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Religious Studies 203

RELN 203: Sacred Texts of the West

Credit Hours: (3)

Through critical reading of selections from the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the the Qur'an, students will become familiar with the content of these texts; students will engage in the critical interpretation of these sacred texts; and students will be introduced to the methods and theories that support the academic study of sacred texts and narratives. Not limited in historical context and scope, students will be introduced to the social and historical factors that influenced the development of each canon in its original context as well as examining how religious communities work to ensure the continued relevance of their sacred texts and narratives. This course has been approved for Core Curriculum credit in Humanities.


Detailed Description of Course


This course is divided into three parts, reflecting the three great religious traditions of the West--Judaism,  Christianity, and Islam. Each part will examine the development of each tradition's sacred texts within their original social and historical contexts, the canonization process, the major theological themes of each, and the sources and materials that comprise each of the texts.

1) Hebrew Bible/Old Testament

This portion of the course will examine the various sources that later comprised the Hebrew canon, including saga, poetry, songs, legends, and myth. Students will be asked to examine the forces that pressured the Israelites to write and close a sacred canon. As the canon was closed in stages, students will become familiar with the dating of the component parts of Hebrew scripture and will be able to identify at what historical point each part of the canon (Torah, Prophets, and Writings) was closed. The primary theological concerns of the Old = Testament will receive sustained attention, including the nature/characteristics and development of the idea of the universal God, covenant, and Old Testament conceptions of history.

2) New Testament
This part of the course will examine the various sources that comprise the New Testament, including parables, sayings, gospels, letters, and apocalypse. In addition, students will be introduced to theories regarding the dating of each of the New Testament texts as well as identifying dating clues within the texts. Here students will also learn about the political and social forces behind the closing of the New Testament as well as examining why certain texts were included while others were rejected. Topics receiving particular attention will include the historical Jesus and the contours of the earliest Jesus Movements and the importance of the Pauline epistles and theology for the development of Christianity as a world religion.

3) Qur' an
As with the prior portions of this course, the examination of the Qur'an begins with its development in historical context. This will include an examination of sixth century Arabian culture as well as Muhammad's own social background. Students will examine the reception of the Prophet's message in Mecca and Medina and will appreciate how his message was influenced by the social context in addition to addressing Muhammad's particular concerns regarding Arabian society. Students will learn about Qur 'anic conceptions of God, the relationship between the Qur 'an and the Old and New Testaments, the Qur'anic view of prophecy, and the Qur 'an's presentation of the pre-Islamic religions of Arabia.


Detailed Description of Conduct of Course


This course will be conducted through lecture and discussion and may include the use of film. The importance of exegetical skills will be emphasized by requiring students to analyze brief portions of sacred texts in terms of historical context and literary characteristics, writing a short summary, and presenting the results to the class. Content knowledge will be measured through quizzes and exams.


Goals and Objectives of the Course
I) In this course students will examine some of the world 's most influential religious texts.

2) Students in this course will analyze the concept of scripture as well as describe various approaches to the study of scripture, including textual criticism, historical criticism, and reception history.

3) Students will analyze sacred texts as created documents, formed in social and historical contexts.

4) Students will describe how broader cultural contexts impacted the development of Western sacred texts and narratives.

5) Though the term scripture implies a written text, students will analyze the important oral functions of sacred texts.

6) Students will examine the concept that scripture is a relational category and that the sacredness of any given text is only derived from communities that respond to the text as something sacred and holy.

Assessment Measures
Grades may be derived from exams, class presentations, group projects, short explication exercises, and a research paper.


Other Course Information


Review and Approval
July, 2010