Skip to main content

Course Descriptions

Courses primarily for:

Courses Primarily for Undergraduate Students

ENG 388 – Studies in Literature and Religion: Radical Spirits

Recent scholarship on the history of abolitionism has placed renewed emphasis on the importance of religious communities within the early antislavery movement of the eighteenth century. Together, we will explore how the concerns of these religious traditions carry forward into the larger national projects of American abolitionism in the nineteenth century. How does renewed attention to this early period help us bring into focus the contributions of radical Black abolitionists? How do the shifting concerns of these various communities and coalitions compete or collaborate? To answer these questions, we will read from a broad selection of early antislavery writing, while also looking toward Octavia Butler's genre defying novel, Kindred (1979), as a lifeline to the present. We will explore abolition as a religiously inflected literary genre and will investigate how antislavery work inspired new forms of communication and literary style. Together we will read novels, poems, pamphlets, sermons, and personal narratives, paying attention to these emergent abolitionist forms.

REL 101-6-20 – First-Year Seminar: Myth and Legend in Tolkien

In developing Middle-earth, Tolkien intentionally sought to create a mythology. In this course, we will read The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings as mythology. We will analyze theories of myth, examine how Tolkien's scholarship and understanding of mythology shaped his tales, and explore the mythic themes in these works. We will also consider the enduring appeal of these stories as modern myth. (Fall 2018, Professor Mark McClish)

REL 101-6-21 – First-Year Seminar: Utopias and Dystopias

Through reading utopian and dystopian fiction, viewing utopian and dystopian films, and learning about actual utopian communities (which may feel very dystopian to you), we'll try to describe the line between utopianism and dystopianism and learn about the role religion has played in both. (Fall 2018, Professor Cristina Traina)

REL 101-6-22 – First-Year Seminar: The Spiritual Power of Horses

This seminar explores the spiritual dimensions of the human/horse relationship through the analytical lenses of religious studies, cultural studies, and animal studies. Seminar topics will include: divine horses as portrayed in myth and symbol, horses as spiritual teachers, healing through horses, human/horse spirit connections, horse whisperers, practices of horse meditation and horse yoga, spiritual journeys with horses, mystical representations of horses in advertising and film, ghost horses and “presence,” horsemanship as a spiritual life path, and an examination of the rhetorical power of horses in mediated texts. Primary sources for the course will be drawn from multiple media sources such as television, film, and advertising and will include Carter Heyward’s book on horses as spiritual teachers, Laurie Brock’s Horses Speak of God, Richard Rowland’s Unspoken Messages about life lessons learned from horses, and Joe Camp and Monty Roberts’ The Soul of a Horse.  This seminar will feature an observational field trip in which students will have the chance to visit a therapeutic horse riding center on the North Shore that works with special needs children and adults . No riding experience is necessary to take this course. The seminar instructor is a former competitive equestrian who specializes in the convergences of religious studies, media studies, and environmental studies. (Winter 2019, Professor Sarah Taylor)

REL 101-6-23 – First-Year Seminar: Civilizations

Coming Soon

REL 170-20 – Introduction to Religion

Why do we say "bless you" when someone sneezes? How did the design of Starbucks' holiday-themed cups lead to a consumer boycott? Why did the University of Ottawa cancel its yoga classes? And are celebrities the new gods? This course sets out to develop a deeper and broader understanding of religion as a human phenomenon, by focusing on three interrelated questions: What is religion, How to study religion, and Why study religion.

REL 200-20 – Introduction to Hinduism

One of the largest and most ancient of all religions, 'Hinduism' is actually a family of related traditions. Over the last 4000 years or more, the Hindu traditions of South Asia have developed an astonishing diversity of rituals, beliefs, and spiritual practices and a pantheon of hundreds of gods and goddesses, from the elephant-headed Ganesa to the fierce goddess Kali. This course will examine the breadth of the Hindu traditions as they developed over time, highlighting the shared features that make them a family, such as ritual sacrifice, world renunciation, law, spiritual discipline, devotion, worship, and theology. (Fall 2018, Professor Mark McClish)

