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Course Descriptions

Courses primarily for:

Courses Primarily for Undergraduate Students

REL 101-6-20 – Utopias and Dystopias

Dystopian fiction like *The Hunger Games* and *A Handmaid's Tale* describes human survival and subversion in horrible-worlds-gone-wrong. In some ways it's the opposite of utopian fiction that--often on religious premises, like Thomas More's 16th-century novel *Utopia*--spins out a picture of a perfect society. As we explore examples of utopias and dystopias, we'll explore the line between them. Is one person's utopia another person's dystopia? Is religion the saving grace or arch-nemesis of human happiness? Why do people write and read this work and even try their own hands at creating religious utopian communities? Our quarter will involve reading novels, viewing films, and learning about some actual utopian communities that have left their imprint on American society in everything from our music to our kitchen appliances. The focus of the course is writing and discussion. (Fall 2019, Professor Cristina Traina)

REL 101-6-21 – Decolonization

Coming soon

REL 101-6-22 – Spiritual but not Religious

Coming soon

REL 170-20 – Introduction to Religion

This course offers undergraduates an introduction to study of the phenomena of religion in relationship to society and culture. The course content highlights major themes, issues, figures, and narratives, while examining a variety of people’s religious practices, communities, and identities. Course materials will be drawn from more traditional religious sources as well as contemporary media and culture, with special attention paid to visual and material culture. Through a series of multimedia assignments, students are asked to engage in critical analysis of the mutable boundaries and definitions of what gets designated as “religious” and why, and according to what sources of authority. Students will also be introduced to a variety of scholarly and analytical lenses for studying religion, including those drawn from cultural studies, sociology, anthropology, folklore, and narrative studies. (Fall 2019, Professor Sarah Taylor)

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. (Winter 2020, Professor Mark McClish)

REL 210-20 – 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. (Fall 2019, Professor George Bond)

REL 210-21 – Introduction to Buddhism

Coming soon

REL 220-20 – Introduction to Hebrew Bible

There is no understating the significance of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament 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. (Spring 2020, Professor Barry Wimpfheimer)

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 2020, 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. (Winter 2020, 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 2020, Professor Brannon Ingram)

REL 264-20 / HISTORY 200-24 – American Religious History: 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 religion and public responsibility. Topics include urban religion; religion and the modernist Impulse; Liberal Theology, the Social Gospel, and Pragmatic Philosophy; African American religions; religion and politics; and the religious practices of immigrants and migrants. (Fall 2019, Larry Perry)

REL 265-20 / HIS 200-24 – American Religious History from WWII to Present (RLP)

Religion and the making of contem-porary America, including Cold War religion, the “Black Gods” of the Great Migration, the rise of the Christian Right, and modern American Catholicism and Judaism. Counts towards Religion, Law and Politics (RLP) major concentration. (Winter 2020, Larry Perry)

REL 274-20 – German Theology in Times of War

Coming soon

REL 295-20 / ASIAN_LG TBA – Ahiṃsā: Nonviolence in South Asia and Beyond

Nonviolence refers to any spiritual, ethical, or political disposition that refuses to use violence in the navigation of daily life and/or in the resolution of conflict. It is found in cultures around the globe and throughout history. Some people and communities feel a strong ethical or spiritual impulse toward nonviolence. For them, nonviolence is a matter of principle and may or may not also be seen as a tool for political change. For others, nonviolent strategies are ways to resolve social conflict at all levels. In the 20th century nonviolence came to be seen as a powerful force against repressive regimes. This course will examine critically the theory and practice of nonviolence and assess its limitations and potential. We will begin look at the feasibility of nonviolence for our species through an inquiry into the interconnection between violence, nonviolence, and human nature. We will look at the role of spiritual and ethical conviction in the establishment of nonviolent dispositions and explore the uses and limits of nonviolence toward contemporary political ends. (Spring 2020, Professor Mark McClish)

REL 329-20 – Topics in the Bible: Magic, Miracles, and the Bible

This course explores concepts of magic and religion in the New Testament and early Christianity by analyzing them within the context of the ancient Greco-Roman world. We will consider questions such as: What acts count as magical and what acts count as religious? How do we distinguish between them? Although scholars have often classified magic and religion as mutually exclusive categories, does analysis of ancient texts from the Greco-Roman world sustain this distinction? Sources that we will examine include spells, charms, amulets, incantations, prayers, and even liturgical texts. As the course progresses, we will analyze each of these magical and religious phenomena both on their own and as a part of their wider ancient context. By the end of this course, students should have a firmer appreciation of the complex religious mentality of people in the ancient Greco-Roman world. (Fall 2019, Professor Richard Zaleski)

