Spring 2017 Christian Studies Course Guide

This list represents courses with substantial content in Christian history, theology, culture, the Bible, and the relationships between Christianity and other religions. By including courses on this list, the PGH Christian Studies project does not endorse them or take responsibility for their content. Unless otherwise indicated, classes do not have prerequisites and do not fulfill general education requirements.

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University of Pittsburgh

ENGLIT 646 Apocalypses

Prof. Jeffrey Aziz
Tu 6:00 p.m. - 8:30p.m. / Class #27574

This course will explore our culture’s two-thousand-year-old fascination with end times. In various media including text, film, and one video game, we will examine visions and revisions of the unmaking of the world that begin with the biblical Revelation of St. John and continue to contemporary popular culture. Students will discover that they already know a lot about reading Christian allegory and iconography, and will find that knowledge challenged (and hopefully enriched) in a psychedelic landscape of heavenly thrones, lakes of fire, and many-headed beasts. The genre of “apocalypse” might sound like a depressing one, but you will be astonished how much fun can be had tromping across this blasted, often radioactive wasteland, peopled with mutants, strange gods, the living dead, and conquering aliens. Yes: there will be love among the ruins. Along the way, we will explore the manner in which apocalyptic narratives emerge from the Hebrew and Christian scriptures and never quite forget where they came from. Works examined in the course will include Frank Herbert’s Whipping Star, George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road, Philip K. Dick’s The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, and the game Half Life 2: Episode One.

ENGLIT 1797 Bible as Literature 2

Prof. David Brumble & Prof. Katherine Kidd
Mo 6:00 p.m. - 8:30 p.m. / Class #29207

This course is a continuation of RELGST 0115: Bible as Literature and provides an opportunity to consider more carefully some of the books considered in Bible as Literature. But for the most part, we read books such as Daniel, Job, and Judith B that were not covered in Bible as Literature. This second semester also allows us to consider more carefully the following fascinating problems: What happens to narratives as they pass out of the oral tradition and into written form? How did the formation of the canon come about? What is the nature of prophecy? Our approach is historical. We try to understand the books of the Bible in their historical context. We try to imagine ourselves in another time and culture.

FP 6 Freshman Seminar: Science Fiction and Myth

Prof. Laura Dice
Tu 6:00 p.m. - 8:30 p.m. / Class #24639

The work of this seminar considers science fiction and its relationship to myth and religion. Myth here is understood as a body of beliefs that seeks to answer questions about humans and the divine, humans and technology, humans and science. Through a variety of readings and viewings, we will consider the way science fiction uses myth and religion to complicate our understanding of the past, the present, and the future. Through essay writing, we will consider how the language of speculative fiction provides a way to understand ourselves, our place in this world and other worlds, in the universe and perhaps in the university. Because science fiction is so much a part of our experience in the 21st century, it provides a unique, metaphorical, and speculative language to engage with the expectations of college-level writing and move beyond the structures of high school writing. Our focus will be on writing, but you should have a strong interest in science fiction; an awareness of and interest in religious traditions, past and present; and a desire to boldly explore new worlds in reading, watching, and writing at the college level. Freshman Seminar (FP 0006) is offered in the spring term to freshmen. It fulfills the Seminar in Composition requirement in the School of Arts and Sciences. As with Freshman Seminar (FP 0003), this course uses readings, writing assignments, and discussions to explore a focused topic and examine ways in which high school and college-level writing differ.

FP 6 Freshman Seminar: Writing the Spiritual

Prof. Renee Prymus
MoWe 11:00 a.m. - 12:15 p.m. / Class #27887

In this course, we will examine how the spiritual life—an inner dimension of life that has to do with our relationship with our own selves and/or the divine—is represented in writing while exploring the following inquiries: How do authors write about spiritual experiences/beliefs/questions/doubts that others cannot see? How do they push beyond religious rhetoric to convey their inner lives in language that others can understand? How can you write clearly and creatively about your own faith or skepticism? To investigate these questions and more, we will read critical and personal essays from writers of various religions, visit several religious landmarks in the city of Pittsburgh, and write a series of experimental yet disciplined essays designed to embody spirituality. This course welcomes students who want to use writing to explore their own spiritual lives and learn about the spiritual lives of others. Writing the Spiritual also includes an introduction to mindfulness meditation. Freshman Seminar (FP 0006) is offered in the spring term to freshmen. It fulfills the Seminar in Composition requirement in the School of Arts and Sciences. As with Freshman Seminar (FP 0003), this course uses readings, writing assignments, and discussions to explore a focused topic and examine ways in which high school and college-level writing differ.

