine how religion has inspired debates on strategies for achieving black liberation, including nonviolent direct action, the use of force, self-defense, voting, riot, and revolution. Authors and figures discussed may include Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Pauli Murray, Fannie Lou Hamer, Frantz Fanon, Marcus Garvey, Walter Benjamin, Harriet Tubman, and John Brown.

RELG 2630 | Business Ethics and Society

Petra Turner

A study of the philosophical and religious frameworks for interpreting and evaluating human activity in the marketplace. This includes major theoretical perspectives, contemporary issues within the marketplace, and corporate ethics.

RELG 2650 | Theological Bioethics

Adjunct TBA

Analyzes various moral problems in medicine, health care, and global health from Christian (Catholic and Protestant), Jewish, and Islamic theological perspectives with reference to salient philosophical influences.

RELG 2715 | Introduction to Chinese Religions

Natasha Heller

This course serves as an introduction to the religious beliefs and practices of premodern China. The course covers several broad themes in Chinese religion, including ritual, self-cultivation, means of communicating with the gods, and the intersection of political authority and religion. We will read and analyze texts from different religious traditions, and also look at examples from material culture.

RELG 3325 | The Civil Rights Movement in Religious and Theological Perspective

Charles Marsh

The seminar considers the American Civil Rights Movement, its supporters and opponents, in religious and theological perspective. While interdisciplinary in scope, the seminar will explore the religious motivations and theological sources in their dynamic particularity; and ask how images of God shaped conceptions of personal identity, social existence, race and nation in the campaigns and crusades for equal rights under the law.

RELG 3405 | Introduction to Black and Womanist Religious Thought

Ashon Crawley

Is thought always already racialized, gendered, sexed? This Introduction to Black and Womanist Thought course argues that thought does not have to submit itself to modern regimes of knowledge production, that there are alternative ways to think and practice and be in the world with one another. An introduction to major thinkers in both religious thought traditions with attention to theology, philosophy and history.

RELG 3485 | Moral Leadership

John Portmann
This course introduces students to the moral frameworks of Aristotle, Maimonides, Machiavelli, and Jeff McMahon and then examines pressing moral issues in contemporary America.

RELG 3559-001 | New Course in Religious Studies: Black Philosophy and Religion

Ashon Crawley

This course is about the major themes, thought traditions and modes of reflection in Black Religion and Philosophy. Students will read from major thinkers that have informed this tradition and write about their influences in both religion and philosophy as disciplines. 

RELG 3559-002 | New Course in Religious Studies: Black Music, Black Faith

Kai Parker

This course examines the intersection of religion and music in African American culture and politics from the antebellum era to the present. Topics will include how religion inhabits seemingly secular genres such as R&B, jazz, and hip-hop; the role of spirituals in the development of black politics; gospel's discourse on world affairs; and the sacred music of abolition and civil rights. No background in music theory or practice is required.

RELG 3605 | Religion Violence and Strategy

Gerard White

This course will teach students to evaluate critically the leadership and strategies of social impact campaigns, and the ways in which governments, religious actors and civil society have tried to reduce violent conflict. Students will be organized into small integrated teams to research the root causes and triggers for religion-related violence across the Middle East and North Africa.

RELG 4023 | Bioethics Internship Seminar

Mary Faith Marshall

The course enables students to spend time in medical settings as 'participant-observers,' in order to gain first-hand experience of the subject matter that is the focus of the theory, teaching, and practice of bioethics. Prerequisites: Bioethics Major/Minor

RELG 4220 | American Religious Autobiography

Heather Warren

Multidisciplinary examination of religious self-perception in relation to the dominant values of American life. Readings represent a variety of spiritual traditions and autobiographical forms.

RELG 4500 | Majors Seminar: Scripture

Elizabeth Alexander

RELG 4800 | Crafting a Research Project in Religious Studies

Janet Spittler

This course offers third- and fourth-year Religious Studies majors resources for conceiving and executing a major research project. As a follow-up, students usually take RELG 4900 ("Distinguished Major Thesis"), which affords them an opportunity to write the research project they have conceived in this course. Whether you plan to write a thesis or not, RELG 4800 offers an accessible introduction to the craft of research in Religious Studies.

