Religious Studies & Philosophy

Home 5 Academics 5 Programs 5 Religious Studies & Philosophy


Religious Studies Overview & Goals

The Religious Studies department at Bethany is distinctive in its dual focus on social justice and gender studies. The completion of a Religious Studies degree at Bethany College is preparatory for a variety of career paths, as well as graduate level programs. Our students gain in-depth, global religious and cultural literacy, as well as the critical thinking and writing skills required for careers or the graduate classroom.

While some of our graduates attend seminary, aspiring to ministry in its variety of forms, others have attained successful careers as healthcare workers, counselors, social workers, language instructors, and professors of religious studies. Religious Studies majors and minors at Bethany learn to care about, respect, and enjoy religious diversity. They also learn critical tools for investigating this world.

students walking and smiling in front of building

Areas Of Study

Religious Studies (Major, Minor)
Philosophy (Minor)
Religion and Social Justice (Minor)
Pre-Ministry (Pre-Professional Program)


  • Teaching
  • Biblical Studies
  • Ministry
  • Chaplaincy
  • Pastoral and Other Religious Leadership
  • Mission Work
  • Religious Camp Administration
  • Local Ministries, e.g. Youth or Adult Education
Meet The Faculty
Holly Hillgardner

Associate Professor of Religious Studies

Morlan Hall, 110
Brooke Deal

Associate Professor of Religious Studies; TW Philips Chair of Religious Studies; Co. Director of Interdisciplinary Studies; Co. Chair of the Department of Humanities

Morlan Hall, 111



The following courses are required for all students: RELS 220, 224, 301, 311, 326, 417, 490, 495; PHIL 355. In addition each student must complete two additional Religious Studies courses at the 200 or 300 level. At least one of the two should be in a non-western tradition or topic.


Your content goes here. Edit or remove this text inline or in the module Content settings. You can also style every aspect of this content in the module Design settings and even apply custom CSS to this text in the module Advanced settings.


Phil 100, 123, 124, and three upper level (200 or above) Philosophy courses.


RELS 224, 235; RELS/PSYC 241; RELS 244 or RELS/HIST 329; and RELS 301 or 311.


Students planning to enter church vocations complete their preparation in seminaries and graduate schools of religion after completing their undergraduate studies at Bethany. A solid and broad base in liberal arts is recommended as preparation for seminary studies.

Students should consider taking courses in Religious Studies, History, English, Literature, Philosophy, Psychology, Social Work, and World Languages and Cultures. Students interested in ministerial careers should contact the Department of Humanities.

Course Descriptions


RELS 100 Introduction to Religion: Texts, Contexts, Practices 3 credits
This course introduces students to the critical study of religions and to the character of religious traditions as living, dynamic communities of interpretation with textual, ritual, moral, philosophical and practical dimensions. The course considers three different religious traditions through the lens of a topic or problem with which religions are concerned or through which they can be usefully analyzed. The topic and the traditions vary with the expertise and interest of the professor teaching the course, but one eastern tradition and one biblical tradition are always included. Attention is given to the nature and definition of religion and to methodologies in the critical study of religion.

RELS 210 Yoga and Meditation 3 credits
Through a concentrated study of yoga asanas (postures), mantras (chants), pranayama (breath work), meditation techniques, and religious and philosophical scriptures, students have the opportunity to learn the history, philosophy, and techniques of several styles of yoga.

RELS 220 Introduction to World Religions 3 credits
Introduction to World Religions is a thematic introduction to the study of religion and examines the multiplicity of ways in which humans throughout the world find and create meaning and value in their lives. Primary religious traditions of both the East and West, including ancient indigenous cultures and their contemporary expressions, are studied.

RELS 224 Religion and Culture 3 credits
Religion and Culture explores the relationship between religion and culture and the variety of ways in which they are mutually interactive in the construction of, for example, meaning, values, worldviews, practices, institutions, and artifacts. As part of that exploration, the course undertakes a critical analysis of the theoretical and methodological concerns associated with the academic study of religion.

RELS 229 Christianity 3 credits
This course begins with a brief examination of Jesus and the birth of the Christian movement; then focuses on the major institutional, theological and ritual developments that occurred in Christianity over the period in which Roman rule gave way to the Byzantine Empire. The second part of the course narrows its scope to Christianity in the west through a selective analysis of key periods and issues…[including] intellectual ferment and Christian interaction with Jews and Muslims in the Middle Ages; the 16th century Reformation; colonial expansion and inter-religious encounter; and Christianity and modernity.

