Judaism, Christianity, and Islam

Steve Smith  smithsg@millsaps.edu
Academic Complex 109F  601-974-1334
Office hours posted at stevengsmith.org

Religious Studies 2110-01
Spring Semester 5779 / 2019 / 1440

The Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions are now often studied together as a family unit, “the religions of Abraham.” What kind of family do they really form? All three share a commitment to monotheism—and not only to belief in one holy Creator-Provider-Judge- Redeemer but also to the faithful partnership with a self-revealing God that the biblical figure Abraham exemplified. Beyond this agreement, however, the different experiences and priorities in these faith communities have led them to define themselves in opposition to one another and have sometimes fueled bitter conflict. Is conflict necessary? Or can these communities affirm one another while remaining true to their inspirations? The Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions are so closely connected historically and theologically that we fail in an important way to understand any of them if we do not see how to address this question about their relationship.

The purposes of this course are

  1. To improve our acquaintance with the chief historical sources of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim religiousness.
  2. To expand our awareness of the complex developments of the three great monotheist traditions in their history up to the present, especially developments affected by their relations with each other.
  3. To study possibilities of meaningful interreligious encounter in general and using specific case studies and new opportunities of encounter between Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
  4.    To strengthen our ability to think generally about religion and religious issues in           comparative perspective.

Activities will be planned according to the interests of the class. Grading will be based on oral class participation, including participation in Encounters (20%), weekly writing (20%), inventories (15%), and the research project (45%).

Readings will be required in handouts and in these books available in the bookstore:

The HarperCollins Study Bible
The Qur’an, trans. M. A. S. Abdel Haleem
Karen Armstrong, Holy War
Khalid Duran, Reuven Firestone, & Leonard Swidler, Trialogue: Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Dialogue

P R O J E C T E D    S C H E D U L E

Note: Reading and homework assignments will sometimes be announced in class. Check with me about them if you miss class.

ENCOUNTERS will be scheduled through the semester, of three types:

  1. Observing worship in local communities 
  1. Thematic, on these questions:

How has God reached out to human beings in history?

What are the requirements for the sacred community? (orthodoxy and orthopraxy)

How shall the world be shared?

  1. Scriptural (interfaith reading of scriptural texts in Scriptural Reasoning format)

Week 1

1-14     Introduction to class

1-16     Issues in the study of religion

READ: Durkheim and Weber (handout)


Week 2

1-21     MARTIN LUTHER KING DAY No class

1-23     Monotheism

READ: Affirmations and criticisms of monotheism (handout)


Week 3  Jewish sources

1-28     The emergence of the Israelite kingdoms; covenants and their contexts

READ: Hebrew Bible selections from Genesis, Exodus, 1 & 2 Samuel, and 1 Kings; Armstrong, pp. 3-18

1-30     Exile and the emergence of Judaism

READ: selections from Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Second Isaiah, and Nehemiah


Week 4  Jewish sources, cont.

2-4       Apocalypticism. Judaism and Hellenism

READ: selections from Daniel, 2 Maccabees, 4 Maccabees; Armstrong, pp. 18-20

2-6       The emergence of Rabbinic Judaism. Mishnah and Talmud. Branches of Judaism

READ: Mishnah/Talmud selections (handout)




Week 5  Christian sources

2-11     Jesus. The New Testament canon.

READ: Gospel selections; Armstrong, pp. 20-23

2-13     Paul’s theology

READ: Letter to the Romans


Week 6 Christian sources, cont.

2-18     Christian theology’s central issues.

READ: Irenaeus and Augustine (handout); Armstrong, pp. 23-26


2-20     The Christian churches.

READ: Selections from primary and secondary sources (handout)




Week 7 Islamic sources

2-25     Muhammad and his world.

READ: Selections from Qur’an; Armstrong, pp. 26-41

2-27     The Qur’an

READ: Qur’an on selected topics

2-28     The 2019 Summers Lecture
Darby Ray, Harward Professor of Civic Engagement, Bates College

            11:45 a.m., AC 215


Week 8  Islamic sources, cont.

3-4       Structuring the community: the Sunni-Shia split. The Sharia.

READ: Hadiths and Sunni and Shia sources (handout)

3-6       Sufism.

READ: Sufi selections (handout)






Week 9  The fraught history: Armstrong’s Holy War. The age of the Crusades.

