Religious Studies Courses: Detailed Descriptions

General education courses

REL 100: Introduction to Religion. College is a time in life in which students encounter religious diversity first hand as they meet students who hold strongly to various faith traditions and some who hold to no faith traditions. It is a time when students ask themselves what they really believe and to what values they are committed. They actively seek to find direction, meaning, and purpose for their own lives. Religion 100 provides a lens through which students can gain religious knowledge, reflect upon, and then apply that knowledge in real time.

Comments from former students, “I am taking another religion class next semester . . . and am very excited to continue to rethink my entire existence,” and another, “There is so much I am taking away from this class, I simply can’t mention it all.”

This course fulfills the Humanities requirement in MSU’s General Education program. It complements coursework in Psychology, Sociology, Counseling, Political Science, and Nursing.

REL 101: Literature and World of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible introduces students to the literature, history, and religion of ancient Israel, as preserved in the Old Testament ( “Hebrew Bible”). The course leads students through readings within the context of the ancient Near East, revealed in part through archaeological discovery. In the process of reading, students will see how the ancient Hebrews wrestled with many issues similar to those of today, such as satisfaction in life, the limitation of power, and justice for the weak. The ancient Hebrews wrote about these subjects at times using parody and bawdy humor, yet at other times elevated poetry. Nor did the ancient Hebrews come to a consensus answer, and yet they preserved their various takes on life’s complexities as sacred and authoritative.

REL 101 fulfills a general education requirement in the humanities, and complements English, Literature, History, and Philosophy. This course enriches any career, but more, the serious appreciation of the human experience.

REL 102: Literature and World of the New Testament.Learn about the world of Jesus and read the earliest sources that testify to him, from the gospels and Paul to the Book of Revelation. This course also introduces students to the questions of canon, or how and why the New Testament came to contain 27 books, no more and no less; textual criticism, or how the text of the scriptures was copied and transmitted over the centuries; redaction criticism, or why the gospel stories are sometimes so much alike and other times so different from one another, as well as many other important issues about this inspiring and influential collection of books.

Fulfills General Education Humanities requirement. REL 102 complements coursework in English, Literature, History, and Philosophy.

REL 131: Religion in America. From major social movements (e.g., the American Revolution and Civil War, women’s suffrage, civil rights, the religious right) to presidential politics and popular culture, religious ideas and institutions have shaped American society. Highlighting the central role of religious pluralism in U.S. history, this class offers students an opportunity to explore the social, cultural, and political influence of American religions. Specifically, the course: 1) Explores the diversity of America’s religious people and institutions past and present, from the many different Protestant denominations, to Catholic, Jewish, Islamic, and other groups, comparing their beliefs and practices; 2) Investigates the historical and contemporary influence of diverse religious attitudes and values on American culture, politics, and society; 3) Demonstrates the impact of globalization and immigration in American religious history.

It fulfills a General Education requirement and complements History, Sociology, Anthropology, Political Science, Communications, and Journalism.

REL 110 Paths of World Religions is a global survey of religious traditions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, among others. Students will learn how these religions have affected individual and cultural identities in history and in the contemporary world. Students reflect on their own practices and perspectives in comparison with those of other cultures. REL 110 encourages students to develop knowledge and appreciation of diverse cultures and religions, enabling students to have a positive impact on others in their communities and in the workforce. Given the critically important role that religion plays in the world, knowledge of world religions is a vital aspect in the preparation of global citizens.

REL 110 counts toward a General Education requirement, the Globalization requirement in COB, and is a core course in the Global Studies Major. REL 110 complements Anthropology, History, International Business, Nursing, Psychology, and Philosophy.

Other religious studies courses

REL 320: Jesus of Nazareth Who is Jesus? How do we know? Do we depend solely on the four canonical gospels and other books of the New Testament to answer these questions? How reliable are these documents from a historical standpoint? Should we include the abundant literature about Jesus outside the canon (Gnostic documents and Christian apocrypha) in our data set? How reliable are these documents from a historical standpoint? What did Jesus’ Jewish and pagan contemporaries say about him? Is it possible to come to an understanding of who the historical Jesus was? Does it matter? What did the early church have to say about Jesus? What are the Christian creeds, and what influence do they have? These are only some of the questions students in this class will investigate. Throughout the course, material will be approached from a historical and academic perspective, and students of any faith or none are welcome.

