Academic Programs 

Religion in the 21st Century (MA-520)  
Winter/Spring 2006

This course will provide anyone interested in the dynamic of religion in the modern world the opportunity to explore a select set of themes surrounding theology and ethics, Scripture and interfaith relations. Heidi Hadsell, Professor of Social Ethics and President of Hartford Seminary, will lead the course; other Hartford Seminary core faculty will teach individual sessions.


Meeting Day, Time and Dates: 
This course will be at the First Church of Christ, Congregational, Glastonbury, CT, Wednesdays from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., on February 1, 8, 15 and 22, March 1, 8, 15, 22 and 29 and April 5. The final session will be at Hartford Seminary.

Heidi Hadsell
Professor of Social Ethics and President of Hartford Seminary

Contact Information:
(860) 509-9502


Course Syllabus

This course has been cancelled.

General Description:

This course will provide anyone interested in religion in the modern world the opportunity to explore a select set of themes surrounding theology and ethics, Scripture and interfaith relations with the faculty from Hartford Seminary.

Aims of the course:

1. To introduce students to some of the main issues surrounding religion in the 21 st century;

2. To encourage students to think about these questions in an interdisciplinary way and from different vantage points;

3. To enable students to cultivate critical thinking about religion and religious beliefs and the skill to present material to others.

Learning Outcomes:

1. At the end of the course students will have an understanding of a sample of issues surrounding religion in the 21 st century;

  1. At the end of the course students will have appreciated the range of perspectives from which these questions can be analyzed;
  2. At the end of the course students will have cultivated their evaluative skills sufficiently to make an informed presentation on these questions.

Course Assessment:

Short one page summaries of the reading that is set for each week

A presentation to be made in the last session which will be based on an eight-page research paper on a topic to be agreed with Professor Hadsell

Detailed weekly breakdown

February 1 – Ethics of Money - Heidi Hadsell, Professor of Social Ethics

The Christian gospel teachings are relevant to many areas of human life to which they give considerable guidance and wisdom. We are taught to love our enemies, to care for justice, to be peace makers and the like. One of the areas of human life to which Jesus especially devoted much of his time and attention was the area which encompasses the whole question of money, of economics, of wealth and poverty. I will examine some of the issues which Jesus raised in relation to this area of life, and ask both what his teachings might have meant in his day, and what they might mean for us today as communities and groups of people and as individuals.


The reading for this session will be Biblical verses which I will select and we will read together. Students are invited to take note of those verses in the New Testament which they believe are relevant to this topic and to share them with the class.

February 8 – Theology: Concepts of God - Ian Markham, Professor of Theology and Ethics

One of the most fundamental concepts in religion is our understanding of God. In this session we look at the classical idea of God, which is found in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and compare it with more modern accounts of God. We look at the question: how do we decide which account is right?


Peter Vardy, “The Puzzle of God” (Fount Collins). Chapters 1 to 5

February 15 – True Confessions: A Study in Practical Theology – James Nieman, Professor of Practical Theology

Our everyday lives depend on publicly accountable words, ordinary forms of truth-telling that give reliable knowledge and support trustworthy relationships. Whether on the witness stand, in the political arena, or during a counseling session, the pervasive practice of “testimony” has striking similarities along with important distinctions. We will look at this practice from the perspectives of several different disciplines in order to see what is fully involved when we know something through testimony. Insights from practical theology will then open up the faith implications of this practice in its many venues, and how faithful people might provide a more ample witness of their own in a time of suspicious and hostile words.


Harry G. Frankfurt, “On Bullshit,” (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005)

To be distributed at February 8 class:

  • Dori Laub, “An Event Without a Witness: Truth, Testimony and Survival,” in “Testimony: Crises of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis, and History” (Editors, Shoshana Felman and Dori Laub, pages 75-92. New York: Routledge, 1992)
  • Luis G. Pedraja, “Testimonios and Popular Religion in Mainline North American Hispanic Protestantism” at
  • Rob Walker, “The Hidden (In Plain Sight) Persuaders” in New York Times Magazine, 5 December 2004, 68ff

February 22 – Introduction to the Hebrew Bible – Uriah Kim, Professor of Hebrew Bible

We read and interpret the Hebrew Bible through particular lenses we have acquired through our own faith traditions and personal experiences. In this session, we will examine how biblical scholarship can inform our institutional and personal interpretation and help us better understand the Hebrew Bible.

