Judaism and Islam (RS 140), Spring 2002

TTh 8:00-9:50 a.m.

Telford Work
Porter Center 9
(805) 565-6087
Office Hours: TTh 10-11:30 a.m., W 11:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m.

  3. TEXTS


This course explores the context, teaching, and influence of two great traditions: Judaism and Islam. My goals are:

First, an introduction to each tradition on its own terms. These traditions have logics and beauty all their own, which must be appreciated in order to be understood. This course is an opportunity to think theologically and philosophically, systematically and occasionally, long and hard, at two traditions that have been immensely influential and durable. Both seek to glorify the God of Abraham and Jesus. Both have taught us at many points how to be better Christians. Both have also suffered at Christian hands, and sometimes Christians have suffered at theirs.

Second, the experience of studying two traditions according to the methods of rival traditions relatively foreign to both: Enlightenment historiography, and Christian faith.

Third, improved facility in reading, thinking, writing, and speaking (preferably in that order), particularly regarding the traditions' holy texts.

This is not a "king of the mountain" apologetics course that knocks down all rivals to the intellectually superior Christian faith. Christians may indeed judge all things according to the Gospel. But when we do it too soon, we often find ourselves criticizing a straw man and embarrassing the Lord we intended to serve.


Sleepy students, beware: This is a seminar, not a lecture course. Doing the reading is crucial (and there is a lot of it). I will introduce each faith, but class time will concentrate on student presentations and discussions. Like you, I will interrupt, ask questions, mount my soapbox, and go off on what look like (and sometimes actually are) tangents. You will be responsible not only for the content of your own presentations, but also for your colleagues'.

Having trouble understanding the reading? I will be posting introductions to readings in advance. If even these do not help, then I leave you with the Talmud:

If someone tells you, "I have labored but not found," do not believe him. If he says, "I have not labored, but I have found," do not believe him. But, if he says, "I have labored and have found," then believe him (Megillah 6b, quoted in Elliot N. Dorff and Louis E. Newman, eds., Contemporary Jewish Theology: A Reader [New York: Oxford, 1999], 17).

In other words, giving up on difficult material is not an option.


Stephen M. Wylen, Settings of Silver: An Introduction to Judaism, 2nd ed., Paulist, 2000.
Barry W. Holtz, Back to the Sources: Reading the Classic Jewish Texts, Summit, 1986.
Sachiko Murata and William C. Chittick, The Vision of Islam, Paragon, 1994.
John Voll, Islam: Continuity and Change in the Modern World, Syracuse, 1994 (selections).
Kate Zebiri, Muslims and Christians Face to Face, Oxford, 1997.
The Holy Bible.
The Qur'an.


William F. Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, The Elements of Style, 3rd ed., Macmillan, 1979, or 4th ed., Allyn & Bacon, 2000.
In this class you will regularly write. For decades "Strunk & White" has been a favorite guide to good writing. It is concise, accessible, and powerful, just as your writing will need to be. If you cannot identify (for instance) a run-on sentence, sentence fragment, split infinitive, or appositive on sight, or confuse "its" with "it's," then consider this book required.

Adin Steinsaltz, The Essential Talmud, Basic, 1984.
For those who just can't get enough.

Annemarie Schimmel, Islam: An Introduction, SUNY, 1992.
A brief, readable introduction to the whole tradition, which presupposes just a little too much to be useful as a primary text.


Internet Jewish History Sourcebook.
Internet Islamic History Sourcebook.
Beliefnet: Judaism.
Beliefnet: Islam.


1. Attendance at class sessions and participation in discussions is required. If this is true of lecture courses, it is even more so in seminars.

2. Each of you will give one in-class presentation on that day's readings. Here you will provide helpful context for other students, make observations, and raise questions for us to discuss. These may take several forms: Recitation of a text for discussion, lecture, or some other format (the choice is up to you, in consultation with me). A typical discussion text amounts to 2-3 tightly written, single-spaced pages. Please distribute copies to your classmates on the day of your presentation. Your presentation will count as 25% of your final grade. As you write, please refer to my suggestions for writing papers for helpful suggestions, cautions about Internet "research", ultimata regarding late papers and plagiarism, and so on.

