Religious Studies Courses

The Religious Studies department focuses on the role which religion has played and continues to play in the life of the individual and society. Religion addresses itself to fundamental questions relating to the meaning of human existence. Religious answers to these questions reflect the encounter between human beings and the transcendent. The courses which the department offers examine the relationship among religion, the individual, and society, recognizing that the answers provided by religions are both shaped by and shape the society of which they are a part.

The department offers a wide range of courses dealing with both Western and Eastern religious traditions and cultures. Contemporary life issues are also examined in various courses in connection with religions and students are encouraged to become familiar with the primary texts (in translation) of various religions. 

The department's courses are intended for a broad range of undergraduate students who may complete a major, advanced major, or honours in religious studies. Students in other disciplines can expect their appreciation of these disciplines to be enriched through a study of religion. Courses will be of interest both to students who are associated with a particular religious tradition as well as to students who have no formal religious affiliation. 

100-Level Courses

103 World Religions: What you need to know 

This course develops four competencies of a successful global citizen: what you need to know to interact with a client/customer/patient/neighbour who is of a different religion; what you need to know when travelling; what you need to know to do graduate studies; and what followers of this religion need to know. We study Indigenous religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, and alternative religions. Credit will be granted for only one of RELS 103, RELS 110, RELS 111, or RELS 112. Offered every year. 

117 Ethical Principles for Health Care Providers 

This course is designed to provide the foundation for promoting moral ethical competence among health care professionals as informed by diverse religious and cultural traditions. Students will be introduced to the ethical principles and values underlying debates brought about advancements in medical technologies. Special emphasis will be placed on the whole person care demonstrated by exemplary health care providers in health care settings. Three credits. Offered every year. 

198 Selected Topic Introductory Greek I

The topic for 2023-2024 is Introductory Greek I. The aim of this course is to familiarize students with the basic structural features of classical Greek. In addition to grammar and vocabulary, the class will read simple texts from classical Greek philosophy and literature as well as from the New Testament. Three credits.

200-Level Courses

209 Beginning Arabic 

Arabic is written and understood as an official language in more than 35 countries, including at least 400 million people living in majority Arabic-speaking countries. This course introduces students to formal written Arabic and the spoken dialects of Syria and Egypt. Students will become proficient at reading, writing, and understanding basic Arabic and will be able to carry on simple conversation. In addition to language, the course includes expressions of culture, both religious and non-religious. Credit will be granted for only one of RELS 209 and RELS 291(2018-19) or RELS 298(2017-18). Three credits. Cross-listed with MLAN 209. Offered 2023-2024. 

210 The Bible and Film 

This course examines the impact of the Bible on film, and introduces major biblical themes in films with, and films without, explicit religious content. Students will learn how biblical knowledge can enrich our understanding of modern culture and important human issues, such as creation, redemption, election, messiah-ship, charisma, and tradition. Three credits. Offered 2023-2024. 

212 Christianity 

This course is a comprehensive investigation of the history, teachings, and cultural influence of Christianity from its beginnings as an attempted renewal of Judaism in the first century of the common era to its current role as an international influence on world affairs.  We will examine representative texts and thinkers comparing the differences among the various denominations of Christianity (Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant).  Students will also learn about the past and contemporary relationships between Christianity and other religions, especially Judaism and Islam. Credit will be granted for only one of RELS 212 or RELS 100.  Three credits. Not offered 2023-2024; offered in alternate years. 

214 Judaism 

This course introduces the historical development of Judaism from its origin to the 21st century. Special attention is given to factors that shaped this development: geographical, political, economic, social, and theological. Not offered 2023-2024. 

215 Sociology of Religion

An introduction to the sociological study of religion. Topics include social factors that influence religion at individual and communal levels; religion as agent of social cohesion and social conflict; religion and power structures; the impact of pluralism and globalization on religion today. Cross-listed as SOCI 227. Three credits. Offered 2023-2024. 

