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Course Descriptions

Department of Religious Studies

Graduate Programs in Religious Studies

The department offers graduate programs leading to the M.A. and Ph.D. degrees. The M.A. program allows students to prepare for more advanced work, pursue a personal interest, explore vocational options, or gain certification for secondary school instruction in religious studies. The Ph.D. program trains teachers and research scholars for the academic study of religion in universities, liberal arts colleges, and community colleges.

Degree Requirements

Master of Arts The M.A. in Religious Studies, which may be elected either as preparation for more advanced study or as a terminal degree, requires:

  1. either: the successful completion of 24 credits of course work, of which at least 9 credits are taken in a single religious tradition or cultural area and at least 6 are taken in courses with a strong emphasis on method; the preparation and successful defense of a thesis that exhibits competence in the area of specialization, skill in a given method of study, and an ability to employ resources in the relevant foreign language(s);
  2. or: the successful completion of 30 credits of course work, of which at least 12 credits are taken in a single religious tradition or cultural area and at least 6 are taken in courses with a strong emphasis on method; and satisfactory performance in a comprehensive examination based on a reading list approved by the relevant field committee. The choice between these options is determined in consultation with faculty advisors, and with a view to the student's objective in graduate study. (When M.A./Ph.D. program students successfully complete their comprehensive doctoral examinations, they have also completed the master's examination requirement and may elect to receive the M.A. degree);
  3. and: a reading knowledge of either French of German demonstrated by examination (though another language may be substituted under appropriate circumstances and with the approval of the Committee on Graduate Studies.) Within these general requirements, the M.A. Program remains flexible and can be closely tailored to the interests of the individual student. Normally the M.A. program can be completed in three semesters, but very rarely in fewer.

Doctor of Philosophy The following requirements pertain generally to all Ph.D. programs in the department: students admitted to the M.A./Ph.D. (i.e., students without prior graduate work in religious studies or related fields) must complete a minimum of 54 credits in courses at the 500 level and above, plus 18 credits in other courses (may be non-topical research) for a total of 72 credits.

Students admitted directly to the Ph.D. program (i.e., who already hold a graduate degree in religious studies, such as the M.A., M.Div., or some equivalent) may petition the Graduate Committee for advanced standing at the end of their first year of residence and be allowed to waive 24 credits of the course work requirement. These students need 30 credits of course work plus 18 other credits (e.g., non-topical research) for a total of 48 credits. All doctoral students must spend at least one academic session in full-time study.

Students must demonstrate, by examination, a reading knowledge of both French and German, although other languages may also be required. Another language may be substituted if it is appropriate to the field of specialization. Language competencies must be certified before a student may proceed to comprehensive examinations.

Students must successfully complete a series of comprehensive examinations in the field of specialization. Within six months of the completion of these examinations, students must submit and defend, before the relevant faculty committee, a dissertation proposal.

When the dissertation proposal is approved, students proceed to the writing of a dissertation that demonstrates a high level of research skills, sophistication of method, originality of insight, and specialized knowledge. Dissertations must be defended in oral examination before the faculty.

The time required for successful completion of doctoral studies varies. Those programs that require substantial language training and/or periods of fieldwork inevitably take longer to complete. Students should anticipate a period of three to six years of study.

Areas of Specialization The Department offers five major areas of specialization in doctoral studies. They are Historical Studies; Theology, Ethics, and Culture; History of Religions; Islamic Studies; and Bioethics.

B-10 Cocke Hall
P.O. Box 400126
Charlottesville, VA 22904-4126
(434) 924-3741

Course Descriptions


Note Twelve credits in religious studies or instructor permission is prerequisite for the following courses.


RELB 500, 501 - (4) (IR)
Literary and Spoken Tibetan I, II

Introduces the philosophical and spiritual texts of Tibet. Includes grammar, basic religious terminology and structure.

RELB 502 - (3) (O)
Tibetan Perspectives on Tantra

Studies Tibetan presentations of the distinctive features of Tantric Buddhism.