REL 210-20 – Introduction to Buddhism

This course provides an introduction to key aspects of the Buddhist religious traditions of multiple Asian countries and the United States. Through careful examination of a variety of literature produced by these traditions, we will consider the ways in which Buddhists have understood human suffering, life after death, karma, merit, the nature of the world and human's place within it, and the path to enlightenment. Our emphasis will be on attempting to understand the moral values, philosophical insights, ritual practices, and social concerns that have shaped Buddhism over centuries of dynamic change in diverse cultural contexts. We will examine not only the history of Buddhism and its three-fold division into Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana, but also facets of the contemporary practice of Buddhism with a focus on the place of mindfulness in America. In addition to textbook readings, course readings privilege primary source readings in order to introduce students directly to the narrative, doctrinal, liturgical, and biographical texts that inform our knowledge of what it has meant to live a Buddhist life over time and across cultures. (Winter 2019, Professor Sarah Jacoby)

REL 210-21 – Introduction to Buddhism

Having begun in India some 2500 years ago, Buddhism now exists in almost all parts of the world. The Buddhist religion has shaped the thought and culture of Asia and has also influenced Western thought and culture in significant ways. To comprehend this diverse religion, this course approaches it from several perspectives: the historical, cultural, philosophical and religious. In the short time that we have in this quarter, our primary emphasis will be on investigating the philosophical and religious systems in the teachings of the Buddha in India as well as the thought of the later Buddhists in other parts of Asia. In looking at both the history and the philosophy, we see Buddhism as a religion that established a system of values, an interpretation of existence and a pattern of cultural practices and rituals that the Buddhists have interpreted in various ways to find meaning in life.

REL 220-20 – Introduction to Hebrew Bible

There is no understating the significance of the Hebrew Bible in Western Culture. The Bible is a text that has been repeatedly turned to for spiritual guidance, for explanations of mankind's origins and as the basis of both classical art and contemporary cinema. English idiom is peppered with phrases that originate in the Hebrew Bible and many a modern political clash can be understood as a conflict over what the Bible's messages and their implications. This course introduces students to the Hebrew Bible by reading sections of most of the Bible's books. But reading is itself a complicated enterprise. The Bible has been put to many different uses; even within the world of academic scholarship, the Bible is sometimes a source of history, sometimes a religious manual, sometimes a primitive legal code and sometimes a work of classical literature. This course will introduce students to the various challenges that present themselves within the study of the Hebrew Bible and the varied approaches scholars take when reading the Hebrew Bible. This course is a critical introduction to the Hebrew Bible. Because the Hebrew Bible is a text important to various religious practices, it is important to emphasize that the course does not expect students to have a particular religious perspective on the Hebrew Bible. Students who have such a perspective are encouraged to bring their own experiences into the classroom while respecting the opinions (and individuals) that may challenge those views.

REL 221-20 – Introduction to New Testament

Today, the New Testament is widely known and accepted as Christians' authoritative and sacred collection of texts. But roughly two thousand years ago, there were no Christians, and there was no New Testament. Rather, there existed in the eastern part of the Roman Empire a small group of people who had begun worshiping a Jewish healer and teacher as divine. It is this historical moment to which we turn in this course. We will study the people, events, and texts of the first and second centuries that shaped a small Jewish movement into the religion now known as Christianity, using as our main evidence the letters and stories of the New Testament. (Winter 2019, Professor Laura Dingeldein)

REL 230-20 – Introduction to Judaism

This course attempts to answer the questions "What is Judaism?" and "Who is a Jew?" by surveying the broad arc of Jewish history, reviewing the practices and beliefs that have defined and continue to define Judaism as a religion, sampling the vast treasure of Jewish literatures, and analyzing the unique social conditions that have made the cultural experience of Jewishness so significant. The class will employ a historical structure to trace the evolutions of Jewish literature, religion, and culture through the ages. (Spring 2018, Professor Barry Wimpfheimer)

REL 250-20 – Introduction to Islam

This course introduces Islam, one of the major religious traditions of world history, developing a framework for understanding how Muslims in varying times and places have engaged with Islamic scripture and the prophetic message of the Prophet Muhammad through diverse sources: theological, philosophical, legal, political, mystical, literary and artistic. While we aim to grasp broad currents and narrative of Islamic history, we will especially concentrate on the origins and development of the religion in its formative period (the prophetic career of the Prophet Muhammad, the Qur'an, Islamic belief and ritual, Islamic law, and popular spirituality) and debates surrounding Islam in the contemporary world (the impact of European colonialism on the Muslim world, the rise of the modern Muslim state, and discourses on gender, politics and violence). (Spring 2019, Professor Brannon Ingram)