216 Superheroes and the Supernatural 

This course is an introduction to the use of supernatural imagery and themes in current tales of superheroes. How are supernatural beings and forces incorporated into the stories? How do superheroes function as divine beings? In which ways are the messages presented by DC and Marvel derived from those of world religions? In which ways do they serve as substitutes for religion? Credit will be granted only for one of REL 216 and RELS 298 (2020-2022) Three credits. Offered 2023-2024. 

219 Celtic Paganism 

This course examines the religious practices and beliefs of the ancient Celtic peoples that we can glean from archaeology, reports of Greek and Roman commentators, place-name evidence, and the mythology in medieval Irish and Welsh narrative tradition. Other topics include syncretism, the adaptation of pagan festivals into Christian holidays, the persistence of elements of paganism into the Christian era, witchcraft in Scotland and Ireland in the context of the European phenomenon and neo-paganism today. Cross-listed as CELT 220. Three credits. Offered 2023-2024. 

221 Religion and the Environmental Crisis 

Perhaps the greatest challenge of our time is the ecological crisis. This threat has provoked widespread reflection upon humanity's relationship to its environment.  Such reflection however is not new. This relationship was already being explored millennia ago, in humanity's most ancient religious texts. This course investigates the historical interaction of religion and ecology, and considers how religion might yet constitute either a hindrance or an aid in navigating the present ecological crisis.  Credit will be granted for only one of RELS 221 or RELS 356. Three credits. Offered 2023-2024. 

222 Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them in World Religions 

Much contemporary fantasy draws upon ancient and medieval myths about beasts and monsters of various sorts. In this course, we will consider the religious origins of the fantastic, and how it continues to resonate in our contemporary world.  Credit will be granted for only one of RELS 222, RELS 292 (2018-19) and RELS 298 (2017-18). Three credits. Offered 2023-2024. 

225 Cults and Alternative Religions 

A study of cults in the context of 20th-century North American society, beginning with defining cults in relation to sects and churches. Topics include neo-paganism; Hare Krishna; the theosophical tradition; the Unification Church; tragic endings to cults such as the Branch Davidians and Heaven’s Gate; why people join cults; and the religio-cultural significance of cults today. Three credits. Offered 2023-2024. 

229 Celtic Christianity 

This course is an exploration of the development of Christianity amongst the Celtic peoples. A major facet will be the medieval hagiographic tradition and saints’ cults from the fourth to the twelfth centuries. Other topics include monasticism, peregrini, the Hiberno-Scottish mission to the continent, conflict with Roman Catholicism, material culture, the modern use of the term “Celtic Christianity”. Cross-listed as CELT 230. Three credits. 

235 Hinduism and Buddhism 

This course introduces the paths to enlightenment identified by members of the Hindu and Buddhist traditions of India and Tibet. We will introduce the philosophy, mythology and ritual traditions of both Hinduism and Buddhism. Three credits.  Offered 2023-2024.

241 Greek and Roman Mythology 

This course covers narrative and artistic depictions of Greco-roman Gods, demi-gods, and heroes, both in Hellenistic and early Roman periods, and in their contemporary reception in fiction and film.  We will also cover how myths and grand narratives function in the service of and in tension with power, politics, gender, ritual, and culture. Cross-listed with CLAS 241. Three credits. Offered in 2023-2024. 

246 Philosophy of Religion

Explores the philosophy of religion, including different concepts of God with emphasis on the Judeo-Christian tradition; arguments for the existence of God; classical and modern challenges to belief in God. Issues such as "life after death" miracles, religious experience, and the concept of prayer may also be discussed. Credit will be granted for only one of RELS 246 or PHIL 240. Cross-listed as PHIL 245.  Three credits. 

254 Islam 

This course introduces students to the emergence of the Islamic tradition with the aim of understanding a) its place in the Near Eastern religious and geo-political context: b) its reception by contemporaries, especially Christians of the 7th-9th centuries; and c) the teachings of its seminal texts, especially the Qur'an.  Particular attention is given to those sections of the Qur'an that reflect the Jewish and Christian theological environment within which the text emerged.  Credit will be granted for only one of RELS 254 or RELS 370. Three credits. Offered 2023-2024. 