RELB 525 - (3) (O)
Seminar in Japanese Buddhism

Prerequisite: RELG 213 or RELB 3l6 or instructor permission.
Examines selected topics in the major schools of Japanese Buddhism: Tendai, Shingon, Pure Land, Nichiren and Zen.

RELB 526 - (3) (IR)
Seminar in Tibetan Buddhism II

The theory and practice of Tibetan Buddhism.

RELB 527 - (3) (O)
Seminar in Chinese Buddhism

Selected doctrinal and historical issues in Chinese Buddhism.

RELB 535, 536 - (4) (IR)
Literary and Spoken Tibetan III, IV

An intermediate course in the philosophical and spiritual language of Tibet, past and present.

RELB 539 - (3) (IR)
Tibetan Buddhist Tantra-Dzokchen

Studies the Dzokchen tradition of Tibetan Buddhist Tantra, focusing on its philosophical and contemplative systems, and its historical and social contexts.

RELB 543, 544 - (3) (SI)
Sanskrit Religious Texts

Prerequisite: SANS 501, 502 or equivalent.
Readings in Sanskrit religious and philosophical works, including their syntax, meaning, and translation.

RELB 546 - (3) (IR)
Seminar in Mahayana Buddhism

Studies the Middle Way School of Madhyamika, including Nagarjuna's reasoning, its intent and place in the spiritual path.

RELB 547, 548 - (4) (IR)
Literary and Spoken Tibetan V, VI

Prerequisite: RELB 500, 501, 535, 536 or equivalent.
Advanced study in the philosophical and spiritual language of Tibet, past and present.

RELB 549 - (3) (Y)
Religious History of Tibet

Surveys political, social, religious, and intellectual issues in Tibetan history from the fifth to fifteenth centuries, emphasizing the formation of the classical categories, practices, and ideals of Tibetan Buddhism.

RELB 555 - (3) (IR)
Buddhist Philosophy

Prerequisite: RELB 210 or equivalent.
Advanced study of a major issue, thinker, or text (in translation) from the Pali/Sanskrit Buddhist tradition.

RELB 560 - (3) (SI)
Elementary Pali

Studies Pali religious and philosophical works, and their grammar and translation.

RELB 561 - (1-3) (IR)
Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit

Prerequisite: SANS 501, 502 or equivalent.
Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit works, and their grammar and translation.

RELB 566 - (3) (E)
Seminar on Indian Buddhism

Investigates the techniques and presuppositions involved in the methods used to study Buddhism, including textual, historical, philosophical, and social scientific methods.

RELB 591 - (3) (E)
Seminar in Chinese Buddhism

Studies the major schools of Chinese Buddhism: T'ien-t'ai, Hua-yen, Pure Land, and Ch an.

RELB 700, 701 - (3) (Y)
Readings in Japanese Buddhist Studies I, II

Prerequisite: JAPN 102 or instructor permission.
Practice in reading and translating selected works of modern Japanese Buddhist scholarship. Introduction to research materials in Japanese.

RELB 702, 703 - (3) (Y)
Readings in Chinese Buddhist Texts I, II

Instruction in the reading and interpretation of Chinese Buddhist texts and the use of reference tools such as Chinese language dictionaries, bibliographies, encyclopedias, and indices.

RELB 820, 821 - (4) (IR)
Literary and Spoken Tibetan VII, VIII

Prerequisite: RELB 500, 501, 535, 536, 547, 548 or equivalent.
Examines the Yogachara-Svatantrika system as presented in Jang-kya's Presentation of Tenets, oral debate, and exercises in spoken Tibetan.

RELB 823 - (3) (S)
Advanced Literary and Spoken Tibetan

Examines selected topics and techniques of Tibetan education.

RELB 831, 832 - (1-3) (SI)
Advanced Sanskrit/Pali I, II

Advanced readings in poetry, psychology, or philosophy.


RELC 504 - (3) (SI)
The Apocalyptic Tradition

The tradition of apocalyptic thought, as expressed in ancient Jewish and Christian literature and in selected contemporary literature. Emphasizes literary forms and features, historical and theological presuppositions, and primary themes.

RELC 510 - (3) (Y)
Natural Law in Judaism and Christianity

Studies the concept of natural law in Jewish and Christian theology and how these respective religious traditions dealt with a concept that claims that all morality is not the direct result of specific religious prescription.

