Religion
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Amherst College Religion for 2009-10

11 Introduction to Religion

This course introduces students to the comparative study of religion by focusing on a major theme within two or more religious traditions.  Traditions and topics will vary from year to year.  In 2009-10, the major traditions will be Islam and Christianity, and the theme will be the contested and sometimes conflictual relationship between religious belief and intellectual reflection.  Through a range of classical and modern sources we will explore autobiographical narratives of spiritual journeys in both traditions; differing conceptions of the nature and purpose of scriptural study; practices of formulating law and ethical precepts on the basis of tradition; and attitudes towards the place and content of primary and higher education.  One class meeting each week will be dedicated to discussion of the assigned material.

Fall semester.  Professors A. Dole and Jaffer.

2014-15: Offered in Fall 2014
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2008, Fall 2009, Fall 2010, Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013

13 Popular Religion

Religions, ancient or modern, are sometimes described as having two modalities or manifestations: the one institutional, of the establishment, the other, popular. The latter is sometimes branded as superstitious, idolatrous, syncretistic, heretical, or cultish. Yet we have come to realize that “popular” religion is frequently the religion of the majority, and that popular and classical threads tend to intertwine in religions as lived by actual adherents. People often express and experience their religiosity in ways related to but not strictly determined by their traditions’ sacred officials, texts, and scholars. In the modern era, mass media have provided additional means of religious expression, communication, and community, raising new questions about popular religion. In this course we will explore examples from ancient and modern times, seeking to redefine our understanding of popular religion by looking at some of the most interesting ways human beings pursue and share religious experience within popular cultural contexts.

Topics for study include: ancient Israelite traditions concerning the dead; early Jewish omen texts; televangelist movements; modern apocalyptic groups such as Heaven’s Gate; and recent films, television programs, and role-playing games rich in the occult or the overtly religious.

Omitted 2009-10. Professor Niditch.

2014-15: Offered in Spring 2015
Other years: Offered in Spring 2009

15 Religion in Contemporary Fiction

Religion has always been grounded in storytelling.  As myth, as folktale, as allegory, as parable, as speculation, the story form allows writer and reader to draw persuasive connections—and distinctions—between internal experience, the social world, the natural world, and a moral or cosmic order.  As both religion and culture evolve, story remains fertile ground for setting and contesting their foundations.  This course examines how a range of contemporary novelists speak to and through religion to engage the deep and incendiary matters of our times:  cross-cultural tensions; science and health; sex and gender relations; global and local politics; war and the weapons of war; modernity vs. traditionalism; the fate of the earth; and of course the meaning of life and death. Texts address a variety of traditions and perspectives, including but not limited to:  modern monastic Roman Catholicism, mainline and fundamentalist Protestantisms, modern Hindu India, Pakistani Islam, Tibetan Buddhism, Biblical and contemporary Judaism, Japanese folk religion, and American neopaganism.

Spring semester.  Visiting Lecturer Shapiro.

 

2014-15: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2008, Spring 2010, Spring 2011

16 Christianity as a Global Religion

Christianity is often thought of as a European or “Western” religion. This overlooks, however, much of the early history of Eastern Christianity and, more importantly, the present reality that Christianity is increasingly a religion of “non-Western” peoples, both in their ancestral homelands and abroad. This course will trace the global spread of Christianity from the first century forward, with emphasis on modern and contemporary developments. Attention will be given both to the thought and practice of Christian missionary movements and to the diverse forms of Christianity that have emerged in response to them. To what extent can European and American missionaries be seen simply as agents of colonialism--or of a neo-colonial globalization of consumer capitalism? In what ways and with what success has an imported Christianity been adapted to cultural settings beyond the sphere of Western “Christendom”? How have Christians outside “the West” understood themselves in relation to it? Particular attention will be given to the spread of Christianity in Africa and in Asia and to the presence in the United States of Christians of African and Asian descent.Spring semester.  Professor Wills.

