Spring 2019

The following courses will be offered by the Department of Religion in Spring 2019. We encourage you to consider enrolling and joining us for an exploration of religion and culture in context. 

Specific information regarding the dates, times, and locations of these courses will be updated as soon as they are ready from the Registrar’s office.

REL 2000 Introduction to Religion – Jonathan Edelmann

Introduces the historical underpinnings, geographical movement, development and current expression of a variety of religious traditions. Religion continues to be a major force in our world, whether by influencing how people vote and think about cultural or intellectual issues, or by determining fashions and attitudes. In addition to providing a broad historical understanding of religions, the course introduces how scholars in various parts of the world have interpreted religion. How should we understand the origin of religion? Is religion a force of good or evil, or both? Is religion best understood by natural science, psychology, sociology, philosophy, theology, or some other method? What role does language play in how we understand religion? This course examines these questions while engaging specific religious beliefs and practices.

REL 2104 Environmental Ethics – Erin Prophet

Climate change, sustainability, industrial waste, and animal rights are just a few important contemporary environmental issues. How can we decide human moral responsibility towards the natural world? How do we evaluate the competing rights of various species? How can we balance conservation and use of natural resources? Should we “manage” wilderness? What kind of ethics motivates radical activists? What do religions say about duty to the environment? Students will explore both religious and secular ethical positions with a focus on systems of “environmental ethics” that emerged during the twentieth century. They will understand different types of ecocentric and biocentric ethics and how they relate to traditional ethical systems. They will develop a deeper knowledge of the range of ethical positions on the environment and approaches to solving environmental problems.

REL 2121 American Religious History (online) – David Hackett

This course offers an introductory overview of the American religious experience from an historical and cultural perspective. The interaction of American religions and cultures is examined in three chronological periods: 1) Colonial America 1500-1800 2) Nineteenth Century, and 3) Twentieth Century.

REL 2300 Intro to World Religions (online) – Jonathan Edelmann

The origin, historical development and key figures, concepts, symbols, practices and institutions of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and East Asian traditions, including Taoism, Shinto-ism and Confucianism. This course examines the history of religion through specific texts and arts.

REL 2930 Jewish Culture: Jews Jewishness and Judaism – Rachel Gordan

What is Jewishness, anyway? Is it a religion, a culture, a nation? Is Judaism just like Christianity, but without Jesus? These are some of the questions we’ll answer in a class that explores what it means to be a Jew by examining holidays, beliefs, history, and culture.

REL 2388 Indigenous Religions of the Americas – Robin Wright

This course introduces the student to the historical and contemporary religious beliefs and practices of Native peoples of North and South America, and the Caribbean. With such a vast and diverse universe to study, our approach will (1) highlight key features of indigenous religious traditions throughout the Americas; (2) discuss central features of religious traditions in various of the major historical civilizations; and (3) focus on religious ethnographies of contemporary native peoples in all three macroregions of the Americas. Thus, the course is a mix of what we understand about the religions of the historic great indigenous civilizations of the Americas, and what we understand about contemporary indigenous religiosities. The main emphasis in all three objectives is on historical change and continuity in indigenous religious traditions.

REL 3076 – Cults and New Religious Movements – Erin Prophet

“Cults” are seldom far from the news, from Scientology to the Branch Davidians who died at Waco, Texas. The mass suicide at Jonestown in 1978 still affects how many people perceive “cults” and new religious movements. But how do we decide what is a cult? Are members brainwashed or are there other explanations for their actions? Why do some groups become violent? And why do some succeed while others fail? Students will examine common typologies of religious groups in the context of modernity, the dynamics of charismatic leadership, millennialism, schism, violence, government response, and models of conversion including “brainwashing.” They will also explore the ways groups transgress social norms, and the range of historical outcomes, including for children, families, and former members. Explore a single group in-depth or perform comparison, using methods from sociology, anthropology, and religious studies.

