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Fall 2020

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The following descriptions of courses being offered by the Department of Religion in Fall 2020 were submitted by the course instructors.

Specific information regarding the dates, times, and locations of these courses may be found in the Registrar’s official webpage: Schedule of Courses for Fall 2020.

*Here are the listings of our Fall 2020 courses in PDF format.

If you are looking for a complete syllabus for a course, check the Syllabi area for availability

IDS 2935 Post-Holocaust American Jews – 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. This looks at those effects in American culture and their implications for other religious, racial, and immigrant minority groups.

IDS 2935 Religion, Social Movements, and Social Change – Anna Peterson

How do social movements emerge?  Why do people join?  How do they create change?  And what does religion have to do with all of this?  Social movements are organized, collective efforts to change policies, institutions, and attitudes.  This class explores the distinctive ways in which religion enters into the formation, identity, practices, and outcomes of various movements. We will focus particularly on the role of religion in civil rights and anti-racist organizing, but we will also examine movements focused on environmental protection, LGBTQ rights, animal rights, gender justice, and other issues as well.

IDS2935 Nature, Spirituality & Popular Culture – Bron Taylor

Beginning with the period since Walt Disney began making animal-focused documentaries and animated films in the 1930s, continuing up through the blockbuster motion picture Avatar (2009) and the Animal Kingdom Theme part further expressing its themes, this course takes a global tour examining the religious, spiritual, ethical, and political dimensions of artistic productions, scientific representations in museums, and other cultural inventions (such as theme parks), in which nature takes center stage. We will explore the international cultural tributaries, influences, and controversies such productions engender, for they constitute important ways that environmental ethics, and quests for environmentally sustainable livelihoods and lifeways, are expressed and promoted. The course will enhance students’ abilities to interpret these cultural productions and their evocative power, explore their own reactions to these social phenomena, whilst learning to think more deeply about their own places in, and obligations to, the natural world. ​

IDS 2935 God, Humanity & Evolution – Jonathan Edelmann

How do we think about science and religion? What language do we use? What is evolution? How does evolution shape our thinking about ourselves, the world, or another world? How are these questions interconnected? This course teaches the work of scholars and scientists from a diverse range of traditions. By the course content students will learn internationally from religious, philosophical, and scientific authors on reality, its development, and the beings who experience it. Students will produce written documents to develop their own understanding and approach to the course content, and they will learn to reflect on their own beliefs, practices, and academic disciplines in relation to this course.

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) – Vasudha Narayanan

When you complete this course, you will be able to:

  • Explain basic world views, rituals, and beliefs of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Chinese religions, Japanese religions, Indigenous Religions, Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.
  • Problematize the category of religion and identify your own working definitions.
  • Identify the social, political, and cultural factors that come into play in the formation and understanding of a given religion. –
  • Equipped with this knowledge of different religious traditions, and the contexts in which they thrive, identify your own vantage point, as well as engage with different cultures and countries in an informed, respectful manner.

REL 2301 Intro to Hindu Culture (online) – Vasudha Narayanan

This course, taking a “lived religion” approach, is designed to introduce and familiarize students with the diverse cultures connected with Hinduism. We will discuss the early religious history in the Indian subcontinent as well as the texts, themes and Hindu philosophies that continue to flourish into the 21st century. Throughout the course of the semester, we will read and discuss literature, art and architecture, dance and music, gender issues, social structures, and food traditions of fasting and feasting.

The course also considers the reach and influence of Hinduism beyond India by examining how the Hindu traditions form a substratum culture in Southeast Asia and functions as a living tradition in Trinidad, Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and the United States. The course content raises and answers questions like: Why do Hindus wear a mark on their forehead? What kind of diet do Hindus follow? What happens inside Hindu temples? How do Hindus celebrate festivals? In doing so, we will also touch on the broader issues of colonial scholarship, gender, importance of language, construction of religious identities, and political and social issues.

