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GSTR 310

GSTR 310

Understandings of Christianity

This course invites students to imagine and consider Christianity from stances both inside and outside the faith, from the vantage of various disciplines, as an instance of the general phenomenon of religion, and as a way of understanding life’s purpose and meaning that remains important for many around the world. The course considers Christianity from historical, theological, and contemporary perspectives. Each section applies and builds on the reasoning, research, and writing emphases of GSTR 110 and 210. Prerequisite: GSTR 210 and sophomore standing.

Learning Outcomes

Successful students will learn to:

  • articulate differences between approaching Christianity from a faith perspective and from the perspective of various academic disciplines, including the natural sciences;
    • describe diverse ways Christianity has been expressed in ideas and beliefs, ritual and spiritual practices, moral values and actions, and communities and institutions;
      • analyze various ways Jesus and the Bible have been, and continue to be, understood as central to Christianity and its relation to the world;
        • articulate Christianity’s complex relationships to its historical and cultural contexts;
          • read critically the Bible and other primary and secondary sources;
            • demonstrate appropriate writing, research, and critical thinking abilities.

              Section Descriptions

              Below are section descriptions for all instructors who regularly teach GSTR 310. Not all of these instructors listed here teach the course each term. Please refer to the schedule of classes for the term in question to see which instructors will be offering the course.

              GSTR 310: Anibueze, Mary-Reginald: A Global Faith Expression: African Christianity

              “How dare we adopt a hostile or scornful or even indifferent attitude to any person of another color or culture if our God is the God of “all the families on the earth”? We need to become global Christians with a global vision, for we have a global God.” John R. W. Stott 

              Students will be introduced to the historical, cultural, political, and religious influences upon the formation of Christianity in Africa. They will examine the diverse ways of being Christian in an African context, the different ways the indigenous religion influences and interacts with the Christian faith, the various African Independent Churches that exist in the African Continent, and the current global expression of the Christian faith. The course will further expose students to various scholars who have articulated and furthered the efforts of enriching African Christian Churches so that African Christians can live and celebrate a faith expression that is “Truly Christian and Truly African.”

              GSTR 310: Bell, Shamell: Ethnography of Christian Religion: Black Feminist and Afrofuturistic Approaches invites students to use ethnographic methods to make connections between Black feminist writings, Black science fiction (i.e., Afrofuturistic) writings, and Christianity. The course materials, including the life and work of Black feminist scholars like our own bell hooks, and Black science fiction authors like Octavia Butler, provide examples for imagining and enacting Christianity as a healing modality. Marrying these authors’ lessons with present-day phenomena like young(er) Black culture's relationship to Christianity, students learn that in order to enact Christianity as a healing modality, they must take activist stances.

              GSTR 310- Broadhead, Edwin: Global Christianity. Following an overview of the history of Christianity in its various forms, this section of GSTR 310 looks at the global face of Christianity in the early 21st century. Particular attention is given to emerging trends and to the unique history and characteristics of Christianity in Asia, Africa, South America, Europe, and North America. In light of these various studies, students are encouraged to reflect upon the future profile of Christianity.

              GSTR 310- Brown, KennariaChristian Narrative from Below. Just as history is written by “the winners,” so are mainstream religious narratives, especially Christianity – the dominant Western religion. However, not all of its practitioners are from the dominant culture. How do women and people from cultures that are marginalized in the West make a faith that historically has been an instrument of domination actually work for them? They develop their own Christian narratives. This section explores Christian narratives “from below,” emphasizing African American, Latinx, and Women’s perspectives, with some international exploration as well.

              GSTR 310- Buchanan, Terry: What are mystics? Are you a mystic? Can a Christian be a mystic? This course is designed to explore mysticism by looking at the lives of mystics and learning about how they developed into who they became. What was it about their development, their family, their culture, or their context that led them to live the kind of lives that we read and think about hundreds and thousands of years later?

              GSTR 310: Burrows, Patrick: Christianity and Place. Christianity is a placeless religion, so one common story goes. Whether in early Christian rejections of the temple or Protestant denunciations of local shrines, Christianity seems to float free of geographical context, universal in its scope. But far from having put an end to spatial thinking, Christian religious reflection and practice has consistently taken place (literally) over the course of its history. This section of GSTR 310 will explore the history and present-day dynamics of Christianity and geographical space and place. After surveying Biblical debates over the relevance of place, we explore key theological works engaging with real and imagined geographies—including heaven and hell, the monastery, and the colony. Flowing from these imaginations of place, we examine concrete example of how Christianity forms and is formed by place, including architecture, gentrification, cemeteries, even Dollywood. Students are also invited to consider the dance of Christianity and geography in their own places.