REL 3103 Religion and Nature in North America – Erin Prophet

From the first contacts between Europeans and indigenous peoples, the North American continent inspired new ways of thinking about religion and nature. This historical survey explores ways in which the relationship between these two ideas has changed over time. It examines the influence of scientific developments, transformed ecosystems, and shifting values on faith traditions, indigenous religion, and an emerging scientifically oriented nature religion. Find out how Romanticism, Transcendentalism, Darwinism, the Gaia hypothesis, Asian religion, environmentalism, and even surfing culture have contributed to new religious and spiritual sensibilities. Students will understand how to evaluate tensions between elements of philosophical systems, such as otherworldliness and this-worldliness, subjugation vs. preservation of nature, humanistic and post-human values.

REL 3108 Religion and Food – Whitney Sanford

Food is one of the most critical, yet understudied, aspects of human experience. Most of us like to eat, and food is a tangible way in which we articulate our religious, ethical and moral selves. Religious values shape how we feast and fast, and feed the deities and feed ourselves. This course will explore the relationship between food and religion by (1) investigating food in the context of specific religious traditions, e.g. Hinduism; and (2) examining food as a moral and ethical category in religious and secular contexts, e.g., organic and locavore. Topics include, but are not limited to, food and ritual; food and religious ethics; religion, food and sustainability.

This course fits under the rubric of the humanities because it focuses on how people of the world’s different religious traditions understand food in its multiple capacities. This course explores the food-related myths, rituals, texts, and practices of different religious traditions, in the US and abroad; compares the role of food and eating, addressing topics such as ritual practice, health, relations between humans and the divine, morality/ethics, and sustainability; and demonstrates how food practices reflect and shape gender roles and social roles among and in-between diverse populations in the United States. It seeks to present an in-depth understanding of the language and concepts used by different traditions to define “food”. This course demonstrates the methodologies used in Religious Studies, including historical, textual, comparative, and ethnographic, and consciously reflects on how and why scholars choose these methods in their investigations.

REL 3191 Death and the Afterlife: Perspectives from World Religions- Vasudha Narayanan

This course explores notions of death and the afterlife in many religious traditions as well as in popular culture. It is divided into two major sections. In the first (and larger section, we will look at several topics including: conceptions of a soul (if any), what happens to a person at death, funerary rites, various conceptions of a/the ultimate reality (theistic, monistic, and so forth), notions of salvation and/or liberation, judgment, and various conceptions of time (e.g., linear or cyclical). The second section will explore how some of these religious perspectives are reflected in popular culture and spiritual movements. This section will focus on views of reincarnation and debates over the topic of near-death experiences, and briefly look at what is “death?”

  • Upon successful completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  • Provide a background for each religious tradition to contextualize notions of death and the afterlife.
  • Recognize basic conceptions of death and the afterlife according various Western and
  • Eastern religious traditions (Hindu, Buddhist, Chinese, Japanese Indigenous, Christian,
  • Judaic, and Islamic traditions) as exemplified through sacred texts (written or oral), ritual practices and popular beliefs.
  • Identify a few funerary practices associated with different religious traditions.
  • Understand relationships between conceptions of death and the afterlife and key doctrinal positions maintained by the respective religious tradition,
  • Be able to analyze ideas of death which appear in popular culture and locate themes in the religious traditions to which they bear similarity.

REL 3294 Apocalypticism – Robert Kawashima

Apocalypticism refers in the first instance to a development within Second Temple Judaism. As such, it originated in the religious culture of ancient Israel and the ancient Near East more generally, and it eventually came to constitute the religious-cultural matrix out of which Christianity was eventually born. This development entailed both a new literary form, namely, the apocalypse (literally “revelation”), and also a new way of viewing reality, what we might refer to as the apocalyptic “worldview.” This course will focus in particular on Jewish and Christian apocalypticism through a survey of apocalyptic texts from the Hebrew Bible, Second Temple Jewish literature (including the Dead Sea Scrolls), and the New Testament. While surveying this body of literature and its historical contexts, we will, in the course of the semester, consider various aspects of apocalyptic writing and thinking: the nature of the cosmos, the nature of history, and the literary forms used to convey this religious vision.

REL 3321 Early Judaism and Christianity – James Mueller

This course will trace the developments from Ancient Israelite religion to Early Judaism (concentrating on the Hellenistic and Roman periods), and the emergence of Christianity from this Jewish matrix (including both the indebtedness of Early Christianity to Judaism and the Early Christian [and to a lesser extent Jewish] polemic against its sibling). The course does presuppose some background on the part of the student in terms of both course content and critical methodology.

