/ Religion Department


Our classes help you understand the Christian faith and the role of religion in human society.

Religion department courses are an integral part of the college curriculum. Six credits in religion are required for graduation: a two-credit basic Studies in Religion course (REL 100) and one four-credit course (REL 220s, 240s, 260s or 280s).

Our majors and minors have a wide range of introductory and advanced courses from which to choose, from courses on the Pentateuch to world religions, from Christian ethics to the Gospels.

View full course descriptions in the catalog 

Special Topics (REL 100)

Catalog course REL 100 consists of multiple topics of focus that vary each semester. Current and/or forthcoming descriptions are listed below. To see course details, including dates, times and professors, please see the Registrar’s course schedule.

Religion section descriptions — Fall 2019

100.01 Religion and Atrocity
At times, religion has been a causative factor in the perpetration of violence – or has failed to marshal resistance against it. The perceived connection between religion and atrocity, or religion’s apparent impotence to do anything about it, has led some to denounce religion. Whether we renounce it or not, it is important to ask: “Why does religion sometimes function to fuel and justify atrocity?” How do the resources of religion – especially Judaism and Christianity – enable people to cope with the suffering that is caused by personal atrocities or tragedies they suffer?

100.02 From Rabbi to God
This is an introductory course about the origin and spread of Christianity. It begins with Jesus of Nazareth and continues through the fourth century CE when Christianity became the only legal religion of the Roman Empire. We will learn by means of a careful examination of primary texts (Jewish, Christian and Greco-Roman writings) and a secondary text.

100.03 Which Jesus?
Everyone seems to have a different opinion about Jesus. Where did these ideas about Jesus come from? Which one is the “real” Jesus? What do those around me and in society believe about Jesus? These are the questions we will address as we explore Jesus through the centuries and search for the Historical Jesus.

100.04 Earth and Ethics
Global warming, holes in the ozone layer, toxic wastes, oil spills, acid rain, drinking water contamination, overflowing landfills, topsoil erosion, species extinction, smog. The earth and its many inhabitants are in trouble, claim numerous professional earth-watchers. In this course we will ask these and other crucial questions. And we will learn how religious folk — Jews, Christians, Muslims and Buddhists — answer such questions. This course, in short, is an inquiry concerning earth and ethics.

100.05 Mystery of the Incarnation
This course is an introduction to Christology; it is a study of the person and work of Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh. Our starting point and norm of reasoning will be the New Testament, but we will also be guided by the conciliar teachings of the undivided Church (especially the councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon) as well as representative early, medieval and modern accounts of the mystery of Jesus Christ. By reflecting on Scripture and Tradition, we will attempt to answer Christ’s ever-relevant question to us, “Who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29).

100.06 & 07 Faith and Food
Food is basic to human life. It therefore comes as no surprise that food is also deeply intertwined with religious belief and practice. But although food is basic, decisions surrounding food in 21st century are not simple. Food is caught up in the most pressing moral issues of our time, including our environmental crises, globalization and poverty. This course will bring together the study of food in the Christian tradition with consideration of these and other ethical issues. We will probe the meaning of food in Christian thought and practice and ask about the implications of this tradition for socially concerned eaters today.

100.08 Fierce and Faithful Bible Women
Women in the Bible are often thought to be either "bad girls" (Eve, Delilah, Jezebel) or desperate to have children (Sarah, Rachel, Leah). There are many other biblical women that you never learned about in Sunday school. Some are victims of sexual violence. Some are warriors. Others are strong, courageous, compassionate and wise. This class will explore the "texts of terror," the "bad girls of the Bible" and the many other women who are both fierce and faithful.

100.09 Many Faces of Christianity
This course will examine the ways different denominations and cultural traditions interpret Christianity in their worship and teaching. Students will attend and report on worship services at a variety of Holland area churches.

Special Topics (Upper-Level Courses)

Several upper-level religion courses consist of multiple topics of focus that vary each semester. Current and/or forthcoming descriptions are listed below.

This is not a complete list of available religion classes. For a complete list of upcoming classes or to see course details, including dates, times and professors, please see the Registrar’s course schedule.


221.01 Introduction to Biblical Literature
Whether you have never read anything in the Bible before or have been reading it all your life, this course is for you. For those to whom the Bible is a new read, you will gain basic knowledge and insights, as well as a comprehensive organizing scheme for understanding the Bible as a whole. For those to whom the Bible is an old friend, you will come to see its cohesiveness in larger segments, and gain new appreciation for the extensive and intensive relationship between Old and New Testaments. We will use a secondary handbook to help guide our way, and provide outlines and explanatory notes.

221.02 & 03 Introduction to Biblical Literature
This is an introductory Religion course on Biblical literature. Its aim is to study the Bible, which includes the Old Testament, New Testament, and what Protestant Christians call the Apocrypha. Questions like "what is the Bible?" "What kinds of books are in the Bible?" and "what do these books teach?" will be answered in the context of the academic study of the Bible.

241.01 Introduction to the History of Christianity
This course examines the history of Christianity from the early church well into the Middle Ages. Although the development of theology and the growth of the church will be important themes, we will also investigate how Christians and their critics explored and endured self and society, doubt and despair, discovery and desire, the ephemeral and the eternal with conviction and faith.

241.02 Introduction to the History of Christianity
This course examines the nature, meaning, and history of the Church from the first disciple (Mary) up to the debates surrounding the Reformation. By drawing on the resources of both theology and history, we will explore questions about the nature of the Church, her authority and mission, how the Mystical Body of Christ is related to her institutional structure, how Christians have understood the relationship between Church and state, as well as how the Church has navigated the challenges of history and influenced culture.

369.01 Philosophical Theology
This course is a sustained inquiry into certain perennial questions at the intersection of philosophy and theology: How do faith and reason relate? What is religious experience? What arguments point to the existence of God? What does it mean to know God? Do miracles really happen? How do I make sense of evil and suffering? How can suspicion of religion help to purify faith?

389.01 God
This course examines God in religious and social terms. What does ‘God’ mean? What is the nature of God? How do we judge the truth of our knowledge of God? What is God’s relationship to humans? Many religious groups have explored these questions over thousands of years. In this course, we will use Hindu, Christian, and Muslim sources to study these questions and answer them.

460.01 Religion and Science
It is difficult to overstate the importance of a scientific outlook and of the technologies that have arisen from scientific exploration for human life in the 21st century. While few would dispute this point, there is less consensus regarding how scientific exploration and discovery should relate to religious thought about human life and the universe. Does science contradict religious claims about God and the world? Should we think of science and religion as operating within their own spheres, each with its own distinct expertise? Or can science and faith interact with each other and spark mutually productive and beneficial dialogue? In this course, we will consider this core question regarding the relationship between science and religion by exploring a number of specific issues, including the origin of the universe, interpretation of Biblical texts about creation, evolution and human nature, technology and a flourishing life, and environmental ethics.