REL 2315 Religions of Asia – Jonathan Edelmann

This course gives students an introduction to the history of ideas, cultures, and politics in the religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism. Other religions in India, Japan, and Korea will be studied as well. The civilizations of Asia are among the largest and the oldest in the world today, so this is no easy task. Today there is a lot of discussion about Asia’s considerable economic and political power. No one doubts that Asia will play an increasingly greater role in world stage throughout the twenty-first century and beyond. Asia is also a bountiful sources of philosophy, theology, meditative and ritual practice, mythology, narrative, art, and music. These are some of the many reasons Asia has captured the interest of the West for millennia. This course explores the ancient religious and philosophical roots of contemporary life in Asia. It provides insight into the way the religions of Asia influence contemporary culture, religion, language, and philosophy. Special attention is given to the sacred texts and mythologies that have guided life in Asia for thousands of years. This highly diverse area of the globe, with a wide range of languages, is part of the evolution and development of the world as a whole. This course encourages students to be part of that evolution by thinking creatively about their own beliefs and practices in relation to Asian thought, and it encourages students to connect the course content to their academic specializations.

REL 2341 Intro to Buddhism – Mario Poceski

The course is a broad survey of the essential beliefs, doctrines, and practices that over the centuries have fashioned the identity of Buddhism as a pan-Asian religion that transcends ethnic, cultural, and linguistic boundaries. The course covers the historical development of the major Buddhist traditions, including the formulation of key doctrinal tenets and religious practices, the growth of the monastic order, and the formation of new religious ideals and doctrines by the Mahāyāna tradition. We will also explore the spread and transformation of Buddhism outside of India, including China and the Western world, before and during the modern period.

REL 2362 Intro to Islam – Ali Mian

This course offers a critical survey of Muslim belief and ritual in historical perspective. Yet, Muslims have not always used the word, “Islam,” to refer to the constellation of ideas and practices elaborated and embodied by the Prophet Muhammad and the early believers. This course unpacks the modern construction of Islam as religion, but also introduces students to Muslim doctrines, devotional acts, and socio-cultural institutions. To that end, we will read about the Islamic religious tradition from a number of thematic angles: community, historical self-consciousness, scripture, memory, theology, sectarianism, law and jurisprudence, mystical experience and practice, gender, sexuality, race and racialization, and secularity as well as globalization. In this way, we will use various crucial themes to survey key characteristics of Muslim experiences from late antiquity to modern times. At the same time, we will also study issues of representation and translation in Islamic studies. This course therefore brings two objects of study under critical scrutiny: “Islam” (by studying various accounts by and about Muslims) and “Islamic studies” (by studying various representations of “Islam” within multiple disciplinary frameworks, including religious studies, history, cultural anthropology, area studies, and political science).

REL 3022 Myth and Ritual – Robin Wright

This course examines the theories and methods in the anthropological and religious studies of myths, rituals, religious specialists, and religious movements. Examples will be primarily drawn from indigenous cultures of the Americas, but also from ancient Mediterranean cultures. Students can expect to learn how to interpret the symbolism and meanings of myths and rituals. We will discuss the place of myth and ritual in both traditional and non-traditional societies and the importance of both in mediating historical change.

REL 3076 – Cults and New Religious Movements – Erin Prophet

This course examines the “cult” and “new religious movement” in the context of modernity. Students will explore common typologies of religious groups, the dynamics of charismatic leadership, the sociology of small-group behavior, millennialism and apocalypticism, schism, violence, and government response, and models of conversion— including “brainwashing.” They will investigate how new religious groups push the boundaries of social norms concerning family, work and community, and trace the dynamics of tension and accommodation as groups change over time. Specific groups to be reviewed include the Shakers, Mormons, Peoples Temple (Jonestown), Rajneeshies, Branch Davidians, and Wicca. Methodological approaches include sociology, anthropology, and religious studies. Students will perform case studies or engage in comparative work on two or more groups. They will also develop a toolkit for evaluating the phenomenon of new religion through close reading, discussion, and written and oral presentation. Most classes include a short clip of a film, TV show or documentary (5-10 min) that can be further explored by students outside class.

