This course introduces students to the comparative study of religion by exploring two distinct religious traditions. It focuses on the ways that scholars draw on contextual information to understand religious practices, ideas or beliefs, artifacts, institutions, and symbols. The traditions examined vary from year to year. In fall 2018, the major traditions will be Christianity and Judaism and the theme will be "the end of the world." We will trace and compare Jewish and Christian ideas of an end-time often accompanied by expectations of cataclysm, judgment, and new creation and by varying definitions of the blessed saved and the irrevocably condemned. Our study will include a trajectory from ancient to modern sources and draw from a variety of relevant media, historical moments, and cultural movements.
Fall semester. Professors Doran and Niditch.2017-18: Offered in Fall 2017
(Offered as RELI 121 and ANTH 121) This course will introduce students to the research methods, modes of analysis, and writing styles that accompany ethnographic fieldwork in religious communities. We will begin with a focus on prominent ethnographies (written accounts of cultures based on fieldwork) that are set in religious communities. We will consider the research questions and debates this literature has taken up as well as the specific ethical and practical challenges that characterize this scholarship. Students will then gain hands-on experience with a variety of ethnographic methods (e.g., participant observation and field notation, structured and unstructured interviews, and spatial mapping) through course field trips to local places of worship. We will also spend time examining the various digital tools (apps, social media, podcasts, etc.) that religious communities utilize today. For their final project, students will carry out their own independent ethnographic research projects with local religious communities. The final weeks of the course will focus on the specific challenges of analyzing and writing about religious cultures, including the ethics of representing others’ beliefs.
Omitted 2018-19. Visiting Lecturer Girard.
2017-18: Offered in Spring 2018
(Offered as RELI 143 and ASLC 144) This course explores central ideas and practices in the religious and intellectual traditions of India up until the medieval period. We consider the range of available archeological, art historical, and textual evidence for religion in this period, though the course focuses mostly on texts. We will read the classic religious and philosophical literature of the traditions we now call Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism.
Spring semester. Professor M. Heim.2017-18: Offered in Spring 2018
(Offered as RELI 152 and ASLC 152) This course is an introduction to the diverse ideals, practices, and traditions of Buddhism from its origins in South Asia to its geographical and historical diffusion throughout Asia and, more recently, into the west. We will explore the Three Jewels--the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha--and how they each provide refuge for those suffering in samsara (the endless cycle of rebirth). We will engage in close readings of the literary and philosophical texts central to Buddhism, as well as recent historical and anthropological studies of Buddhist traditions.
Fall semester. Professor M. Heim.2017-18: Offered in Fall 2017
Familiarity with the Bible is essential to any liberal arts education. This course is the place to begin. A master-work of great complexity revealing many voices and many periods, the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament is a collection of traditional literature of various genres including prose and poetry, law, narrative, ritual texts, sayings, and other forms. We seek to understand the varying ways Israelites understood and defined themselves in relation to their ancestors, their ancient Near Eastern neighbors, and their God. Course assignments are a series of interpretive essays in which students become accustomed to close work with biblical texts, employing methodological approaches introduced throughout the semester.
Fall semester. Professor Niditch.2017-18: Offered in Fall 2017
One of the most dominant symbols in Western culture, the figure of Jesus, has been variously represented and interpreted--even the canonical Christian Scriptures contains four different biographies. This course will explore shifts in the contours of that symbol and the socio-cultural forces at play in such changes, as well as debates about the understanding of the figure of Jesus. Beginning with recent films about Jesus, the course will turn to examine the biographies in the Christian Scriptures and the heated debate in the fourth century over the identity of Jesus as Son of God. We will then trace trajectories through the medieval period in the visual and audial image of Jesus. To conclude, we will focus on the "social" Jesus, that is, Jesus the capitalist and the Jesus of liberation theology, as well as on the feminine Jesus, for example, portrayals of Jesus as mother and bride.
Omitted 2018-19. Professor Doran.
The past century and a half have seen Christians engaging capitalism in various ways. Some have argued that capitalism and Christianity are opposed at the level of first principles, with capitalism dedicated to an ethos of competition and Christianity to one of co-operation. Others have argued that capitalism is just human freedom in the sphere of economics, and that the Christian’s duty is to defend capitalism against threats from those who would dismantle it. Some have argued that Jesus preached the virtue of poverty; others, that he blesses his followers with wealth. This course explores the history of Christian engagements with capitalism since the middle of the nineteenth century. We will examine not only Christian condemnations or valorizations of capitalism (Christian socialism and “corporate Christianity”), but also engagements that defend some aspects of capitalism while criticizing others (the Social Gospel movement and the Roman Catholic tradition of social thought). We will also examine ways in which capitalism has influenced both church history and Christian theology through discussion of the financial history of Christian publications and institutions, and the recent phenomenon of the “Christian corporation.”