REL 264-20 (HISTORY 200-20) – American Religious History From 1865 To The Great Depression

This course examines major developments, movements, controversies, and figures in American religious history from the end of the Civil War, as the nation struggled to make sense of the carnage of war and to apportion responsibility, to the 1930s, when economic crisis strained social bonds and intimate relations and challenged Americans to rethink the nature of public responsibility. Topics include urban religion; religion and changing technologies; African American religion; religion and politics; and the religious practices of immigrants and migrants. (Fall 2018, Professor Robert Orsi)

REL 265-20 – American Religious History from WWII to Present

This course examines major developments, movements, controversies and figures in American religious history from the 1920s, the era of excess and disillusionment, to the 1980s, which saw the revival of conservative Christianity in a nation becoming increasingly religiously diverse. Topics include the liberalism/fundamentalism controversy of the 1920s; the rise of Christian realism in the wake of the carnage of World War I; the making of the "tri-faith nation" (Protestant/Catholic/Jew); the supernatural Cold War; the Civil Rights Movement; the revolution in American Catholicism following the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and the rise of Catholic political radicalism in the 1960s; religion and the post-1965 immigration act; the religious politics of abortion; and the realignment of American religion and politics in the 1970s and 1980s. (Winter 2019, Professor Robert Orsi)

REL 270-20 – Introduction to Theology

Theology is one of the oldest academic disciplines in the university, and possibly its most misunderstood. In this course we get to know theology’s unique way of making sense of human existence on the planet. Or more precisely, we learn how to ask theological questions that have preoccupied humans for centuries: What does it mean to be human? Why does evil exist? What does God do with the world? We will address these questions by considering theologians from past, such as Martin Luther, and present, namely Black theologian James Cone and feminist theologian Elizabeth Johnson. (Fall 2018, Professor Christine Helmer)

REL 272-20 (GERMAN 272) – Luther and the West

Examination of Luther's work in the context of his life and times. Introduces basic dimensions of Western thought, showing how theology relates to broader cultural, political, social, and aesthetic issues. Taught with GERMAN 272; may not receive credit for both courses.

REL 275-20 – Mysticism & Spirituality

Mysticism is often defined in terms of some specific type of mystical experience, or a mystical relationship with the divine, or a mystical form of prayer, or mystical consciousness, all of which may be grounded in specific religious traditions but often moves beyond the boundaries of those traditions. Spirituality is a less specific term; it often refers to a sense of spiritual presence or to spiritual practices, and it may be unconnected with any religious traditions. This course examines the ways both mysticism and spirituality relate on the one hand to experience, and on the other hand to traditions. It focuses also on the ways texts (the writings of the mystics and those claiming spiritual inspiration) can be read, and introduces ways of studying these matters not only across religious traditions but outside traditions.

REL 314-20 – Buddhism in the Contemporary World

Some say America is currently undergoing a process of "Buddhification," meaning that Buddhism is cropping up everywhere, even in places one would least expect. Tech industry billionaires tout Buddhist mindfulness techniques at the annual Wisdom 2.0 conference, and Google offers mindfulness training courses taught by a Zen abbot. Mindfulness is also being presented as a panacea for those suffering from physical and mental pain, readily available in American hospital settings and psychological counseling services. Buddha images too can be found far from Buddhist temples-at the hip restaurant Buddha-Bar located in many cities around the world one can sip cocktails and dine before a massive Buddha statue while listening to lounge music. And in the Chicago area, one encounters Buddha head sculptures positioned on the ground in parks, by roads, and even in public school playgrounds as part of the Ten Thousand Ripples art project. How, and why, did aspects of Buddhism enter all of these different social locations? Why does Buddhism receive a pass more often than other religions by the "spiritual but not religious" crowd? Can Buddhism be secular? In what ways is Buddhism compatible with science, and can Buddhist practices be proven effective using scientific methods? Can paying better attention by means of Buddhist meditation practices liberate us from suffering caused by digital distraction? In what ways can Buddhist articulations of interdependence, no self, and compassion be resources for addressing racial and structural injustice, even as sexual abuse, racism, and trans/homophobia continue to traumatize members of some Buddhist communities? These are some of the many questions we will consider through readings by some of the most creative Buddhist leaders, critics, and consumers of our time. (Spring 2019, Professor Sarah Jacoby)