REL 351-20 / MENA 301-3-20 – 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. *Counts towards Religion, Law and Politics (RLP) major concentration. *Prerequisite: 250 or consent of instructor. (Spring 2020, Professor Brannon Ingram)

REL 369-21 / AF_AM_ST 380-23 – Black Theology from Black Power to Black Lives Matter (RLP)

The Black Theology: From Black Power to Black Lives Matter course, engages Black Theology and its encounters with various historical moments, thinkers, philosophies, and theologies. Black Theology founder, James Cone, will sit at the center the course, as we discuss Black Theology's grappling with the American Liberal Theology, the Black Power Movement, African American Humanism, Womanist Theology, Black Marxism, Black Pragmatism, the Obama Era, and the Black Lives Matter Movement. *Counts towards Religion, Law and Politics (RLP) major concentration. (Fall 2019, Professor Larry Perry) 

REL 369-22 – Media, Earth, & Making a Difference

The central question of this course is: What Makes a Difference? Analyzing a variety of works of media addressing environmental themes, including works drawn from advertising and marketing, we will consider different types of environmental messaging and attempts to mobilize public moral engagement. (Spring 2020, Professor Sarah Taylor).

REL 369-24 / AF_AM_ST 380-0-22 – Black Religious Thought (RLP)

Coming soon

REL 369-25 – African American Religions (RLP)

Coming soon

REL 373-20 / GLB_HLTH 390-24 – Religion and Bioethics (RHM)

Religion intersects with medicine at many levels: patients, practitioners, institutional providers, law, and even international relations. We will look at religion and the ethics of medicine in two ways.

First, we will discuss some of the central questions of bioethics: suffering and death; transplant; assisted reproduction; vaccination; the opioid crisis; global health issues; ecology; gene editing; children’s freedom to make decisions; and others.

At the same time, we will discuss religions’ intersection with the practice and ethics of medicine: how religions have influenced the goals of medicine, including end of life care and relief of suffering; how they have shaped the fundamental principles of bioethics; the ethical and religious impact of religiously affiliated hospitals’ ethical and religious directives; the challenges of accommodating patients’ and practitioners’ diverse religious beliefs in a medical system that is not religiously neutral; the impact of religious convictions on global health initiatives; religions’ role in converting social crises to medical crises. *Counts towards Religion, Health and Medicine (RHM) major concentration. (Fall 2019, Professor Cristina Traina) 

REL 374-20 – God After the Holocaust

Times of crisis and collective suffering give rise to theological innovation and creative shifts in religious expression as people seek to understand their traditions in light of their experiences. In the wake of the Holocaust, Jews and Christians faced such a need for religious rethinking. In theological terms, they asked: where was God and should we expect God to act in human history? What does this event indicate about God's existence? In human terms, they asked: how do we live as Jews today? As Christians? As human beings? Focusing on theological and literary texts, in this course we will explore how Jews and Christians reshaped their thinking about God and religion in response to the Holocaust and the experience of suffering in the modern world. (Fall 2019, Professor Claire Sufrin)

REL 379-20 / ENGLISH 388-21 – Science Fiction and Social Justice (RHM, RSG)

This course will examine major utopian and dystopian texts and films in relation to social justice issues in the twentieth century and beyond, while following the stories of artists, organizers, and communities that have used speculative world-building to imagine livable, sustainable futures. We will focus on how feminist, anarchist, LGBTQ, and Afrofuturist art and activism have contributed to a substantial critical discourse on the intersections of science, technology, ecology, war, race, gender, sexuality, health, and ability.

This course will further examine how artists and activists have understood religion as both impediment and partner to social justice work, while alternatively embracing, subverting, and defying religious authority. We will attend to how religious myths and imagery are sampled and remixed by science fiction authors to plot an alternative course for history. *Counts towards Religion, Health and Medicine (RHM) and Religion, Sexuality and Gender (RSG) major concentrations. (Fall 2019, Ashley King) 

REL 379-22 / ENGLISH 388-20 – Radical Spirits

Recent scholarship on the history of abolitionism has reframed the activist, religious, and literary history of the movement to end slavery, placing new emphasis on the critical importance of women, the organizing efforts of Black people, and religious dissent in shaping the movement. This course takes up the radical history of abolitionism, elaborating the importance of religious communities within the early antislavery movement and the contributions of Black activists. Reading across the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, we will ask questions about how the shifting concerns of these various coalitions compete and collaborate. We will read from a broad selection of antislavery essays, poems, sermons, and personal narratives, while also looking toward Octavia Butler’s genre defying novel, Kindred (1979), as a lifeline to the present.