REL 3371 Islam in Africa – Benedikt Pontzen

This course provides a comparative and historical overview of Islam and Muslim societies in their diversity in sub-Saharan Africa. The course will begin with an overview of recent academic debates on how to study these societies and Islam in their diversity. Thereafter, we will dip into the long history of Islam in Africa by highlighting some central historical features and trajectories of Muslim presence in Africa. The main part of the course will focus on contemporary Africa. In this part, we will acquire an overview of the central topics in the study of Islam in Africa, including Sufis and reform, Islam and politics, Islam and public spheres, religious encounters, gender and sexuality, etc. The second part will mainly build on studies of lived Islam, i.e. Islam as lived by its adherents. In the concluding sessions, we will reflect on how to overcome the prevailing separation between the so-called Muslim world and Africa and ask for how to think the latter as part of the former and vice versa.

REL 3931 Junior Seminar – Robert Kawashima

This seminar will introduce students to several major approaches to the study of religion, using Daniel Pals’s textbook as a guide. Since no guide, however knowledgeable, can take the place of the primary thinkers themselves, we will also read excerpts from a number of major theorists, including some not covered by Pals. Theories of religion, in turn, cannot be understood in isolation as so many abstract ideas. We will therefore analyze various passages from the Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament) as empirical data with which to test some of these theories. What light (if any) does a given theory or approach shed on the Hebrew Bible and Israelite religion? The study of religion, moreover, presupposes certain critical concepts, which we must reflect on. What is religion? What does it mean to make it an object of knowledge? What is a science, a theory, an approach? What questions can and should a theory of religion seek to answer? Is the study of religion even a discipline — in the way that, say, mathematics and history are disciplines? And what does this imply about the topic taught by our department? Finally, as one of the Religion Department’s core major requirements, this seminar will actively seek to cultivate within students the all-important skills of careful reading and thinking. How should one read, think about, and interpret a religious text, a theoretical text, a scholarly text?

REL 3938 Spirituality and Health Care – Erin Prophet

In the twenty-first century, spirituality and health care are intersecting in new ways. Traditional and indigenous medical practices are increasingly being sanctioned by and integrated with Western biomedicine. Health providers are expected to be aware of patients’ spiritual needs. Students will learn about the historically shifting boundaries between medicine, psychology and religion in the West. Whether and how the health impact of religious and spiritual beliefs and practices can be measured. The latest findings from the cognitive science of religion, including theories regarding the innateness of religious ideas. Finally, they will evaluate different models for integrating traditional and alternative therapies with Western biomedicine and learn best practices for assessing and meeting patients’ spiritual needs.

REL 3938 Contemporary (Modern) Shamanism – Robin Wright

This course examines the varieties of religious experience that have come under the rubric of ‘shamanism’ and ‘shaman’. The course will include contemporary shamanisms among indigenous peoples of Amazonia, outer Asia, and North America; urbanized, non-indigenous movements, especially core shamanism and the neo-shamanic movements; and prophet movements of the Americas directly connected to shamanic cosmologies.

Part I presents an overview of shamanic spiritualities found throughout the world, the processes of becoming a shaman, altered states of consciousness and shamanic transformations, the relations of shamans to the cosmos, the long-range historical development of shamanic consciousness, historical consciousness and spiritual agency of shamans.

The next four units focus on: II. Amazonian and other South American shamanisms; III. Shamanisms of Outer Asia; IV. Native North American shamanisms; V. Core and Neoshamanisms. While there is overlap amongst all of these units, there are clear features that distinguish one from the other, in regard to knowledge and powers, relations among human and other-than-human beings (spirits and deities, especially), and shamans’ relations to history and historical consciousness, and the state. 

Each unit will be amply illustrated and discussed through readings, audio-visual material, including from the Professor’s own research and experiences.  In addition, the course’s Canvas website has a Module section on Resources that contains several bibliographies and a selection of other relevant readings.

REL 3938 Post-Holocaust Jews and Judaism – Rachel Gordan

The Holocaust was the most catastrophic event in contemporary Jewish history. Although the loss of Jewish lives occurred in Europe, the Holocaust had grave and transformative effects for American Jews and Judaism. In one way or another, after World War II, American Jewish communities and leaders realized that they were now leaders of world Jewry. In the past, American Jews had looked to Europe as the center of Jewish learning; now, that leadership role belonged to American Jews. 