REL 3098 Religion, Medicine, and Healing: Contemporary Perspectives (online) – Robin Wright

The focus of this course is on traditional healers and alternative healing practices in various religious traditions around the globe. The most important themes we shall discuss are: the efficacy of religious symbols for the healing process; cross-cultural notions of the body, pain, and healing; embodiment of healing powers by religious specialists; ritual performances and their meanings; the importance of sound, sonic imagery, and music to healing processes; the relations of healing practices to cosmology, metaphysics, and sacred narratives; and, the transformations of self and meaning that emerge during or from a cure. The healing traditions we shall study, by ethnic groups or geographical regions, are the following: (1) Indigenous peoples’ shamanisms; (2) Asian, Eurasian, and Southeast Asian Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, and Sufism; (4) Judaism and Christianity (Charismatic Catholicism and Pentecostalism); (5) Naturopathy and Nature Religions. We shall also examine the issues involved in discussions of Intellectual Property Rights. Among the central questions discussed for each tradition are: How does each contrast with Western bio-medicine? What relations does each maintain with conventional Western bio-medical systems? Is our current national health system capable of collaborating with non-Western forms of spiritual healing? Or are the interests of the industrial and pharmaceutical complex a hindrance through market control, predatory production of herbal remedies in ways that are damaging to peoples and the environment? This course also raises a fundamental question of “Healing the Earth,” which lies at the heart of our and many other societies’ principal illness, that has been popularly called the “disconnect with the natural world”, including the barriers we’ve constructed historically separating us from traditional societies by symbolic and political domination, massive alterations of the natural environment, and a blind trust in the future of high technology. This course argues that the way to healing ourselves and re-establishing a sustainable relationship with our “home” – the planet earth – and its aboriginal inhabitants is through healing the ‘nature disconnect’ on various fronts. The lessons of ancient traditions coupled with a re-scaling of ‘modern medicine’ are valuable starting-points towards this overall humanitarian goal.

REL 3099 Spirituality and Health – 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. How to evaluate the health impact of patients’ religious and spiritual beliefs and practices. Whether and how the effects of spiritual 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 3148 Religion and Violence– Terje Ostebo

The relations between religion and violence has long posed challenges both for ordinary life and for the academic study of religion. Religions sometimes contribute to violence or justify it, but they can also help achieve peaceful solutions to violent conflicts. Religious rituals themselves can be extremely violent, and some scholars argue that violence lies at the heart of religion itself. This class explores violence within religion, religiously motivated violence, religious justifications of political violence, and religious rejections and resolutions of violence. Throughout the course, readings will address a variety of religious traditions in different regions and historical periods. We will also explore a variety of approaches to religious studies and to comparative ethics, including both descriptive and normative studies.

REL 3249 The Christian Gospels – James Mueller

Redaction-critical study of selected portions of the canonical Gospels with particular attention to the development of traditions about Jesus in the earliest church.

REL 3318 Chinese Religions – Mario Poceski

The course is a comprehensive historical survey of the main religious traditions in China, including Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, and popular religion. Through lectures, discussions, and reading of select primary and secondary sources, we will explore the formulations and subsequent transformations of key beliefs, doctrines, practices, and institutions that characterized specific religious traditions. We will also examine the patterns of interaction among different traditions, as well as the general character of religious life in both traditional and modern China.

REL 3492 Religion, Ethics, and Nature – Christopher Lomelin

Religious perspectives on nature and the environment that focus on different theological understandings of the natural world; approaches to using natural resources and efforts to understand human responsibility for the realm of nature.

REL 3938 Islam in South Asia – Ali Mian

The study of Muslims in South Asia—in India, but also in Bangladesh and Pakistan—is crucial for understanding contemporary Islam in our global world. South Asian Muslims are also active in the Arabian Gulf region and in Western Europe and North America, especially in the UK. In this course, we take “Islam in South Asia” as a case study for examining both Global Islam and religion and modernity more broadly. Our key questions include: How have Muslims in South Asia grappled with colonialism, the rise of science and technology, secular liberalism and globalization, and environmental as well as planetary issues? How have Muslims navigated the question of religious pluralism? What are the specific challenges facing South Asian Muslims in terms of gender equality and sexual liberation? The course readings shed ample light on these questions and will also facilitate discussions of numerous Muslim spaces and institutions in South Asia. The course also highlights cultural and aesthetic dimensions of South Asian Islam in addition to theology, jurisprudence, and Sufism.

