Capstone Projects, Comparative Religion

Our students engage in studies across the globe exploring the interface of tradition and today. Here is a sample of the details: 

Rebecca Riley, C’15

Rebecca Riley's Profile Photo

It is shown through the historical and contemporary studies presented here that stories of female asceticism in Buddhism and Hinduism share important common themes among their differences.  Both histories show a practice of lower social and spiritual value because of female gender, which is usually characterized by the physical aspects of menstruation and childbirth, as well as the concept of the woman as the temptress.  Buddhism has had a history of nuns under the power of the monks as dictated by the Buddha, which has largely been the situation until recently.  Similarly, Hindu Sannyasinis have had a history of being overpowered by male sanyasas, until the recent emergence of independent female ascetics such as Amma, the mother of compassion.  The women in both of these traditions managed to gain power in asceticism through renouncing the traditional roles of a woman, such as marriage and childbirth, and instead embracing the feminine characteristic of motherhood to a level only a woman is capable of achieving.  These women utilize their unique positions as women to perfect feminine characteristics that their male ascetic counterparts cannot due to their gender.  The women in Buddhism and Hinduism have both found unique ways to utilize their gender to their benefit, rather than letting it limit their access to asceticism and ultimately from liberation or enlightenment.  Through focusing on the characteristic of motherhood, many female ascetics have made it possible to overcome the obstacles that have commonly faced women in the history of women in asceticism, and pave the way towards a world of equality for all female ascetics.

Patrick Keough, C’15

Comparative theology is a field badly needed in a world where people of faith engage daily with people of other faiths. Incorporating the academic rigor and intellectual sophistication of comparative religious study, comparative theology does not ignore the metaphysical and ontological questions posed by religious study. Complete religious objectivity is not required of the comparative theologian. Theology, to quote the 11th century English archbishop St. Anslem of Canterbury, is “faith seeking understanding.” For Anslem, belief was the ultimate cornerstone of knowledge. For me, perhaps, the inverse is true – faith is a product of knowledge – but Anslem’s assertion provides an example of an important distinction between the theologian and the religious studies scholar. For the theologian, faith is inseparable from knowledge. This does not mean to say “I believe something to be true” is equivalent to saying “I know something to be true”, for these are two very distinct epistemological concepts. Yet for the theologian, knowledge is perhaps the unreachable end-point of belief matured; its natural ‘hope against hope’ conclusion.

Neftali Rodriguez, C’15

Neftali RodriguezSeveral Afro-Caribbean religions, such as Santeria, are viewed by some scholars as  syncretic religious traditions. Santeria is not a syncretic religion; Santeria is a hybrid religious tradition. In this paper I intend to show that as this hybrid religious tradition encountered several environments and cultures, Santeria adopted and altered religious practices and beliefs. I will put more emphasis on the transformations Santeria continues to go through while encountering in the United States. I will also incorporate my own ethnographic study of two Santeria traditions I studied in the United States. While studying and analyzing these Santeria traditions I will show how these traditions are transforming in religious practices and beliefs. I will use these ethnographic studies to further show that Santeria changed as it encountered the U.S. environment and culture. In part of my analysis and discussion I will be guided by the following questions: what changes did Santeria go through as a relatively old religion in the United States? What caused Santeria to alter religious practices and beliefs? Based on these questions I intend to argue that every religion goes through transformations as it encounters a new cultural environment, Santeria is no exception.

Eliza Mauhs-Pugh, C’14

REL Salon sp 14 - 15

Reconquista” is a historically fraught term that emerged in the nationalist context of the 19th century and has largely been rejected by historians due to its highly problematic implications, especially that of unified identity and rightful ownership.  However, a survey of twelfth-century Iberian texts, both religious and temporal in nature, reveals a narrative of conquest which evidences a contemporary understanding both of Iberian identity and rightful ownership of the Iberian Peninsula.  I hope to provide a window into twelfth-century notions of Iberian identity and, accordingly, the way in which reconquista might be re-imagined through an analysis of these texts, primarily the Codex Calixtinus, a largely liturgical work associated with the Camino de Santiago and housed at Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain.

Rachel Schachter, C’14


“Religion of the Heart: Zinzendorf’s Theology and its Implications for Sexuality in the Moravian Church Today” brings the Pietist theology of 18th-century Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to bear on contemporary discussions surrounding homosexuality and same-sex sex in the Moravian Church today. The theology of Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf (1700-1760) focused heavily on the mystical marriage in which the Church — and in this case each individual in the community — is a Bride of Christ. This theology, though it manifested itself in 18th-century General Economy Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, did not manifest itself fully. Within a context of Moravian Spirituality, refusal to condemn, or even willingness to condone, same-sex sex if it is mutually loving and reflective of union with Christ, is not as drastic of a break as it may seem.


Katelyn Cusmano, C’14 

Religion and culture can affect many avenues of one’s life. This project examined the relationship between religion and medicine in the United States and in Ghana. Physicians in both countries were interviewed about how their religious beliefs as well as the religious beliefs of their patients have influenced their experience with patient treatment. In general, spirituality is more widespread in Ghana than in the United States. In addition, there are many differences in the available and commonly used medical treatments between the two countries. Despite these differences, it is possible to find commonalities between the role of religion and medicine in the two countries. Religion impacts how patients in both countries view their illness. In addition, religion is a major factor in psychiatric care and can also impact the treatment chosen by patients in the United States and Ghana. Because of the importance of religion on medical treatment, physicians in both countries should consider taking a spiritual history as part of a patient history. Studying the methods of healing in the context of Ghana and the United States is extremely important and provides information as to the most effective and efficient medical treatment for patients.