Omitted 2018-19. Professor A. Dole.2017-18: Not offered
(Offered as RELI 187 and ASLC 187). Islam is a tradition with 1400 years of history and over one billion adherents today in countries around the globe. This course equips students with the basic vocabulary needed to understand the diversity of ideals and practices, sects, and intellectual currents found among Muslims over the course of this history. In the first half of the course, we will engage in close readings from scripture (the Qur’an and hadith), and central texts of biography, law, theology, and mysticism (Sufism) to discover the variety of Islamic ideals and practices. We will emphasize the ways that the meanings of such ideals and practices are contested within the Islamic tradition. In the second half of the course, we will shift to examine early modern and modernist ideals and socio-religious practices by engaging with anthropological and historical studies. In these final modules, we will interrogate the ways that the canonical sources of medieval Islam are deployed, their meanings and significance contested and reinterpreted against the backdrop of geopolitical events and socio-political landscapes as well as in light of personal experiences and European thought.
Fall Semester. Professor Jaffer.2017-18: Not offered
(Offered as RELI 205 and ANTH 212) What does it mean to study religion from an anthropological perspective? This course aims to answer this question through an examination of the specific theories, methodologies, sites, beliefs, and practices that anthropologists engage with as they investigate religious phenomena. We will begin by reading some of the most prominent attempts within anthropology to theorize religion. We will work to understand these theories both as enduring resources for understanding religion today and as the product of a specific historical moment in which scholars widely assumed that religion would steadily wither away as cultures “progressed” towards modernity. Of course, in the end, religion did not vanish from the modern world. In fact, religion’s role in public and political life is as important as ever. In order to better understand religion’s ongoing entanglements with the modern world, the course will then turn to consider how contemporary anthropologists describe its enduring role within other cultural and social phenomena such as race, politics, the economy, colonialism, and gender.
Omitted 2018-19. Visiting Lecturer Girard.2017-18: Offered in Fall 2017
What does religious studies study? How do its investigations proceed? Can a religion only be truly understood from within, by those who share its beliefs and values? Or, on the contrary, is only the person who stands “outside” religion equipped to study and truly understand it? Is there a generic “something” that we can properly call “religion” at all or is the concept of religion, which emerged from European Enlightenment, inapplicable to other cultural contexts? This course will explore several of the most influential efforts to develop theories of religion and methods for its study. We will consider psychological, sociological, anthropological, and phenomenological theories of religion, along with recent challenges to such theories from thinkers associated with feminist, post-modern and post-colonial perspectives.
Spring semester. Professor Jaffer.2017-18: Offered in Spring 2018
The cognitive science of religion (CSR) is a relatively new field that applies developments in the cognitive sciences and in evolutionary psychology to the study of religion. This course will survey the recent literature on the subject, and will bring this material into conversation with “classical” naturalistic theorizing concerning religion. Topics covered will include the theory of cognitive "massivley modularity" that grounds much of the work in this area; the theories of reciprocal altruism and coalitional psychology; and the question of whether religion is an adaptation or an "evolutionary by-product". We will read works by David Hume, Robert Trivers, Pascal Boyer, Justin Barrett, Richard Dawkins, Lee Kirkpatrick, Ara Norenzayan, and others.
Fall Semester. Professor Andrew Dole.2017-18: Not offered
(Offered as BLST 210 [A] HIST 210 [AF] and RELI 220.) The course will examine the transformative impact of Christianity and Islam on West African societies since the wave of Muslim reformist and Christian evangelical movements in the nineteenth century. While providing a regional West African overview, the course will focus on a detailed case study of the Nigerian region (the diverse communities that constitute contemporary Nigeria). With significant populations of Christians, Muslims, and adherents of traditional African religions, Nigeria is a notable example of a West African country where religious encounters profoundly transformed state-society relations from the nineteenth century to the twenty-first century. Drawing on historical and social science texts, the course will explore the impact of Christianity and Islam on pre-colonial, colonial, and postcolonial West African states and societies.
