The following descriptions of courses being offered by the Department of Religion in Fall 2019 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 2019.
If you are looking for a complete syllabus for a course, check the Syllabi area for availability.
REL 2071 Religion and Sustainability – Chris Lomelin
This course examines the relationship between religion and sustainability and explores how the world’s different religious traditions address the social, economic, and environmental dimensions of sustainability. Topics include social and environmental justice, sustainable consumption, and sustainable agriculture and will highlight multiple religious perspectives
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 2210 Hebrew Scriptures – TBD
This course will introduce students to the modern scholarly study of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and its world. While we will touch upon various literary genres in the Bible, we will focus on biblical narrative, as we trace the history of ancient Israel — inasmuch as this can be reconstructed from our primary sources — from its origins up to the Babylonian Exile (586 B.C.E.). We will also analyze various aspects of the “culture” of ancient Israel, including its political (judges, kings) and religious (priests, prophets) institutions. In particular, we will study Israelite religion, not just as a set of beliefs and practices, but as a mode of knowledge, a means of understanding god(s), humans, the world, and the relations between them. Topics will include: myth, ritual, sacrifice, law, and the sacred. Here, we will address the conceptual divide between so-called “pagan” religions and, for lack of a better term, the “monotheistic” religion of ancient Israel. The point isn’t to judge the relative merits of these two different religious systems, but to recognize and understand their differences. Our approach will be broadly literary and comparative. Thus, we will draw upon the mythic and epic traditions of Mesopotamia and Ugarit, in order to bring the peculiar nature of the Bible and biblical religion into better focus. And throughout the semester, various methodological questions regarding textual interpretation and the analysis of religion and culture will be raised.
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 2930 Jewish Culture: Jews Jewishness and Judaism – Rachel Gordan
This course introduces students to the Jewish religious tradition in its various historical and contemporary manifestations. We will be asking: how has Judaism changed, over time? What divisions does it have, and how does it respond to the challenges of modernity? To answer these questions, our readings and discussion will cover core Jewish “stories” and their ongoing impact on the Jewish religious tradition, Jewish beliefs and practices, key literary classics of the Jewish tradition, varieties of classical and modern Jewish religious expression (for instance, philosophy and mysticism), and the contemporary Jewish movements. Although this is not a history class, we will proceed chronologically in order to appreciate the historical development of Judaism and the roles that memories of the Jewish past play in motivating Jewish religious practices and commitments. In addition to learning more about Judaism and the Jewish people, you will also have the opportunity to broaden your academic horizons, learn valuable lessons regarding the study of religion in general 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 2315 Religions of Asia – Jonathan Edelmann
This course examines the religious dimensions of human culture, focusing on Asia, especially ancient and medieval Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism. While reading Asia’s ancient scriptural and philosophical texts, we will also reflect on how Asian is interpreted in modern Western scholarship, popular media, and new spiritual movements. There is, thus, a comparative component here, one that encourages discussion of Asian religion in comparison with modern expressions.
REL 2362 Intro to Islam – Ali Mian
Historical introduction to Islamic tradition. The foundational elements of the tradition, based on the life of Prophet Muhammad and the text of the Qur’an and on an examination of subsequent Islamic expressions.
IDS 2935 (Quest) Nature, Spirituality & Popular Culture: From Disney to Avatar- 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. The course will also help students to recognize how different worldviews — the philosophical, religious, and scientific understandings of the universe and biosphere — are expressed and promoted in popular culture. This will also enhance students’ international sophistication as they learn from where and when the world’s predominant religions emerged — for example Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism and Hinduism in Asia, Judaism, Christianity and Islam from the Near East — while also learning about the worldviews and ethical orientations typical of indigenous traditions, among contemporary Pagans and devotees New Age and science-inspired nature spiritualities. Analytic tools from the Humanities and humanistic social sciences will also be provided in order to enhance student understanding of important trend at the intersection of nature, spirituality, and popular culture.
IDS 2935 (Quest) Women and Religion in American Literature- Rachel Gordan
This course examines best-selling fictions dealing with women and religion, first in the immediate post-WW2 period and then in the late 20th century, as the popular culture pendulum swung in a more secular and, for women, “liberated” direction. Emphasis is placed on understanding works in historical context as well as on critical self-reflection; students are invited to understand how, like the authors they study, their own position as people with specific gender identities and relationships to religious practice (including being a non-religious person) affects what and how they read.
