Fall 2018

Courses Fall 2018

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 2018 

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

REL 2104 Environmental Ethics – Erin Prophet

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. Syllabus >

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. Syllabus >

REL 2210 Hebrew Scriptures – Robert Kawashima

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.  Syllabus >

REL 2300 Intro to World Religions (online) – Vasudha Narayanan

Explains basic world views, rituals, and beliefs of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Chinese religions, Japanese religions, Indigenous Religions, Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. Syllabus >

REL 2315 Religion in Asia – Jonathan Edelmann

Who are we? What is our real nature? What are our most important duties to family, society, ancestor, gods, and God? What is the nature of God and the soul, and do they even exist? Why is religion important even if God does not exist and the soul is not eternal? How does one live in harmony with nature and society? These are some of the central questions that the Asian religious and philosophical traditions have dealt with for many thousands of years. In addition to examining how Taoist, Confucian, Buddhist and Hindu thinkers answered these questions, we’ll also think about the social, ritual, and ethical implications of their answers. Should one leave the world behind or should one adhere to one’s social duties? How should one treat other humans, animals and the gods? How should one relate with the divine? From my experience with research and teaching we often learn comparatively; we make sense of the unfamiliar by means of the familiar. There is, therefore, a comparative component of this course, one that encourages discussion of the Asian religions in comparison with more familiar religions, and we will also reflect on how Asian is interpreted in modern Western scholarship and popular media. Syllabus >

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. Syllabus >

REL 2362 Intro to Islam – 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. Syllabus >

REL 2930 History of Yoga – Jonathan Edelmann

This course is a study of Yoga from ancient India to modern global contexts. Almost everyone is familiar with Yoga as a popular form of exercise for flexibility and muscle strength, but there is far less familiarity with Yoga as an ancient psychological school and non-sectarian religious technique aimed at supernatural powers and direct perception of supreme reality. The oldest and most influential books on Yoga do not mention Yoga postures and stretching, but they do discuss religious practice and the nature of religious experience. We will start there and go onto the medieval period when postural Yoga begins, and continue to the present when Yoga is practiced in spiritual, psychological, and physiological contexts. The learning outcomes of this course are: 1. To develop an understanding of the original texts and commentaries out of which contemporary Yoga practices and philosophies were derived. 2. To develop an enhanced philosophical understanding of epistemology, metaphysics, philosophy of mind, psychology, and theology from the ancient to contemporary Yoga traditions through an enrichment of vocabulary and philosophical concepts. 3. To develop the ability to critically engage the central terms and concepts in the Yoga tradition. This course has an informal comparative element too, allowing you to contrast your own religious and philosophical views with that of the Indian traditions, thus bringing to light some of your own presuppositions and hopefully assisting you to further develop your own thought. Syllabus >

REL 2930 Women And Religion In Popular Us Fiction – Rachel Gordan

Women and religion have played central roles in American popular fiction since the terms “America” and “fiction” came into popular use in the 18th century. Women have always been the bulk of the fiction-reading public; novels that treat religious life have waxed and waned in popularity, but have always been what publishers call “steady sellers.” This was particularly true in the mid-20th century. After World War 2, many women who had moved into the paid workforce during the War returned to the domestic sphere, and mainstream religions (Protestantism, Catholicism, and Judaism) assumed a new centrality in public discourse as Americans reckoned with the horrors of the Holocaust and the atom bomb. TV, with its seemingly unlimited possibilities of genre and subject-matter, was only just becoming a staple of the middle-class home. In this “golden age” of American literature, fiction captured the centrality of gender and religion in society. 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. Syllabus >

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. Syllabus >

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, models of conversion including “brainwashing,” the sociology of small-group behavior, scripture formation and authority, millennialism and apocalypticism, schism, violence, and government response. 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 min) that can be further explored by students outside class. Syllabus >

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. Syllabus >

REL 3120 Religion and the American Immigrant Experience – Jeyoul Choi

This course explores U.S. religious history with a particular focus on the relationship between religion and immigration. Employing historical, sociological, and anthropological approaches strike to religion, the course evaluates the role of religion in maintaining immigrants’ lives. The first portion of the course provides conceptual tools for understanding the interaction between religion and immigration. The following portions explore case studies of immigrants’ lives. Throughout the course, students will be encouraged to understand religion and immigration in different historical, social, and cultural milieu of the U.S. Syllabus >