RELC 511 - (3) (IR)
Phenomenology and Christology

A systematic exposition of the phenomenon of selfhood on the basis of traditional materials from Christology and recent investigations in phenomenology.

RELC 512 - (3) (E)
Development of Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Catholic Liberalism

Roman Catholic theology underwent a significant change in the middle of the 19th century as the Catholic Church sought to defend itself against the secular liberal state and emerging historical consciousness within philosophy and theology. This course studies that change from the Thomistic revival (1878), through the condemnation of Modernism (1907), to the emergency of the "New Theology" with such theologians as Karl Rahner, Yves Congar, and Henri deLubac.

RELC 513 - (3) (IR)
Being and God

A constructive treatment of questions related to the possibility of the experience of being and God or of the being of God.

RELC 519 - (3) (O)
Theology in the Nineteenth Century

Analyzes and interprets the theology of major thinkers in the 19th century. Special attention to Kant, Hegel, and Schleiermacher.

RELC 520 - (3) (E)
Contemporary Theology

Analyzes and interprets major currents in philosophical and systematic theology in the 20th century.

RELC 530 - (3) (IR)
Early Christianity and Classical Judaism

Studies early Christian writings directed to Judaism; the role of Judaism in shaping the Christian intellectual tradition; and Christian interpretation of Jewish scripture.

RELC 531 - (3) (IR)
Early Christianity and Graeco-Roman Culture

Pagan criticism of Christianity and the response of Christian apologists; and Christianity and the Greek philosophical traditions, especially Stoicism and Platonism.

RELC 551 - (3) (E)
Early Christian Thought

Prerequisite: RELC 205 or instructor permission.
Intensive consideration of a selected issue, movement, or figure in Christian thought of the second through the fifth centuries.

RELC 552 - (3) (Y)
Seminar in American Catholic History

Considers a selected movement, issue, or figure in the history of Catholicism in America.

RELC 564 - (3) (IR)
Seminar in Modern Christian Thought

Examines a major modern Christian thinker, movement, or problem in Christian thought.

RELC 567 - (3) (SI)
Early Christian Ethics

Surveys ethical thought and moral issues in early Christianity on the basis of New Testament and early patristic materials.

RELC 580 - (3) (E)
Advanced Exegesis of the New Testament I

Prerequisite: Intermediate knowledge of Hellenistic Greek.
Reading and interpretation of the Greek text of one of the Gospels.

RELC 581 - (3) (O)
Advanced Exegesis of the New Testament II

Prerequisite: Intermediate knowledge of Hellenistic Greek.
Reading and interpretation of the Greek text of one or more of the epistles.

RELC 583 - (3) (E)
Love and Justice

Examines various conceptions of love and justice in selected Protestant and Catholic literature, mainly from the last 50 years.

RELC 711 - (3) (IR)
Seminar in Roman Catholic Moral Theology

Reviews the Catholic tradition in moral theology, emphasizing the influence of historical consciousness on post-Vatican II ethics in natural law, the use of scripture, social ethics, and issues of authority.

RELC 724 - (3) (SI)
Popular Religion, 1300-1700

Analyzes various approaches to the study of western Christianity, focusing on the experience and practice of religion by the laity. Cross-listed as HIEU 724.

RELC 815 - (3) (IR)
Patristic Greek

Readings of Greek fathers such as John Chrysoston and Gregory of Nazianzus, with emphasis on grammar, syntax and rhetoric. An intermediate to advanced level course.

RELC 841 - (3) (IR)
Seminar on American Religious Thought I: Edwards to Emerson

Prerequisite: Instructor permission.
A historical and theological examination of seminal figures in the development of American religious thought from the Enlightenment through the "American Renaissance."

RELC 842 - (3) (IR)
Seminar on American Religious Thought II: Liberalism Through Neo-Orthodoxy

A historical and theological examination of the work of major religious thinkers in American from 1860 to 1960.

RELC 844 - (3) (Y)
Seminar in Reformation Studies

Intensive study of a selected movement, issue, or figure in the 16th century.