261 Islam and Film 

Students will gain a critical understanding of film as an artifact of culture and a powerful medium of religious and cultural expression in Muslim contexts.  Students encounter themes such as religion and politics, marriage and family, youth, society, sexuality, ritual and devotion, Islamic law, community, and ethics, and engage critically in their cinematic representations.  The course is based primarily on foreign films with English subtitles and provides a foundation for further study of Islamic traditions. Three credits. Not offered 2023-2024. 

265 Introduction to the Gospels

In this course, students explore the four earliest records of Jesus' life, the canonical gospels.  They learn how academics approach the quest for the historical Jesus, and use methods of literary and historical analysis to interpret recurring themes of the gospels, such as the kingdom of God, parables about socio-economic inequity, attitudes towards the Roman empire, and the ubiquitous presence of angels and demons. Three credits. Offered 2023-2024. 

283 Apocalypses

This course focuses on a popular genre of texts called "apocalypse", produced in the early development of Judaism and Christianity.  Apocalypses deal with the end of the world.  We will explore the development of the worldview called apocalypticism and the ancient literature associated with it, both from outside and inside the Bible. Students compare what they've learned about ancient apocalypses to contemporary apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic ideas, from zombies to climate change. Three credits. Offered 2023-2024. 

297 Selected Topic The History and Philosophy of Yoga

The topic of 2023-2024 is The History and Philosophy of Yoga.  This class focuses on yoga, a pan-Indic and now global phenomenon. Using yoga as a case study, we will explore theoretical and methodological issues in the study of religion and themes such as the relationship between philosophy and religion, the functions of doctrine, and the nature of scripture. Students will also be introduced to key moments in the history of yoga's philosophical development on the Indian subcontinent. Three credits. 

298 Selected Topic Death and Dying: Cross-Cultural Perspectives

The topic for 2023-2024 is Death and Dying: Cross-Cultural Perspectives.  This course offers a comparative examination of social and ritual practices, religious beliefs, and emotional responses surrounding death in various cultural contexts. Students will explore diverse perspectives on death, addressing questions such as the meaning of death, the concept of a good death, rituals and practices related to death, and the afterlife. Through critical analysis and self-reflection, students will gain a deeper understanding of death's significance in different cultures and traditions. Three credits. 

300-Level Courses 

310 Religion in Modern India 

This course will explore continuity and change in modern Indian religion. After an introduction to contemporary Indian secular democracy, we will explore traditional Indian religion as a living phenomenon and review basic elements of traditional Hinduism. As well, examine the contribution of various change-makers to the evolution of Indian religious tradition and traditional Indian responses to the challenges created by Buddhism, Islam, British colonization, the partition of India, and Indian secular democracy itself.  Prerequisite: any 100-level RELS course or permission of the instructor. Six credits. Not offered 2023-2024. 

311 New Testament 

This course provides an introduction to the academic study of the history and literature of the early Christian movement.  The aim of this course is to provide a solid understanding of the New Testament through close study of texts, historical analysis, and evaluation of evidence and arguments.  We will explore several early Christian groups, their multiple disputes, arguments, positions, theologies, and understandings, through close reading of texts and appreciation of historical contexts. Credit will be granted for only one of RELS 311, RELS 255, or RELS 265.  Three credits. Not offered 2023-2024.

312 Old Testament/Hebrew Bible 

This course examines the foundation texts of both Judaism and Christianity, notably the prophetic, historical, and wisdom literature included in the Old Testament.  Each biblical book will be placed in its historical, theological, and literary context, by situating it in the relevant archeological data, historical background, and contemporary scholarship. Credit will be granted for only one of RELS 312 or RELS 253. Three credits. Not offered 2023-2024. 

315 Authentic Power and Gender

This course presents "authentic power" as understood in Hindu and Buddhist traditions. Here, "authentic power" is that which creates, supports, maintains and sustains life.  It is understood as an expression of inter-dependent masculine and feminine "principles" both within and outside the individual self. That which seeks to manipulate, control, dominate, oppress or defend territory is here understood to be based in fear: it is an expression of cowardice and, as such, merits our compassion.  Cross-listed as WMGS 397. Three credits. Offered 2023-2024. 

