Religion is a dimension of the human experience that shapes our world and grows of the fundamental human desire for meaning. As one of the most significant geopolitical and cultural forces in the 21st century, our Religion and Theology program provides our dynamic students with practical, transferrable, and professional skills along with insight into the human condition.
Along with a core religion curriculum, La Salle’s Religion Department offers some truly unique classes for students looking for deeper meaning in modern context. Some include:
CHRISTIAN SPIRITUALITY: VISIONARIES, MYSTICS, AND SAINTS
This course explores the ways in which Christians, both Eastern and Western, have striven to express and deepen love of God and others. The course will analyze the origins and development of their various movements in spirituality and the means used to embody Christian discipleship.
BUDDHISM IN ASIA AND BEYOND
This course examines how the Buddha’s question of how to end suffering developed out of the historical, religious, and cultural context of his time as well as how his insights spread and were adapted throughout Asia and into the modern world. It investigates the source of such practices as yoga, meditation, and mindfulness, which have become influential in the West, and considers ways of thinking about the self, death and dying, and the mind―all of which have challenged and expanded approaches to psychology, the hospice movement, and neuroscience in the world today.
ISLAM IN AMERICA
How do American Muslims live and interpret Islam in a Western, secular society? Students will learn about the teachings of Islam, its historical development in the United States from the antebellum period to the emergence of local and diasporic Muslim communities in contemporary times. Various dimensions of Islam are examined, along with the social-political-economic contexts and issues that helped shape these communities. Topics may include Qur’an as interpreted in the American environment, women and gender, religion and race, American Muslim politics and civic engagement after 9/11, visual expressions of Islam, as well as expressions of Islam in American popular culture. Site visits to local Mosques and Islamic centers are usually integrated into the course.
WOMEN IN RELIGION
Are religions necessarily patriarchal? This course introduces students to the diversity of women’s experiences of and contributions to religious belief and practice in at least one of the world’s religious traditions. Topics may include feminist understandings of the divine, the role of women in the origins and development of religious traditions, feminist interpretations of sacred texts, feminist spiritualties, historical and contemporary efforts by women to reform religious traditions.
SPORTS AND SPIRITUALITY
This course explores contemporary spirituality in relation to the phenomena of sports. Students study how human beings encounter the Holy in the midst of everyday life with emphasis on how experiences associated with sports, either as an athlete participant or as identifying with athletes and teams, impact on developing a critical assessment of one’s personal values system. This assessment, in turn, becomes a focus on the ways in which one relates to the Holy or the Transcendent in the course of one’s life.
CATHOLICISM IN THE UNITED STATES
Is it possible to be a good Catholic and American at the same time? The answer often depends on who is asking the question. This course examines the history and place of the Roman Catholic community in the United States from the colonial period until the present. Some topics and central figures may include ethnicity, devotional life, John F. Kennedy, and the sexual abuse crisis.
This course uses an interdisciplinary approach to offer a wide range of perspectives on the topic of evil. Students will explore the following themes: religious accounts of and explanations for evil; the philosophical problem of evil; the use of evil as a moral category for evaluating human behaviors and history; the science of evil; and representations of evil in contemporary popular culture (e.g. art, literature, and film).
RELIGION AND ETHICS IN CONTEMPORARY CULTURE
This course introduces students to foundational approaches to ethical reasoning informed by religious traditions, and examines a variety of moral and religious perspectives on selected contemporary issues. Examples may include world hunger and poverty; the causes and symptoms of social inequality; sexism and sexual violence; the death penalty and incarceration; and the degradation of the environment.
PEACE AND JUSTICE IN THE CHRISTIAN TRADITION
This course explores fundamental principles that have influenced religious considerations the social imperative to work for peace and justice. Although the principal focus is on Western Christian thought and action other traditions, both religious and secular, may also be included. Particular subtopics that may be investigated include militarism, socioeconomic inequality, race, gender, class, sexuality, environmentalism, liberation theologies, and nonviolent struggle.