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 3108 Religion and Food – Victoria Machado
Explores the relationship between food and religion by investigating food in the context of specific religious traditions, such as Christianity, and examines food as a moral and ethical category in religious and secular contexts, e.g., organic and locavore.
REL 3171 Ethics in America – Anna Peterson
This class has a twofold purpose: to teach crucial ways of thinking about ethics as an academic discipline while also enabling students to reflect on and analyze ethical issues facing contemporary American society. We will focus in particular on the problems and opportunities created by the diversity in different areas of American cultural and religious life. As a foundation for thinking about ethical dimensions of contemporary issues, the course will provide an overview of ethics as an academic discipline, including introductions to major ethical theories and thinkers. We will also examine particular case studies, focusing on religious, racial, and cultural diversity in the U.S. We will explore the ways that issues such as justice, integration, cultural autonomy, and the common good shape visions of an ethical society. We will also address various obstacles – cultural, economic, and political – that make those visions difficult to achieve.
REL 3252 Paul, Acts, and Earliest Christianity – TBD
The purpose of the course is to expose the student to both canonical and non-canonical texts that helped to shape the various forms of earliest Christianities.
REL 3321 Early Judaism and Christianity – TBD
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 3330 Religions of India – Vasudha Narayanan
This course focusses on the religious traditions and cultural diversity seen in the Indian subcontinent. The lectures and discussions will span the following areas:
- (a) a historical introduction to the Hindu tradition;
- (b) thematic studies including domestic and temple rituals, discussions on the status of women, and Hinduism in the diaspora; and
- (c) a study of the “minority” traditions in India.
We will strike a balance between a historical approach and a thematic one whereby sacraments, rituals, and other issues and activities that are religiously important for a Hindu family can be explained. This will include discussion of issues that may not be found in traditional texts, and I will be supplementing the readings with short journal and magazine articles, videos, and slides. For instance, we will raise many questions concerning the practice of Hinduism, and pay particular attention to the experience of women. Why do the Hindus (especially women) wear a mark on their foreheads? What kind of diet do they follow? How do Hindus worship at the home shrine and at the temple? How do they celebrate their festivals? What do they say during their weddings? Why has yoga generally been unimportant for the average Hindu for the last one thousand years or so? What do the Hindus mean by auspicious times and sacred places? How does the caste system function when marriages are arranged?
The larger questions we will be indirectly addressed in the course will include the following: Are the Indian concepts of “Hinduism” and western concepts of “religion” congruent? How has colonial scholarship and assumptions shaped our understanding of south Asian Hindus and the “minority traditions” as distinct religious and social groups, blurring regional differences? How are gender issues made manifest in rituals? To what extent does language identity overshadow religious identity? How does religious identity influence political and social behavior? How do Hindus in south Asia differentiate among themselves and what criteria do they use?
In the third part of the course we will discuss “minority” religions of India. This will include discussions on Jainism, Sikhism, and Islam.
REL 3370 Religions of Africa – Benjamin Soares
This course is an introduction to the study of religion in sub-Saharan Africa as a contemporary phenomenon as well as the outcome of historical processes. We will examine so-called African traditional religions, spirit possession, Islam, and Christianity. Through the close reading and discussion of selected articles and monographs and viewing of films/videos, religions in various societies, past and present, will be explored in their complexity and diversity. The course familiarizes students with research methods and identifies empirical and theoretical shifts in the anthropological, comparative, and historical study of religion in Africa.
REL 3938 Global Religion in the U.S. – 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 gradually changed with new immigrants from Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. What are the religious dimensions of America’s new cultural mix? What changes have taken place in the religious landscape of America’s cities and neighborhoods? How have new religious traditions changed as they have taken root in American soil? And how is America changing as the freedom of religion cherished by America’s founders is now cherished by Global Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus who have come to America as immigrants?
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. 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 3938 Indigenous Religions of the World – Robin Wright
This course seeks to understand comparatively the religious traditions of indigenous peoples from selected areas of the globe: the cultures of the Pacific, including Polynesia and Melanesia. The central objectives of our studies of these religious traditions are to comprehend the principles by which cosmogonies (the creation) are founded, cosmologies (worldviews) are constructed, the variety of beings that populate the cosmos are inter-related, and eschatologies (views on the end-of-times) are envisaged. The course will begin with readings on the ways in which scholars have approached the study of traditional religions. Then, we will discuss the ways in which native peoples understand the cosmos, their place in it and the moral responsibilities humans have in relation to each other and to all other living entities. We will also discuss how religious traditions have actively shaped their histories of relations with non-indigenous peoples (the West), which can often be seen in religious movements, for example, prophetism.