REL 323: Apocalypses This course explores an ancient but still influential Jewish and Christian worldview called apocalypticism. Its primary example in the Hebrew Bible is Daniel, and in the New Testament, John’s Apocalypse or Revelation, but these are only two of the most well-known of a large and popular genre. We will study many early Jewish and Christian apocalyptic texts in their historical and literary contexts—the "apocalypse then" aspect of the course—including 1 Enoch and the Dead Sea Scrolls. While the study of ancient texts and communities will provide the backbone of the course, we will also consider several modern expressions of apocalypticism—the "apocalypse now" aspect of the course--including premillennial dispensationalism (the “Rapture”) and the 1993 Branch Davidian disaster in Waco, Texas.

Rel 332: Modern Religious Thought The title of the book, The Struggle for America’s Soul, (by R. Wuthnow) captures the essence of modern religious thought. The twentieth and twenty-first centuries are filled with encounters between faith and science, and multiple worldviews emerging in public life, from Evangelicalism to Neo-Atheism. This course explores the works of religious thinkers of this era, including representative works of African Americans, Liberationists, Feminists, and Postmodernists. The readings raise several questions: how do these writers describe the human condition; do any speak from their own experience; do their ideas have anything to say to our multicultural society; and do they have anything to say to our own views, religious or non-religious?

For majors, this course counts in the area of Religion and Culture. Minors may also count the course. It is an excellent elective for anyone who seeks to understand the religious ideas that are affecting our nation.

REL 340: Christianity Ever wondered what happened to Jesus’s followers once Jesus and his twelve disciples died? This course will introduce you to Christian martyrs and mystics, monks and nuns, kings and queens, and ordinary folks, beginning with the second century and ending with the twentieth. We will read and discuss the writings of famous men such as St. Augustine and Martin Luther, and famous women such as the pilgrim Egeria and the abolitionist Sarah Grimke. We will consider how Christianity spread from the Middle East to Africa, Europe, and America, and how Christian art, music, architecture, and thought developed over the course of the centuries. Welcome aboard!

REL 341: C. S. Lewis Critic. Creator. Cult figure. These are words used by Chad Walsh to describe his friend C. S. Lewis. By profession a scholar of Medieval and Renaissance literature, Lewis (1898-1963) is best known for his creation of the world of Narnia and his popular works in defense of Christianity. Arguably the most influential apologist of the twentieth century, Lewis continues to attract many new readers in the twenty-first. Lewis has indeed become a cult figure, but not one without his detractors. Students in this reading, writing, and discussion intensive course will investigate Lewis’s life, his works, and the reception of those works by friend and foe alike.

REL 344: New Religious Movements Often negatively labeled as “cults,” New Religious Movements continue to emerge rapidly in American society. This class will examine newer movements in religion, including paganism, Scientology, Nation of Islam, Christian Scientists, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and several other groups that exist in the Ozarks. Students will conduct research projects on local movements in an effort to better understand the diversity of religious thought and practice among alternative groups in our region.

REL 347: Suffering and Meaning We choose to get up in the morning, in spite of hurricanes and tornadoes, school shootings and wars, pain and anxiety. Why? How do we choose courage in the face of suffering, life in the face of death? How do we make meaning out of our existence and even our suffering?

In Western religious traditions, the chasm between a world proclaimed “good” by a creator and the reality of horrendous evil creates a paradox, one that has been the subject of centuries of reflection. We will discuss and critique theodicy—the problem of evil—through Western religious perspectives by exploring literature, philosophy, and film. Throughout history humans have been concerned with questions concerning suffering and death, meaning and life.

No prerequisites required. This is a great course for those interested in religion, philosophy, counseling, nursing, psychology and literature. Offered in Fall Semesters and counts toward REL Major and Minor.

