Skip to main content

Sample Course Descriptions

Religion 471-0 -- Studies in the History of Religions: Ethics and Ethnography

Cristina Traina

This interdisciplinary course examines contemporary literature at the frontier of ethics and the social sciences that explores the methodological challenges of combining the two disciplines. Within the past ten years first ethicists have begun to use ethnographic methods systematically in their work in order to deepen their appreciation for the values, commitments, and contexts that inform moral decisions “on the ground.” Simultaneously, ethnographers and social scientists have delved more carefully into questions about their obligations to the populations they study and about their initial and eventual moral stances toward their subjects. How do subjects’ contexts, experiences, and world views shape their moral and religious reasoning? What kinds of moral commitments does ethnography demand of us? Does our research sometimes demand morally that we reorient our questions? What are honest and dishonest uses of ethnography (and social sciences generally) in ethics? What role does autobiography play? How can both disciplines honestly acknowledge their combined descriptive and prescriptive missions without giving up their distinctive critical vantage points? These are some of the questions addressed.

Sample readings:

Religion 460 -- Studies in Christianity: Politics, Sex, and the Law of God: Christian Ethics through the Reformation

Cristina Traina

Interpreting contemporary western institutions and intellectual positions entails a solid understanding of their intellectual roots. We will explore some of these by reading and discussing important texts of Christian authors who have had a deep influence upon Western ethics, religious and secular. We will concentrate especially on political ethics, sexuality and marriage, and law (both divine and human).

Sample readings:

Religion 471-0 -- Studies in the History of Religions: Pecking Orders

Cristina Traina

This course examines the relative ontological, spiritual, and social status of women, children, slaves, and animals in the sacred writings of three religions, as well as in the religious and religious studies traditions of interpretation of these texts. We will begin with readings, scholarly commentaries, and interpretations of biblical texts from Judaism and Christianity. We will move on to Hindu texts dealing with Ganesh and Hindu traditions on human and animal status generally.; At the end of the course we will examine contemporary debates–on the relationship (or lack thereof) among misogyny, denigration of animals, and the use of animals as food, and on the connection (or lack thereof) among slavery, animal abuse, and child abuse in light of the foregoing discussions.

Sample readings:

Landscapes of the Sacred

Sarah McFarland Taylor

This course explores the multifaceted connections between place and the construction of personal and spiritual identities in American culture. What is the idea of “place”? What are the tensions between American notions of “space” and “place”? How are certain places deemed “sacred” in America, and how are these places contested over time, by whom, and to what ends? How are mythical landscapes recreated in physical landscapes, and what drives such recreations? How are “sacred places” symbolically represented over time? What is the relationship between sacred narratives and the “storied landscape” for a variety of native peoples in North America? How are certain religious experiences understood “through place” in diverse communities (urban, suburban, rural, etc.)? And how do displacement, alienation from place, and the fragmentation of place affect spiritual understandings of self, nature, and nationhood? Theoretical perspectives for this course will be drawn from religious studies, landscape studies, and cultural studies. We will analyze a series of case studies (derived from primary and secondary sources) throughout the quarter.

Religion and American Popular Culture

Sarah McFarland Taylor

This seminar is geared to graduate students in Religious Studies, but advanced undergraduates in Religious Studies, American Studies, and related areas are welcome.; Admission for undergraduates is by instructor approval, and Religion majors and American Studies majors will receive priority. In this course, we will examine religion and popular culture in theoretical perspective, self-reflexively considering what counts as "religion" and what counts as “popular culture” in America and why. How might these definitions change over time, and who has the authority to decide what kind of phenonmena falls into which category? What is the purpose of studying popular culture and what methodologies might be most useful and appropriate for doing so? What might the study of popular culture contribute to our understanding of how Americans experience the “religious”? Students will be asked to problematize "high culture" versus "low culture” distinctions, theoretical divisions between what is labeled "religious" and "secular," and classifications of “religion” and “culture.” Examining a series of case studies drawn from film, television, popular music and art, consumer items, kitsch, and other sources, we will explore different scholarly approaches to the study of religion and popular culture. Students then compare and evaluate these approaches, choosing their own approach as they conduct original research for the final seminar project.

Religion 482-0-- Themes in Comparative Religion: Religion and Magic

Richard Kieckhefer

This seminar will be devoted to a series of related questions about magic and religion: the assumption that magic is fundamentally premodern and irrational, the possibility that it can be modern or rational, and the notion that religion differs from magic in regard to either rationality or modernity.; We will examine these questions primarily with reference to specific historical contexts: late ancient Rome, late medieval and early modern Europe, postcolonial Africa and India, contemporary Britain, etc. Classical theories of religion and magic (Frazer, Durkheim, Mauss, Malinowski, et al.) will be presupposed rather than highlighted. Students are expected to have read S.J. Tambiah’s Magic, Science and Religion and the Scope of Rationality before term begins.

Readings:

Back to top