3. Everyone who is not presenting that day will bring a 1-2 page typewritten brief that (1) summarizes the reading, and (2) asks at least one thoughtful question for discussion. These should be in prose-outline form (see my rationale and example), well written. If your briefs do not conform to the requirements, I will hand them back and you will need to resubmit them. I do not normally accept late briefs, though I do accept briefs ahead of time for absences. I will collect these after class, and grade them as follows: "+", "-", "U" (unacceptable), or "0" (absent). They will comprise 35% of your final grade.

4. You will write four reports: (1) A report of either a visit to a synagogue service or a substantive personal interaction with a group of Jews. (2) A report of either a visit to a mosque or a substantive personal interaction with a group of Muslims. (3) An analysis of a holy text (Tanakh or Quran) as interpreted within its tradition. (4) A reflection on the Jewish or Muslim tradition (or both) from your own perspective (which may be one of Christian faith). Each report should be 3-4 double-spaced pages. It will need to draw explicitly on the course materials. Reports will be circulated to the class. Each report will count as 10% of your final grade. Reports are due April 22 (Monday of the last week of class), but I encourage you to submit them throughout the semester.

5. Outside of class, we will occasionally screen films that bear upon the Jewish or Muslim faith. These are entirely extracurricular and involve no written assignments.

6. To stimulate discussion, this class will have its own e-mail discussion group you will use to take class discussions into and out of class sessions. This is a place for you to post questions and thoughtful answers to the questions of others. I will lurk, responding and posing questions only when I consider it necessary. Send e-mail to rs140@westmont.edu.


Date Subject Reading
(required/ recommended)
Tues. 1/8 Introduction; Basics of Judaism syllabus, Wylen ch 12, Wylen ch 1 Telford Work
Thurs. 1/10 Assignments; People of Torah Wylen ch 2, Holtz intro Telford Work
Tues. 1/15 Tanakh Holtz ch 1  
Thurs. 1/17 Rabbinic Judaism Wylen chs 13, 5, 7  
Tues. 1/22 Talmud Wylen ch 14, Holtz ch 2  
Thurs. 1/24 Midrash Holtz ch 3, Wylen ch 4  
Tues. 1/29 Medieval Commentary Wylen ch 15, Holtz ch 4  
Thurs. 1/31 Philosophy Holtz ch 5, Wylen chs 16, 3  
Tues. 2/5 Mysticism Wylen ch 17, Holtz ch 6  
Thurs. 2/7 Eastern Europe Wylen ch 18, Holtz ch 7  
Tues. 2/12 Liturgy Wylen ch 6, Holtz ch 8  
Thurs. 2/14 Modernity Wylen chs 19-20, 8  
Tues. 2/19 President's holiday Read ahead!  
Thurs. 2/21 Shoah Wylen chs 21, 9-10  
Tues. 2/26 America and Zion Wylen chs 22-24, 11  
Thurs. 2/28 Basics of Islam M&C preface and intro, Voll ch 1 Telford Work
Tues. 3/5 Submission; Modern Renewal M&C part I, Voll ch 2  
Thurs. 3/7 Belief in God; Colonialism M&C pp 35-84  
3/11-3/15 Spring recess Read ahead!  
Tues. 3/19 Creation; Modern Majorities M&C pp 84-131  
Thurs. 3/21 Prophecy; Modern "Minorities" M&C ch 4  
Tues. 3/26 Colonialism Voll ch 3, Zebiri ch 1  
Thurs. 3/28 Eschatology; Philosophy M&C chs 5  
Tues. 4/2 Philosophy M&C ch 6, Voll ch 4  
Thurs. 4/4 Muslims on Christianity Zebiri ch 2  
Tues. 4/9 Virtue M&C part III  
Thurs. 4/11 The Islamic Edge Voll ch 5, Zebiri ch 3  
Tues. 4/16 History M&C part IV, Zebiri ch 4  
Thurs. 4/18 Resurgence Voll ch 6  
Tues. 4/23 Christian Interpretations Zebiri ch 5  
Thurs. 4/25 Future Voll ch 7, Zebiri conclusion Telford Work