HIST 1110 Medieval History 1

Prof. Elizbeth Archibald
Tu 6:00 p.m. - 8:25 p.m. / Class #25849

Survey course in the social, political, economic and religious history of Europe from the Diocletian reforms to the year one thousand. Special attention to interpreting the primary documents and to integrating various areas of activity (e.g. economic and religious). Focus on France, England, Germany, and Italy.

HAA 221 Medieval Architecture

Prof. Franklin Toker
TuTh 11:00 a.m. - 12:15 p.m. / Class #30025

This course looks at the development of architecture in Europe in one of its most important moments, from 300 to 1500. Its main focus falls on buildings designed to serve Christian culture, including the glorious Gothic cathedrals, with discussions that give a social and political background to the buildings. We also look at the shaping of medieval cities and at infill buildings like houses, palaces, workshops and military installations.

HAA 302 Renaissance Art

Prof. Christopher Nygren
TuTh 1:00 p.m. - 1:50 p.m. / Class #25819

This course will investigate the works of some famous and not-so famous artist working in Italy between about 1400 and 1550. We will investigate cities like Rome, Florence, and Venice and examine how different communities employed images for the expression of identity, status, and as a strategic means of producing consensus or exploiting social division. We will consider the role that images occupied in political and religious culture as well as in private life, bearing in mind the competing interests of those who commissioned works of art and those who encountered them as beholders. From this multiplicity of uses and responses emerged highly varied conceptions of the nature of images and the role of the artist. The artists we will study include: the original Ninja Turtles (Michelangelo, Raphael, Leonardo, and Donatello), Botticelli, Titian and Brunelleschi, among many others.

HAA 350 Baroque Art

Prof. Saskia Beranek
MoWe 4:30 p.m. - 5:45 p.m. / Class #30026

The term Baroque is usually used to refer to the art of the 17th century, describing the dynamic and theatrical elements which emerged in the wake of the late Italian Renaissance. The seventeenth century was an age where art furthered the agendas of absolute monarchy, religious reform, and global expansion. This course will examine well known artists like Bernini, Carravaggio, Gentileschi, Rembrandt and Velazquez along with less commonly known ones, exploring how the arts were coming to terms with an expanding worldview in an age of exploration and colonization. Major themes will include the role of the patron and the changing role of religion during a period dominated by the Counter-Reformation as well as how drama and emotional intensity involved viewers in new ways. We will examine painting, sculpture, architecture, landscape architecture, and decorative arts from Italy, France, Spain, the Netherlands and their global colonies in order to understand how the whole world became a stage for the powers of the age.

PHIL 473 Philosophy of Religion

Prof. Brock Bahler
TuTh 11:00 a.m. - 12:15 p.m. / Class #26001

Are there good reasons for thinking that God exists? Are there good reasons for thinking that he doesn't? In this course we will examine the chief arguments for and against the existence of God, as well as other topics central to philosophy of religion: the nature of religious language, the relation of faith to reason and the use of religious experience as evidence. Members of the class will develop a working knowledge of the issues by reading and discussing traditional and contemporary authors. Lectures will be used to initiate and focus discussions.

Religious Studies

Many RELGST courses may be of interest to students pursuing Christian Studies. Representative courses are highlighted here; for a complete list of offerings, see the Dietrich School course guide.

RELGST 105 Religions of the West

Prof. Tucker Ferda
TuTh 4:00 p.m. - 5:15 p.m. / Class #19291

This course is a historical introduction to the religious traditions that developed in ancient Near East and the Mediterranean. Our major emphasis is on the history of the religious traditions that emerged in late antiquity in this area and which continue to be major world religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Zoroastrianism. We focus on key concepts, historical developments, and contemporary issues. Throughout the course, we also examine interactions among these religious traditions. In the last part of the course we examine the issue of globalization and the spread of these religions around the world as well as the presence of "non-Western" religion in the "West." The course also serves as an introduction to the academic study of religion and provides a foundation for further coursework in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. No prior knowledge of any of the religions studied is expected or assumed.