REL 3938  – Hebrew Bible: 5 Books of Moses – Robert Kawashima

The modern study of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) effectively began in the nineteenth century, when scholars, through painstaking critical analysis of the biblical text, discovered that the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) was written not by one author — Moses, according to venerable tradition — but by several, over the course of several centuries. It was “the Documentary Hypothesis,” as this discovery came to be called, that laid the foundation for the modern discipline of biblical studies. In this course, we will take the analysis of the Pentateuch into its original sources as our starting point, and begin carefully reading our way through it, from the creation of the world to the exodus from Egypt. We will discover that modern interpretation, rather than stripping the Bible of its literary brilliance, has actually helped restore the original luster of its narrative art. Various secondary readings will raise other issues — historical and literary — necessary to a critical understanding of this foundational book, or rather, collection of composite books.​

REL 3938 Jews and Popular Culture – Rachel Gordan

Jews and popular culture: During the 20th century Jews played a prominent role in American popular culture. What does this history of American Popular culture by and about Jews tell us about Jews, religious and racial minorities, religious pluralism, and American culture? This course will look at some the most celebrated examples of Jews in American popular culture of the past century, including a mix of fiction and film.

REL 4209 Dead Sea Scrolls – James Mueller

Explores the varieties of literature that arose within Judaism from 250 BCE to 220 CE, including selections from the Dead Sea Scrolls, the OT Pseudepigrapha, Philo, and Josephus.

REL 4221 The Pentateuch – Robert Kawashima

The modern study of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) effectively began in the nineteenth century, when scholars, through painstaking critical analysis of the biblical text, discovered that the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) was written not by one author — Moses, according to venerable tradition — but by several, over the course of several centuries. It was “the Documentary Hypothesis,” as this discovery came to be called, that laid the foundation for the modern discipline of biblical studies. In this course, we will take the analysis of the Pentateuch into its original sources as our starting point, and begin carefully reading our way through it, from the creation of the world to the exodus from Egypt. We will discover that modern interpretation, rather than stripping the Bible of its literary brilliance, has actually helped restore the original luster of its narrative art. Various secondary readings will raise other issues — historical and literary — necessary to a critical understanding of this foundational book, or rather, collection of composite books.

REL 4491 Sacred Geographies – Jonathan Edelmann

Religious and spiritual traditions are often defined by concepts of the sacred earth, including divine mountains, groves, springs, rivers, forests, parks, and gardens. They are also interested in locating the earth within a larger sacred cosmos, and mapping the sacred earth onto temples, lands, and waters. Engaging texts, maps, images, and music, this course looks at concepts of sacred space and sacred place in Asian, European, and American religious traditions. Drawing from pilgrimages and exploration accounts, theoretical works, and sacred literature this course demonstrates how movement across the globe is constructed as a sacred act. With a focus on reading primary texts in translation supplemented with recent ethnographies, this course explores various conceptions of sacred space and place – and movement to, from and between them – in the imagination.

REL 4933 Senior Seminar (Comparative Study) – Robert Kawashima

The comparative method, practiced in varying forms in a number of disciplines (biology, linguistics, literature, etc.) compares, say, species, languages, and texts, in an attempt to account for both what unites as well as differentiates these objects of study. Generally speaking, they either arise from an historical relation. According to comparative grammar, for example, the Romance languages all descend historically from Latin. Or they arise from certain universal properties intrinsic to the objects under consideration. According to Chomsky, for example, all natural human languages derive formally (not historically) from an innate mental faculty he calls “universal grammar,” so that even wholly unrelated languages still share a core of crucial grammatical features. Comparative religion, in the same way, might be said to identify and account for the similarities and differences that exist between religions. What is religion? And what similarities, both historical and non-historical in origin, exist between religions? In this seminar, we will approach these problems through the lens of Foucault’s project, “the archaeology of knowledge.” We will conceptualize and analyze religions as discourses, realized in various beliefs, rituals, institutions, and so forth. We will specifically compare the religious traditions of what might be thought of, broadly speaking, as the ancient Mediterranean world: Mesopotamia, Canaan (including Israel), and Greece. Given the nature of our primary evidence, we will need to confront certain theoretical issues involved in the critical analysis and interpretation of ancient literature. (Thus, we will also read a selection of secondary texts addressing these problems of method.) Our comparative analyses will not only trace religious evolution through history, but chart religious variation across geography as well. In particular, we will discover two “epistemic breaks” or “ruptures.” The first underlies what is generally (and unsatisfactorily) known as the “monotheistic revolution” of ancient Israel — which led, as we will see, to homologous developments in other religious traditions as well. The second underlies the appearance of Jewish apocalypticism, out of which Christianity itself would eventually emerge. By thus using the comparative method, in conjunction with critical analytical and interpretive tools, we will seek to gain some sense of historical and theoretical perspective within the diversity of ancient religious traditions.