The Faith(s) of Abraham:
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam

COURSE DESCRIPTION Sheila E. McGinn, Ph.D., Associate Professor
COURSE RESOURCES Prerequisites:  RL 101 or equivalent
ASSIGNMENTS & EXAMINATIONS & an inquiring mind

COURSE DESCRIPTION:  The three "Religions of the Book"--Judaism, Christianity, and Islam--all claim Abraham, the Biblical patriarch, as their "father in faith." Jews and Muslims trace their genealogies back to the two sons of Abraham, Isaac and Ishmael, while Christians claim adoption as "sons of Abraham" through their faith in Jesus Christ and their baptismal adoption into his Name.    If Jews, Christians, and Muslims all are "children of Abraham" and heirs to his faith, then why do they follow three different religious traditions? This is the central question of this course. To answer this question, we will follow a cross-cultural approach to the study of these religions, with contemporary U.S. religious communities providing the case studies.
    Some aspects considered are: the origins, formation, and development of these communities as they interact with their socio-political environment; their different theological perspectives--in regard to God, humanity and the world; their sacred writings and other sources of religious teachings; organization and leadership roles in their communities; their ethical, social, and political teachings.

COURSE OBJECTIVES: Through the successful completion of this course, a student will be able to:

  1. identify founders and give dates of origin for these three religions
  2. give dates for the significant events in the development of these three traditions
  3. define the key terms relating to the three "Religions of the Book"
  4. summarize and sympathetically discuss the key religious themes/doctrines and characteristics of the Torah, Gospels, and Qur'an
  5. discuss the relationships of Christianity and Islam to their "mother faith," Judaism
  6. delineate the ethnic, geographic and cultural contexts of these three religions
  7. discuss their key political and ethical positions
  8. name the most significant U.S. versions of these religious movements
  9. demonstrate command of the comparative religions approach to religious studies
  10. make fruitful use of the standard tools for RL research (e.g., specialized dictionaries and encyclopediae, archaeological reports, textual commentaries and critical apparatuses).
CLASS FORMAT varies: lectures and guest presentations; films, videos, slides, food and music; study and avid class discussions of the assigned readings; field research; student research presentations; creative papers; quizzes and reaction papers; unit and final examinations. Students are expected and encouraged to be active participants in the learning process.


The University expects that students will submit their own original work and properly cite sources for their ideas, including the Bible, web pages, handouts, class notes, and ideas from other students.  I am sure that you intend to do this.  Be careful about how you do your work.  E.g., do not "loan"  papers or other assignments to friends; this counts as academic dishonesty, too, and you face the same penalties as those who take the assignments and submit the ideas as their own.  If you work with other class members to prepare an assignment, be sure to credit other persons' ideas so it will not look like you have copied their notes.  See the JCU Student Handbook (p. 46) for further information.  Any student who violates academic integrity will earn an "F" for the course.

ASSIGNMENTS & EXAMINATIONS are available on the Schedule page.

EXPECTATIONS: Students will do assigned readings before each class meeting, actively participate in class discussions and field trips, successfully complete quizzes and examinations, and submit written work on time.  The schedule of readings, assignments, and topics for class discussion are found on the Class Schedule page.  It is expected that all assignments be completed in order to receive a passing grade for this course.

ATTENDANCE: Bad hair day or not, the University expects prompt and alert student presence at every class meeting. Class discussion comprises a substantial component of the course grade, and one must be present to participate in discussion. Hence, students who absent themselves more than six times during the semester will have their total course grade docked one letter grade, and then one additional grade level for each subsequent absence. If you are ill, a medical excuse is necessary to receive an excused absence. If you have an unavoidable conflict which will prevent you from meeting class, please present your documentation of this conflict before the class absence.
    Absences from class do not excuse the student from submitting the required course work on time, since every assignment is listed in the Course Schedule. Late assignments will be docked one letter grade for each day they are overdue.



A = 95% A- = 91% B+ = 88% B = 84% B- = 81%
C+ = 78% C = 76% C- = 70% D+ = 65% D = 60%
    F = 0-59%    


APPA  (see below) 20%
Field Research 20%
Written Assignments 20%
Quizzes & Examinations (4) 40%

NB: For details of assignments and an illustration of precisely how each component factors into the final course grade, see the Sample Grade Calculation Form.

APPA [= Attendance (10%), Preparation (5%), Participation (5%), Attentiveness (5%)].  I give credit for class attendance, preparation for the session (e.g., evidence that you have done the reading, turning in the assignments), participation (e.g., talking in small group discussions, asking questions or making appropriate comments during lectures), and attentiveness (i.e., looking alert and interested in the class activities).  Students in this class benefit not only from the instructor's presentations, but also from interaction with their classmates.  Students learn better when they are prepared for the class discussion; they also learn better what  they themselves say aloud.  The overall course grade takes this into account in delegating 20% of the grade to the APPA score.
   The University expects students to attend every class meeting.  However, for serious reasons (e.g., illness, death in the family), a student will receive an excused absence.  In such a case, it is the student's responsibility to provide documentation.  Students who have six unexcused absences during the semester will have their total course grade docked one letter grade, and then one additional grade level for each subsequent absence.
   Recognize that an absence from class, even an excused one, does not automatically grant an extension for an assignment.  This would have to be negotiated before the due date for the assignment.


  1. Each student will need a study edition of the Bible (not a paraphrase). The best available translations are: The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha, the New Jerusalem Bible, and the New American Bible.
  2. A copy of the Holy Qur'an would be useful, or read it on the Web.
  1. Course Handouts (from the Instructor) and web page information
  2. Corrigan, Denny, Eire, Jaffee, Jews, Christians, Muslims: A Comparative Introduction to Monotheistic Religions (Prentice Hall, 1997).
  3. Corrigan, Denny, Eire, Jaffee, Readings in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (Prentice Hall, 1997).
CONSULTATION: I'm glad to meet and talk with you during office hours, or by appointment. I also welcome comments or suggestions about the course via the Feedback Sheet available at the course web site.

ADDITIONAL INTERNET LINKS are available through my home page.