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James Thrall

Knight Distinguished Associate Professor for the Study of Religion & Culture

2 East South Street

Galesburg, IL 61401



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RELS 101 Introduction to Religious Studies

This course introduces key terms and concepts common to the study of religion, including myth, symbol, ritual, sacred/holy, belief, morality, scripture, and afterlife, by considering some of the core questions asked in the field of religious studies. Case studies from a variety of religious traditions provide examples of religious thought and practices. SA; Usually offered fall term every year; J. Thrall

RELS 113 Judaism, Christianity, and Islam

Comparative study of the three major monotheistic traditions in the West: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Selections from the classical texts of each tradition are studied, as well as the ways in which those texts have been interpreted through law, theology and ritual practice. Cross Listing: HIST 113; SA; PI; Usually offered fall or winter term every year; J. Thrall; D. Fatkin

RELS 114 East Asian Philosophy

This course will introduce the three major philosophical systems of East Asian thought: Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism through their canonical texts. This historical approach will be supplemented by contemporary readings in each tradition. When taught as a component of the Japan Term, this course will pay special attention to the development of Japanese Buddhism, specifically Pure Land Buddhism (Amida Buddhism), Esoteric Buddhism (Shingon Buddhism) and Zen Buddhism (Soto and Rinzai). Cross Listing: PHIL 114; IC; W. Young

RELS 125 The Bible in Literature

A focus on the Bible and its influence on Western historical and contemporary literature. Readings include selections from the Bible and literary texts on which the Bible has had an impact. Some attention is given to cultural, historical, and political contexts. The course will prepare students for more advanced study in writing, literature, and religious studies. Cross Listing: ENG 125; IC; G. Franco; C. Kitchen Fitch

RELS 153 The Gospels and Writings of Paul: Scriptural Sources of Christianity

This course provides a basic introduction to the New Testament through the consideration of the Gospels and writings of Paul, including not only traditional elements of introduction, such as authorship, historical background, structure, content, and use of sources, but also the differing theologies of the various writings. The orientation is historical, linguistic and exegetical. The course focuses on the Gospels and writings of Paul and traces their origin, inter-relationship, theological distinctiveness and value. Some attention is given to the hermeneutic problem (interpretation) and critical analysis. The course commences with an overview of intertestamental history and philosophy. Staff

RELS 203 Classical Mythology

This course introduces students to the myths of ancient Greece and Rome. These stories are, on the surface, thrilling tales about gods and heroes, but they are also windows into how these ancient cultures confronted the physical and social worlds: we will examine, for example, how social identities such as woman and man, citizen and slave, foreigner and native, were variously reinforced and contested through the medium of myth. In addition to becoming literate in classical mythology, which still forms the basis of countless films, novels, television shows, games, and comic books, you students will also learn some of the fundamentals of ancient history and culture. Cross Listing: CLAS 203; IC; PI; Staff

RELS 205 Buddhism and Japanese Buddhism

This course is an introduction to Buddhism, with specific emphasis on Japanese Buddhism. To these ends, it will canvass the principal tenets of Buddhism, namely, the four noble truths, the eight-fold path, dependent originations, the no-self, karma, etc., in the Theravada and Mahayana traditions. It will then consider the development of Japanese Buddhism from the Asuka (552-645 CE) through the Kamakura Periods (1185-1332 CE) by examining the rise of particular sects within Japanese Buddhism (Nara Schools, Tendai, Shingon, Pure Land, and Zen). Cross Listing: ASIA 205;PHIL 205; W. Young

RELS 215 Post-Communist Politics and Religion in Bulgaria (1/2)

Immerse yourself in Bulgaria on a short-term, faculty-led program based in Sofia, with an opportunity for visiting Plovdiv, Europe's oldest continuously inhabited city, and the Rila Monastery "St. Ivan of Rila," the largest Eastern Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria and a UNESCO world heritage site. Students will explore how its turbulent past affects its contemporary national identity. Through meetings with students and faculty from local universities, students will learn about the first Bulgarian constitution and its importance in shaping today's parliamentary democracy, the religious tolerance of the Bulgarian people, the saving of Bulgarian Jews during World War II, and much more. Prerequisite(s): Enrollment in or previous completion of PS 128; Cross Listing: PS 215; Offered alternate years; K. Stewart