Together we will explore abolition as a religiouslyjavascript:void(0) inflected literary genre and will investigate how antislavery work inspired new forms of communication and literary style. (Fall 2019, Professor Ean High)

REL 385-20 / AMER_ST 310-3 – Catholic '60s

An examination of the major social and religious transformations in American Catholicism during and after the Second Vatican Council. Topics include: changing roles of priests and nuns; innovations in Catholic ritual and devotion; radical Catholicism; and the making of a new ways of being Catholic. Readings to include primary and secondary sources, documentary film, visual art, and selections from the relevant documents of the Second Vatican Council Joseph P. Chinnici and Angelyn Dries, eds. (Fall 2019, Professor Robert Orsi)

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 2019, Professor Sarah Taylor)

Graduate-level Courses Available to Undergraduates

REL 301-20 / ASIAN_LG 360-21 – Hindu Epics: Mahābhārata

The Mahābhārata is an epic of ancient India that tells the story of a cataclysmic war between two sets of cousins, a war that eventually came to involve all the peoples of earth and gods in heaven. Interwoven among the main narrative are myriad shorter tales and religious teachings, so that the Mahābhārata represents a kind of encyclopedia of classical Hinduism. For over two thousand years, the Mahābhārata has continued to entertain and edify audiences as one of the best-known and most-beloved of Hindu sacred texts.

As a class we will read an abridged version of the text in translation. Graduate students may elect to read portions in the original Sanskrit. Our engagement with the text will focus on immersing ourselves in its story-world and thinking about narrative as a form of scripture: what are the basic aspects of the human condition? how are we to make our way in the world? from where do we derive our sense of purpose? how are stories especially good at accommodating complex perspectives of the cosmos and the human condition? what role do entertainment and enjoyment play in edification from scripture? how does ancient Hinduism appear through the lens of the text? (Winter 2020, Professor Mark McClish)

REL 315-20 / ASIAN_LG 390-21 – Buddhist Auto/biography

In the middle of the twentieth century, cutting-edge literary theorists concluded that autobiography was exclusively a product of “Western” individualistic culture, thereby ignoring the literary output of large parts of the globe, including Buddhist religious literature. The goal of this course is to explore Buddhist biography and autobiography as literary genres and as lenses through which we can examine the various meanings of living an exemplary Buddhist life, focusing on religious literature from India and Tibet. Questions the course will probe include: How did a religious doctrine such as Buddhism, which denies the ultimate existence of the self, become a major locus of auto/biographical writing? What is the nature of the self as it is expressed in Buddhist religious auto/biography, and what were the aims of this literature? What can we learn from reading biographies and autobiographies about Buddhist selves, societies, and histories? How do differences of gender, nationality, and religious lineage inform auto/biographical representations of the self?

REL 316-20 / ASIAN_LG 300-20 – Religion and the Body in China (RHM, RSG)

This seminar explores the place of the body in Chinese religion, from the ancient period to the present day. In the course of this exploration, we seek to challenge our presuppositions about a seemingly simple question: what is “the body,” and how do we know? We open by considering themes of dying and the afterlife, food and drink, health and medicine, gender and family. We then turn to Daoist traditions of visual culture that envision the human body as intimately connected with the cosmos and picture the body’s interior as a miniature landscape populated by a pantheon of gods. We read ghost stories and analyze the complex history of footbinding. Finally, we conclude with two case studies of religion and the body in contemporary China, one situated on the southwestern periphery, the other in the capital city of Beijing. Throughout the quarter, we investigate how the body has mediated relationships between Buddhist, Daoist, and popular religious traditions. By the course’s end, students will gain key resources for understanding historical and contemporary Chinese culture, and new perspectives on what it means to be religious and embodied. *Counts towards Religion, Health and Medicine (RHM) and Religion, Sexuality and Gender (RSG) major concentrations. (Winter 2020, Professor Kevin Buckelew) 

REL 339-20 / LEGAL_ST 376-23 – Law as Literature: What it means to interpret Jewish Law (RLP)