Fall semester. Professor Vaughan.2017-18: Offered in Fall 2017
(Offered as RELI 238 and BLST 238 [US]) A study of African-American religion, from the time of slavery to the present, in the context of American social, political, and religious history. Consideration will be given to debates concerning the "Africanity" of black religion in the United States, to the role of Islam in African-American religious history, and to the religious impact of recent Caribbean immigration. The major emphasis throughout the course, however, will be on the history of African-American Christianity in the United States. Topics covered will include the emergence of African-American Christianity in the slavery era, the founding of the independent black churches (especially the AME church) and their institutional development in the nineteenth century, the predominant role of the black Baptist denominations in the twentieth century, the origins and growth of black Pentecostalism, the increasing importance of African-American Catholicism, the role of the churches in social protest movements (especially the civil rights movement) and electoral politics, the changing forms of black theology, and the distinctive worship traditions of the black churches.
Omitted 2018-19.2017-18: Offered in Fall 2017
Evangelical Christianity, or evangelicalism, eludes precise definition. As most commonly used, the term refers to a sector of Protestant Christianity whose historical provenance runs from the eighteenth century to the present day. Originating in Europe and North America but now a global phenomenon, evangelicalism in the United States has enjoyed periods of pervasive influence and times of cultural marginality--recovering in the late twentieth century a mainstream status it had seemingly lost. This course is concerned with the history and shifting nature of evangelicalism. Sometimes regarded as a monolithic movement adhering to a fixed set of traditional Christian doctrines and practices, evangelicalism has been throughout its history innovative, changing, and internally diverse. Sometimes seen as politically reactionary, evangelicalism has at times promoted recognizably progressive reforms. Sometimes seen as serving an ethnically and racially narrow constituency, evangelicalism has also shown a marked capacity to cross ethnic and racial boundaries. How are these seemingly contradictory patterns (or perceptions) to be understood? Over the course of the semester we will explore questions such as: How have evangelicals themselves attempted to define the "mainstream" culture in the various environments they have entered? How has evangelicalism handled racial and ethnic difference? How have evangelicals understood their place in the history of the world and of the Christian tradition?
Omitted 2018-19. Professor A. Dole.2017-18: Offered in Spring 2018
Little Syria in Manhattan, Crypto-Jewish homes in New Mexico, colonias Mormonas in northern Mexico, a Gurdwara deep in the crop-combed fields of California, and Detroit’s New Bethel Baptist Church (the vocal antechamber of Aretha Franklin’s #1 hit you might know as “R-E-S-P-E-C-T”) seem to have little in common. However, a historical examination of such sites reveals that they share basic social building blocks, shaped under similar push and pull factors. This course is concerned with the ways in which migrant groups have altered the religious landscape of North America and how they innovatively reproduce practices from their places of origin. Our main focus will be on the ramifications of religious movement within the U.S.; however, we will also explore migrations that have shaped the continent. Crossing into the U.S. from the eastern seaboard, the Pacific Rim, and the southern border with Mexico, migrants bring their new ways of creating sacred space and negotiating religious life. We will seek to understand the multifaceted relationships between religion and migration. How have migrants negotiated the role of religion in their private and public lives? What have been the social consequences pertaining to gender, praxis, politics, and respectability? The course takes into account migrations prior to the twentieth century in order to understand regional cultures within the U.S. Additionally, case studies in this course will draw heavily from the third wave of American immigration, characterized by twentieth-century “internal migrations” of African Americans, Latinas/os, Native Americans, and rural dwellers into the urban environments. We will conclude by examining the ways in which forces of modern globalization have changed the nature of religious diversity in the U.S. We will extensively compare migrant cultures as we interrogate power and privilege pertaining to race and religion. The cultural production of these migrant groups under study will bring to the class an empathetic understanding of diverse cultures and their forms of belonging.
Omitted 2018-19. Post-doctoral Fellow Barba.2017-18: Offered in Spring 2018
(Offered as RELI 252, ASLC 252, and ENGL 302) From the biographies of Gotama Buddha to the autobiographies of western converts, life writing plays a central role in teaching Buddhist philosophy, practice, history, and myth. This course explores the diverse forms and purposes of Buddhist life writing in the literary and visual cultures of India, Tibet, Sri Lanka, China, Vietnam, Japan, and America. Reading the lives of eminent saints and laypersons, charismatic teachers, recluses, and political activists, the course aims to broaden understanding of how Buddhists have variously imagined the ideal life. We will pay particular attention to how literary and cultural conventions of genre guide the composition of lives.