WOMEN IN THE BIBLE
This course is a select survey of “women” in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and New Testament, this course examines biblical stories about women; biblical attitudes about femaleness; women’s religious and social roles in their respective historical settings; and recent feminist biblical interpretation.
RELIGION IN PHILADELPHIA
This course explores the changing religious landscape of Philadelphia from William Penn’s “Holy Experiment”, ensuring freedom of religious expression, to contemporary diversity brought about by transitional migration, new religious movements, and conversion. It examines the intersections of race, gender, ethnicity and religion through the prism of significant moments in this historic city, including the abolitionist movement and establishment of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the adoption of Islam by African American Philadelphians, the increasing influence of Hinduism and Buddhism in both immigrant and convert communities, and the social activism that has resulted in the first ordinations of women and support of gay marriage in some religious communities. Sources include primary and secondary readings and films, as well as active dialogue with communities on the ground, today, through visits to historic and contemporary religious sites.
SOCIAL JUSTICE AND COMMUNITY SERVICE
This course is designed for students who would like to become involved in community outreach activities or who have already demonstrated an ongoing commitment to such activities. This course will integrate community service with issues of justice from the perspective of theology. Its purpose is to provide not only analysis, but also a deeper appreciation and respect for the disadvantaged, and a more long-lasting commitment to enter into solidarity with them in their struggle for justice. Through readings, reflection, a community service project, and discussion, this course will allow students to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the social, political, spiritual, and economic causes of injustice and how their service influences the cause of social justice.
LOVE, SEX, AND FRIENDSHIP: RELIGIOUS PERSPECTIVES ON HUMAN RELATIONSHIPS
What is the nature of love and desire? What role does friendship play in our happiness? Can sex be a religious experience? This course will explore how different religious and secular traditions have shaped our ideas of love, sexuality, gender and relationships, and how our changing understanding of these dimensions of the human experience inform and/or challenge religious traditions today.
Special topics are offered in accord with student and faculty interest on an ad hoc basis. These courses are assigned the numbers listed above.
Islam in the Contemporary World
Women in Islam
Jesus in Film
Contemporary Feminist Religious Thought
Economic Justice for All
Christian Muslim Relations
Moral Decisions in Health Care
Hinduism: Yoga, Dharma, and Devotion
Religion and Racism in America
Religion and Popular Culture
A major in religion connects to many other disciplines. It complements fields of study that ask profound questions about what it means to be human and how we ought to live together—from English and political science to public health and biology to prepare them for careers in a wide variety of fields. Some highlights include:
Our students learn how to critically examine rituals, sacred texts, symbols, doctrine, and religious figures. This enhances critical-thinking skills, which play an essential role across a broad spectrum of careers.
Students understand the role that religion plays in a variety of social issues including environmental crises, mass incarceration, racism, social inequality, biology and medical ethics, and conflict resolutions.
Students develop an appreciation for the role of religion in the City of Philadelphia, including religious beliefs, practices, and figures that contributes to the city’s rich history of religious pluralism.
La Salle’s religion courses also all students the opportunity to travel to different parts of the world for social justice causes, education, and immersion.
Our faculty members are dedication to student success. Religion majors enjoy conversing directly with the many public intellectuals the Department brings to campus, particularly those featured in the annual La Salle Lecture on Religion and Culture.
“…At Habitat for Humanity, I used skills based in mutual tolerance and respect to build a better Philadelphia. Today, I continue to use my degree to garner financial support for Catholic primary and secondary education.”
— Carolyn McLaughlin, ’10
Blaze Your Own Path
Our students receive a top-notch education that is well-rounded and balanced. Not only are they taught the essential theoretical elements of their discipline, they are grounded with real-world, marketable job skills, such as critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, interpersonal skills, and skills relating to workflow. Many pursue advanced degrees and/or careers upon graduation in a wide range of fields including law, business, elementary and secondary education, communications and marketing, non-profit, and government. Our students have gone on to become:
Students are able to take an internship as a course to earn three credits. This internship course is designed to provide students with the opportunity to apply their knowledge to relevant positions in religious, charitable, or other nonprofit organizations in or around the City of Philadelphia.
