ADVISORY
Up INFORMATION ADVISORY INTERNET NOTE SYLLABUS REFERENCES BIBLIOGRAPHY FORUM

AN ADVISORY NOTE ON THE ACADEMIC STUDY OF  RELIGION

This is a course in the history of religion. In examining the development of Christian ideas, principles, and doctrines over the last twenty centuries, we will look critically at the various forces political, social, economic, philosophical, etc. which shaped that development. Because our critical analysis will be academic in nature, it will allow for wide-ranging discussions that may come into conflict with specific theological teachings. Certain ground rules are therefore in order.

THE USE OF THE BIBLE

In the first third of the course,  Bible texts will be used extensively in our search for information about the views of early Christian communities and about the Historical Jesus, the man who lived and taught in first-century Palestine. (We distinguish this individual from the post-resurrection figure, The Christ of Faith.) In this regard, the Bible will be used as a historical rather than religious source. It will not be viewed as The Word of God, but as the words of first-century men; not as Gospel (inviolate teaching) but as gospel (a literary genre, a form of preaching); not as historical truth, but as a historical text from which truths may be extrapolated. It will be compared to other historical records to determine the context in which it was written and the relative validity of its historical portrayal of the person Jesus. All participants in this class should agree to operate within this analytical framework. Those who cannot look rationally and critically at matters and materials touching on faith, should reconsider taking the course.

SCRIPTURAL ANALYSIS AND INTERPRETATION

We will examine New Testament writings  for contextual meaning within the framework of the early church – doctrinally, geographically, politically, and organizationally. We will utilize various texts to examine the teachings of Jesus, of Paul, of John the Evangelist etc. Multiple meanings have historically been suggested for different passages. We will examine various interpretations, some now considered "orthodox" and others now considered "heretical." Interpretations are to be judged on the degree to which they are supported by the scripture itself and our understanding of the context in which it was written, not on whether any individual or Church agrees with it.

FAITH IN AN ACADEMIC CONTEXT

This does not mean that students must disregard the teachings of their faith. In fact, this course invites a dialogue between personal belief and inquiry that can enrich, deepen, and strengthen one's faith. In our discussions, however, any position based on faith alone – or on some teaching that comes from a person or text whose purpose is strictly religious – will not be accepted as a valid argument. All such opinions must be placed in an academic context and supported with documentary evidence from a historical source. 

For examples of the ways scholars who are also believers think about the dialogue between faith and scholarship look at Reconciling Faith with an Historical Approach to the Biblepart of a PBS site on historical study of Jesus.