Catalog Description —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.
Student Learning Outcomes for GSTR 310
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.
NOTE: 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, Sister 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- 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, Kennaria: Christian 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- Clavere, Javier: Stoicism, Christianity, and Meaning: Stoicism as the Unnoticed Disciple of Jesus. This section of GSTR 310 will focus on the relationship between early Christian traditions and Stoicism in early Roman tradition. Stoicism as a philosophical school was highly influential in the creation of Christian ethics and morality. By examining diverse sources, we will trace the relationship between Stoicism and early Christian doctrine, paying particular attention to the traits of Stoicism in resilience, morality and ethics.
The course will examine the rise of Stoicism as a trend in modern spiritual pursuit while looking at the influence of Stoicism in current Christian denominational families. The course will place particular attention on the Stoic ideas of living in agreement with nature, living by virtue, focusing on what we can control, amor fati (love everything that happens), living with a mindful attitude, and creating resilience in the midst of challenges. Through the methodology of Semiotics, we will analyze creation of meaning as a tool for Stoicism and Christianity in the creation of human resilience. This course is designed as a follow up to the COVID-19 pandemic, providing sources and opportunities for students to create their own strategies for resilience and moral competence in our “new normal.”
GSTR 310- Clemons, Tammy: Appalachian Perspectives on Faith and Justice. The cultural and mountainous region known as “Appalachia” is often characterized as a racially homogenous region where “poverty” and religious “fatalism” are inescapable and where livelihood options for young people are limited or non-existent. In contrast to common stereotypes, Appalachia includes a rich history and practice of different understandings of Christianity as well as other faith traditions and solidarity across difference. This section explores diverse representations of Appalachian places, people, and possibilities through place-based approaches to faith and action, including connections to labor, sustainability, social justice, and service-learning.
GSTR 310- Dillon, Patrick:
As the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various kinds of diseases brought them to him; and he laid his hands on each of them and cured them. Demons also came out of many, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Messiah (Luke 4:40-41, New Revised Standard Version).
Jesus’ ministry of healing and exorcism is a central theme in the New Testament. The verses above represent one among seventy-two accounts in the four gospels of Jesus performing healing and exorcism. How are we to make sense of these accounts? What did these healings mean to those who witnessed them in 1st century Palestine? How are these meanings relevant in our modern age of medical science, and toward Christian understanding of healing today? Finally, how may these interpretations be applied now in ways consistent with values of impartial love, human dignity, equality, and service that are fundamental to Berea College’s mission and Christian identity? This section addresses these questions by critically interpreting New Testament accounts of healing and exorcism from a variety of academic disciplines, and by exploring ancient, modern, Christian, and non-Christian healing practices and perspectives.
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’s been around for 2000 years and continues to grow and evolve in various ways across the globe. She ascribes this “success” to Christianity’s adaptability to diverse contexts. This idea will serve as a framework for our inquiry. 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. Then we turn to ways Christian ideas are being deployed across a range of contemporary contexts, including poverty, racism, gender, religious and cultural 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. It is strongly recommended that students have access to a print version of the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.
GSTR 310- Guthman, Joshua: This section of GSTR 310 will focus on Christian journeys, both literal and spiritual. We will be especially interested in exploring how different types of Christians have used their religious journeys—journeys of salvation and redemption, journeys to holy shrines and journeys to the world beyond, journeys from unbelief to faith and from one religion to another, journeys that reach a destination and those that fail to arrive—as instruments of self-definition. Among other Christian voyages, we will examine how the Jesus of history became the Christ of faith, discover why Catholic immigrants in 1920s New York trudged barefoot over searing pavement to see a simple statue of the Virgin Mary, and learn how one modern woman tries to square her Christian present with her Jewish past. Along the way, we will watch movies; listen to music; and read gripping memoirs, startling histories, and, of course, the Bible.
GSTR 310- Jodra, Guillermo M.: Poverty and Property: Comparisons Between the Early Church and Contemporary Society. “And all that believed were together and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart.” (Acts 2:44-46)
A genealogical examination of current debates on the meaning of property, poverty, self, and the commons. This course comprises an analysis of philosophical, political, and theological sources at the heart of our understanding of the individual and the body politic, with an emphasis on serving and sharing as life-defining acts. Students will examine the impact of Christianity as a source of new theories of what it means to be together.
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- Pimenta-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- Pool, Jeff: Love in Christian Traditions. For the first approximately two-thirds of this section of GSTR 310, the course will support the larger purpose and shared content in all sections of GSTR 310. During the last approximately one-third of the course, this course will explore Contemporary Christian Appropriations and Transformations of Christian Biblical and Historical Traditions of Love. With constant reference to various dimensions and dynamics of the current global situation, this section will explore Christian concepts of love, specifically as they relate to various forms of language about God, God-talk, or theological discourse. The diverse Christian traditions interpret various forms of love in different ways. This course will examine not only many forms of love, but many interpretations of love in several major Christian traditions. Moreover, this course will study Christian concepts of love academically not religiously. In other words, this course does not explicitly study this topic from any single Christian or religious confessional perspective for devotional purposes or to aid the spiritual growth of participants in the course – although such results also certainly may occur through such studies. Rather, this course aims to study the topical focus on contemporary Christian concepts of love as one feature in the larger religious traditions that the course will examine. In this sense, the course will approach the study of each tradition of love descriptively, analytically, and critically. This course will engage those Christian traditions on love like any other cultural phenomenon about which the academy seeks to promote greater knowledge and understanding.
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.
GSTR 310- Stokes, Emmanuel: The Sound of Faith: Music and Christianity in Varied U.S. Contexts. This section of 310 will unpack how music has been, and continues to be, used to support a variety of understandings and approaches to Christianity in the United States. This will include discourse on the use of faith based music in the context of politics, Eurocentric history, African American culture, Women’s rights, the LGBTQ+ community, and in spaces that are labeled as both “Christian” and as “hate groups” such as the Ku Klux Klan. We will engage with music from film, recordings, live theatre, and as performed in sacred & secular settings. Please note: Students do not have to have a background in music for this section of 310.