REDI4002 – Practices and Receptions of Sacred Scriptures

Schedule, syllabus and examination date

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Course content

The complex ways of practicing sacred texts and their receptions provide prime illustrations for the kind of dynamics studied in the program of Religion and Diversity. Religious traditions usually portray their sacred scriptures as internally consistent and significantly distinct from the scriptures of other religious traditions. However, seen from a historical and comparative perspective, collections of sacred scriptures are often loaded with internal contradictions, paradoxes, and inconsistencies. More importantly, the social practices that produce and confirm these texts as sacred are infinitely varied and complex. At the same time, especially in the case of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, there are similarities and points of contact across the three traditions of practicing sacred scriptures. This course keeps a focus on such diversities, variations, similarities and parallels. It provides an overview of the practicing of sacred scriptures in a historical and comparative perspective. It also conveys knowledge, skills, and attitudes promoting a perception of sacred texts as a productive space for interreligious and intercultural exchange.
The key to understanding the roles of sacred scriptures is to understand their use and reception on so many levels – what we here call the practicing of sacred texts. Such Scriptures are points of reference for individuals and communities, for societies and cultures – positively as well as negatively. They may be praised for bringing comfort and betterment to humankind, but also criticised for harming people and hindering social progress. Practices of sacred texts have been blamed for causing discrimination and global problems, but also valued as potential portals for global understanding. Religious traditions perceive their sacred texts as normative or canonical, and they use them to form collective identities. Individuals, on the other hand, may interpret their scriptures differently, and even use them in protest against religious traditionalism.

This course will offer tools to better understand the importance of the many different receptions of sacred texts, and to engage critically and constructively with such practices. We will read selected sacred texts in light of their historical origin in cultures that were very different from ours. We will study moments of their reception history, see how professedly canonical texts are re-read and re-conceived in ever-new situations. We will consider different strategies for reading and “doing” sacred texts, and also the ethics of such reading. Motives and narratives shared across religious traditions will be emphasized, along with inter-religious readings. Theoretical and methodological questions will be central.

Each student will choose one out of four electives relevant for understanding sacred texts and their complex receptions:
1. Abraham, Hagar, Sarah and their offspring in three traditions
2. Family, sexuality, violence
3. Jewish slavery in Antiquity
4. Islamic Theology of religious pluralism

Learning outcome

Students acquire knowledge of sacred scriptures, with a special focus on Judaism, Christianity and Islam. They will become familiar with the main content, literary genres, and historical origins of these scriptures, and especially with the textual practices associated with them. Through a focus on the receptions of religious texts and the many different ways in which they are given meaning within religious traditions, students will develop a critical understanding of the role of scriptures within religious diversity.  

Students will be able to identify and engage with common strategies for interpreting and practicing sacred texts, and train their sensitivity for the use of authoritative texts within power dynamics. They will be able to analyse ethical challenges related to the reception of sacred texts in diverse religious contexts.

Engagement with sacred texts and their various receptions and practices will foster your appreciation of independent and critical reflection on the role of sacred texts.


Students who are admitted to study programmes at UiO must each semester register which courses and exams they wish to sign up for in Studentweb.

Students enrolled in other Master's Degree Programmes can, on application, be admitted to the course if this is cleared by their own study programme.

If you are not already enrolled as a student at UiO, please see our information about admission requirements and procedures.


During fall 2020 this course will be taught as a digital course, using Zoom software for meeting and discussing and Canvas software for distribution of teaching material, facilitation of student interaction, submission of assignments, etc. Students will each week submit a small summary of syllabus literature, concepts, or problems chosen for that week. Some of these submissions may be presented in the form of reports on group discussion. Each submission is followed by a weekly two-hour session of teacher presentations, Q&A, and group discussion to that week's part of the syllabus. Throughout the first 11 weeks of the term, the teachers in the course offer individual supervision for the selection of theme and the writing of the student term paper.

Assignment and compulsory activities:

The following activities need to be fulfilled in order for the student to be allowed for examination in this course.
1. Students are required to have access to necessary IT equipment for following the course and to acquaint themselves with Zoom and Canvas software before the end of August.
2. The teacher responsible for coordinating the course will announce 10 themes for weekly reports. Every student must submit a report for at least eight of these 10 themes. Two of these submissions may be in the form of a report on group discussion on that week’s theme. Reporting starts two weeks into the teaching period. (For information on the topics of these reports and for specifications for individual and group reports, see info material in Canvas.)
3. One of the reports shall be presented to the class orally (via Zoom) during the weekly teaching sessions.
4. By mid-term, all students must produce a preliminary draft for their term paper, no less than 1500 words. The theme for the paper must be approved by one of the course teachers in advance. Individual supervision is offered, and strongly recommended.


Portfolio exam:

1. Each student selects four of the best weekly reports that were submitted during the semester. The reports may be reworked before being handed in for the portfolio. Report size: 1000 words.
2. Each student submits a term paper reflecting individual formulated research questions, engagement with course literature and other relevant literature, learning from the course, and individual reflection. Size: 4000 words.
The grade is given on the basis of the entire portfolio, with a tentative weight for the term paper for 60 percent of the final grade.

Submit assignments in Inspera

You submit your assignment in the digital examination system Inspera. Read about how to submit your assignment.

Use of sources and citation

You should familiarize yourself with the rules that apply to the use of sources and citations. If you violate the rules, you may be suspected of cheating/attempted cheating.

Language of examination

You may write your examination paper in Norwegian, Swedish, Danish or English.

Grading scale

Grades are awarded on a scale from A to F, where A is the best grade and F is a fail. Read more about the grading system.

Explanations and appeals

Resit an examination

Withdrawal from an examination

It is possible to take the exam up to 3 times. If you withdraw from the exam after the deadline or during the exam, this will be counted as an examination attempt.

Special examination arrangements

Application form, deadline and requirements for special examination arrangements.

Facts about this course






Every autumn


Every autumn

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