REL 318-20 (ASIAN_LC 390-20) – Religion and the Body in China

This seminar explores the place of the body in a variety of Chinese religious traditions, from the ancient period to the present day. We open with a question that animates the entire course: what is “the body,” and how do we know? In the first two weeks, we grapple with the dramatically different ways ancient Chinese and Greek medical traditions (respectively) viewed, touched, and diagnosed the body, seeking to understand how the body has been differently “constructed” as an object of knowledge in different parts of the world. Then we broaden our purview to examine how, over the course of Chinese history, the body was closely bound up with ethics; the aspiration to immortality; governance and cosmology; and human interactions with gods and demons (while also looping back to medicine several times). We conclude with two case studies of religion and the body in contemporary China. (Fall 2018, Professor Kevin Buckelew)

REL 319-20 – Chan/Seon/Zen Buddhism

The Chinese Chan (Japanese Zen, Korean Seon or Sŏn) tradition is one of the most famous branches of Buddhism in the world, but also one of the most widely misunderstood. This course explores the rich complexity of Chan/Seon/Zen Buddhism in East Asia by closely examining the tradition’s history, literature, philosophy, visual culture, and monastic practices. We begin by situating Chan’s origins among medieval Chinese meditation masters, and consider how the tradition’s rise to preeminence in the Song dynasty (960–1278) constituted a pivotal turning point in Chinese Buddhist history. By then, Chan had become much more than a school of meditation, and its rise gave birth to new genres of Buddhist literature written in semi-vernacular Chinese—such as “recorded sayings” and “public case” (Japanese kōan) collections—important examples of which we will closely read and analyze. Chan Buddhism was configured as a succession of “patriarchs,” but a small number of women also joined their ranks, and we will study their examples and the broader gendered dynamics of Chan. We then turn to the transmission of Chan to Japan through the study of two major figures in Japanese Zen, Dōgen and Hakuin. After delving into the history and present-day monastic practice of Korean Seon Buddhism, we conclude by investigating the reception of Chan, Seon, and Zen Buddhism in the modern and contemporary United States.

 

REL 346-20 – Church Architecture

Survey of historical and recent churches: spatial dynamics, centering focus, aesthetic impact, and symbolic resonance. (Spring 2019, Professor Richard Kieckhefer)

REL 349-20 – Why College?

Back by popular demand, Professor Helmer's seminar "Why College?" invites students to think about their college experience in light of new research about the "crisis" in higher education today. (Fall 2018, Professor Christine Helmer)

REL 349-21 – Luke/Acts

This course will study in depth two key books of the New Testament, the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. As indicated in the prefaces to both works (Luke 1: 1-4; Acts 1: 1 ), the evangelist proposes these two texts as two volumes of the same overall account, linking the gospel account of Jesus' mission with that of the early apostolic church. Studying the two texts together enables one to see the full sweep of Luke's theological program, calling for universal salvation across cultural boundaries. The format of the class is lecture combined with discussion. Required readings will include close reading of the biblical texts plus two modern commentaries on these New Testament books (Robert Tannehill on Luke and Beverly Gaventa on Acts); other suggested readings will be presented during the course. Major accountability will be in the form of a final written take-home exam. (Spring 2019, Professor Donald Senior)

REL 351 (MENA 390-6 / HUM 370-5) – Islamic Law (RLP)

Islamic law – the sacred law of Islam grounded in the Qur’an, the practice of the Prophet Muhammad, and the writings of Muslim scholars and jurists – stretches back nearly 1400 years. This course offers, first, an overview of the origins and evolution of Islamic law from the life of Muhammad to end of the classical era. We then seek, secondly, to understand how colonialism and the modern nation-state affected the conceptualization and implementation of Islamic law in the modern period. To these ends, we look in-depth at two specific areas of law – marriage and divorce, and criminal law – in two specific regions: the Ottoman empire and contemporary Iran.