Ommited 2018-19. Professor M. Heim.2017-18: Offered in Spring 2018
(Offered as RELI 261 and SWAG 239) A study of the portrayal of women in Jewish tradition. Readings will include biblical and apocryphal texts; Rabbinic legal (halakic) and non-legal (aggadic) material; selections from medieval commentaries; letters, diaries, and autobiographies written by Jewish women of various periods and settings; and works of fiction and non-fiction concerning the woman in modern Judaism. Employing an inter-disciplinary and cross-cultural approach, we will examine not only the actual roles played by women in particular historical periods and cultural contexts, but also the roles they assume in traditional literary patterns and religious symbol systems. This discussion course requires participants to prepare a series of closely argued essays related to assigned readings and films.
Omitted 2018-19. Professor Niditch.2017-18: Offered in Spring 2018
We will explore Rabbinic world-views through the close reading of halakic (i.e., legal) and aggadic (i.e., non-legal) texts from the Midrashim (the Rabbis’ explanations, reformulations, and elaborations of Scripture) the Mishnah, and the Talmud. Employing an interdisciplinary methodology, which draws upon the tools of folklorists, anthropologists, students of comparative literature, and students of religion, we will examine diverse subjects of concern to the Rabbis ranging from human sexuality to the nature of creation, from ritual purity to the problem of unjust suffering. Topics covered will vary from year to year depending upon the texts chosen for reading.
Omitted 2018-19. Professor Niditch.2017-18: Offered in Fall 2017
An analysis of New Testament literature as shaped by the currents and parties of first-century Judaism. Emphasis will be placed on the major letters of Paul and the four Gospels.
Spring semester. Professor Doran.2017-18: Offered in Spring 2018
The nineteenth century saw developments within Western scholarship that profoundly challenged traditional understandings of Christianity. Immanuel Kant’s critical philosophy had thrown the enterprise of theology into doubt by arguing that knowledge of anything outside space and time is impossible. During the same period, the growing awareness of Christianity’s history and the emerging historical-critical study of the Bible brought into prominence the variability and contingency of the Christian tradition. Particularly in Germany, Christian intellectuals were to wrestle intensely with the problem of knowledge of God and the authority of tradition during this period. Should Christians adapt their understandings of fundamental points of Christian doctrine to advances in historical scholarship? Did developments within philosophy require the abandonment of reliance on claims about the nature of reality, and of human existence, which had been seen as essential to Christianity? This course will be devoted to tracking these discussions. Some of the authors to be treated are Kant, Schleiermacher, Hegel, Strauss, Kierkegaard, Newman, von Harnack, and Schweitzer.
Omitted 2018-19. Professor A. Dole.2017-18: Offered in Fall 2017
(Offered as REL 281 and HIST 281) A study of eminent Muslim reformers in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, hailing from diverse Islamic cultures and geographical locations including South Asia, West Africa, Egypt, Arabia, Iran, Central Asia, and the Ottoman Empire. We will examine ways in which religion intersected with social and political reform projects, explore thematic conversations among these reformers that transcend time and place, and look at ways in which many of these issues continue to resonate to the present day.
Omitted 2018-19. Professors Jaffer and Ringer.2017-18: Offered in Spring 2018
(Offered as RELI 285, ASLC 285 and ENGL 301) Islam is a religion with over one billion adherents across the globe. The Qur'ān and Prophetic Traditions inform Muslim belief, socio-religious practices and rituals. They are the foundation of Islamic law and ethics; the main inspiration behind Islamic mysticism and arts; and motivations for Islamic piety. The Qur'ān has served as a model for theories of the Islamic state, fundamentalism and ideology. As one of the most widely read and recited books in the history of humankind, it has given rise to a tradition of interpretation that spans well over a thousand years and encompasses commentaries composed in Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Urdu, Malay, Javanese, and Swahili. We will study the Qur'ān’s thought world, including its major ideas, themes and symbols; the Qur'ān’s literary style and structure; the Qur'ān’s engagement with Jewish and Christian traditions; the historical process through which the Qur'ān became the first Arabic book; the process through which it became a scripture vested with authority; and the divergent ways that Muslims have venerated and interpreted the Qur'ān. We will focus on several salient questions: How did Muslims try to explain the seemingly contradictory material within the Qur'ān? How did they try to explain the Qur'ān’s proclamation that it is of supernatural origin? What methods of reasoning, literary devices, and sources of religious authority did Muslims invoke in order to fulfill the need for scriptural interpretation? How does the Qur'ān conceive of itself as a scripture and of revelation? How does it engage with and respond to earlier scriptures such as the Bible?