316 Women in Early Judaism 

The course investigates the depiction and experience of women from the earliest biblical narratives to the separation of Christianity from Judaism. Students analyze responses to women and ideas about women in Biblical and other early Jewish writings, in comparison to women in the rest of the Ancient Near East, in conversation with feminist interpreters of the Bible and early Judaism, we will note the relevance of this material for contemporary gender issues. Cross-listed as WMGS 316. Three credits. Not offered 2023-2024. 

317 Paul and His Interpreters 

This course provides an introduction to the academic study of the history and literature of the early Christian movement.  The aim of this course is to provide a solid understanding of the New Testament through close study of texts, historical analysis, and evaluation of evidence and arguments. We will explore several early Christian groups, their multiple disputes, arguments, positions, theologies, and understandings, through close reading of texts and appreciation of historical contexts. Credit will be granted for only one of RELS 317 or RELS 275. Three credits. Not offered 2023-2024. 

325 Early Christian Women 

This course investigates women’s participation in early Christian groups from the time of Jesus to the 5th century. Ancient Jewish, Christian, and Roman Women's experiences will be explored through texts, inscriptions, and material artefacts like mosaics. Students will learn to analyze New Testament and other ancient writings through an intersectional feminist lens and examine such issues as gendered violence, women's leadership, and early Christian constructions of masculinity Cross-listed as WMGS 325.Three credits. Offered 2023-2024. 

326 Hindu Deities 

This course presents the stories of goddesses and gods in the Hindu pantheon.  It explores elements of ancient and classical Hindu thought associated with the stories of these deities. It identifies related elements in classical schools of Hindu philosophies such as Samkhya and Vedanta, and gives voice to the poets of the medieval Hindu devotional tradition. Together we will explore concepts of self, other, the world, devotion, the divine and freedom in Hindu religious thought. Three credits. Not offered 2023-2024. 

327 Buddhist Thought:  the Way of the Bodhisattva 

This course presents the Buddhist ideal of the Way of Bodhisattva, one who vows to continue to re-incarnate, lifetime after lifetime, in order to serve all beings until such time as all beings are freed from suffering.  It examines early Buddhist teachings that anticipate the development of this ideal, including the Theravada Buddhist focus on the strength of discipline of the mind and body, before detailing the Mahayana Buddhist development of this ideal and its expansion in the narrative and practice of Vajrayana or Tibetan Buddhist tradition. It will include study of Buddhist philosophy regarding the gradual states of realisation of enlightenment. Three credits. Offered 2023-2024. 

331 Social Activists Inspired by the Bible 

In this course students trace the religious origins of ideas that have inspired global leaders to engage issues of social justice in the world. The activists typically including Moses Coady, Martin Luthr King Jr., Mother Theresa, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Oscar Romero, Charlotte Keys, SueZann Bosler, Helen Prejean, Jim Zwerg, Jim Corbett, John Dear, Shane Claiborne, Daniel Berrigan, Roy Bourgeois, Robin Harper, Willima Wilberforce, Desmond Tutu, Tommy Douglas, Dorothy Day, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Three credits. Not offered 2023-2024. 

333 Religion, Violence and Peace

Contrary to an old belief, in our time religion is increasingly associated with violence rather than peace. This course explains why this is the case and whether there is an inherently violent element in religion that has passed unnoticed until now. The investigation takes us through Greek, Roman, Jewish, Christian and Islamic religions to find the religious underpinnings to concepts of sacrifice, scapegoating, lynching, and global violence. Credit will be granted for only one of RELS 333 or RELS 335.  Three credits. Offered 2023-2024. 

334  Black/African Diaspora: Culture Religion and Society 

This course critically examines structural and sociocultural factors that operate and/or reproduce powerlessness among Black people in the Diaspora. Attention will be given to Black/African culture, experience and contributions, especially in Canada, the United States, and the Caribbean. Attention will also be given to the intersection of religion and cultural expressions in the African Diaspora. The importance of religion in the Black Diaspora's experience of both oppression and liberation will be a key component of our analytic framework. Credit will be granted for only one of RELS 334 or RELS 398. Cross-listed as SOCI 337. Three credits. 

