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Spring 2020

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The following descriptions of courses being offered by the Department of Religion in Spring 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 Spring 2020.

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

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

REL 2104 Environmental Ethics – Bron Taylor

Exploration of competing secular and religious views regarding human impacts on and moral responsibilities toward nature and of the key thinkers and social movements in contention over them.

As concern over the well-being of the planet spreads, people frequently find themselves in conflict over how to balance conservation with the use of natural resources, about visions for our common future, and the wisdom of development. Such conflict stems in important ways from varying understandings of values and responsibilities, of what is good and right. In this course we will examine a wide range of intellectual efforts to address the problem of our obligations to Earth and its living systems. Although we will focus on contemporary philosophical environmental ethics we will also introduce religious environmental ethics, examine ideas about nature prevalent in American culture and history, and examine how individuals involved in contemporary environmental movements express and endeavor to implement their environmental values.

REL 2121 American Religious History (online) – David Hackett

This course explores the vital and diverse story of religious life in the United States from the first European contacts to the late twentieth century. We begin with native Americans, Protestants and Puritans, early African religious life and the origins of civil religion at the time of the Revolution. We then turn to relations between men and women in nineteenth century Protestantism, the emergence of Mormons and other new religions, the persistence of Indian religions, the creation of African American Christianity, and the many meanings of the American civil religion.  Immigrant Catholics and Jews then hold our attention before we consider the sixties counterculture, the resurgence of Evangelical Protestantism, and the post-1965 arrival of Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims. Through careful attention to the extraordinary creativity and diversity of religion in American society, this course provides students with an essential understanding of how religion informs our contemporary life.

REL 2240 New Testament – Michael Stahl

This course offers an academic introduction to the New Testament, seeking to understand the New Testament writings and their reception history first of all from a historical perspective. Using traditional historical-critical methods, the class will consider such issues as: authorship, date and history of composition, social-historical setting, audience, literary shape, narrative techniques, major themes and ideas, religious perspective, political ideology, etc. Additionally, the course will explore the value of current critical theory and contemporary ideological criticisms for interpreting the New Testament writings in their past and present contexts, including feminist criticism, queer theory and LGBTQI+ interpretive approaches, postcolonial biblical interpretation, critical race theory, etc. No prior background in the subject matter or study of the New Testament is required or presupposed.

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 and Confucianism. 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 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 (online) – Terje Ostebo

Introduction to Islam provides an overview of basic Islamic beliefs and practices through examination of Islamic history, law, and an array of theological orientations as articulated in the traditions of teachings of both Sunni and Shi’a Islam. It also examines Islamic practices in the contemporary period and thereby encourages students to reflect on the realities of religious everyday life and religious change. The course aims to give the students the ability to critically analyze the impacts of Islamic beliefs and values on social and cultural practices, and the formation of institutions, communities and identities. The course also aims to challenge students to grasp the complex relationship between the “great” and “little” traditions of a major world religion as well as the ambiguities of some key terms of Muslim religious thinking.

REL 2930 Intro to Judaism – Michael Stahl

This course offers an academic introduction to Judaism as a religious tradition. After some initial reflections on Judaism as a topic of study, the class will follow a roughly historical sequence from antiquity to the present, considering Judaism’s development through time as different Jewish communities (re)constructed Jewish identity in response to varying social, cultural, and historical circumstances. In exploring past and contemporary manifestations of Judaism, students will study a broad range of Jewish texts, beliefs, and practices, including: the Hebrew Bible, the Mishnah, the Talmud, halakhah, midrash, medieval Jewish philosophy and mysticism, the Jewish reform movements of the 19th and 20th centuries CE, the Holocaust, Zionism, etc. No prior background in the subject matter or study of Judaism is required or presupposed, nor is there a language requirement.

REL 2930, REL 3938 (Writing Rule 4) – Religion and the Paranormal, Erin Prophet

Three-quarters of Americans believe in ghosts. The majority hold other paranormal beliefs as well. What does this tell us about the future of religion? In a “disenchanted” world, why do we continue to be fascinated with the paranormal, as seen in the explosion of the topic in film (horror, superheroes), television, gaming and manga. This course takes a multi-methodological approach that includes critical theory, folklore studies, laboratory research, and cognitive science. It also examines the role of the paranormal in human experience of healing and psychological transformation. Topics include telepathy, precognition, UFOs, government-sponsored research (US and Soviet), cryptozoology (Bigfoot, etc.), hauntings, curses and taboos, near-death experiences, possession (including erotic encounters), mediums, and channeling. Students will learn to look critically at both the phenomena and attempts to explain them. The 3938 section will complete additional assignments to engage more deeply with philosophical concepts.