REL 3148 Religion and Violence – Anna Peterson

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. Syllabus >

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 explore the formulations and subsequent transformations of key beliefs, doctrines, practices, and institutions that characterized specific religious traditions. We also examine the patterns of interaction among different traditions, as well as the general character and tenor of religious life in both traditional and modern China. Syllabus >

REL 3336 Religion in Modern India – Vasudha Narayanan

In this course, you will learn about the religious and cultural diversity in the sub-continent, and understand the history of religion starting with the colonial period. We will study the major religious thinkers, many of whom had an impact on the political history of India. We will study the rites-of-passage, connections between food and religion, places of worship, festivals, gurus, as well as the close connections between religion and politics in many of these traditions. The religious traditions we will examine and intellectually engage with are primarily Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, as well as Christianity and Islam 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 supplement the readings with short journal and magazine articles, videos, and slides. The larger questions indirectly addressed in the course will include the following: Are the Indian concepts of “Hinduism” and western concepts of “religion” congruent? How ha 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? How does religious identity influence political and social behavior? How do Hindus in South Asia differentiate among themselves? Syllabus >

REL 3938 Civil Rights and Religion in the United States – Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons

This Course will examine the African American Civil Rights Movement from the 1950s. We will also look at some of the historical events that made a Civil Rights Movement necessary for African Americans to secure a modicum of equal rights and fair play. We will investigate the men and women who were both leaders and followers and the organizations they formed. The Civil Rights Movement has been hailed as the most successful social movement in American History. It was a Movement that transformed the American South with its racial apartheid systems of government and institutions into a more racially equitable society offering some of the benefits of American life to its African American citizens and other persons of color who chose to live in this part of the United States. It also transformed this whole nation as institutional racism and a racial caste system operated in the North as well as in the South. We will explore the role of Religion and Politics in this African American led Movement, which galvanized people of all races in the effort to make this nation truly one of liberty and justice for ALL. Syllabus >

REL 3381 Religion in Latin America – Christopher Lomelin

This course provides a broad survey of some of the main religious traditions in Latin America, including pre-colonial indigenous religions, Catholicism in its various forms, religions of the African diaspora, and Protestant and evangelical movements. We will use a variety of texts and methods to understand the diverse forms, practices, and belief systems of these religious traditions: historical surveys, primary source documents, film, and case studies. This course will 1 emphasize the distinctive cross-fertilization and hybrid forms of these religious traditions in Latin America. In addition, we will focus on the social and political roles religion plays in Latin America, especially the roles religion plays in the lives of those at the margins of society (i.e., the poor, women, indigenous people, and people of African descent) during times of social change. Syllabus >

REL 4393 Islam in the Americas – Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons

Islam is said to be the fastest growing religion in the world including here in the United States and in Canada. Muslim sources say that the number of Muslim adherents in the U.S. number from six to eight million1 , making it the third largest religion in the US. However, a Pew Foundation estimate in 2017 said that there were 3.45 million Muslims in the U.S., about 1.1% of the total U.S. population. By 2040, PEW demographers project that the Muslim population will be around 8.1 million and will be the second largest religion in the U.S. outstripping the American Jewish population. The latest figures for the Muslim population in Canada are from 2011, when they numbered, 1,053,945 or about 3.2% of the population, making Islam the second largest religion after Christianity. Muslims make up 7% of the population in Greater Toronto and 6% in Montreal, the two largest cities in the country. Islam is also growing in the Southern Hemisphere – Latin and South America as well as in the Caribbean. There is now a good deal of information on Islam in the Caribbean and in South America that we will draw upon in our work this semester. One source, states that the number of Muslims in Latin America number over four million.2 Islam entered the Americas largely through enslaved persons brought to the New World by the Spanish. In this Course we will begin with a brief overview of Islam – the history of the religion, the fundamentals of the faith as well as the primary texts, the Qur’an, the Hadith and Islam’s legal system – the Shari’ah. We will also touch on the religion’s phenomenal spread from Arabia, throughout the Middle East and parts of Asia into Europe itself from the 7th through the 13th centuries. Then we will turn our attention to the study of Islam in the Americas, from its beginnings as the religion of significant numbers of enslaved and free Moors and Africans who came or were brought to the Americas (North and South) in the 15th century, until the spread of the religion in the Americas today. This phenomenal rise of Islam here in the U.S. and Canada in the 20 & 21st centuries and in the Southern Hemisphere will be our primary focus in this class. This course is interdisciplinary in that we will use history, religious studies, cultural, and women studies in our effort to map Islam in the Americas over the last six centuries. Syllabus >

REL 4933 – Senior Seminar (required for majors) – Rachel Gordan

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. Syllabus >