Religious Studies


Jocelyn McWhirter, chair and Stanley S. Kresge Professor of Religious Studies.
B.A., 1982, Trinity College; M.A., 1991, Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry; Ph.D., 2002, Princeton Theological Seminary. Appointed 2006.

Ronney B. Mourad, professor.
B.A., 1994, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; M.A., 1995, University of Chicago; Ph.D., 2002, University of Chicago. Appointed 2001.

Peter M. Valdina, assistant professor.
B.A., 1997, Hamilton College; M.A., 1999, Columbia University; M.S.Sc., 2000, The New School for Social Research; Ph.D., 2013, Emory University. Appointed 2012.


The study of religion is at the heart of a liberal arts education. Together with the other humanities and the social sciences, the study of religion helps one understand spiritual dimensions of the world and our roles as human beings in it.

Our Departmental Mission—Religion has always been an important component in human history. In its many configurations religion has played a critical role in shaping diverse and distinctive forms of culture and has also been shaped by culture. We seek to stimulate in students an appreciation of the spiritual teachings, ethical principles, myths, symbols and rituals of a variety of societies, believing that in them we encounter legitimate human attempts to envision the sacred and to live in the world as a spiritual arena. Conscious of Albion's heritage as a college related to the United Methodist Church, we give special attention to the monotheistic traditions in the development of our Western culture and intellectual life.

Contemporary society sometimes represents religion only as a set of subjective beliefs. Because of this misrepresentation, people may view themselves or others as fundamentalists or atheists without understanding the variety of spiritual expressions and their roles in society over the course of history. While not required at Albion, we believe that the study of religion is central to the liberal arts experience as a means of gaining a broader understanding of the depth of one's own and others' religious beliefs and practices.

Since we are concerned with the academic study of religion, our department does not promote any particular, narrow "brand'' of theology or spirituality. We subscribe to the assertion made by Friedrich Max Muller who said, "Whoever knows only one religion, does not know religion.'' We encourage our students to explore religion using various modes of analysis, including historical-critical, philosophical and comparative approaches that keep the life of the mind and the life of the soul in creative tension.

The training and interests of our faculty include several areas: biblical languages (Hebrew and Greek); biblical and related ancient Near-Eastern literature; classic and contemporary Islamic history; Islamic ritual; Sufism; comparative religion; myth, symbol, and ritual; philosophy of religion; philosophical theology; ethics and society; and Asian religions. We work closely with interested students in planning and completing directed studies, pursuing internships, preparing individualized research projects resulting in a thesis, and in exploring career options.

Religious Studies Department Website

Career Opportunities

Whether a student chooses to major in religious studies or includes it as part of a double or individually-designed major, he or she will be introduced to those aspects of a liberal arts education that aid in the development of insight, flexibility and commitment within a changing world.

Many of our students pursue further studies after Albion, in professional schools, theological seminaries or graduate programs. The religious studies faculty works closely with students who plan to attend seminary in helping them develop an appropriate pre-seminary course of studies, as well as with students who are looking into a career in the human services.

Students entering professional schools after graduation benefit from training in religious studies, since religious beliefs, practices and values influence most major social institutions. Religious studies students pursuing career opportunities in law, medicine or business have the educational background to understand these influences and their implications for professional practice. Theological seminaries prepare persons for a variety of positions, including pastoral ministry, counseling, religious education, youth work, institutional chaplaincies, administration and mission work (home and overseas).

Graduate programs in religious studies lead to M.A., Ph.D., or Th.D. degrees, which are usually associated with teaching careers. There are also dual competency programs that link the study of religion to the study of law, social services, art and/or music, journalism, urban ministries and counseling.

Special Features

The John and Williemay Cheek Award is a cash award presented each year to the outstanding senior in the department. The Dr. Selva J. Raj Memorial Scholarship in Religious Studies is given to a rising junior or senior religious studies major who exemplifies academic excellence. Book awards are given to graduating majors. Note: Students who major in religious studies at Albion are not disqualified from receiving federal or state need-based financial aid.

