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Department of Religion and Biblical Literature



At the end of the nineteenth century the Smith College curriculum included among its offerings four or five courses under a simple non-departmental heading,"Biblical Literature."Some of these were required courses for all students at the college; the"higher criticism"of the Bible was a feature of the syllabus. The 1899-1900 academic year saw religion courses at Smith offered within a newly designated department,"Biblical Literature and Comparative Religion,"staffed by one professor, Irving F. Wood. The announced text for the comparative religion course was Allan Menzies'History of Religion: a Sketch of Primitive Religious Beliefs and Practices, and of the Origin and Character of the Great Systems (New York, 1897).

By 1908 the department faculty had grown in number by more than one hundred per cent, with one professor, one associate professor, and a"reader."Added to the religion curriculum over the next decade was a course titled"Early Oriental Civilizations,"treating mainly of ancient Near-Eastern texts, and another titled"The Development of Christian Thought."By then, biblical Hebrew and koine Greek were also being taught. By 1927 the department's faculty had increased to six, and in that year its name was changed to Religion and Biblical Literature--still its designation today. Informally, of course,"Religion Department"or"Department of Religion"is the commonest expression.

What may be seen as a milestone in the subsequent history of the department was the introduction in 1940-41 of a course,"Contemporary Judaism,"taught by the late S. Ralph Harlow. Other landmarks include the appointment, in 1962, of the first non-Protestant department member, the late Jochanan Wijnhoven, to teach full time in the area of Jewish studies; and the establishment in 1967-68 of the endowed Ada Howe Kent Program to support the study and teaching of"World Religions"understood to mean"non-Western"religions in the department, in collaboration with other departments in the Humanities at Smith. Following these innovations, our curriculum today includes a rich and wide array of courses dealing with the religious traditions of the world from a variety of different viewpoints.

Religion courses at Smith are critical and comparative, interdisciplinary, and cross-cultural. They examine the nature and function of religious phenomena in the past and present of many cultures. They provide opportunities to analyze systems of belief and patterns of religious behavior, the history of religious traditions, the functions of religion in society, and various forms of religious expression such as myth, ritual, sacred story, sacred texts, liturgy, and theological and philosophical reflection.

In the department's view, a student's personal religious perspective is not a consideration for entering or for successfully completing a course in the department. It is not unusual, however, for a student's interest in religion studies to be motivated by personal, existential questions--the perennial questions of human existence. There is no better way for a person to work out her own answers than by studying the distillations of insight found in the world's religious traditions.

Found in 3 Collections and/or Records:

Academic Departments records

Identifier: CA-MS-01010

The collection contains papers of academic departments, including Interdepartmental, Sciences, Languagem, Colloquiu, and Social Sciences. The collection has publications, syllabuses, source notes, department records and memos, photographs, and material on departmental clubs.

Dates of Materials: 1880 - 2014

Elihu Grant papers

Identifier: CA-MS-00397

Faculty. Collection contains audio recordings, correspondence, news clippings, photographs, publications and a wedding album documenting the professional and family life of Elihu Grant.

Dates of Materials: 1873 - 1948

Quentin Quesnell papers

Identifier: CA-MS-00379

Faculty. Head of the Department of Religion from 1975 to 1997. The papers contain biographical materials including a complete bibliography, correspondence, notes, photographs, publications and research.

Dates of Materials: 1927 - 2012; Majority of material found within 1970 - 2000

Additional filters:

35mm 1
Bible -- Study and teaching -- Massachusetts -- Northampton 1
Hapax legomenon 1
Hebrew language -- Lexicology 1
Literary forgeries and mystifications -- Early works to 1800 1