IDS 2935 – Ethics and the Public Sphere (Quest)- Anna Peterson

From the #metoo movement and associated conversations about sexual violence to the presence of right wing extremists on campus and the growing imperatives to respond to economic inequality, we are faced with complex challenges that have ethical problems at their core.  Public discussions about these issues are often so polarized that constructive discussions, let alone solutions, seem hard to find.  In order to address these challenges in a responsible and productive way, we need reliable sources of information, strategies for rigorous ethical reflection, and knowledge about effective ways to respond. This interdisciplinary Quest 1 course addresses these needs by introducing students to ways that the humanities provide resources for understanding, analyzing, and addressing the ethical dimensions of important public issues.  We will address contentious public issues including hate speech, economic inequality, and gender justice.  Our readings will include scholarly works in philosophical and religious ethics as well as legal arguments, papal encyclicals, pastoral letters, historical analyses, and news articles.  The crucial skills we will emphasize throughout the class include identifying the moral dimensions of legal, political, and economic problems; critically evaluating traditions and perspectives; appreciating the diversity of perspectives on these controversial issues; thinking beyond one’s own interests; and approaching disagreement with open-mindedness and a willingness to be rationally persuaded.

The class is appropriate for students from any major who want to explore public moral challenges in rigorous, creative ways.  Assignments will include short writings on the ethical topics listed above, and a capstone project in which students address the ethical dimensions of a public issue of importance to them.  The class will be primarily discussion based and will include a variety of interactive projects and activities.  As an honors section, this class will expect students to understand and integrate diverse disciplinary perspectives, to consider the social implications of what we are studying, to engage in collaborative learning, and to grow in intellectual confidence and capacity for independent work.

IDS 2935 – Indigenous Values (Quest) – Robin Wright

The focus of this course is on what it means, from an indigenous perspective, to be human living in and interacting with the natural world, being oriented by cosmological principles, and a sense of spiritual responsibilities to the natural world and its resources. It examines how indigenous peoples in the Americas have represented and exercised those values in their traditions.

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 scientific 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 3191  – Death and Afterlife in World Religions  (online)– TBD

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?”

REL 3291 Gender and the Hebrew Bible –  Michael Stahl

What does the Bible have to say about gender and human sexuality? Using a variety of traditional historical-critical and contemporary ideological interpretive approaches, and through close analyses of key biblical texts, this course critically examines the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) with respect to a broad range of topics pertaining to gender and human sexuality, including: gender identity, sexual orientation, same-sex relationships, sexual desire, sex, marriage, procreation, (in)fertility, monogamy and polygyny, adultery, prostitution, rape and sexual violence against women, divorce, pornography, menstruation, abortion, incest, bestiality, and other topics. Furthermore, this course considers the Bible’s reception history with respect to gender and sexuality, i.e., how different human communities past and present have interpreted, appropriated, and deployed the biblical writings in prescribing culturally constructed norms of gender, sex, and family. In considering the social locations and sexual politics of both the biblical authors and the Bible’s later interpreters, this course seeks to prompt critical self-reflection on our own historical situatedness and culturally conditioned beliefs and attitudes regarding gender and human sexuality.

REL 3336 Religion in Modern India – Jonathan Edelmann

This course covers religion in India since the beginning of the Mughal empire in the sixteenth century, to the formation of the independent and democratic Indian nation in 1947. This period is defined by a diversity of religious traditions like Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism, as well as complex relationships between these religions. We examine how Hinduism and Islam in particular were redefined by their interactions, as well the ways that Christians and Hindus responded to the doctrines and practices of one another. We shall also examine how British colonialism brought new forms of government, science, and technology to India, and how these developments impacted religious belief and practice. Lastly we examine some of the key figures in the formation of modern Hindu religion like Ram Mohan Roy, Vivekananda, and Gandhi, as well as major contributors to Islam in India like Abdul Aziz. Modern Indian religious ideas and practices also influenced important American and European thinkers during this time period. At the conclusion of this course you will be able to understand and explain essential beliefs and practices of modern India religions, the major changes the took place between this period, and contributions of key authors.

REL 3931 Junior Seminar – Mario Poceski

The seminar presents a comprehensive overview of classical approaches to the study of religion and the development of religious studies as an academic discipline. Essentially, it is a course on Religious Studies Method and Theory. The main focus is on seminal theoretical and practical approaches formulated by leading thinkers such as Weber, Durkheim, Freud, Eliade, and Geertz, which reflect the perspectives of diverse academic disciplines, including sociology, psychology, and anthropology.