Following this introduction, the course enters into a reading and discussion of ethnographies and comparisons among the religious traditions of native Hawaiians; native peoples of Fiji; the Maori of New Zealand; peoples of Papua New Guinea.
A series of central themes and questions will guide our readings, discussions and paper-writing:
Cosmogony, or, the beginning of the cosmos;
- – Systems and properties of inter-related temporal and spatial structures of the cosmos;
- – Sacred geography (and especially, sacred sites) and astronomy in traditional cosmologies;
- – How do indigenous religious traditions actively incorporate notions of history and change into their spiritualities ?
- – How do different peoples understand their “place” and moral responsibilities in the cosmos and relations to other beings ?
- – Understandings of illness and health, the process of healing, within the wider context of beliefs about spiritual power in the cosmos;
- – The influences of Christianity and the nature of conversion from the perspectives of native peoples;
- – Ideas of an imminent end-time, both in the traditional and the post-Christian context;
- – How Western views of indigenous religious traditions have denigrated and misrepresented them in the history of colonialism. How has the Christian understanding of history prevented the West from respecting indigenous religious traditions ?
Besides the Readings, an important part of this course will be a series of films mixed of ethnography, history, and issues related to sacred lands and indigenous spiritualities.
REL 3938 Christian/Muslim Relations – Ikram
Christians and Muslims have been living together since the birth of Islam in the seventh century. Despite a wide array of interactions including, but not limited to, collaboration, tolerance, and respect, Christian-Muslim relations have often been expressed as confrontational and antagonistic. Through lectures, videos, and readings this course will explore the contemporary religious realities to better understand how different communities within each tradition interact and relate with one another. The course will also survey the historical developments of Christian-Muslim relations over the centuries and across various geographical ranges.
REL 3938 Religion and the Caribbean – Priyanka Ramlakhan
What counts as Carribean religion and why? This course will examine historical and social contexts that have shaped how religion is constructed and expressed in the Caribbean. It will explore themes of colonialism, race, gender, pluralism, creolization, diaspora, resistence, authenticity, ritual performance, and music, among others that are specific to each locale we examine. Religions of consideration include: Indigenous traditions, Christianity, Islam, and Afro-Creole traditions including Rastafarianism, Spiritual Baptist, Voodoo and the Orisha traditions.
REL 4611 Israelite Religion – TBD
In this course we will study Israelite religion within the context of the ancient Near East, especially Mesopotamia and Ugarit, with occasional forays into the broader Mediterranean world (Greece). Our approach will be broadly literary, i.e., focused on textual sources. Throughout the semester, various methodological questions regarding textual interpretation in relation to the analysis of religion will therefore be raised — as is reflected in the secondary scholarly readings. Our analyses will be loosely shaped or organized by Foucault’s historical-epistemological project, which he called “the archaeology of knowledge.” In other words, we will conceptualize and analyze religions as bodies of knowledge, realized in various beliefs, rituals, institutions, and so forth. Our comparative analyses will not only chart religious variation across cultures, but trace religious change through history 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 as it emerged out of so-called “pagan” religions. The second underlies the appearance of Jewish apocalypticism, from which Christianity itself would eventually evolve. By thus using the comparative method, in conjunction with critical analytical and interpretive tools, we will seek to gain some sense of historical perspective within the diversity of ancient religious traditions.
REL 4933 Senior Seminar (Comparative Study) – REL 4933
This course is a capstone seminar for religion majors. Our aim is to engage in both the field of religious studies and important religious issues in the larger society. This semester our course will compare and contrast how different scholars of American religion have recently conceived of “religious experience” (defined with terms such as spirituality, mysticism, and fanaticism) and its relationship to history and contemporary society
REL 4936 – Religious Extremism – Terje Ostebo
What is religious extremism? How do we define extremism? Who are the extremists? Is religious extremism meaningful as a concept? This course digs into these questions and provides the students with knowledge about what is called extremism within the major religious traditions, such as Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. The course focus on current affairs – in different contexts across the globe. It critically explores what we mean with religious extremism, juxtaposing it with the assumed moderate.