RELC 846 - (3) (SI)
Development of Catholic Social and Political Thought

Studies papal encyclicals since Renum Novarium (1891), and American Catholic attitudes toward organized labor and social action.

RELC 847 - (3) (SI)
American Catholic Approaches to Religious Liberty

Religious Liberty was the distinctive contribution of American Catholicism to the Second Vatican Council. Traces the development of this doctrine from the 17th to the 20th century in the United States.

RELC 889 - (3) (E)
Seminar in New Testament Theology

Considers the nature and scope of New Testament theology and of one central theme, such as Christology.

RELC 890 - (3) (O)
Topics in New Testament Studies

Selected issues in the theory and methods of New Testament criticism.

RELC 892 - (3) (Y)
Seminar in Early Christianity

Studies selected topics in early Christian history and thought. Topic varies annually.


RELG 503 - (3) (SI)
Readings in Chinese Religion

Examines selected readings from a specific text, figure, or theme. Readings emphasize possible structures of religious language and their translation.

RELG 506 - (3) (IR)
Interpretation of Myth

An interdisciplinary study of myth, focusing on structuralist, hermeneutical, and history of religion methodologies.

RELG 507 - (3) (O)
Interpretation Theory

Studies existentialist, phenomenological, structuralist, literary, historical, and psychological approaches to the interpretation of texts, especially narrative religious texts; and the interactions of language, history, and understanding.

RELG 508 - (3) (IR)
Seminar on Religion and American Culture I

Prerequisite: A course in either American history or American religious history. Open to upper-level undergraduates.
Examines Americans' religious identities in relation to the dominant values of American social and intellectual life, emphasizing the concept of community. Subjects include Puritanism, the Mennonites, the Shakers, Mormonism, and the growth of Evangelicalism.

RELG 514 - (3) (SI)
Seminar on a Major Religious Thinker

Studies the relationship between philosophical and religious thought as seen in a selected philosopher or theologian.

RELG 515 - (3) (Y)
Issues in Religious Ethics

Studies selected issues such as mysticism and morality, conscience, natural law, nonviolence, and methodology in religious ethics.

RELG 517 - (3) (Y)
Seminar in History of Religions

Introduces the basic thinkers in the field of History of Religions and to fundamental problems in the study of religious sociology, mythology, and ritual.

RELG 518 - (3) (IR)
Seminar in Philosophical Theology

Studies ideas of God in Western thought from Plato through Descartes.

RELG 524 - (3) (SI)
Problems in Philosophy of Religion

Examines classic and contemporary discussions of problems in the philosophy of religion.

RELG 541 - (3) (O)
Seminar in Social and Political Thought

An examination of the social and political thought of selected religious thinkers.

RELG 563 - (3) (S)
Seminar: Issues in the Study of Religion and Literature

Analyzes, in terms of fundamental theory, the purposes, problems, and possibilities of interdisciplinary work in religion and literary criticism.

RELG 569 - (3) (IR)
Contemporary Religious Movements

Studies the psychological, sociological, and political dimensions of conversion and ideological commitment in selected contemporary religious movements.

RELG 571 - (3) (O)
Victorian Crisis of Faith: Its Religious and Literary Expressions

Analyzes the central religious and philosophical issues of Victorian thought (as presented in literature, philosophy, and theology) from the time of Keble's Assize sermon and the advent of the Oxford Movement into the period of Thomas Hardy.

RELG 573 - (3) (IR)
Theology of Culture

Studies the relationship between religion and culture. Topics include a theological assessment of the value of culture; the impact of secularization; the critique of religion levied by various disciplines; and the problems of theology in a pluralistic context.

RELG 575 - (3) (IR)
Myth and Ritual

Studies theories of myth and ritual from an interdisciplinary perspective, including selected mythological and ritual texts.

RELG 578 - (3) (Y)
Human Genetics, Ethics, and Theology

Prerequisite: RELG 265 or instructor permission.
Studies ethical problems in genetic screening, counseling, and prenatal diagnosis. Ideas of biological and theological determinism are explored critically.