RELG 5225 | The Civil Rights Movement

Charles Marsh

The seminar considers the American Civil Rights Movement in religious and theological perspective. While interdisciplinary in scope, the seminar will explore the movement's religious influences and theological sources and ask how differing images of God and doctrinal commitments shaped particular ways of interpreting and engaging the social order.

RELG 5320 | Research Religion and Conflict

Peter Ochs
Advanced research on religion, politics and conflict for students of "religion-on-religion" conflict/conflict resolution. Research methods drawn from religious studies, politics, anthropology and linguistics, history, sociology, nursing, philosophy, systems analysis and data science. Topics recommended by current work in the Global Covenant of Religions, the UVA Initiative on Religion in Conflict, and other professional work in the field.

RELG 5321 | Religion Politics Conflict Proseminar

Peter Ochs

The Proseminar for MA students in Religion, Politics & Conflict meets monthly each semester to discuss student research, to integrate methods and themes in the field, to facilitate professional development, and to deepen relationships with colleagues.

RELG 5801 | Crafting a Research Project in Religious Studies

Janet Spittler
This course offers MA students in Religious Studies resources for conceiving and executing a major research project or thesis. By the end of the semester, each participant will have completed a well-organized, detailed prospectus. The prospectus will reflect the guidance of one's thesis advisor as well as the scrutiny of the instructor and input from peers. Each student will thus be poised to begin writing his/her thesis the following semester.

RELG 5821 | Proseminar in World Religions and World Literature

Peter Ochs

This monthly seminar explores methods and issues vital to the combined study of literatures and religions. It brings all MA students together, under faculty guidance, to attend to the broad range of individual projects and to foster a rich conversation that traverses the emergent field of study.

RELG 7360 | Theories and Methods in the Study of Religion

Natasha Heller, Karl Shuve

Given the multidisciplinary character of religious studies, it is imperative for new scholars to gain a basic sense of theoretical and methodological options in the field. By way of an examination of landmark texts, this course surveys the formation of religious studies in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and considers some important contemporary approaches.

RELG 7528 | Topics in Modern Religious Thought: Political Theology

Charles Mathewes

Examination of a major topic in modern religious thought--e.g., religious imagination, ethical and religious subjectivity, metaphor and religious language, religious and ethical conceptions of love.


RELH 2090 | Hinduism

John Nemec

This course serves as a general introduction to Hinduism in its classical, medieval and colonial forms. By reading primary texts in translation (along with key secondary sources), and by taking note of the cultural, historical, political and material contexts in which they were composed, we will explore Hinduism from its earliest forms to the period of the “Hindu Renaissance” in the nineteenth century. In other words, we will take a sweeping look at the religious and cultural life of the Indian sub-continent from the second millennium B.C. (B.C.E.) to the nineteenth century.

RELH 3105 | Hinduism and Ecology

Michael Allen

This course will explore Hindu views of the relationship between human, natural, and divine worlds, as well as the work of contemporary environmentalists in India. We will read texts both classical and modern, from the Bhagavad Gītā to the writings of Gandhi, and will consider case studies of Hindu responses to issues such as wildlife conservation, pollution, deforestation, and industrial agriculture.

RELH 3725 | Travel Writing and India

John Nemec

This course examines (Western) encounters with India by reading the fiction and travel writing of Europeans, Americans, and Expatriated Indians in India or, conversely, in the West. The selected works were in the main written by Western writers for Western audiences, and they thus provide a window on Western attitudes towards South Asia. (In many cases, they can tell us a good deal about India, as well.) Among the novelists we will read are Mark Twain, Herman Hesse, and Rudyard Kipling, as well as expatriated Indian writers such as V.S. Naipaul and Suketu Mehta, who have lived outside India for decades and have recorded their experiences on returning to the subcontinent.

The goal of this course is to explore how it is we come to know a place other than home, and how encounters with “the other” inspire, challenge, transform, or confirm our own notions of self, society, religion, and way-of-life.