Spring semester. Professor Jaffer.2017-18: Offered in Spring 2018
(Offered as RELI 382 and ASLC 287) In this course we will study the foundational texts that were composed within the intellectual traditions of Islam (800–1200) and which have stimulated intellectual discourse in Islamic cultures until today. Our primary goal will be to understand the nature and significance of the debates that took place within pre-modern Islamic societies and to grasp the issues at stake in them.
We will discuss the ways that Muslim intellectuals responded to specific philosophical questions: How did the universe come into being? Does it have a beginning? What is the nature of the soul? Is there an afterlife? Further, we will explore the way that prophecy, dreams, prayer, miracles, magic, and sacred objects—all of which were part of the social reality of Islamic societies—were explained using “reasoned” arguments and concepts. We will discuss the theories of language and revelation that Muslims developed to explain the Qur’an: What does it mean to receive revelation from a supernatural agent? And we will discuss the controversies that surrounded heresy and apostasy: Who counts as a heretic or an unbeliever and why?
In the course of examining the above issues, we will be attentive to the social and political forces that shaped intellectual activity in Islamic culture by considering the cross-cultural migration of ideas. We will study the ways that philosophical and scientific knowledge migrated from ancient Greece to Islamic lands, and the ways that such knowledge was refined, altered, interpreted, and advanced. Further, we will examine the process through which such knowledge was transmitted to western Europe and the ways that it stimulated intellectual activity there, leading to the Renaissance.
Fall semester. Professor Jaffer.2017-18: Offered in Fall 2017
(Offered as RELI 318 and PHIL 229). If God is omnibenevolent, then God would not want any creature to suffer evil; if God is omniscient, then God would know how to prevent any evil from occurring; and if God is omnipotent, then God would be able to prevent any evil from occurring. Does the obvious fact that there is evil in the world, then, give us reason to think that there is no such God? Alternatively: if an omnibenevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent God does exist, then what could possibly motivate such a God to permit the existence of evil? This course will survey classical and recent philosophical discussions of these questions.Topics will include the classical free-will defense, Ockhamism and Molinism (positions on divine foreknowledge), the "soul-making" defense, the "no-defense defense," and open theism. We will read works by Augustine of Hippo, J. L. Mackie, Nelson Pike, John Hick, Peter Van Inwagen, Steve Wykstra, Marilyn Adams, and others.
Fall Semester. Professor A. Dole.2017-18: Not offered
(Offered as RELI 352 and ASLC 352) A systematic exploration of the place of ethics and moral reasoning in Buddhist thought and practice. The scope of the course is wide, with examples drawn from the whole Buddhist world, but emphasis is on the particularity of different Buddhist visions of the ideal human life. Attention is given to the problems of the proper description of Buddhist ethics in a comparative perspective.
Omitted 2018-19. Professor M. Heim.2017-18: Not offered
This course is an introduction to the cross-discipline of folklore and an application of that field to the study of Israelite literature. We will explore the ways in which professional students of traditional literatures describe and classify folk material, approach questions of composition and transmission, and deal with complex issues of context, meaning, and message. We will then apply the cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural methodologies of folklore to readings in the Hebrew Scriptures. Selections will include narratives, proverbs, riddles, and ritual and legal texts. Topics of special interest include the relationships between oral and written literatures, the defining of “myth,” feminism and folklore, and the ways in which the biblical writers, nineteenth-century collectors such as the Brothers Grimm, and modern popularizers such as Walt Disney recast pieces of lore, in the process helping to shape or misshape us and our culture.
Omitted 2018-19. Professor Niditch.2017-18: Offered in Spring 2018
Alongside the images of Jesus found in the canonical Gospels arose others that are less well known today but that were widespread in antiquity: stories about Jesus' parents, about his life as a young boy, stories of his non-death, enigmatic sayings and parables. In this course we will explore these images as found in the apocryphal Gospels and in the Gnostic writings, and read closely the cryptic sayings of Jesus. We will also examine the images of Jesus in early Christian art.
Omitted 2018-19. Professor Doran.2017-18: Not offered
Independent Reading Course. Reading in an area selected by the student and approved in advance by a member of the Department.
Fall and spring semesters. The Department.2017-18: Offered in Fall 2017 and Spring 2018
Required of candidates for Honors in Religion. Preparation and oral defense of a scholarly essay on a topic approved by the Department. Detailed outline of thesis and adequate bibliography for project required before Thanksgiving; preliminary version of substantial portion of thesis by end of semester.
Open to seniors with consent of the instructors. Fall semester. The Department.2017-18: Offered in Fall 2017
Spring semester. The Department.2017-18: Offered in Spring 2018