RELGST 1135 Orthodox Christianity

Prof. Joel Brady
TuTh 4:00 p.m. - 5:15 p.m. / Class #28509

This course is designed as an overview of the history, teachings and rituals of the Orthodox Church in its multinational context. Geographically, Eastern Orthodox Christianity primarily includes Russia, south-eastern Europe and the coastal areas of the eastern Mediterranean, but there is also a large Orthodox diaspora in the western hemisphere. Understanding Orthodox Christianity -- its specific historical experience (from Byzantine and Ottoman empires to the life under communism, and beyond), its theological doctrines and spiritual practices, its rich artistic, musical and ritual expressions -- has become increasingly relevant in the post-communist era with the emergence of religion as an important aspect of cultural identity and national self-definition. Through lectures, discussions, oral presentations and visits to local Orthodox churches, students will gain an insight into the multifaceted world of Orthodox Christianity.

RELGST 1644 Christ Muslims Jews Middle Ages 

Prof. Adam Shear
TuTh 9:30 a.m. - 10:45 a.m. / Class #30143

Was the world of Europe and the Middle East before the Enlightenment a period of unending religious conflict and intolerance? Were Jews the victims of severe persecution and violence everywhere during this period? Did Christians and Muslims engage in unceasing religious wars? The answer to all three of these questions is no. While the Middle Ages were a period of conflict and competition between the three major western religious groups, they were also a time of coexistence and cooperation. This class shifts from extreme dichotomies and simplistic stereotypes to deeply examine the period in all of its complexity: what were the theological, political, and legal contexts in which Christians, Muslims, and Jews interacted in both Christian Europe and the Muslim world? How did these deeply religious societies organize themselves to tolerate the religious “Other”? When and why did toleration break down and lead to expulsion, forced conversion, or violence? What kinds of cross-cultural exchanges and cooperation take place in economic, cultural, intellectual, and social life? We will also look at new ideas of toleration (and intolerance) that emerged at the end of the Middle Ages and examine aspects of inter-religious encounters and dialogues today. We will discuss not only the significance of Jewish-Christian-Muslim interactions in the Middle Ages but also assess these encounters as a case study in the broader history of religious diversity, pluralism, and conflict.

RELGST 1645 The Historical Jesus

Prof. Tucker Ferda
TuTh 1:00 p.m. - 2:15 p.m. / Class #30157

This course examines the complex and often polarized relationship between Jesus and Jews and, by extension, Christianity and Judaism, in both ancient and modern contexts. Students interact with a wide range of primary sources centered on the figure of Jesus—from the Christian Gospels through Rabbinic discussions of Jesus to modern portrayals of Jesus and the Jews in cinema and scholarship. Topics covered include constructions of Jesus and Judaism in modern scholarship, the relationship between the historical Jesus and first-century Judaism, Jewish perspectives on Jesus, ancient Jewish and Christian polemics, the parting of the ways between Judaism and Christianity, Jesus and Jews in the movies, and the place of Jesus in modern Jewish-Christian dialogue.


Duquesne University 

Because Duquesne is a Catholic university, it has extensive offerings in Christian Studies. We have listed here courses that may be of special interest to students at other universities, and for which detailed descriptions are available. For a complete list of courses offered, consult the course schedule on the registrar's Web site. Duquesne does not compile course descriptions, so if a title intrigues you, e-mail the professor and ask for more info. They'll be happy to help.

CLPR 284 Catholic Faith & Culture

Fr. Drew Morgan
MW 3:30 p.m. - 5:00 p.m. / Off Campus

This course is an overview of topics that have helped to shape the development of modern day Catholicism. From a review of the anatomy of the New Testament to the Church as presented by Hollywood, lectures will examine the cultural expressions of Catholicism through the centuries. Christian Art, Architecture, Literature, and Music will be examined alongside of the cultural shifts of schism, reformation, revolution and contemporary debates on social justice and human sexuality. The course is design for the beginning learner with no pre-requisites necessary.

PHIL 219 Christian Philosophy

Prof. Don Keyes
TR 12:15 p.m. - 1:30 p.m.

This course asks what the Christian Faith is essentially, as opposed to some of its widespread, popular distortions, for instance that it is antiscientific, opposed to material reality, and inherently puritanical about sex.

The essential core of Christian faith is belief in the Incarnation and Resurrection of Christ. Students will discover rational alternatives to fundamentalism and reductionism that demonstrate the compatibility of Christianity with science and affirm the value of material reality and sexuality. The course will view human nature, not as the conflict of soul and body, but as their unity.

There are two different historical perspectives on the nature of Christianity. First, there is God’s covenant with Abraham in the Judeo-Christian tradition, which leads to the belief in the future Messiah (Christ). Second, there is the Greek philosophical tradition used to interpret biblical faith (already operating in the Gospel According to St. John), which flourished in the Patristic Period following the conversion of Constantine. In both perspectives, Christian faith seeks reason to understand itself.