RELH 5559 | New Course in Hinduism: The Rise of Vedanta

Michael Allen


RELI 2070 | Classical Islam

Shankar Nair

A general introduction to the origins, development, teachings, and practices of the Islamic tradition. Studies the Irano-Semitic background, Arabia, Muhammad and the Qur'an, the Hadith, law and theology, duties and devotional practices, sectarian developments (Sunnism and Shi'ism), and Sufism or "Islamic mysticism."

RELI 5540 | Seminar in Islamic Studies

Shankar Nair
Topics in Islamic Studies


RELJ 1210 | Hebrew Bible/Old Testament

Ashley Tate
Studies the history, literature, and religion of ancient Israel in the light of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. Emphasizes methods of contemporary biblical criticism. Cross listed as RELC 1210.

RELJ 1410 | Elementary Biblical Hebrew I

Gregory Goering
First half of a year-long introduction to biblical Hebrew, using an innovative language-learning approach. Through communicative activities in an immersive environment, students acquire oral and aural capacities naturally, in Hebrew. These capacities enable students to internalize the language and thus achieve the overall course goal: read simple biblical Hebrew prose with immediate comprehension. Students begin reading Jonah by semester's end

RELJ 2410 | Intermediate Biblical Hebrew I

Blaire French
Readings in the prose narratives of the Hebrew Bible. Emphasizes grammar, vocabulary, and syntax. Attention to issues of translation and interpretation. Prerequisite: HEBR/RELJ 1420 or the equivalent.

RELJ 3052 | Responses to the Holocaust

Jennifer Geddes
Responses to the Holocaust

RELJ 3090 | Israelite Prophecy

Gregory Goering
This course examines the phenomenon of prophecy in ancient Israel. We will read in translation most of the stories from the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament about prophets (Moses, Deborah, Samuel, Elijah, Elisha), as well as the books attributed to prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and The Twelve). Each primary text will be considered in its historical, cultural, and political contexts.

RELJ 3170 | Modern Jewish Thought

Asher Biemann

This course offers an introduction into the major themes of Modern Jewish Thought.

RELJ 3320 | Judaism: Medicine and Healing

Vanessa Ochs

Jewish tradition integrates a respect for the skill and knowledge of the physician along with an awareness that there are spiritual and relational components of the healing process. In this course we will study: multiple Jewish ways of understanding why we get sick, suffer, heal and find meaning again; Jewish healing practices (ancient and contemporary) in ritual and prayer; and specific Jewish medical-ethical perspectives concerning the body and healing. Readings will include ancient sacred writings in Torah, Mishna and Talmud as well as modern and contemporary texts (serving as case studies) that reflect how medicine, suffering and healing are variously constructed and reflected in Jewish culture.  This course will stress close readings of texts, analyses of living traditions, and encounters with those whose lives and experiences are perfused by Jewish models of healing    

RELJ 3372 | German Jewish Culture and History

Gabriel Finder, Jeffrey Grossman

This course provides a wide-ranging exploration of the culture, history & thought of German Jewry from 1750 to 1939. It focuses on the Jewish response to modernity in Central Europe and the lasting transformations in Jewish life in Europe and later North America. Readings of such figures as: Moses Mendelssohn, Heinrich Heine, Rahel Varnhagen, Franz Kafka, Gershom Scholem, Martin Buber, Karl Marx, Rosa Luxembourg, Walter Benjamin, and Freud.

RELJ 3390 | Jewish Feminism

Vanessa Ochs
Jewish Feminism

RELJ 3885 | Judaism in Art

Asher Biemann

RELJ 5100 | Theology and Ethics of the Rabbis

Elizabeth Alexander
This course explores theological and ethical themes in classical rabbinic literature (c. 200-600 CE). Focus is on gaining fluency in textual and conceptual analysis. Questions examined include: How is the relationship between God, humans generally and the people Israel specifically, imagined? What is evil and how is it best managed? What is the nature of one's obligation to fellow human beings? How does one cultivate an ideal self?