              GSTR 310- Elston, Ashley: The Image in Christianity. This course explores the history and development of Christianity through its visual expressions and considers the role of the image in the practice of Christian faith. Beginning with an understanding of how Christianity handled works of art during its earliest years, we will examine the many different types of images that appear throughout the history of the religion and trace the function and meaning of the visual arts in Christianity. Students will be encouraged to think about how and why certain common subjects in Christian art (such as Jesus and Mary) have changed through time and how visual environments have shaped the message and experience of Christianity through to the present day. Particular attention will be paid to the complex relationship between image and text in Christianity, the surprising powers of Christian images, and the role of Christian art in communicating elements of faith.

              GSTR 310- Gowler, Steve: Christianity in Context. Sociologist of religion Linda Woodhead calls Christianity “one of the world’s most successful religions” because it has been around for 2000 years and continues to grow and evolve in various ways across the globe. She ascribes this to Christianity’s adaptability to diverse contexts. This idea will serve as a framework for our class. We begin by exploring the historical Jesus and the diverse responses to his life and teaching during the first three centuries of the Common Era. We then turn to ways Christianity was shaped in selected historical eras and in response to contemporary issues, including poverty, racism, gender, pluralism, and environmental degradation. In addition to excerpts from primary sources that will be provided to each student, required texts include Richard Bauckham’s Jesus: A Very Short Introduction, Elizabeth Johnson’s Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God, and Howard Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited.

              GSTR 310- Pardon, Mireille: Obedience, Authority, and Reform in the History of Christianity. From medieval monastic reform movements to the Protestant Reformation, and from unauthorized translations to antipopes, asking questions about authority and obedience has led to great changes within the Catholic Church as well as groups splintering away from it. This section of GSTR 310 explores power structures within Christian communities in Late Antiquity, medieval Europe, and today, with a focus on how heretical beliefs and popular religion challenged institutional authority, both inspiring change and inviting persecution. Students will explore how different groups addressed questions relating to Christian leadership: Who has religious authority? Popes, congregational leaders, church councils, an individual believer, or the Bible? But who has the authority to interpret the Bible? How does obedience to the institutional Church relate to obedience to a higher power?

              GSTR 310- Pimienta-Bey, Jose’: “Of one blood, God has made all the peoples of the earth,” is the creed of Berea College. A creed whose basis is verse 17:26 of “Acts” from the Holy Bible, and referenced to the Apostle Paul himself. Yet, much of the history of the “Christian” world is plagued with clear examples of the worst acts of “racism” which one could imagine. Little surprise that a U.S.-terrorist organization (the KKK) born shortly after the Civil War, would dare to define itself as a “Christian Brotherhood,” presumably dedicated to upholding the teachings of “Christ” Jesus. Our class will explore how the divine and noble ideals of “the Christ” have been corrupted over time, in the interest of ego, power and “racism.” But we will only begin this important discussion after having first provided a historical introduction to Christianity’s origins within the ancient lands of Asia, Africa, and Europe.

              GSTR 310- Sergent, Tyler: Christianity as a Western Monotheism. After exploring aspects of Christianity common to all GSTR 310 courses, our section will focus on Christianity as a western monotheism and Abrahamic religion. We will study Christianity within the context of the major monotheistic religions of the West: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. We will examine the history, scriptures, beliefs, rituals, art, & architecture of all three traditions, with emphasis on their developing concepts of God. This will provide us the opportunity to understand Christianity as part of the larger tradition of western monotheism, to explore how these other traditions view Christianity, and to analyze critically the historical, ideological, and practical commonalities Christianity shares with these other two monotheistic religions.

              GSTR 310- Smith, Duane: This section invites students to imagine and consider Christianity from stances both inside and outside the faith, from the vantage of various disciplines, as an instance of the general phenomenon of religion, and as a way of understanding life’s purpose and meaning that remains important for many around the world. This section focuses on various ways the Bible has been interpreted throughout the ages to support changing ecclesial models. The seminar portion of this section addresses Christianity’s encounter with diverse religious traditions of the world.