Students will be able to round off their education with a comprehensive capstone project. As the culminating course in the Religion major, this course oversees the process of researching, writing and presenting a paper that integrates students’ areas of focus in the undergraduate curriculum. As both a workshop and a forum for ongoing discussion, the colloquium provides both training in the skills needed to undertake such a project and a community of learning for critical engagement and mutual encouragement. The colloquium begins with honing a research question and concludes with a defense and discussion with other majors and faculty.
Rosemary Barbera, Ph.D., ’83 Associate Professor, Social Work La Salle University Years at La Salle: 16 years, on and off Degree/Education: B.A. in Religion, 1983 La Salle University; M.A. in Pastoral Theology, 1986; Master of Social Work, Bryn Mawr College, 1996; Ph.D. in Social Work, Bryn Mawr College, 2003 Can you tell me about your […]
Rosemary Barbera, Ph.D., ’83
Associate Professor, Social Work
La Salle University
Years at La Salle: 16 years, on and off
Degree/Education: B.A. in Religion, 1983 La Salle University; M.A. in Pastoral Theology, 1986; Master of Social Work, Bryn Mawr College, 1996; Ph.D. in Social Work, Bryn Mawr College, 2003
Can you tell me about your human rights work across the U.S. and Latin America?
I have been involved in human rights work since the 1980’s when I began to work in solidarity with Central American refugees fleeing the U.S.-sponsored wars. I participated in the Sanctuary Movement, keeping refugees safe so they would not be deported. I then moved to Bolivia where I worked in poor neighborhoods around access to water and food. And then I moved to Chile where I was an human rights organizer during the military dictatorship. I also participated in the Sebastian Acevedo Movement against Torture and was a co-founder of CAPCI – Pastoral Workers against Impunity. I went to Chile as a Maryknoll Lay Missioner. When I returned to the U.S. I continued solidarity work with Chile in the U.S. and began to work on issues of human rights in the United States with a focus on immigrants and economic human rights. I also continue my human rights work in Chile around issues of the disappeared and with a women’s health group.
How did your path lead you to La Salle?
I began coming to La Salle in elementary school when I would attend basketball camp with Lefty Ervin and Angie Scarangelli. I then came as an undergrad because I liked the openness of La Salle’s Religion and Theology Department.
How do you view your role as a teacher and what do you hope to instill or inspire in your students?
I consider the educational enterprise to be one of mutual engagement and relationship and I try to approach each and every class session, and out-of-class session, with that frame of reference. I take seriously the philosophy of the earliest Brothers to “be ‘brothers to one another’ in their community, and ‘older brothers’ to the young people whom they saw ‘confided in their care’” (Brother Gerard Rummery as quoted in La Salle University and its Catholic Lasallian Mission, p 26). What I find most rewarding is the opportunity to engage in serious dialogue, discussion, and discourse with students about profound topics that affect our lives as active and responsible members of society. I enjoy being challenged and challenging the students to become better social workers and community members. I also enjoy those “Aha” moments when a student begins to understand a complicated concept, and, most especially, when a student begins to integrate the knowledge into their personal and professional lives.
I strive to challenge students to see the world from different perspectives and to expand their own worldview.
What is your ideal way to spend free time?
I love riding my bike, hiking, reading, and listening to music.
What is a book that has inspired you most?
It is so very difficult to choose just one. There are three that are a tie:
Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed
Eduardo Galeano’s Open Veins of Latin America
John Sobrino and Juan Hernández-Pico’s Theology of Christian Solidarity
Who are three people, dead or alive, you would invite to dinner if you knew they would attend?
Beyond the Classroom
83% of faculty hold a Ph.D. or the highest degree in their field.
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Ranked in the top 50 in the North Region on U.S. News & World Report’s 2022 list of Best Colleges.