2014-15: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2010, Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014

17 The Islamic Religious Tradition

Islam is a religious tradition with 1400 years of history and over one billion adherents today in countries around the globe. This course will aim to equip students with the basic “vocabulary” needed to engage with the diversity of practices, sects, and intellectual currents found among Muslims over the course of this history. It will begin with Islam’s scripture and sacred history. The course will then examine the ways in which Muslims have sought to live up to the demands of revelation in their lives by seeking the correct means of interpreting revelation and working out its implications in the fields of law, theology, and mysticism. Emphasis will be on the diversity of approaches Muslims have found to these questions and the means by which they contest the meaning of the tradition. The course will end by looking at Islam in the world today, the various ways in which Muslims view the significance of the religion in their lives, and trends in contemporary Islamic thought worldwide and in the United States.

Omitted 2009-10.  Professor Jaffer.

2014-15: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2008

18 Philosophy of Religion

(Offered as Religion 18 and Philosophy 19.) An examination of several major discussion topics in the analytic philosophy of religion: the ethics of religious belief, the “problem of religious language,” the nature of God and the problem of evil. It would seem that it is always irrational to believe that statements about matters which transcend the realm of the empirical are true, since none of these statements can be directly supported by evidence. Thus it would seem that a great deal of religious belief is irrational. Is this the case, or can religious beliefs be supported by other means? Can philosophical reflection bring clarity to such puzzling matters as God's relationship to time, or the question of how a good and all-powerful God could permit the existence of evil? Alternatively, is the entire project of evaluating religious discourse as a set of claims about transcendent realities misguided--i.e., does religious language work differently than the language we use to speak about ordinary objects?

Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2009-10. Professor A. Dole.

2014-15: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2009, Spring 2013

19 Religion in the United States

An introduction to the historical development and contemporary reality of religion in the United States. The course will survey three phases of historical development: the Atlantic world phase (origins through the American Revolution); the continental phase (from the Constitution to World War I); and the global phase (from World War I to the present). Attention will be given throughout to the changing shape of religious diversity, various (and often mutually opposed) efforts to reform society or forge consensus around religious ideals, and the intersection of religion and the realities of race. Emphasis will also be placed, especially with regard to the “global phase,” on the complex relation of religious movements, ideals, and leaders to the United States’ ever-increasing role as a world power.

Spring semester. Professor Wills.

2014-15: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2008, Spring 2010, Spring 2012, Spring 2013

20 Close Reading: The Classics of Judaism and Christianity

This seminar offers an opportunity for students to engage in the close reading of one or two classic works in the history of Judaism or Christianity. The texts chosen will vary from year to year. In 2007-08 the course focused on the parables of Jesus. The parables are often seen as the most distinctive feature of Jesus’ teaching. We will explore what kind of a literary figure is a parable: is it an extended metaphor, or does it owe something to the mashal pronounced by prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures? Can one “get behind” the parable as articulated by each gospel writer to recover an “original” formulation? We will look not only at parables found in the canonical scripture, but also those found in other early Christian writings.

Omitted 2009-10. Professor Doran.

2014-15: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2008, Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Fall 2013

21 Ancient Israel

This course explores the culture and history of the ancient Israelites through a close examination of the Hebrew Bible in its wider ancient Near Eastern context. 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.

Fall semester.  Professor Niditch.

2014-15: Offered in Fall 2014
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2009, Fall 2011, Fall 2012

22 Christian Scriptures

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.

Omitted 2009-10. Professor Doran.

2014-15: Offered in Spring 2015
Other years: Offered in Spring 2009, Spring 2011, Spring 2013

23 Introduction to Buddhist Traditions

(Offered as Religion 23 and Asian 15 [SA].) 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 Heim.

2014-15: Offered in Fall 2014
Other years: Offered in Fall 2008, Fall 2009, Fall 2010, Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013

24 Muhammad

This course deals with the life of Muhammad, the founder and prophet of Islam. The first part of the course deals with the life of Muhammad as reflected in the writings of the early Muslim biographers and historians. It examines the crucial events of Muhammad's life (the beginning of revelation, the night journey, the emigration to Medina, and military campaigns) and focuses on the image of Muhammad in the eyes of the early Muslim community. The second part deals with the veneration of Muhammad in Muslim piety, and the representations of Muhammad in the arts (visual art, music, and literature).

Spring semester. Professor Jaffer.