REL 355: Buddhism More than just a trendy religion in the West, the early spread of Buddhism helped to give birth to the very idea of Asia, since monks, traders, and kings built lasting ties across the continent while promoting the religion far and wide. This course offers a comprehensive survey of the diverse patterns and expressions of Buddhist life from the time of the Buddha up to the present day. We will examine the beliefs, practices, and values that have existed among adherents, particularly as found in India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Tibet. Students are encouraged to develop critical and creative thinking through textual analysis, video resources, field experiences, and student projects.

REL 355: Buddhism counts toward the REL Major and Minor, the Asian Studies Minor, and the Asia regional requirement of the Global Studies Major. Also recommended for students interested in Asian cultures and spirituality. Offered regularly.

REL 357: Religions of China and Japan offers students the chance to study the major religions of East Asia, especially Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism, and Shinto. The doctrines, practices, and institutions of these religions have had a powerful impact on East Asian cultures, and they can still be felt today. Students will become familiar with the religious and cultural heritage of China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, which are countries of immense economic and political importance in our world. Other topics include cultural adaptation and religious competition in East Asia. Students are encouraged to develop critical and creative thinking through the study of texts, field experiences, and student projects

REL 357: Religions of China and Japan counts toward the REL Major and Minor, the Asian Studies Minor, and the Asia regional requirement of the Global Studies Major. Also recommended for students interested in Asian cultures and spirituality. Offered generally every other year.

REL 390/SOC 390: Religion in Society What is the role of religion in modern life? What happens when megachurches try to “sell” religion? How divided is America over religion and politics? How has the new immigration transformed American society? This course provides an introduction to the sociology of religion, focusing on classic and contemporary approaches to the field. Drawing on the sociological perspective, it explores the role of religion in contemporary America. Rather than attempting a comprehensive overview, it focuses on several recurring themes that have preoccupied contemporary sociologists of religion: secularization and fundamentalism, the marketing of religion, religion and politics, and religious diversity. Along the way, we will explore such topics as Ozarks fundamentalism, the “branding” of religious faith, and the new religious immigrants.

REL 530/635: Bible Belt Religion In recent years, journalists and scholars have written about the divide between “red states” and “blue states,” conservative evangelicals and liberal secularists, bi-coastal elites and “Middle America.” Much of this discourse has focused on the conservative religious and political orientation of the American South and Midwest. While many treatments of “red state” conservatism have been based on regional and religious stereotypes, the heightened focus on geographical divisions has raised important questions about the relationship between religion and place. In an effort to bring scholarly rigor to the discussion, this course focuses on two aspects of American religious life: 1) Evangelical Protestantism; and 2) Region. Drawing on the fields of American religious history and the sociology/anthropology of religion it focuses on the evolution and development of evangelical Protestantism in the South, the Midwest, and Southern California. Would complement fields like History, Political Science, and Sociology.

REL 530/635: Religion, Media, and Popular Culture This course explores the relationship between the sacred and the secular in film, popular music, religious retailing, tourism, and the comics. It pays special attention to the influence of different religious traditions (Catholic, Pentecostal, Jewish, etc.) on the media while recognizing the internal diversity of each tradition. As much as possible, it relates the study of religion and popular culture to Springfield and the greater Ozarks region. Students will examine the subtle influence of religion in American popular culture. Topics include Southern evangelicals and the rise of rock and roll, religious tourism, Jewish influences on American comics, and religion and sports. This course would go well with the fields of Journalism, Communications, Media, Film, and Music.

REL 531/615: Ozarks Religion This course explores the rich and varied terrain of Ozarks religion. A central focus is the impact of social change on the Ozarks, as well as the narratives used to make sense of this change (and to imagine it). This theme is explored through readings on rural and urban Ozarks communities, religion and politics, brush arbor revivals, gospel music, megachurches, fundamentalism and gender, Ozark Jewish life, Bible Belt Catholics, cultural diversity in Wal-Mart country, and Branson tourism. Students will critically examine the stories scholars and journalists tell about tradition and modernity, parochialism and cosmopolitanism, homogeneity and diversity, and the sacred and the secular, all in an effort to understand Ozarks religion and the people who study it. This course is part of the Ozarks Studies concentration. Would complement courses in History, English (Ozarks Literature), and Geography.