REL 3938 Global Religion in the U.S. (Honors)– David Hackett

This course explores the dynamic multi-religious landscape of the US with special focus on Global Christianities, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu traditions in the most recent period of post-1965 immigration.  Over the past fifty years the ethnic composition of the United States has changed with the arrival of new immigrants from Latin America, Asia, Africa and the Middle East. What changes have taken place in the religious landscape of America’s cities and neighborhoods?  How have new religious traditions changed and been changed by American society? How have the second generation of new immigrants made religious sense of their Americanization? And what are the implications of this changed religious landscape for American culture and society?

The method employed to answer these questions will combine classroom discussions and field work. In the classroom, students will become familiar with recent ethnographic reports of new immigrants’ religious adaptations to the American environment. Using Gainesville as our field, students will several times go out and visit sites of religious worship created by these newcomers, describe and seek to explain their religious practices, enter into relationship with people whose national and religious backgrounds are likely different from their own, and through this process seek to cross over into understanding alternative points of view. Research in this field is still in its infancy. This course will provide honors students with the opportunity to do original research as we together work to understand the significance of this growing diversity for American culture and society.

REL 3938 – Islam, Media, and Popular Culture – Musa Ibrahim

Islam, media, and popular culture explores how media and popular culture as important windows on contemporary developments in the Muslim world. It focuses on new trends and developments that merge (new) media, popular arts, and Muslim practices. By approaching media and popular arts as sites where many important and controversial issues are explored, expressed, contested, resisted, and negotiated, the course will offer insight into the religious discourses, pious ethics, and cultural politics of states and social movements as manifested through global flows of media and popular culture in the Muslim world. During the semester, students will engage in in-depth discussions on a range of topics, including popular music, movies, television drama, visual culture, lifestyle, dress, and dance through case studies from Asia, Africa, Europe, North America, and the Middle East.

REL 4361: Women and Islam  – Ali Mian

This course surveys the key debates in Muslim gender studies and is divided into three thematic cores: (1) Historical Foundations, (2) Critical Interventions in Texts, and (3) Critical Observations of Practice. The first set of readings will give students a solid grounding in the history of gender in Islam using Leila Ahmed’s Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern Debate (Yale University Press, 1992) and Nadia Maria El Cheikh’s Women, Islam, and Abbasid Identity (Harvard University Press, 2015). In the second part of the course, we will examine how feminist scholars intervene in both historical and contemporary Islam by re-interpreting scriptural, legal, and moral-theological texts. Students will benefit from the work of amina wadud (Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective), Kecia Ali (Sexual Ethics and Islam: Feminist Reflections on Qur’an, Hadith, and Jurisprudence), and Zahra Ayubi (Gendered Morality: Classical Islamic Ethics of the Self, Family, and Society). The final set of readings will turn to anthropological scholarship to examine lived religion and situated practices in various contexts, including Senegal, India, and the US. Students will read Joseph Hill’s Wrapping Authority: Women Islamic Leaders in a Sufi Movement in Dakar, Senegal (University of Toronto Press, 2018), Katherine Lemons’ Divorcing Traditions: Islamic Marriage Law and the Making of Indian Secularism (Cornell University Press, 2019), and Shabana Mir’s Muslim American Women on Campus: Undergraduate Social Life and Identity (University of North Carolina Press, 2016). This course is discussion-based and will enable students to conduct research and complete several writing projects.

REL 4368 – Global Islam – Benjamin Soares

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 better and deeper understanding 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 Muslim cultures and societies in global context. The course will be topical in approach, and it will study Islam as the intersection of broader social, cultural, and political economic processes in Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, and the Middle East. The course is interdisciplinary in nature and draws on perspectives from the humanities and the social sciences.

REL 4936 – Religion in the Americas – Robin Wright

The basic objective of the course is to provide a long-range historical and hemispheric overview of the encounters and exchanges amongst the religions of the Americas. This is primarily a reading and discussion course.

In this course, we will consider five broad thematic areas:

  1. Theoretical and Methodological Questions for a Hemispheric Approach; 2. Indigenous Americas; 3. Western Imperialism and Colonial Encounters I: Indigenous Religious Traditions and Catholicism; 4. Colonial Encounters II: African Religious Traditions and Diaspora; 5. “Borderland” Religions and Post-Colonial Encounters; 6. Globalization, Transnationalism, and Diaspora. We will read and discuss our way through the semester with each of us bearing some leadership load. The course requirements consist of participation in seminars, presentations of summaries of the readings, discussion and debate about ideas raised in the readings, as well as book reports and short reflection papers. The central guiding questions of the course are: what sort of perspective is entailed by “a hemispheric view” on the Religions of the Americas?

How is such a view distinct from prior perspectives? What methodologies and resources are necessary for constructing and developing a truly hemispheric perspective? We look upon this course as a kind of collective venture into the terrain in which all are expected to participate together, and each can provide a special area of expertise which will help us answer some of the questions posed above.