Majors and Minors

Requirements for Major

  • A minimum of eight units in religious studies, including Religious Studies 101, 102, one course in each of the four areas in religious studies at Albion listed below, and at least two other courses in the department. No more than four 100-level courses can be counted for the major.
  • All courses for the major must be taken for a numerical grade. Exceptions to this policy must be approved by the department faculty.


(1) Biblical and Jewish Studies
Current courses in this area include: 121, 122, 215, 220, 222, 320.

(2) Theology and Ethics
Current courses in this area include: 131, 232, 234, 242, 250, 270.

(3) Asian and Comparative Religions
Current courses in this area include: 211, 212, 251, 261.

(4) Islamic Religion
Current courses in this area include: 104, 204, 205, 206.

Requirements for Minor

  • Minimum of five units, including 101, 102 and three additional units, two of which must be above the 100-level.
  • All courses for the minor must be taken for a numerical grade. Exceptions to this policy must be approved by the department faculty.

Religious Studies Courses

Note: Courses in religious studies carry no prerequisites unless specified under the course listing. The 101 and 102 courses do, however, provide useful background for other courses in the department and thus are recommended for students who may elect more than one course in the department.

101 Introduction to Western Religions (1)
An introduction to major Western religions as represented by Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Topics include the nature of religion and religious experience in the West; origins and development of each major religion; sacred literature, formative myths, symbols and fundamental tenets; forms of religious expression, spirituality and worship; and the relationship to the world as seen in ethical orientations and institutions. McWhirter, Mourad.

102 Introduction to Eastern Religions (1)
An introduction to major Eastern religions as represented by Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism and Shinto. Topics include the nature of religion and religious experience in the East; origins and development of each major religion; sacred literature, formative myths, symbols and fundamental tenets; forms of religious expression, spirituality and worship; and the relationship to the world as seen in ethical orientations and institutions. Valdina.

104 Introduction to Islam (1)
An introduction to the beliefs and practices of Islam in its various manifestations, with additional emphasis on the history, politics and gender issues that have both influenced and been influenced by Islam. Analyzes the information, and misinformation, on Islam as presented in the news media and on the Internet. Valdina.

121 History, Literature and Religion of the Old Testament (1)
A developmental study of the major events, individuals and central religious and ethical ideas of ancient Israel, based on the literature of the Hebrew Bible and relevant data from the archaeology and history of the ancient Near East. McWhirter.

122 History, Literature and Religion of the New Testament (1)
The New Testament and other writings of the early Christian period studied as literary, historical and ethical-religious sources for an understanding of Jesus, Paul and the emerging Christian movement. McWhirter.

131 Introduction to Christian Thought (1)
Classical themes and modern variations: emotion and reason, world and God, death and self-transcendence, guilt and forgiveness, meaninglessness and the sense of the holy. Mourad.

187, 188, 189 Selected Topics (1/4, 1/2, 1)
An examination of subjects or areas not included in other courses. Staff.

204 Islam and the Modern World (1)
An examination of ideas and movements related to Islam's interaction with the West in the modern period, including Muslim intellectual responses to issues like colonialism, modernism, secularism, nationalism, democracy, science and women's rights. Also includes political developments in certain Islamic countries. Valdina.

205 Islamic Mysticism (1)
An introduction to Islamic mysticism. Looks at the historical development of Sufism, its contributions to Islamic civilization and to the spread of Islam, its literature, key themes such as love and drunkenness, distinctive practices including music and dance, and the ways it has adapted to the modern world, including in the West. Valdina.

206 Women, Gender, Islam (1)
Examines the role of gender, and the construction of gender, in the history of Islam. Begins with the historical roots of the topic and examines presentations of gender in the Qur'an and the early sources of Islam. Explores case studies in the contemporary world, including the contexts in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. Valdina.

211 Hinduism (1)
Indian philosophical world views, ritual expressions and moral orientations: Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Vedanta. Offered occasionally. Valdina.

212 Buddhism (1) Spring
Indian, Chinese and Japanese philosophical world views, ritual expressions and moral orientations. Theravada, Mahayana, Ch'an, Zen. Offered occasionally. Valdina.

