Religious Studies General Education Information

Religious Studies Core Requirement

Two Religious Studies core courses form part of the General Education Requirement at Saint Mary's by sharing in that requirement's stated goals of fostering the ability to think clearly about complex problems, promoting the capacity to communicate with precision and style, and studying freely and critically the rich heritage of the Catholic tradition. Please also know that students who are not Catholic or not Christian are at no academic disadvantage in relation to other students in the class who are. Everyone starts college Religious Studies classes in roughly the same place, and differences of viewpoint, background or tradition are essential in furthering the learning process for everyone.

The first core course (RLST 101), usually taken in the student's first year, is meant to enlarge her understanding of religion and stretch her imagination beyond the familiar to think about religious life and culture from new and unexpected angles. Taught with different reading lists by different department members, this course explores the nature of religion and its place or function in personal and cultural life. Quite frequently, this course incorporates texts which go beyond the boundaries of Catholicism or even Christianity. By design, this course creates a wider context within which the student may then understand and evaluate her own particular religious tradition or stance. This means that students read materials which encourage them to re-think their assumptions, and consequently, to consider religion with more depth, greater range, and increased nuance. For example, students in the first course may read texts which introduce them to ancient mythic worlds (reading The Epic of Gilgamesh, for instance) or which invite them to consider the claims to truth arising in other cultures (by reading witnesses from native American traditions, Hinduism, or Islam, for example). Along the same lines, students may be exposed to materials which encourage them to struggle with the diversity of experiences and perspectives in the history of religions. Or, students may encounter texts which confront them with the voices of religious diversity--whether by examining the similarities and differences of Jewish, Orthodox, Protestant and Catholic viewpoints or by reading autobiographies representing the life-worlds of various religious traditions, to name just two examples. So too, students may read texts which offer them models for interpreting or theories for explaining religious thought and practice. Students in this first course, consequently, examine reading materials which provide them with tools for analyzing religious phenomena--whether they be from the works of Martin Buber, Sigmund Freud, E.P. Sanders, or other sources. In sum, the content of the first course works to help students achieve a fresh understanding of the nature of religion and its place in personal and cultural life, one marked by an appreciation for the depth of meaning and the diversity of expression.

The second course (RLST 200-299) in Religious Studies, usually taken in the sophomore year, tries to channel the broadened understanding opened up by the first core to specific issues and applications within the Christian tradition, and most especially to issues, events, and authors arising in the Catholic world. Faculty teach different courses to fulfill this second requirement, but each considers a major theme in the Christian doctrinal tradition (e.g., Christian reading of the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, God, Jesus, church, sacraments, ethics, social teaching, etc.). In this way, the second core offers a more intensive, focused and systematic inquiry into Christian faith and the perspectives of Catholic theology. In the second core, students are expected to achieve an awareness of some of the basic issues and questions which have shaped Christian theology or which dominate current thinking in Christian thought. To this end, students choose their second course and read materials which either (a) introduce them to Scripture studies, (b) introduce them to classic writings from the history of the Christian tradition (Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, for instance); or (c) confront them with contemporary authors reflecting on the meaning and truth of particular doctrines or religious practice (the doctrine of God, personal or liturgical prayer, the Catholic sacramental system); or (d) introduce them to current issues in Christian (especially Catholic Christian) experience (notably, matters of controversy in moral life or social thought or issues relating to the nature of the Christian community known as Church). In each of these cases, students are encouraged to examine the viewpoints and lines of reasoning forwarded by Christian authors reflecting on the meaning and truth of Christian teaching. In sum, the content of the second course works to help students achieve an appreciation and understanding of major works of theological reflection arising in the Christian tradition and Catholic faith and life.