This course exposes the problem of innocent suffering, and asks whether it can be reconciled with the belief in the Goodness of God. Special attention will be given to eschatology (study of “last things”), including some new interpretations of the belief in life after death as the Resurrection of the Dead. Students will also see how these beliefs require social justice during this life.

The course does not defend one branch of Christianity at the expense of others. It gives due attention to Eastern Orthodoxy, as well as Western Christianity.

PHIL 299 Love and Friendship

Prof. Thérèse Marie Bonin
MWF 11:00 a.m. - 11:50 a.m.

We will engage in a sustained & philosophical consideration of love & friendship, topics we often assume to be too obscure or even sub-rational to allow for such discussion. What exactly is love? What are its kinds? What causes love, and what does love cause? Do opposites attract? Why do we incline more towards one person than another? Is it wrong to love some persons more than others? Is love a divine and life-giving influence or a dangerous illness whose remedies we should know? Where is love found, and what are its signs and symptoms? What of love among animals? Does love extend even beyond the realm of human and animal life? How are love and friendship related? What are the kinds of friendship? Do we need friends? If so, how many do we need? Are there aspects of love and friendship which resist rational analysis? To simulate our reflection, we will read selected fragments of Empedocles, Plato’s Lysis and Symposium, books 8 & 9 of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, and the questions on love from the treatise on the passions in St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica. Time permitting, we may also ponder such texts as Avicenna’s Treatise on Love, Sir Francis Bacon’s essays Of Love and Of Friendship, and Immanuel Kant’s brief Lecture on Friendship.

PHIL 415W/515 Plotinus

Prof. Patrick Miller
TR 12:15 p.m. - 1:30 p.m.

Plotinus is one of the most important philosophers of all times, but one of the least studied in our own. Why? This neglect is largely an accident of the way knowledge has been divided by our university curricula. The period of late antiquity in which he wrote has traditionally fallen into the cracks between classical and medieval specialties—too late for the one, too early for the other. Scholars are now giving this period its due, just as historians of philosophy are coming to recognize the power of its pre-eminent thinker. Plotinus reasoned deeply about dozens of topics, and we shall consider at least the following: God and the effort to become divine; the intellect, forms, and their intimate relationship; knowledge, selfhood, and self-knowledge; the soul, embodiment, and matter; evil, purification, and virtue; logic, being, and the transcendence of both; imagination, memory, and love; freedom and necessity; unity and difference; time and eternity; oblivion.

Besides investigating his systematic views on these topics, we shall consider also some of his unrecognized innovations: he was the first phenomenologist, putting introspective psychology at the center of his philosophy; he was the first existentialist, privileging existence over essence, desire over reason; and he was the first philosopher of the unconscious. All of these novelties happened under the rubric of his “Platonism,” ostensibly a faithful interpretation of Plato, but arguably a creative synthesis of ancient philosophical insights from Heraclitus through Sextus Empiricus. Ultimately, Plotinus sought to champion Plato against the criticisms of Aristotle and the Stoics; along the way, though, he formulated a philosophy that deserves a spot in the ring with even modern contenders. With these rivals in mind, we shall consider who carves reality at the joints. More fundamentally, we shall ask whether it has any joints at all. For if it does, Plotinus seems the irresistible butcher.

We shall attend both to the philosophical history that influenced him, as well as the philosophical history he influenced. Without him, after all, Augustine might have remained a Manichean; without him, more generally, Christian philosophy would be unrecognizable. After his immense medieval influence, Plotinus next enjoyed the esteem of Renaissance thinkers, particularly Ficino in Italy and Cudworth in England. Most recently, echoes of his thought can be heard in Germany: both Hegel and Heidegger are deeply in his debt for content, even when they do not acknowledge it. As for style, the closest recent analogue is Lacan, whose similarly obscure lectures attracted the intelligentsia of his metropolis for decades. Plotinus likewise drew students from throughout Roman society, lecturing to senators and women alike. These difficult lectures, collected under the numerological title Enneads, were occasionally mystical and poetic, but more often dense with arguments metaphysical, epistemological, and psychological. All of them survive. We shall read and discuss most, striving to appreciate and evaluate the many facets of this ancient adamant.

This course satisfies the Philosophy Graduate Program’s ANCIENT distribution requirement.

PHIL 471W/571 Ricouer's Symbolism of Evil

Prof. Don Keyes
W 12:15 p.m. - 2:55 p.m.