336 Religion and Politics 

An examination of the impact of religion on politics and politics on religion. Students will consider the relationship between religion and politics in the Middle East, Northern Ireland, India and Pakistan, Eastern Europe and North America. Case studies will demonstrate interactions between the state and Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Judaism, as well as the influence of religion on citizenship, education, the party system, and social issues. Credit will be granted for only one of RELS 336, RELS 295, or PSCI 295. Cross-listed as PSCI 336. Offered in online format. Three credits. 

342 Prophets and Prophecy 

This course surveys the role and teaching of the biblical prophets in their ancient setting, and their impact on modern life and thought. Credit will be granted for only one of RELS 342, RELS 253, or RELS 312. Three credits. Not offered 2023-2024. 

352 History of Early Judaism 

This course explores the history of ancient Judaism from the Babylonian captivity in 586 BCE to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE. Students will examine the geography, culture, and historical milieu of the Apocrypha, Dead Sea Scrolls, Jesus, and the earliest rabbinic writings, and discuss the major persons and events in ancient Judea. Three credits. Not offered 2023-2024. 

353 Iconography of Christian Art: The Life of Christ 

Iconography is the identification and interpretation of images. This course is an introduction to the iconography of Christian art, with an emphasis on images of the Life and Passion of Christ. The course will examine how images develop over history, and how they may be understood in light of historical events, changes in theological thought, and in the artist’s own spirituality. Cross-listed as ART 356. Three credits. 

354 Iconography of Christian Art: The Saints 

This course is an introduction to the iconography of Christian art, with an emphasis on images of Mary and the saints. The course will examine how images develop over history, and how they may be understood in light of historical events, changes in theological thought, and in the artist’s own spirituality. Discussion will include how such images were used as objects of personal devotion but also for the conveying of important theological and social values.Cross-listed as ART 357. Three credits. 

363  Roman Christianity 

Examines the development of Christianity from its beginnings in the 1st century to its acceptance as the official religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th century. Students will learn about early Christian beliefs and practices, and explore the challenges faced by the first Christians. Topics include community organization, persecution, martyrdom, Gnosticism, and women in the church. Three credits. Not offered 2023-2024. 

365 Spirituality in Medieval Christianity 

This course will focus on the spirituality of the formative years in the development of Christian thought, beginning with the legalization of Christianity in 313 CE and ending with the Reformation. Students will see how some of the most searching and intelligent men and women in both the Western and Eastern churches have wrestled with the question of how it is possible to know God. Three credits. Offered 2023-2024. 

374 Modern and Contemporary Islam 

This course examines issues and debates in modern and contemporary Islamic discourse from a broad spectrum of perspectives.  The course introduces students to a plurality of voices, both Sunni and Shi'ite, on many controversial issues facing Muslims today, including, but not limited to the nature of the Qur'an, methods of interpretation, Muhammad, the role of women, Islam and the West, violence, terrorism, and human rights.  The course uses secondary and primary sources in translation. Three credits. Offered 2023-2024. 

375 Islam in Canada 

Students gain an understanding of the diversity of Islam and Muslims in Canada. The course examines how Muslims negotiate their religious identities in Canadian civic society. Students engage critically with different theoretical models shaping conceptions of identity and consider their relevance to public policy debates. The course uses Muslim and non-Muslim authors representing diverse points of view that have an impact on questions of immigration, multiculturalism, and religious pluralism. Cross-listed as SOCI 374. Offered in online format. Three credits. Offered 2023-2024. 

397 Selected Topic Religion and Politics in Modern Iran

The topic for 2023-2024 is Religion and Politics in Modern Iran. Investigate the significant impact of religion on politics and society in Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Understand the dynamics between state and religion, the transformation of religious discourse, and the nuanced complexities of religious politics. This course focuses on the role of religion in shaping politics and society in post-revolutionary Iran, with special emphasis on the Twelver Shi’i religious establishment, the theory of wilayat-i faqih, Islam and democracy, religion and violence, war and martyrdom. Three credits. 