RELS 231 Judaism 3 credits
This course will explore the origins of an ancient faith through a close examination of the early traditions and laws presented in the Hebrew Bible as well as the various cultural contexts of the ancient Near East that influenced them. The course utilizes the Hebrew Bible, portions of the Babylonian Talmud, and the Zohar to trace the development of these ancient traditions and practices into the various branches of modern Judaism and the foremost concerns and challenges faced by the modern Jewish communities.

RELS 235 Sex, the Body, and Religion 3 credits
This course examines the origins of attitudes and beliefs in the Judeo-Christian traditions concerning human sexuality and the human body. Focus is on the contribution of such beliefs in the evolving relationship between the individual and society. The course begins with an exploration of Levantine fertility cults and traces their influence on early Judaism. Moving toward the emergence and eventual spread of Christianity, discussion centers on the continued influence of Near Eastern fertility traditions on gender differentiation, the “fall” of humanity, and procreation. Topics such as marriage and divorce, birth control and abortion, asceticism and celibacy, and death and resurrection of the body will be discussed within the context of Judeo-Christian tests and traditions.

RELS 241 Religious and Psychological Lenses on Social Justice 3 credits
In this cross-listed, interdisciplinary course, religious studies and psychological lenses are employed to examine issues of social justice, including factors which either promote or interfere with the creation of communities that value inclusion, diversity, and peace. Aiming to foster a concern for social justice, the course provides theoretical and practical tools to challenge injustice, including opportunities to think and work alongside local advocacy organizations. (This course may be taken for credit as PSYC 241.)

RELS 244 Hinduism and Buddhism 3 credits
Students in the course encounter, understand, and appreciate Hindu and Buddhist religious life, as manifested in multiple Asian cultures as well as in twenty-first century life in the United States. Course priorities include the study of the primary practices, texts, and themes of Hinduism and Buddhism and experiential encounters with Hindus and Buddhists.

RELS 251 Death and the Afterlife 3 credits
Death and the Afterlife is a critical examination of literature from the ancient Near East including the Bible, that deals with death, dying, and the “next life,” an examination of the ways Western culture has attempted to address and understand these issues, and a comparative analysis of similar themes in a variety of non-Western traditions. The course examines ways in which various constructions of “heaven” and “hell” reflect the influence of ancient religious thought and literature on modern social structures, social values, and notions of justice.

RELS 259 Special Topics in Religious Studies 3 credits
From time to time, topics will be offered under this designation to address issues of particular currency, pursue topics of interest to students, or to make faculty research projects available for student learning.

RELS 270 Introduction to Hebrew Language I 3 credits
This course provides the student with a working knowledge of biblical and modern Hebrew. With the successful completion of this course, the student will be able to read selected passages of narrative in biblical and modern texts with the aid of a lexicon/dictionary, will gain knowledge of modern Hebrew in both written and spoken form and will strengthen her/his cultural understanding of ancient and modern Israel. Students will build a strong knowledge base in Hebrew vocabulary, verb paradigms, and grammar essentials. (This course may be taken for credit as HEBR 110.)

RELS 271 Introduction to Hebrew Language II 3 credits
This course provides further advancement of a student’s knowledge of biblical and modern Hebrew. Students will become adept in the usage of a Hebrew-English dictionary/lexicon for translation of texts in biblical and modern contexts and will improve their conversational skills in modern Hebrew. Students will continue to build a strong knowledge base in Hebrew vocabulary, verb paradigms, and grammar. (This course may be taken for credit as HEBR 120.)

RELS 301 Poetry, Prophecy, and (Poly)theism: A Critical Analysis of the Hebrew Bible 3 credits
This course is an historical-critical analysis of the books of the Hebrew Bible that emphasizes the historical, social, and ideological dynamics of various authorial traditions within this corpus. Additionally, these texts are analyzed within modern interpretive frameworks in order to recognize the ways in which themes from the Hebrew Bible continue to play a role in the construction of Western thought and culture.