Rabbinic Literature—the literature produced by rabbis who lived between the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70CE and the Islamic Conquest in the seventh century CE—is famous for reimagining Judaism as a law-based rather than temple-based religion, for validating contradictory legal and theological opinions, and for producing arguably the earliest set of hermeneutic rules for interpreting a canonized text. These three innovations mark Rabbinic Literature as a special site for investigating a variety of questions about legal meaning that are relevant for understanding both Jewish law and law more generally. This course will utilize rabbinic texts that discuss ethically problematic precedents in biblical law as a laboratory within which to explore such questions as the location of legal meaning, the authority of legal interpreters and the cultural impact of law. *Counts towards Religion, Law and Politics (RLP) major concentration. (Winter 2020, Professor Barry Wimfheimer)

REL 339-21 / AMER_ST 310-3 – American Judaism

As a nation of immigrants committed by the Bill of Rights to freedom of religion, the United States of America offered Jews both a unique setting in which to live and work and a unique setting in which to worship and understand their God and observe the customs of their religion. In this course, we will examine the evolution of American Judaism from the colonial period through to the present day. Using a variety of perspectives, we will trace shifts in the situation of Jews in America and corresponding changes in the way(s) Jews have practiced and understood their religious traditions. Emphasis will be placed on critical understanding of theology and cultural materials such as short stories,films and music as well as other primary documents. (Winter 2020, Professor Claire Sufrin)

Courses Primarily for Graduate Students

REL 462-21 – Religion, Media and Digital Culture

“Interest in media has become one of the most significant areas of academic growth in the study of religion over the past twenty years" [Mia Lövheim and Gordon Lynch, Culture and Religion.] In this graduate seminar, we dive into one of today’s most exciting and rapidly expanding areas of scholarship – the intriguing intersections and complex entanglements of religion and media. Drawing from a diverse array of interdisciplinary sources, and taking cognizance of the intertwined histories of media and religion, we will explore what media studies and communication theories have to offer the study of religion and, reciprocally, how religious studies scholarship might enrich media studies. We will look at such areas as: how religion gets mediated; the religious dimensions of transmedia storytelling and media world-building; religion as communication; online group identity formation and religious identity construction; the blurred boundaries between the so-called “sacred and the secular” in the study of religion and media; conducting netnography and its research applications; controversies and conflicts in both religious institutions and media worlds over the authorized and unauthorized circulation of content; and how a better understanding of intermediality in the digital age might inform our theoretical understandings of religion.  Of particular interest in this course will be the impact of digital culture on the media-religion interface. Students will be asked to conduct original research, compose a final seminar paper, and to present their research in a conference-like format at the conclusion of the course.  Students will also receive an introduction to key professional organizations, guilds, and research centers that support work on media, religion, and culture. (Spring 2020, Professor Sarah Taylor) 

REL 471-20 / HISTORY 405-30 / GNDR_ST 490-22 – Graduate Seminar: Embodiment/Materility/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? (Winter 2020, Professor Michelle Molina)

REL 481-2-20 – Graduate Seminar: Theories of Religion

Histories of ‘Religion’: Focusing on recent monographs in the field, this course aims to provide a genealogy of the category of religion itself as it was constituted within Euro-American intellectual and social history. It gives particular attention to ways that the category migrated within, and was mediated by, colonial and imperial networks (with a particular focus on Asia). It ends with an overview of recent debates about secularity as a discourse that attempts to draw boundaries between ‘religion’ and not-religion (‘culture’, ‘politics’, ‘superstition’, and so on), and of ways that the category of religion was/remains imbricated in notions of race. (Winter 2020, Professor Brannon Ingram)

REL 482-20 / GNDR_ST 490-24 – Feminist Theory and the Study of Religion

This course aims to put feminist theory and religious studies into conversation with each other in order to examine the resulting intersections, points of mutual illumination, and aporias. The course will investigate the history of feminist approaches to religious studies as well as new directions in current scholarship including feminist and womanist theologies, goddess feminism, secular and post-secular feminisms, as well as postcolonial and transnational feminisms. We will consider the following questions, among others: What does it mean to apply a gender studies lens to the study of religion? How do feminist conceptions of “liberation” reinforce or reject religious conceptions of “liberation”? What are the implications of the “return of religion” currently invoked in some feminist discourses? This course seeks to move beyond prevalent assumptions of Judeo-Christian normativity in its analysis of feminist contributions to the study of religion. It pays particular attention to feminist approaches to the study of Asian religions, but with flexibility to highlight other geographic/thematic areas of interest to graduate students enrolled in the course. *RSG Concentration for undergraduate students only. ( Fall 2019, Professor Sarah Jacoby)

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