215 Jewish Life and Thought (1)
The world of Jewish life and thought as reflected in both ancient and modern Jewish writings. An analysis of selected biblical, rabbinic and medieval classics, as well as modern Jewish literature. McWhirter.

220 Legend, Wisdom, and Apocalypse (1)
Historical and literary analysis of Jewish literature in the Second Temple Period, including the legends of Esther and Judith, the wisdom of Ben Sirach, the apocalyptic visions of Daniel and Enoch, and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Looks at how this body of work constitutes important background for Jewish and Christian origins. McWhirter.

222 Jesus and the Gospels (1)
An investigation of five Gospels: the canonical Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, along with the Gospel of Thomas. Historical and literary analysis, leading to an evaluation of their usefulness as sources for reconstructing the life and death of Jesus. McWhirter.

232 Faith and Reason (1)
Explores epistemology, or the theory of knowledge, as it applies to religious belief. Focuses on the nature of faith and asks whether faith is irrational according to thinkers such as Blaise Pascal, John Locke, Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud. Mourad.

234 Philosophy of Religion (1)
Philosophical examination of several classic religious problems, including the nature of God, the proofs of God's existence, the justification for evil and suffering, the rationality of belief in miracles and the nature of the afterlife. Offered occasionally. Same as Philosophy 234. Mourad.

242 Christian Ethics (1)
An introduction to the foundations and applications of Christian theological ethics. Investigates Christian perspectives on moral issues such as sex and marriage, medical ethics and social justice. Mourad.

250 Mysticism and Ecstasy (1)
A study of mystical and ecstatic experiences focused primarily on the Christian tradition. Includes discussion of the limits and puzzles of mystical language and the value of religious experiences as evidence. Are mystics reasonable if they base their beliefs on religious experiences? Do their experiences provide any support for other people's religious beliefs? Offered occasionally. Mourad.

251 Yogis and Ascetics (1)
What does it mean to want to renounce the world? When do the conditions of society cause us to want to transcend everyday life in a radical way? Explores the historical development of concepts of yoga and renunciation in South Asia as they extend into Hindu, Jain and Buddhist practices. Themes include the relation between dissent and social responsibility, the difference between negation and affirmation, and the roles of wandering and control of the body in ascetic practices. Valdina.

261 Death and Dying (1)
Human longing for a meaningful explanation of the mystery of death and dying is deep and universal. This comparative course examines a wide array of beliefs and rituals related to death and dying in a select number of world religions. In addition to gaining intellectual familiarity with cross-cultural beliefs and practices, students will be encouraged to analyze familiar religious and cultural practices surrounding death and dying. Valdina.

270 Liberation Theology (1)
Examines Christian theological responses to poverty and social injustice emphasizing the theme of liberation. Includes analysis of liberation theology in 1960s Latin America and its influence on African American and feminist theologies in the U.S. Offered occasionally. Mourad.

287, 288, 289 Selected Topics (1/4, 1/2, 1)
An examination of subjects or areas not included in other courses. May be taken more than once for credit. Staff.

320 Gender and Biblical Interpretation (1)
Methods of biblical interpretation and their relation to gender construct in society and biblical authority. Offered in alternate years. McWhirter.

387, 388, 389 Selected Topics (1/4, 1/2, 1)
An examination of subjects or areas not included in other courses. Staff.

391, 392 Internship (1/2, 1)
Offered on a credit/no credit basis. Offered on demand. Staff.

401, 402 Seminar (1/2, 1)
Topics of special interest. Past seminars have included "C.G. Jung and Individuation," "Religion and Existentialism," "Theology of Sex and Marriage" and "Seminar on Ministry." Offered occasionally. Staff.

411, 412 Directed Study (1/2, 1)
Prerequisite: Upperclass standing.
Recent directed study topics have included "The Image of Mary Magdalene in Tradition"; "Yoga and Integration"; "Religious Perspectives on Marriage"; C.S. Lewis; Niebuhr's Social Ethic; Philosophical Theology of Hans Kung; and "The Theology of Paul Tillich." Hebrew and Greek are also taught regularly as directed studies. Staff.