3-18     READ Chaps. 4-5, esp. 177-210, 222-233

3-20     READ Chap. 9


Week 10  Holy War, cont. The age of Zionism.

3-25     READ Chap. 3

3-27     READ Chaps. 7-8, Epilogue


Week 11  Religious politics today.

4-1       Fundamentalism. READ TBA (handout)

4-3       Terrorism. READ TBA (handout)


Week 12

4-8       THEMATIC ENCOUNTER ONE: How has God reached out to human beings?

READ: Trialogue and other sources (according to one’s role)

4-10     Follow-up



Week 13

4-15     THEMATIC ENCOUNTER TWO: What are the requirements for the sacred community?

READ: Trialogue and other sources (according to one’s role)

4-17     Follow-up


Week 14

4-22     THEMATIC ENCOUNTER THREE: How shall the world be shared?

READ: Trialogue and other sources (according to one’s role)

4-24     Follow-up



Week 15

4-29     ENCOUNTER FOUR: Scriptural reading






At the end of each introductory unit on an Abrahamic tradition you’ll turn in short paragraphs explaining three major commitments of thought and three major commitments of practice in that tradition. You’ll choose which to write on from a menu of possibilities.



Choose a project topic that intrigues you for any reason that relates to the class inquiry. You might look at the upcoming Encounter topics to see where your interests could overlap; it would be great if your independent work could inform your participation in one or more of those Encounters. (Bear in mind that your religious role identity will change in each of the Encounters.)

You might study a theological, historical, social, or ethical problem; or the biography of a specially interesting figure in any of the three traditions; or themes in literature or other arts inspired by one or more of the three traditions. If you can set your study up as comparative (across traditions), you’ll have to take care to avoid superficiality. This semester, projects will be especially helpful to the class in these areas:

Doctrine of inspiration (prophecy, scripture, religious leadership)

Doctrine of God (e.g. issues of divine power, modes of divine presence and action)

Anthropology (e.g. created human nature, corruption, power to do good, capacity for communion with God)

Eschatology (judgment, eternal life, eternal reward and punishment)

Religious art (including architecture, music, etc.)

Political theory


The Holocaust



Relation to modern science (e.g. naturalism, evolution, genetic engineering)


You will need to get my advice on your specific topic and you must submit for my approval a 1‑page project prospectus by March 4. Here are the project components:

THE PROSPECTUS. A succinct indication of the question(s) you want to tackle and the sorts of sources you think you will need to work with. A prospectus is required mainly to get you started thinking seriously about your project in a timely manner, but consider also that writing effective brief proposals is an important skill for a host of future occasions in your life.

THE PROJECT REPORT, due April 29, will be somewhere between 10 and 15 pages typed. Style guidelines will be given. You will have a chance to revise, so don’t be shy about getting into tough issues or offering conjectures. In deciding what is more relevant and important and what is less so, think of your project as one unit of an inquiry into “the Abrahamic religions,” i.e. as a set of questions and materials that you would present if you were teaching Religious Studies 2110.



For your course Notebook, a loose-leaf binder is recommended. This will make it easier to hand in and take back your entries, and also to keep handouts together.

Once a week, on Monday unless announced otherwise, you will be asked to bring to class a new entry in your Notebook—about 2 pp., if typed double-space—in which you discuss the week’s work (readings and discussions).

You will attempt to draw out of the week’s work the elements that most strongly affect your view of religion generally, of a particular religious tradition or element in that tradition, or of a particular human issue. You will articulate the most important things you are learning and that you want to study more in the future—including questions that you cannot yet answer.

Individual Notebook entries and responses will be graded unsatisfactory (-), satisfactory (\/), or very good (+) depending on the attentiveness and thoughtfulness they show. The Notebook as a whole will get a letter grade.

You can miss one week without penalty. Otherwise you should turn in a reflection for every week even if you have to turn it in late.

All students are strongly encouraged to visit the Writing Center, which is staffed by student Writing Consultants who are trained to help you grow as writers. Writing Consultants work with all writers, in all disciplines, at all skill levels, and in all stages of the writing process. These consultations are most useful to students 48 hours or more in advance of a due date, and many students benefit from multiple visits during the writing process. Students may elect to send a session report summarizing their writing center visit to professors. If you would like to notify your professor of your visit, please inform the consultant when you arrive at the Writing Center. Students may also request session reporting to professors after their visit by emailing writingcenter@millsaps.edu. Visit millsaps.mywconline.com for more information about hours, locations, and upcoming events.