Prerequisite: 250 or consent of instructor. Counts towards (RLP) Religion, Law and Politics. (Fall 2018, Professor Brannon Ingram)

REL 359-20 (POLI-SCI 390-24) – Reporting Islam

This course will bring together Medill and Weinberg students with an interest in the politics and practices of reporting on Islam and Muslims in the United States and in U.S. foreign policy. Through a combination of readings, site visits, individual and group projects, and critical writing assignments, the goals of this course are, first, to empower students to recognize the pitfalls of how Islam and Muslims are reported and represented in U.S. print media and other formats, and second, to innovate new ways of writing about Islam and Muslims that do not replicate the Islamophobic or Islamophilic tropes that dominate much of this reporting. To these ends, the course will include a 'master class' on reporting religion led by by Manya Brachear, religion reporter for the Chicago Tribune. The course is part of the "Talking 'Religion': Publics, Politics and the Media" project which is co-directed by the instructors, and students will have an opportunity to participate in project related activities including lectures and a spring 2019 workshop. (Fall 2018, Professor Brannon Ingram and Professor Elizabeth Hurd)

REL 364-20 – American Teenage Rites of Passage

Examination of various rites of passage experienced by US teens.

REL 369-20/Asian Am 350 – Topics in American Religion: Asian American Religions

Usually, Asian American religions are confused with Asian religions in the United States. This situation sometimes produces confusion about how to talk about the everyday religious practices of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders themselves, including those of Asian Americans  and Pacific Islanders who claim to be nonreligious. I have assigned some texts that might be able to help us to parse what Asian American and Pacific Islander religions are. The crux of this course will be student projects conducted over the quarter on one practice in one community of their choice exploring the question of what Asian American and/or Pacific Islander religion might be. We will begin by exploring how the confusion between Asian American religions and Asian religions came to be. We will then look more closely at the lived religious practices of Asian Americans and their communities. We will conclude by sharing our projects.

REL 369-21 – Religion, Media, and Pop Culture

Coming soon

REL 371-20 – Existentialism and Film

Coming Soon

REL 373-20 – Religion and Bioethics

Analysis of contemporary dilemmas in medicine and the life sciences; responses to these dilemmas from religious perspectives.

REL 374-20 – Contemporary Religious Thought: Religion and Literature

This course addresses the intersection of religion and literature in Judaism and Christianity from several perspectives. We will begin with the biblical story of the Binding of Isaac (Genesis 22) and its role in the thinking of Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. We will then read the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15) and consider its treatment in the novel Home by Marilynne Robinson. Finally, the third part of the course examines the work of Cynthia Ozick, who uses fiction to address the question of idolatry in modern culture. These examinations will also allow us to interrogate other key terms in the study of religion such as faith, orthodoxy, heresy, martyrdom, and holiness.

REL 379-20 (POLI-SCI 382-20) – Politics of Religious Diversity

This course examines the entanglements of religion with human life, law, politics, and public culture in the US and beyond. Beginning with legal controversies over yoga, the public display of crèches in the United States, and the religious history of the United States, we then turn to the question of who is a Jew legally in the United Kingdom, before moving further afield to reflect on a series of dilemmas involving the intersections of law, religion, and politics around the world. The course traverses disciplinary, geographic, and secular-religious boundaries, drawing on readings from politics, socio-legal studies, religious studies, indigenous studies, anthropology, history, and popular culture. Students also will consider their own experiences of living with religious diversity, as we explore tools and strategies to think in new ways about the place of religion in the contemporary world. Students are encouraged to attend scholarly lectures sponsored by the Buffett Global Politics & Religion Faculty Research Group. (Fall 2018, Professor Brannon Ingram and Elizabeth Shakman Hurd)

REL 379-21 – Science Fiction and Social Justice

This course examines the role of the devil in the history of Christianity from the ancient world to today. We will utilize a variety of academic perspectives (literary studies, Religious Studies, and the discipline of history) to understand how people have imagined the devil as a character, a lived presence, and a political-spiritual threat.