399 Selected Topic Healthcare Ethics: A Multicultural Approach

The topic for 2023-2024 is Healthcare Ethics: A Multicultural Approach. This course will examine standard types of ethical analysis through religious perspectives. While many of the concepts and methods of health care ethics have religious roots, most ethicists have adopted a neutral, universalizing language (a purportedly “common morality”). Especially in the last three decades, however, there have been challenges of the predominance of this “neutral,” secular perspective. The course will draw upon various religious traditions of health and morality, especially indigenous perspectives, both to deepen conceptualizations of these perspectives, both to deepen conceptualizations of these terms and to challenge the dominant paradigms of ethical theory. Three credits. 

400-Level Courses 

401 Religious Approaches to Sexuality 

Human sexuality is explored from two main perspectives: first, the teachings and practices of various religious traditions; and second, contemporary developments in sexual and reproductive health and rights. Among the issues to be considered are sexuality and gender roles, contraception and abortion, marriage and family. Cross-listed as WMGS 411. Prerequisites: any 100-level RELS or WMGS course. Three credits. Offered 2023-2024. 

402 Religious Approaches to Sexual Diversity 

This course will focus on religious teachings and traditions on sexual diversity within the broader context of human rights associated with sexual orientation and sexual differences. In particular, we will look at the experiences of gay, lesbian, bisexual, intersexual and transgendered persons within religious communities. Cross-listed as WMGS 412. Prerequisites: any 100-level RELS or WMGS course. Three credits. Not offered 2023-2024. 

404 The Dead Sea Scrolls 

This course surveys the Dead Sea Scrolls found in the Judean desert.  The most important archeological discovery of the 20th century, these scrolls have generated much controversy. We will examine the major texts from Qumran to assess their impact on our understanding of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, and the period of Judaism in which Christianity arose.  We will place the scrolls in their various contexts: archaeological, historical, literary, religious, and social. Credit will be granted for only one of RELS 404 or RELS 318. Three credits. Offered 2023-2024. 

414 Ancient Indian Myth and Ritual 

Ancient Indian thought assumes that there is a fundamental wholeness to our lives and to our world which only appears at times to be fragmented. The myth, ritual and philosophy of ancient India are, in many respects, a contemplation on this basic wholeness and its composite elements. Exploration of ancient Indian thought with its ideas of humans and demons, ancestors and gods, and our place in the natural world in light of this reflection on “the parts and the whole” will be discussed. Three credits. Offered 2023-2024. 

416 History and Archeology of Ancient Israel 

This course explores the history of ancient Israel and Judah from their origin to the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BCE. Students will examine the geography, culture, and historical milieu that gave rise to the Old Testament and Hebrew Scriptures, and discuss the major persons and events in ancient Israel and Judah.  Credit will be granted for only one of RELS 416 or RELS 351. Three credits. Not offered 2023-2024. 

426 The Jewish World of Jesus 

This course examines the history and literature of the Jewish people from the period of the Maccabean Revolt in the 2nd century BCE to the Bar Kokhba Revolt in the 2nd century CE. The literary sources for the study of the Jewish world at the turn of the era include the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Bible, and the Mishnah. This course serves as an introduction to the religious and social environment of the historical Jesus. Credit will be granted for only one of RELS 426 or RELS 440. Three credits. Not offered 2023-2024.

427 Jesus the Christ 

Building upon RELS 426, this course begins with an examination of aspects of the life of the historical Jesus, including his teaching, ministry, and the events leading to his crucifixion. The four canonical Gospels and Letters of Paul will be analyzed as students probe the question of why Jesus came to be understood as the Messiah by the first Christians. Credit will be granted for only one of RELS 427 or RELS 440. Three credits. Not offered 2023-2024.


Religious Studies Department

509 Nicholson Tower
2329 Notre Dame Avenue
Antigonish NS B2G 2W5