Reading :

Marcus J. Borg, “Reading the Bible Again for the First Time” ( San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001). Chapters 1 to 3

For Further Reading

John J. Collins, Introduction to the Hebrew Bible ( Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004).

Carol A. Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe, eds., The Women’s Bible Commentary (Expanded ed.; Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1998).

Daniel Patte et al., eds., Global Bible Commentary ( Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2004).

March 1 – Introducing the New Testament: Basic Issues in a Critical Study– Efrain Agosto, Professor of New Testament

How do we begin to understand the New Testament from a critical perspective? What kinds of questions do scholars ask themselves when engaging a historical and theological study of the New Testament? How do such questions relate to the practice of faith in a believer’s everyday life? This session will introduce the participant to some of the fundamental questions facing New Testament studies today as well as to a basic understanding of the literature of the New Testament. The writings about Jesus (the “Gospels”), the letters of Paul and the Book of Revelation will serve as primary sources of discussion for the session


Marcus J. Borg, “Reading the Bible Again for the First Time” ( San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001). Chapters 8, 9 and 10

For Further Reading:

Wes Howard-Brook & Sharon Ringe, eds., The New Testament – Introducing the Way of Discipleship ( Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2002).

Luke Timothy Johnson, The Writings of the New Testament, Revised Edition (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999)

Gerd Theissen, Fortress Introduction to the New Testament ( Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003).

March 8 – The Relevance of the Bible for Today’s Society –Benjamin K. Watts, Faculty Associate in the Arts of Ministry

This class will explore the relevance of the Bible for contemporary society, using historical critical exegetical methodologies. Connecting a clear understanding of how context has been used in biblical antiquity to reinterpret scripture in the light of the current human condition will support a realization that the Bible is a living, viable tool for life.


Robert M. Holmes, “Why Jesus Never Had Ulcers and Other Thought-Provoking Questions” (Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN, 1986) May be purchased through Amazon Books,

March 15 – Christians Thinking about Other Religions – Ian Markham, Professor of Theology and Ethics

In this session, we will explore the Christian theology of other religions debate. In addition to the pluralist, inclusivist and exclusivist positions, we will examine some of the other options.


Ian Markham, “Christianity and Other Religions,” Pages 405-417, in Gareth Jones (ed.) “The Blackwell Companion to Modern Theology” ( Oxford Blackwell 2004). On reserve in the Hartford Seminary library

For Further Reading:

Ian Markham, “Theology of Engagement” ( Oxford: Blackwell 2003)


March 22 – Living Together in a 'Globalized', Interfaith World– Dale Bishop, Director of Relationships and Resources for Interreligious Understanding

In this session we will look at the global implications of religious diversity, with Christian-Muslim relations serving as a kind of case study. We will focus on the role of law and ethics in our respective faith traditions, and the impact of our understandings of law and ethics on our concepts of justice and peace.


Wesley Ariarajah, “Not Without My Neighbor” (World Council of Churches) and essay, “The Ethic of Love” by Dale Bishop

March 29 – Muslims in America – Jane I. Smith, Professor of Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations

Who are our Muslim neighbors? As the number of Muslims who now live in America continues to grow, and as Islam remains highly visible on the international scene, many Americans are wondering who these people are and what they have to contribute to our society. How are Muslims responding to accusations that they are potential terrorists? We will look at immigrant and African American Muslims, their beliefs and practices, and their growing visibility as active participants in the social, political and cultural life of America.


Asma Gull Hasan, “ Why I Am a Muslim. An American Odyssey” Chapters 1-2, 5-6. Available in the Hartford Seminary bookstore and library

April 5 - Student presentations, final reflections – Heidi Hadsell, at Hartford Seminary

Presentations from students: What we have learned from the religious experience so far. And where do we go from here?

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