In addition to a shift in power, other changes occurred among American Jews that affected American Judaism. In the immediate postwar years, Judaism became one of “the big three” religions in America, alongside Protestantism and Catholicism. One of the major questions we will explore in this class is how and why this change took place in the United States, and what it meant for both Jews and American culture. 

While a course on “Post-Holocaust Jews” could certainly continue to the present, we will be focused on the immediate postwar era. We will be using a mix of primary and secondary sources. 

In addition to learning about post-Holocaust Jews and American culture, you will also have the opportunity to broaden your academic horizons, learn valuable lessons regarding the study of religion and culture, and, it is hoped, improve your analytic and presentation skills. This course is open to everyone. There are no pre-requisites, and no knowledge of religious studies in general or Judaism in particular is presupposed.

REL 3938 Gender and Religion – Priyanka Ramlakhan

This course will explore the many ways that religious traditions have shaped and continue to shape intricate notions of gendered identities. Students will be introduced to important theories related to the construction of gender and religion. A significant part of this course is dedicated to gendered elements within sacred texts, rituals, oral traditions and in the lived context of religion.

It will further examine issues such as purity, pollution, and auspiciousness, along with assumptions of religious authority connected to gender. Students will practice thinking broadly across theoretical, religious, geographical, and embodied ideas of gender. Students do not require previous coursework or familiarity with religious studies or gender studies, however, this course will prepare students for future coursework in these areas.

REL 3938 Religion in Florida – Vickie Machado

What rituals and practices do Floridians embody, enact, and turn to in their daily lives? What types of traditional and new religious movements gain traction in the Sunshine State? Starting with these questions, this course draws from a historical and cultural perspective in order to investigate a wide range of religious experiences and traditions in Florida.

REL 4141 Religion and Social Change – Anna Peterson

This course explores religion’s role in both intentional social change (e.g., social movements) and other forms of cultural, economic, and political transformation. We will focus on some key questions such as the following: Is religion an anaesthetizing or motivating force in struggles for social change? What can religion contribute to modernization and democratization? What factors shape the social character and role of religion? How does religion relate to other forces for or against social change? And how do different theoretical frameworks help us understand all these different processes?

REL 4361 Women and Islam – Zoharah Simmons

In this course, we will address the difficult, controversial, and highly provocative topic “Women And Islam.” Most non-Muslims credit Islam as being the root cause of the oppression of women in the Muslim world. But in reality, women’s status in the Islamic world is not simply because of Islam. A growing number of Muslim women scholars and activists have begun to challenge the notion that Islam is synonymous with the oppression of women. I count myself amongst this group. These women, many of whom like me consider ourselves feminists, are questioning the male and often misogynist interpretations of the sacred texts of Islam. We are focusing a womanist or a feminist lens on Islam’s canon and are deriving different interpretations from those that have prevailed for centuries, just as Jewish and Christian feminists have done. This course on “Women and Islam” will cast a feminist insider perspective on the volatile subject of “Women and Islam.”

REL 4936 Contemporary Islam – Benjamin Soares

This course provides an introduction to the study of contemporary Islam and Muslim societies in their complexity and diversity in a variety of settings in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and North America. Readings and discussions focus on the following subject areas: Islamic religious practices; intellectual traditions; law; politics; gender & sexuality; youth; and media.

REL 4936 Global Islam – Terje Ostebo

As one of the world’s largest and fastest growing religions, Islam exerts significant global influence in politics, culture, and society. This course addresses the urgent need for a deeper understanding of the diversity of Muslim cultures and societies in the contemporary global context. With a focus on lived Islam in the contemporary world, the course will provide knowledge about the diversity and complexity of Global Islam, and provide a unique opportunity for students to deepen their understanding of the richness of Muslim cultures and societies in the global context. The course will have a combined topical and geographical approach, and study Islam as it intersects with broader social, cultural, political and economic dynamics, and focus on areas such as America, Asia, Africa, Europe, and North-Africa/Middle East. The course will be of an interdisciplinary character, drawing from perspectives from the social sciences and the humanities.