Religious Studies

Why Study World Religions?

  • Christianity in the twenty-first century cannot avoid confronting the questions posed by the diversity of religions. Since the Christian life cannot be lived in a socio-cultural nor religious vacuum, it is no longer sufficient that Bethel graduates know only what their Bible says or how to live Christian lives. They must develop the capacity to critically evaluate alternative religious traditions and worldviews, and to cultivate the skills necessary to participate fully and responsibly as Christians in religiously plural societies.
  • The vast majority of humankind participates in activities which have traditionally been designated "religious." Therefore, if we are to understand ourselves and one another, we need to examine this behavior.
  • Since religious institutions are one of the principal forms of human community, to understand human culture, politics, and social movements we also must view human experience from the perspective of these religious life forms and world views.
  • Conflicting values are often cited as an explanation for some of humankind's most intractable social problems. Studying religion enables us to assess the extent to which religious endeavor is implicated in humankind's greatest conflicts as well as in our most precious achievements.
  • Overall, the study of religion is one of the best ways to prepare for any field requiring refined sensitivity to the needs, interests, and practices of others.

Religious Studies at Bethel

Bethel's Religious Studies Program draws on the resources available from a number of scholarly disciplines and thus provides students with a broad array of intellectual tools for interpreting our ever-changing world. Instruction in world religious phenomena will be conducted from the perspectives of various disciplines, including sociology, psychology, history, philosophy, and biblical and theological studies. These courses are relevant for students from every major Bethel University offers as the need for religious sensitivity is imperative in an increasingly pluralistic world. The quality of the program is strengthened by the inclusion of students from a variety of majors oriented towards many diverse career options.

Requirements & Courses of Study

The following are summarized course descriptions of new or revised courses that are included in the Religious Studies Program:

REL200E Western Religious Traditions. An introduction to religious studies. Focuses on the major Western religious traditions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, African and Native American indigenous religions), using both primary and secondary sources. Emphasis will be on their affirmations regarding ultimate reality as it relates to the meaning and purpose of human existence within their respective religious and cultural contexts.

REL205E Eastern Religious Traditions. Focuses on the major Eastern religious traditions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism, Chinese religions), using both primary and secondary sources. Emphasis will be on their affirmations regarding ultimate reality as it relates to the meaning and purpose of human existence within their respective religious and cultural contexts.

REL225F New Religious Movements. History, beliefs and practices of the major alternative religions active in America today, including Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses, offshoots of Eastern religious traditions, and the New Age movement. Relationship of these movements to their parent traditions will be discussed, and comparative analyses drawn.

REL400 Seminar in the Study of Religion. Methodological studies of the origins and development of the academic study of religion, including cultural-anthropological and socio-psychological approaches, historical, philosophical, hermeneutical, phenomenological and theological perspectives to religious traditions. Includes an orientation to research tools and facilities for the study of religion as well as an examination of the integration of Christian faith with learning in religious studies.

Religious Studies Minor

Link to Catalog

The Religious Studies minor consists of 21 credit hours.  Four of the seven courses required must be taken at Bethel.

Western Religious Traditions
Religions of India, China, and Japan
Choose From:
Disciplinary Perspectives
    PHI305G* Philosophy of Religion
Psychology of Religion
    SOC372G* Religion in Society
Choose From:
Religion and Art in Asia
Religious Traditions in Asia: Thailand
New Religious Movements
Christianity and the World's Religions
Asian Thought
  Either or both of the two courses not selected from the Disciplinary Perspectives category
  Directed study on specific religious tradition

* A Student may also choose to use this course to meet a General Education requirement.

Interim study Abroad in Asia

Bethel's Janaury interim is the perfect time to visit Asia.  The elective "Religious Traditions in Asia: Thailand" (REL206UZ) spends three weeks in Thailand or other Asian nations in formal academic studies, direct observation, and interaction with the Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Christian and traditional religions.  The rich presence of mosques, pagodas, temples, churches, and shrines provides opportunity to engage with living representatives and the visible manifestations of the traditions.