RELG 585 - (3) (SI)
Narrative in Ethics and Theology

Examines the nature of narrative modes of representation and argument and how narrative theory has been employed in contemporary ethics and religious thought.

RELG 590 - (3) (IR)
Ethics, Politics and Rhetoric

Studies the perennial problems of politics and morals, considered primarily by the reading of plays, novels, speeches, and historical documents.

RELG 592 - (3) (Y)
Theology and Politics

Prerequisite: Undergraduates must have instructor permission.
Investigates the relationship between theological reflection and political thought, with special attention to how theological positions may have implications for political theory and vice-versa.

RELG 705 - (3) (Y)
Myth and Modern Drama

Studies the religious and narrative elements of Greek, biblical, and other mythic traditions as they exist in the works of modern dramatists.

RELG 714 - (1) (IR)
Comparative Indo-European Mythology

Studies structural parallels between myths of the Indo-European language family, based on the methods pioneered by Georges Dumezil.

RELG 720 - (3) (SI)
Wittgenstein and Philosophy of Religion

Studies several major works of Ludwig Wittgenstein as they bear on the problems raised by the philosophical study of religion.

RELG 721 - (3) (SI)
Kant and Philosophy of Religion

Examines Kant's Critique of Practical Reason and Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone, with special attention to Kant's view of the relation between the theoretical and practical employments of reason, and the implications for theistic belief.

RELG 722 - (3) (SI)
Rationality, Justification and Religious Belief

Examines several major contemporary approaches to the question of the justification of religious belief, involving issues of relativism and kinds of rationality.

RELG 725 - (3) (IR)
Kierkegaard and Philosophy of Religion

Examines Søren Kierkegaard's contribution to the philosophy of religion through his major philosophical works, Philosophical Fragments and Concluding Unscientific Postscript. Their bearing on the philosophical study of religion is highlighted by a prefatory examination of some works by Hume or Kant which provide useful contrast.

RELG 800 - (3) (E)
Negativity and Religious Imagination

Examines the ways in which imaginative literature, theological reflection, and hermeneutical inquiry interpret aspects of negativity in human experience and understanding.

RELG 808 - (2) (Y)
Principles and Practice of Bioethics Services

Reviews the underlying principles, existing models, and literature in the practice of ethics consultation in health care.

RELG 809 - (3) (Y)
Proseminar on Current Controversies in Bioethics

Studies controversies regarding research with the embryo and fetus, issues in AIDS prevention, diagnosis and treatment, and requests for assistance with suicide or euthanasia.

RELG 810 - (3) (Y)
Proseminar in Clinical Ethics

Explores ethical perspectives and clinical decisions, including situation ethics, casuistry, principlism, and feminist perspectives.

RELG 812, 813 - (1-3) (Y)
Figures and Traditions in Philosophical and Religious Ethics

A two-semester course that introduces the basic ethical works and theories of central figures in the Western tradition: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Kierkegaard, Bentham, Mill, Buber, Dewey, and Rawls.

RELG 814 - (3) (Y)
History of Bioethics Via the Great Cases

Topics include Tuskegee, Jewish Hospital for Chronic Diseases, Philadelphia Head-Injury Studies, Quinlan and Cruzan, Jehovah's Witness, Bouvia, Quill and Freud, Baby Jane Doe, Baby Theresa, Angela Carder, Wanglie, the Oregon Plan, etc. Concentrates on analysis of cases and turning points in the field of bioethics.

RELG 833 - (3) (E)
Comparative Religious Ethics

Examines the theoretical and methodological questions underlying comparative studies of religious ethics. Tests several methods in relation to materials from different religious traditions.

RELG 834 - (3) (O)
Contemporary Theological Ethics

Prerequisite: instructor permission.
Examines trends and controversies in contemporary theological ethics.

RELG 840 - (3) (IR)
Historiography Seminar in American Religion

Prerequisite: instructor permission.
Examines current historiographical issues in the interpretation of religion in American history.

RELG 855 - (3) (SI)
Seminar in the Thought of Martin Heidegger

Examines the works of Heidegger (especially Being and Time) and their contribution to contemporary theology.