RELS 305 Introduction to Biblical Archaeology 3 credits
This course is an introduction to the archaeology of the ancient Near East as it pertains to the Hebrew Bible. The initial phase of this course will explore basic archaeological field methods, terminology, and chronologies, and will offer a brief history of “biblical archaeology.” The second phase of the course examines a variety of major excavations throughout the Middle East and presents an overview of the archaeological data from these sites, ranging (in most cases) from the Late Bronze Age through Iron Age II.

RELS 311 Studies in the Gospels 3 credits
Studies in the Gospels is an introduction to methods of critical analysis in New Testament interpretation, highlighting the messages presented by the writers of the synoptic gospels. Students explore the ways in which both traditional and contemporary methods of exegetical analysis contribute to the discussion of the “historical” Jesus of Nazareth.

RELS 326 The World of Late Antiquity 3 credits
The World of Late Antiquity surveys the many different and competing elements of religious views found in ancient Greco-Roman culture through the first five centuries of the common era. Particular attention is given to the philosophical, sociological, theological, and political environment of ancient Mediterranean culture in an effort to understand the influence these views had on the Western tradition. (This course may be taken for credit as HIST 309.)

RELS 337 Religion and Philosophy in the Middle Ages 3 credits
The focus of this course is the development of religious and philosophical thought in the European Middle Ages, understood as the period from about the fourth to the fifteenth century. It addresses the roots of Medieval thought, the varieties of Medieval thought within and across the three European religions of the Middle Ages (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), and of course Medieval religious practice, both authorized and otherwise. The course will explore the nature of intellectual and practical creativity, autonomy and authority during the period; key religious imagery (e.g. Jesus as mother); key philosophical trends and concerns (e.g. the problem of universals, mind and the active intellect, semiotics, the development of universities, etc.); and the inter-religious dialogue, tolerance, and violence. (This course may be taken for credit as PHIL 337.)

RELS 352 Islamic Civilization 3 credits
This course is a survey of the emergence of Islam during late Roman antiquity and the middle ages, highlighting the life of the prophet Mohammed and the development of Islamic religion, philosophy, and literature in the early Islamic empires. Also considered is the development of Islamic fundamentalism in the modern world and institutional, operational, and environmental factors which demonstrate differences between the Islamic and the Western worlds. (This course may be taken for credit as HIST 329.)

RELS 417 A History of Biblical Interpretation 3 credits
A History of Biblical Interpretation undertakes a detailed analysis of the socio-cultural, historical, political, ideological, philosophical, methodological, and theological dynamics involved in the interpretation of the Bible in Western culture with particular emphasis on the modern period. Topics include the nature and role of authority, epistemology, science and religion, institutions and power, the development and rise of the historical-critical method, and the role of the church in the interpretation of the Bible.

RELS 487-488 Independent Study 3 credits

RELS 490 Senior Project 2-4 credits

RELS 495 Comprehensive Exams
This course is an administrative placeholder used to record a student’s score on Comprehensive Exams (CR/NCR).


PHIL 100 Introduction to Philosophy 3 credits
This course is an introductory-level exploration of the major sub-divisions of the field of philosophy. Topics include such areas as logic, responsibility, ethics, virtue, political philosophy, metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of religion, philosophy of science, personhood, and “the nature of philosophy.”

PHIL 123 Introduction to Logic 3 credits
This course is intended for those who are beginning the study of logic. Distinctions are drawn between deductive and inductive procedures; informal and formal fallacies are studied; formal argument structures are noted; and methods of distinguishing between valid and invalid argument forms are introduced (including Venn Diagrams, Rule Sets, Truth Tables, and Rules of Inference).

PHIL 124 Introduction to Ethics 3 credits
A major goal of this course is to provide students with the opportunity to acquire basic knowledge of the fundamental principles and beliefs upon which individuals and groups have built or thought they built a system of morals or “ethics.” A variety of ethical stances are studied, with attention given to when they arose, the basis of their apparent appeal, and the consequences of acting in accord with those stances.

PHIL 250-259 Special Topics in Philosophy 3 credits each

PHIL 252 Philosophy of Mysticism 3 credits
Major emphasis in this study is given to trying to understand the basic claims that mystics make, assessing the kinds of certainty, truth, and insight claimed, and exploring the place of “the mystical” in human experience. Students examine what is involved in the experience and claims of several mystical groups or representatives from ancient to contemporary times.