Ricoeur wrote extensively on the philosophy of religion as hermeneutics. This course takes up arguably his most important work, examining the problem of evil by studying the symbolism of four kinds of mythology: Babylonian, Greek Tragic, Biblical, and Orphic. Special emphasis will be placed on a close textual reading of the argument. 

THEO 245 God, Money, and Power

Prof. Anna Scheid
MWF 10:00 a.m. - 10:50 a.m.

What are the ethical and theological implications of Jesus’ identification with the poor and powerless, the “least of our brothers and sisters,” (Mt. 25:45) and of his statements such as “it is easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God,” (Mt. 19:24)? This course offers students the opportunity to explore the relationships between and among Christian theology and ethics, economic activity (buying, selling, producing, and consuming), and social and political power.

Meets Faith and Reason Theme Area Requirements (E)

THEO 322/HIST 322 Jesus of Nazareth: History and Theology

Prof. William Wright
TR 9:25 a.m. - 10:40 a.m.

Jesus of Nazareth is the most historically important individual who has ever lived. This course will be a study of the historical figure of Jesus as given in our best sources for his earthly life: the four Gospels in the New Testament. By placing Jesus and the Gospels within their 1st century contexts, we seek to arrive at a better historical and theological understanding of this most important individual, whom Christians believe to be God become human.

Meets Faith and Reason Theme Area Requirement (RS) 




Carnegie Mellon University

ENGL 76346 Angels and Diplomats: Renaissance Poetry from Wyatt to Milton

Prof. Christopher Warren
TR 3:00 p.m. - 4:20 p.m. / BH 255B

The starting point for this course is a question at the nexus of theology, politics, and art that preoccupied English Renaissance writers: how should power be represented? The course will look at how writers including Sidney, Shakespeare, Donne, Milton, and Marvell figured angels and diplomats and how such images combined with the figure of the poet. Among topics we will likely consider are the linguistic contract, mediation, immunity, license, fidelity, automation, accommodation, and representation of popular sovereignty. BOOKS: King James Bible, George Puttenham, The Art of English Poesy, eds. Wigham and Rebhorn, Cornell UP, 2007, 0801486521, Alberico Gentili, Three Books on Embassies [available via Blackboard], Thomas Wyatt, Selected Poems, [available via Blackboard], John Donne, The Major Works, Carey ed., Oxford, 2009, 0199537941, Sir Philip Sidney, The Major Works ed. Duncan-Jones, Oxford, 0199538417, 2009, Shakespeare, Twelfth Night , Shakespeare, Hamlet, Arden 3rd Series, 1904271332, Milton, Paradise Lost, 2nd ed., Fowler ed., Longmans

HIST 79208 The Early Modern Witch Hunts, c. 1400-1700

Prof. Allyson Creasman
R 3:00 p.m. - 4:20 p.m. / DH 2122

Between the late 15th and the early 18th centuries, many Europeans became convinced that their society was threatened by a conspiracy of diabolic witches. Although Western beliefs in witchcraft and diabolism dated back to antiquity, the 16th and 17th centuries witnessed the most intense campaign of witch-hunting in all of Europes history. Before it was over, the Great European Witch-Hunt of the early modern era cost the lives of thousands across Europe and in its American colonies. Ever since, historians have struggled to explain why fears of witchcraft suddenly became so acute in this period and why - seemingly just as suddenly - Europeans ultimately came to repudiate them. This course examines the phenomenon of the early modern witch-hunts in both their European and colonial contexts, focusing on the origin and rationale of early modern witch beliefs and the factors driving the timing and intensity of witch-hunts, the patterns of accusations, and the ultimate end of the prosecutions. Throughout, we will examine the many regional variations in witch beliefs and prosecutions that make the early modern witch-hunts such a complex historical puzzle. In the process, we will explore how early modern witch-hunting reflected major issues in European society, culture, and politics -- including the relationship between popular and elite culture; religious reform; the formation of the modern state; gender and patriarchy; and the rationalization of law, medicine, and science.

HIST 79350 Early Christianity

Prof. Allyson Creasman
TR 1:30 p.m. - 2:50 p.m. / BH 235A

In this course we examine the origins of Christianity. Although we deal with biblical as well as other contemporary materials, the approach is not theological but historical. We want to understand how and why Christianity assumed the form that it did by examining its background in the Jewish community of Palestine, its place in the classical world, its relationship to other mystery religions of the time and certain variant forms (now known as Gnosticism) which it assumed prior to the crystallization of orthodoxy.