RELH 553 - (3) (E)
Hindu Philosophical Systems

Prerequisite: RELH 209, RELH 211, or instructor permission.
Introduces the classical systems of Hindu philosophical thought through careful examination of primary texts and recent secondary scholarship.

RELH 554 - (3) (O)
Hindu Ethics

Explores the place of ethics and moral reasoning in Hindu thought and practice. Selected materials emphasize the particularity of different Hindu visions of the ideal human life.

RELH 589 - (3) (IR)
Vedic Hinduism

Investigates the interplay of myth, ritual, and society in ancient India, taking the Vedic textual tradition and the theories of Jan Heesterman as its dual starting point.

RELH 717 - (3) (SI)
Hindu Cosmology

An intensive examination of Hindu conceptions of space and time.


RELI 540 - (3) (Y)
Seminar in Islamic Theology

Prerequisite: RELI 207 or instructor permission.
Studies Islamic theology, mainly Sunni, from its origins through the 14th century.

RELI 541 - (3) (IR)
Islamic Theology: The Shi'ite Creed

Studies Twelver Shi'ite religious thought in comparison with other Shi'ite and Sunni sects.

RELI 542 - (3) (IR)
War and Peace in Islam: A Comparative Ethics Approach

Studies Islamic notions of holy war and peace as they relate to statecraft and political authority in Muslim history.

RELI 710 - (3) (SI)
Islamic Religious Law

Prerequisite: RELI 207 or RELC 530.
Studies the sources and implications of the Islamic Religious Law (the Sharia).

RELI 860 - (3) (SI)
Seminar in Shi'ite Theology

Prerequisite: RELI 540, two years of Persian or Arabic.
An in-depth study of Shi'ite Islamic Theology from its origin through the 14th century.


RELJ 505 - (3) (IR)
Judaism and Antiquity

Explores representative systems of Judaic religion that flourished in Palestine, Egypt, and Mesopotamia from 500 B.C. to 200 A.D.

RELJ 522 - (3) (IR)
The Shaping of the Rabbinic Tradition

Investigates specific aspects of premodern development of Rabbinic Judaism, e.g., "the holy man," "mysticism and society," "canon and exegesis," and "law as theology."

RELJ 523 - (3) (O)
Modern Jewish Thought: From Phenomenology to Scripture

Studies postmodern trajectories in the Jewish philosophies of Rosenzweig and Levinas, with comparative readings in Derrida and Ricoeur, and supplementary studies of Descartes, Kant, Husserl, Cohen, Buber, and Lyotard.

RELJ 528 - (3) (O)
Seminar in Israelite Religion

Advanced study in a selected aspect of the religion of ancient Israel.

RELJ 529 - (3) (SI)
Seminar in Hebrew Bible

Investigates a selected topic in the study of Hebrew scriptures.

RELJ 594 - (3) (SI)
Judaism and Kantian Philosophy

Prerequisite: Courses in philosophy or Jewish thought, or instructor permission; reading knowledge of German helpful.
The interaction of the philosophy of Immanuel Kant and Jewish theology in the 19th century and early 20th century, primarily concentrating on the thought of the German-Jewish thinker Hermann Cohen (1842-1918).

RELJ 888 - (3) (SI)
Biblical and Jewish Palestinian Aramaic

Introduces the Aramaic language, intended especially for New Testament graduate students. Emphasizes mastery of the grammar and syntax of Official or Imperial Aramaic and especially Middle Aramaic (second century B.C.E. to second century C.E.).

Special Topics

RELS 895 - (3-9) (S)

Systematic readings in a selected topic under detailed supervision.

RELS 896 - (3-9) (S)

Research on problems leading to a master's thesis.

RELS 897 - (3-12) (S)
Non-Topical Research, Preparation for Research

For master's research, taken before a thesis director has been selected.

RELS 898 - (3-12) (S)
Non-Topical Research

For master's thesis, taken under the supervision of a thesis director.

RELS 997 - (3-12) (S)
Non-Topical Research, Preparation for Doctoral Research

For doctoral research, taken before a dissertation director has been selected.

RELS 999 - (3-12) (S)
Non-Topical Research

For doctoral dissertation, taken under the supervision of a dissertation director.

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