Mara Willard - Courses

Introduction to Christianity

RELS 3133 (RELS 2133 effective summer 2016)

This course surveys the development of Christianity from the first century to the present. We will study key figures, events and issues that helped to shape Christianity in a variety of cultural, social, and historical contexts.

Several major themes and questions will guide us. How have Christians from the time of Jesus to the present sought to establish the validity of their faith in relation to other traditions? What strategies have followers of Jesus employed in their interactions with existing, perhaps competing political social and cultural structures? How has the church—Christianity’s most visible institution—dealt with internal challenges to its integrity and authority? Which Christian doctrines, or teachings, have been particularly compelling, enduring, or contentious, and why? How have Christian believers in various times and places conceived of and claimed experiences of a relationship with God? What social and cultural factors have shaped these ideas and expressions?

Throughout our investigation we will study Christianity as a historical phenomenon: a diverse and dynamic tradition that has always been rooted in and shaped by the various contexts in which followers of Jesus have defined, defended and lived their faith.

Religion, Culture, and the Meaning of Life

RELS 2413

What makes for a meaningful life? How do we live when life feels devoid of meaning? How do personal and social crises demand new ways of understanding suffering and human purpose?
 In this course we will develop the terms and concepts to engage critically some key images, stories, forms of relationship and behaviors that have been powerful sources of meaning-making. We will consider religious and philosophical texts and traditions primarily but not exclusively from the West. These include the temptation of Adam, a Holocaust survival narrative, artistic responses to the Dust Bowl years, and late modern revivals of scriptural ideals of female piety.

We will open both religious and secular sources for study as unstable, dynamic cultural heritages that both make demands on their practitioners, and are continually interpreted and remade.

Christianity, Gender, and Sex

RELS 3900

The course presents the methods of feminist and queer religious studies, especially Christianity, that have emerged in the last 30 or so years.  The aim of this course is to provide an overview of some topics where issues of gender and sexuality intersect with Christian history and contemporary culture. Each week we will focus on a different question/topic having to do with gender, sexuality, and religion. We will be discussing texts with themes including purity and power, celibacy and virginity, marriage, reproduction and nursing, eating practices and the ideal body, gender fluidity, violence and hate-crimes, and issues of religious authority, leadership and ordination.