  1. Class attendance. Being in class, being engaged with the work of the class, and behaving courteously are all expected. One discourtesy to avoid is coming into class late. Better late than never, definitely; but lateness counts as half an absence—that is, your work with the class that day will be counted as only half done. One percent of the course grade will be lost for each absence from class for any reason, beginning with the third absence. (For example, someone who missed class 7 times would lose 5% of the course grade, or half a letter grade.) The reason for this: our in-class work is a crucial and irreplaceable part of the substance of the course.
  2. Electronic communication devices (phones, laptops, etc.). Electronic devices have become harmful Interrupters and Distracters in the current state of our social evolution. Their use is banned in our class. If you have special needs, discuss with me.
  3. Late papers. Written assignments turned in late will lose a letter grade or equivalent. Homework may not be turned in more than one week after its due date. No work of any kind will be accepted after the last day of final examinations. Exceptions to this policy will be granted only to the victims of unforeseeable and uncontrollable circumstances.
  4. As a general rule, no e-mail submissions. Unless the instructor allows it under specified circumstances, e-mail submissions of assigned writing are not accepted. (E-mailed journal entries are accepted.)
  5. Plagiarism. Using the words or ideas of others without acknowledgment—that is, passing them off as your own—is a fraudulent practice called plagiarism. It also misses one of the main points of being in college, which is to develop your powers of thought and expression. Plagiarism is an offense under the Academic Honor Code (see next page).
  6. Incompletes. An “Incomplete” grade for the course will only be given to students who, due to unforeseen and uncontrollable circumstances, find themselves unable to complete course requirements during the term and can reasonably be expected to complete them within a few weeks after the term’s end. The “Incomplete” must be requested and appropriately justified before the end of final examinations.
  7. Disabilities. If you have any needs or require accommodations related to a disability or learning difference, please contact Katherine Warren to register with Accessibility Services. You can e-mail her at Katherine.warren@millsaps.edu. Accommodations will not be granted until a meeting has taken place with Katherine, letters have been processed, and you have met with your instructor. This should take place at the beginning of the semester.



Millsaps College is an academic community dedicated to the pursuit of scholarly inquiry and intellectual growth. The foundation of this community is a spirit of personal honesty and mutual trust. Through their Honor Code, the students of Millsaps College affirm their adherence to these basic ethical principles.

An Honor Code is not simply a set of rules and procedures governing students’ academic conduct. It is an opportunity to put personal responsibility and integrity into action. When students agree to abide by an Honor Code, they liberate themselves to pursue their academic goals in an atmosphere of mutual confidence and respect.

The success of the Code depends on the support of each member of the community. Students and faculty alike commit themselves in their work to the principles of academic honesty. When they become aware of infractions, both students and faculty are obligated to report them to the Honor Council, which is responsible for enforcement. A representative, but not exhaustive, list of academic offenses and violations covered by the Millsaps Academic Honor Code is provided at:


The pledge signed by all students upon entering the College is as follows:

As a Millsaps College student, I hereby affirm that I understand the Honor Code and am aware of its implications and of my responsibility to the Code. In the interests of expanding the atmosphere of respect and trust in the College, I promise to uphold the Honor Code and I will not tolerate dishonest behavior in myself or in others.

Each examination, quiz, or other assignment that is to be graded will carry the written pledge: “I hereby certify that I have neither given nor received unauthorized aid on this assignment. (Signature)” The abbreviation “Pledged” followed by the student’s signature has the same meaning and may be acceptable on assignments other than final examinations.

It is the responsibility of students and faculty to report offenses to the Honor Code Council in the form of a written report. This account must be signed, the accusation explained in as much detail as possible and submitted to the Dean of the College.

The Honor Council, 2018–2019

Student Members:

DJ Hawkins, Chair

Alycee Moity, Vice Chair

Emma Carter, Sergeant-At-Arms

Alvin Joseph

Brenna Michael


Faculty Members:

Dr. Blakely Fender

Dr. Anne MacMaster

Dr. Nathan Shrader