Though many secular twenty-first century Americans (and some scholars) suggest that the importance of the devil has decreased in the modern world, this course is designed to get us to think about the continued presence of the devil for many religious believers. Further, this course highlights how ideas about the devil and the demonic are foundational to modern political philosophies. A careful consideration of the devil as simultaneously a religious and a secular idea offers new ways to critically analyze the emergence of modern nation-states, forms of racial supremacy, and heteronormative gender systems. (Winter 2019, Harrison King)

REL 379-22 – History of the Devil

This course examines the role of the devil in the history of Christianity from the ancient world to today. We will utilize a variety of academic perspectives (literary studies, Religious Studies, and the discipline of history) to understand how people have imagined the devil as a character, a lived presence, and a political-spiritual threat.

Though many secular twenty-first century Americans (and some scholars) suggest that the importance of the devil has decreased in the modern world, this course is designed to get us to think about the continued presence of the devil for many religious believers. Further, this course highlights how ideas about the devil and the demonic are foundational to modern political philosophies. A careful consideration of the devil as simultaneously a religious and a secular idea offers new ways to critically analyze the emergence of modern nation-states, forms of racial supremacy, and heteronormative gender systems.

REL 379-23 – Topics in Comparative Religion

Coming Soon

REL 395-20 – Theories of Religion

What is "theory"? What does it mean to have a theory about something? How are theories helpful? What do theories do? What is "religion"? How do things get excluded or included in this category? What counts as "religious" and why? Who gets to decide? This course is an introduction to foundational theories of religion and to the history of the construction of the category of "religion" over time. Throughout the term, you will be working on formulating your own theory of religion, which you will articulate and defend in your final seminar paper. In this course, you will gain (as ritual theorist Catherine Bell says) "the skills and tools to make sure that very complicated situations and ideas can be put into words, thereby making it possible to have discussions about issues that can only be discussed if there is language for reflexivity, nuance, counter-evidence, and doubt." In the process, you will be asked to make theory translatable to your peers by actively engaging theoretical concepts in creative ways. (Fall 2018, Professor Sarah Taylor)

Graduate-level Courses Available to Undergraduates

REL 339-20 – Kabbalah and Popular Literature

Coming Soon

Courses Primarily for Graduate Students

REL 460-20 – Medieval Liturgy: A Multimedia Experience

Coming soon

REL 462-20 (HISTORY 492-26) – Religion, Race, and Class in 20th Century US History

Religion, Race, and Class in 20th Century US History: The intersection of race, religion, and class-as a generative convergence, as well as tragedy and outrage-is at once everywhere and nowhere in US religious history. Historians of American industrial cities, for example, have largely managed to overlook the role of religion in shaping urban topography, soundscapes, and political movements; the fact that the religions of the Great Migration, such as Pentecostalism, the Nation of Islam, and Black Catholicism, were all working-class creations exists just below the surface of historical consciousness. Class/race/religion hides in plain sight in US history. This course considers the strange fate of this convergence through a careful consideration of recent work that aims to recover particular pieces its history. Topics to include Jews and Catholics in the urban crisis in Detroit; the Christian contribution to the making and unmaking of the New Deal; the prosperity gospel and millennial capitalism; the religious origins of the hard right; Black gospel music; and conservative evangelicalism and the service economy. (Fall 2018, Professor Robert Orsi)

REL 471-20 (HISTORY 405-24, GNDR_ST 490-25) – Embodiment/Materiality/Affect

This seminar explores theoretical approaches to the problems of embodiment/materiality/affect. One aim of the course is to examine various methodological approaches to embodiment, materiality and affect, making use of sociology and philosophy (Pierre Bourdieu, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Spinoza, Massumi). The second and closely related aim is to situate bodies in time and place, that is, in history. Here we look to the particular circumstances that shaped the manner in which historical actors experienced their bodies in the Christian west (Peter Brown, Caroline Bynum, Mary Carruthers, Michel de Certeau, Michel Foucault). Ultimately, we will be examining theoretical tools while we put them to work. The goal: how to use these thinkers to write more dynamic, creative, interesting scholarship? (Fall 2018, Professor Molina)

REL 473-20 – Studies in the HIstory of Religions: Tibetan Language Seminar

Coming Soon

REL 473-21 – Studies in the HIstory of Religions: Tibetan language seminar

Coming Soon

Back to top