RELS 220 History of Christianity

This course narrates the social, institutional, and intellectual history of Christianity, paying particular attention to the experiences of Christian men and women living in specific places and times. Through a study of both individuals and institutions, the course looks at several points of dialogue, and often tension, between Christian communities and broader cultures, between official Christian teachings and popular beliefs, and between Christian traditions and forces of reform. The course also considers the roles Christianity has played in key world events, and builds awareness of Christianity's expanding diversity as a global faith. Cross Listing: HIST 220; Offered occasionally; J. Thrall

RELS 221 Global Christianity

This course considers Christianity's roots and development as manifested in the contemporary lived experiences of practitioners in Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America, and North America. The course pays particular attention to the impact of an expanding Christianity on preexisting cultural and religious forms, as well as their influences on Christianity. Inquiry is focused through the lens of local Christian practice: what Christians in specific regions believe and do. Topics include the complex relationship of Christian missions with imperialism, Christianity's role in post-colonial dynamics of power, and Christian engagement with other religions. Offered occasionally; J. Thrall

RELS 224 American Indian Religious Freedom

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.." ~The 1st amendment to the U.S. Constitution The first amendment of the U.S. constitution appears to guarantee that those living within the country's borders would not be forced to adopt any particular religion, nor would the government interfere with their right to practice whatever religion they chose. Yet the experience of American Indian communities since 1787 belies this promise. This class will explore the first amendment, federal Indian policy, and key court cases in the history of American Indian religious freedom, to examine the tension between concepts of race, citizenship, and free worship in the United States. Cross Listing: HIST 224; C. Denial

RELS 230 Reading Islam: Texts and Images

This course considers the variety of ways in which Islam has been represented through texts, both written and imagistic, including the Qur'an, hadith, prose fiction, poetry, art, and film. Drawing from historical and contemporary sources available in English, the course pays close attention to the self-presentations of different forms of Muslim identity that reflect Islam's diverse cultural and geographic strains. To help provide that appreciation of Islam's diversity, we will sample in particular creative products from Iran, Egypt and the Gulf States, and South Asia. IC; SA; Offered occasionally; J. Thrall

RELS 235 Contemporary Buddhism in Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia is home to the strand of Buddhism known as "Theravada". What is included in this category and how do Southeast Asians who call themselves Buddhist actually practice this religion? How has Theravada Buddhist practice changed in recent years, and what has prompted these changes? After providing some historical background, including attention to the rise of Buddhist modernist movements, this course will examine the contemporary practice of Buddhism in Burma, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia, as well as its connections with Buddhist practice in other parts of the world. Prerequisite(s): Sophomore standing; Cross Listing: ANSO 235;ANSO 235;ASIA 235; N. Eberhardt

RELS 241 Topics in Religion and Culture

This course addresses various intersections of the concepts of "religion" and "culture," with particular attention to creative or communicative expressions of culture. Specific topics have included: Religion and Film, Religion and Media, Religion and Literature, Religion and Science Fiction, Religion and Popular Culture, and others. RELS 241A-D are IC; Offered every year, topics vary; J. Thrall


Cross Listing: JOUR 241C;

RELS 248 Teaching Assistant (1/2 or 1)

Prerequisite(s): Permission of instructor; May be graded S/U at instructor's discretion; Staff

RELS 265 Religion and World Politics

An examination of the impact of religion on contemporary world politics. Topics covered may include: the rise of fundamentalist religious movements, religious challenges to secular states, transnational religious activism around human rights, peace and social justice issues, the "clash of civilizations," and religiously based terrorism. Prerequisite(s): PS 210 or PS 220 or sophomore standing; Cross Listing: PS 265; D. Oldfield

RELS 270 Life

This course considers the interrelation between scientific understandings of life and the moral teachings about life of the major monotheistic traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. We study how those traditions define the value of life, asking whether that varies at different points in the life cycle (e.g. conception, end of life), by organism (what is it ok to eat or experiment on?), or situation (abortion, euthanasia, murder, war, capital punishment, suicide). We examine how these values shape religious practice, and how values and practices may have changed as what we know about science has changed. Examples from non-monotheistic traditions will be considered when useful for comparison. Usually offered winter term every other year; J. Thorn

RELS 271 Topics in the History of Religion

Topics will vary year to year, focusing on a specific area within the history of religion. Topics have included: Geography of the Holy Land, Religions of Greece and Rome, Archaeology & History of the Bible, The Holocaust, and others. Prerequisite(s): sophomore standing, previous course work in history or permission of the instructor; Cross Listing: HIST 271; May be repeated for credit.; Staff

