Fall 2019 HC 421H: Reading New Religions

Fall 2019-2020

Professor: Anne Kreps

4.00 credits

  • CRN 16649: Tuesday & Thursday, 14:00 - 15:20 @ FR 225

The Bible is the most widely read book in America.  On one hand, it is a collection of old texts, written for the inhabitants of the ancient Near East. On the other hand, it is the foundational book for religions both old and new. From the UFO-based Raelian movement to the Gnostic Church, new religions percolate across the country. This seminar is about how new religions read ancient biblical texts. What creative process is followed in the formation of a religion? How do new religions interpret biblical texts to gain legitimacy? How does the Bible influence their relation to dominant religious culture in the United States? In this seminar, we will read ancient and modern sacred texts to appreciate the dynamic features of religious systems. In the process, we will also discuss how to study religious movements without passing judgment on their belief systems.

This is a research-based reading course, built around seminar discussions. Course materials include biblical texts such as Genesis, the Gospel of John, and Revelation, as well as the religious literature of new religions-the writings of Reverend Sun Moon, Rael, and the Branch Davidians, among others. Our close reading of ancient texts will be paired with the study of eight new religions. Each week, one class session will be dedicated to studying an ancient text in its historical context, and the second session will focus on its interpretation by new religions. We study how these movements read biblical texts to shape theories of creation, sexual mores, and expectations of the apocalypse.

In addition, students will complete a final research project on the New Religious Movement of their choice.