Attendance at all class sessions is required and absences will affect the student's grade. Students are expected to come to class already having read and digested the materials listed on the syllabus for that day. Students are also required to attend and actively participate in the Discussion Sections. Students must come to those sections having done the assignment and prepared to participate energetically in discussion. For each section, those students not handing in a paper will be expected to submit a paragraph on questions assigned ahead of time. Other written assignments include (1) one short exegetical paper (6 pages; "exegetical" here simply means an interpretation of a text), (2) a short paper (6 pages) on a topic of conflict in early Christianity, (3) a final paper (8 pages) on a topic to be assigned and due at a date to be assigned toward the end of term.
The sociologist Roy Wallis (1945–1990) introduced differing definitions of sects and cults . He argued that a cult is characterized by " epistemological individualism" by which he means that "the cult has no clear locus of final authority beyond the individual member." According to Wallis, cults are generally described as "oriented towards the problems of individuals, loosely structured, tolerant, non-exclusive", making "few demands on members", without possessing a "clear distinction between members and non-members", having "a rapid turnover of membership", and are transient collectives with vague boundaries and fluctuating belief systems. Wallis asserts that cults emerge from the "cultic milieu." Wallis contrasts a cult with a sect in that he asserts that sects are characterized by " epistemological authoritarianism": sects possess some authoritative locus for the legitimate attribution of heresy. According to Wallis, "sects lay a claim to possess unique and privileged access to the truth or salvation, such as collective salvation , and their committed adherents typically regard all those outside the confines of the collectivity as 'in error'."