RELS 283 Philosophy of Religion

An examination of the rational basis of theistic belief including a study of the teleological, cosmological, moral, and ontological arguments for the existence of God. Special attention is given to the problems of religious knowledge, the differences between evidentialists and reliabiliasts accounts of religious experience, the nature and description of mysticism, religious experience, and religious authority. Prerequisite(s): sophomore standing or permission of the instructor; Cross Listing: PHIL 283; B. Polite

RELS 284 Global Aesthetics

This course examines aesthetic traditions from around the world, including: Aboriginal Australian, African, Indian, Indonesian, Japanese, and Persian. Among the issues we consider are: (1) the extent to which we can understand and appreciate art and artifacts from aesthetic traditions other than our own; (2) differences, continuities, and exchanges between Western and Non-Western aesthetic practices; (3) the relationship between aesthetic and religious practices in these traditions; and (4) whether art (particularly music) can ever induce mystical experiences. We address these issues by considering the work of a number of philosophers and other scholars. Cross Listing: PHIL 284; Offered alternate years; J. Thrall

RELS 295 Special Topics (1/2 or 1)

Course offered occasionally to students in special areas of Religious Studies not covered in the usual curriculum. Staff

RELS 344 Romantic Literature

This course traces the development of English literature from 1789-1837. Possible topics include Romantic obsessions with the monstrous and the unnatural, Gothic transgressive sexualities, controversies over female minds and bodies, the idealizing of colonized and enslaved populations towards the making of empire, the reimagining of religious language in aesthetic contexts, and theories of self, sublimity, and human consciousness. Prerequisite(s): two 200-level courses in literature, film, or theory (ENG 200 and ENG 252 strongly recommended) and ENG 300L, which may be taken concurrently; Cross Listing: ENG 344; Offered alternate years; G. Franco; E. Anderson

RELS 348 Teaching Assistant (1/2 or 1)

Prerequisite(s): Permission of instructor; May be graded S/U at instructor's discretion; Staff

RELS 371 Topics in the History of Religion

See RELS 271. A major component of RELS 371 will be a long research paper based on primary sources. Prerequisite(s): HIST 285 or permission of the instructor; Cross Listing: HIST 371; Course may be repeated for credit; Staff

RELS 395 Special Topics (1/2 or 1)

Courses offered occasionally to students in special areas of Religious Studies not covered in the usual curriculum. Staff

RELS 399 Seminar in Religious Studies

Specific seminar offerings vary year to year. Topics have included: Freud, Jung, and Religion, Death and Afterlife, and Spiritual Autobiographies. Prerequisite(s): See specific offerings for prerequisites; Offered every year, topics vary; RELS 399A-B are SA; RELS 399C is SA, IC; Staff

RELS 399A Freud, Jung, and Religion

This course uses close study of key texts on religion by Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung as an entry point for considering psychoanalytic explanations of religious experience and identity. Readings include theorists influenced by or responding to Freud and Jung, as well as other contributors to the sometimes troubled, sometimes fruitful, and often perplexing interplay between psychoanalysis and religion. Topics of study include the effects on religious theory of the objects relations school, developmental psychology, humanistic psychology, and existential psychology. Discussion themes include religious conversion, mysticism, asceticism, aestheticism, sexuality, and religious doubt. Prerequisite(s): One course in Religious Studies or Psychology, or permission of the instructor; Cross Listing: PSYC 268; SA; J. Thrall

RELS 399C Spiritual Autobiography

This topic of the Seminar in Religious Studies explores the creative processes by which authors attempt to describe the construction, evolution, and/or deconstruction of their religious or spiritual identities. The focus is on written texts, supplemented by film and other artistic representations of spiritual transformation. Readings include historical and contemporary essays, memoirs, and other works drawn from a variety of religious or spiritual expressions. Discussions consider such subjects as the nature and challenges of autobiographical writing, the adequacy of language and image to the task of relating spiritual experience, and the influences of culture and personal history on religious self-identity. Prerequisite(s): Sophomore standing and at least one Religious Studies course (RELS 101 strongly recommended) or permission of the instructor; IC; SA; J. Thrall

RELS 400 Advanced Studies (1/2 or 1)

See College Honors. Staff

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Printed on Tuesday, August 9, 2022