PHIL 254 Contemporary Ethical Issues 3 credits
The focus of this course is “applied philosophy.” Typical of such endeavors, Phase One is considered an “informed” background through a sweeping survey of the major strengths and weaknesses of the most popular and most tenable “ethical” stances. Then Phase Two is undertaken, involving a critical exploration of several ethical issues in the context of “morality and social policy,” e.g. euthanasia, the death penalty, hate speech, sexism, racism, oppression, economic justice, and welfare.

PHIL 333 History of Philosophy: Ancient through Modern 3 credits
Emphasis is placed on the dialogue-like journey of ideas through the minds of men and women through history and the consequences of changed interpretations of persons and institutions through different historical eras. In this study process students discover and evaluate common Twentieth Century assumptions. Through tracing development and change of Western philosophy from the Pre-Socratic through the Modern eras, study focuses upon such topics as Metaphysics, Epistemology and Methods/Models, Ethics, Political Philosophy, and Philosophy of Religions.

PHIL 334 Existential Philosophy 3 credits
This course involves a study of works of certain predecessors of existentialism, the influences of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, and themes and issues portrayed in selected works of Sartre, Camus, and others that may be taken as typical of that amorphous movement in the history of philosophy known as Existentialism.

PHIL 336 Twentieth-Century Philosophy 3 credits
The focus of this course is on selected works of several Continental and Anglo-American thinkers who have stimulated the “intellectuals” of the 20th century. Some have achieved a status equivalent to the “canonical” in philosophy; others have not as yet, but may be on their way.

PHIL 337 Religion and Philosophy in the Middle Ages 3 credits
The focus of this course is the development of religious and philosophical thought in the European Middle Ages, understood as the period from about the fourth to the fifteenth century. It addresses the roots of Medieval thought, the varieties of Medieval thought within and across the three European religions of the Middle Ages (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), and of course Medieval religious practice, both authorized and otherwise. The course will explore the nature of intellectual and practical creativity, autonomy and authority during the period; key religious imagery (e.g. Jesus as mother); key philosophical trends and concerns (e.g. the problem of universals, mind and the active intellect, semiotics, the development of universities, etc.); and the inter-religious dialogue, tolerance, and violence. (This course may be taken for credit as RELS 337).

PHIL 350-359 Advanced Topics in Philosophy 3 credits each

PHIL 353 History and Philosophy of Science 3 credits
This course is a study of the major ideas conceived by western thinkers in attempting to comprehend and describe the natural world. (This course may be taken for credit as GENS 353).

PHIL 355 Philosophy of Religion 3 credits
The major aspects of religion are examined from a philosophical perspective. Topics studied are the religious experience, the meaning and significance of faith, belief and criteria, knowledge, proof, evidence, and certainty, the concept of deity, and the impact of religion on human life.

PHIL 358 Aesthetics, the Arts, and Philosophy 3 credits
This study is an examination of the nature of aesthetic experience, its relation to other kinds of experience, and its place in art production, appreciation, and creativity; the notion of a work of art; language used in description, interpretation, and evaluation of art; and differing interpretations of aesthetics. Opportunities are provided for giving special attention to particular art areas as well as to “the Arts.”

PHIL 361 Ancient and Medieval Political Thought 3 credits
This course provides an introduction to ancient and medieval political thought. Fundamental questions examined include: What is the relationship between ethics and politics?; What is a good regime?; What is a good citizen?; What is the relationship between law and ethics?; What is the relationship between theology and political thought? Students are guided in a close reading of important political works, including Plato’s Apology and Republic, Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and Politics, and Augustine’s City of God. (This course can be taken as POLS 361.)

PHIL 362 Modern Political Thought 3 credits
As an introduction to modern and post-modern political through, students examine the writings of important political thinkers of the past 500 years. Emphasis is on the development of political theories regarding issues such as democracy, citizenship, justice, equality, race, gender, sexuality, and the environment. (This course can be taken as POLS 362.)

PHIL 451 Advanced Ethical Theory 3 credits
This course is a study of one or more modern ethical theorists and their challenges to (or defenses or reformulations of) classical ethical thinking. The course may be taught in a variety of ways, including focusing on a single theoretical issue and its practical ramifications or a single practical problem and its theoretical responses, a single philosopher or even single work. A major research project and presentation are required components.

PHIL 487-488 Independent Study 2-4 credits

Interested in learning more about studying Religious Studies & Philosophy at Bethany?

We’d love to tell you more about it and answer any questions you may have.