2014-15: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2008, Spring 2009, Spring 2010, Spring 2011, Spring 2013

26 Theravada Buddhism

(Offered as Religion 26 and Asian 69 [SA].) This course introduces the history and civilization of Theravada Buddhism. The Theravada (the “Doctrine of the Elders”) is the dominant form of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar (Burma); in recent decades it has also found a following in other regions in Asia and the west. We will trace the Theravada’s origins as one of the earliest sectarian movements in India to its success and prestige as a religious civilization bridging South and Southeast Asia. We will also consider this tradition’s encounter with modernity and its various adaptations and responses to challenges in the contemporary world. No previous background in Buddhism is required.

Omitted 2009-10. Professor Heim.

2014-15: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Spring 2011, Spring 2012

27 Buddhist Ethics

(Offered as Religion 27 and Asian 58.) 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.

Spring semester. Professor Heim.

2014-15: Offered in Spring 2015
Other years: Offered in Spring 2010, Spring 2011, Fall 2012

37 The Body in Ancient Judaism

The body is a template; the body encodes; the body is a statement of rebellion or convention, of individual attitude or of identity shared by a group. Dressed in one way or another or undressed, pierced or tattooed, shaggy or smooth, fed one way or another, sexually active or celibate, the body, viewed in parts or as a whole, may serve human beings as consummate and convenient expression of world-view. In this course we will explore ancient Israelite and early Jewish representations of the body juxtaposing ancient materials and modern theoretical and descriptive works. Specific topics include treatment of and attitudes towards the dead, hair customs, views of bodily purity, biblical euphemisms for sex, food prohibitions, circumcision, and God’s body.

Omitted 2009-10. Professor Niditch.

2014-15: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2008, Spring 2011

38 Folklore and the Bible

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.

Fall semester. Professor Niditch.

2014-15: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2009, Spring 2013

39 Women in Judaism

(Offered as religion 39 and Women’s and Gender Studies 39.) 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.

Omitted 2009-10. Professor Niditch.

2014-15: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2009, Fall 2010, Spring 2014

40 Prophecy, Wisdom, and Apocalyptic

We will read from the work of the great exilic prophets, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Isaiah, examine the so-called “wisdom” traditions in the Old Testament and the Apocrypha exemplified by Ruth, Esther, Job, Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, Susanna, Tobit, and Judith, and, finally, explore the phenomenon of Jewish apocalyptic in works such as Daniel, the Dead Sea Scrolls, 4 Ezra, and 2 Baruch. Through these writings we will trace the development of Judaism from the sixth century B.C. to the first century of the Common Era.

Omitted 2009-10. Professor Niditch.

2014-15: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2008, Spring 2012, Spring 2014

41 Reading the Rabbis

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 2009-10. Professor Niditch.

2014-15: Offered in Spring 2015
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2008, Spring 2012

43 The Holy Wo/Man in Late Antiquity

The holy wo/man was accorded a special place in late antique society as a link between the human and the divine. Yet what was it about particular humans that drew groups to accord them this special status? Why does standing on a pillar or naked in the open air mark one as holy? In this course we will read lives of pagan, Jewish, and Christian men and women to explore why groups in late antiquity saw in these strange and wonderful rites traces of the divine, and in what way they reflected the values of their groups.

Omitted 2009-10.  Professor Doran.

2014-15: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2009

44 The Secret Jesus

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 theses 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.

Fall semester.  Professor Doran.

2014-15: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2009, Fall 2012

45 History of Christianity--The Early Years

This course deals with issues which arose in the first five centuries of the Christian Church. We will examine first how Christians defined themselves vis-à-vis the Greek intellectual environment, and also Christian separation from and growing intolerance towards Judaism. Secondly, we will investigate Christians’ relationship to the Roman state both before and after their privileged position under Constantine and his successors. Thirdly, the factors at play in the debates over the divinity and humanity of Jesus will be examined. Finally, we will look at the rise and function of the holy man in late antique society as well as the relationship of this charismatic figure to the institutional leaders of the Christian Church. Note will be taken that if it is primarily an issue of the holy man, what happened to the realization of the claim that “in Christ there is neither male nor female”? What too of the claim that “in Christ there is neither free nor slave”?

Fall semester.  Professor Doran.

2014-15: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2008, Fall 2009, Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014

46 Inquisition, Heresy, and Popular Culture

This seminar explores the history and legacy of institutions and practices developed by the Roman Catholic Church to address heresy from the twelfth to nineteenth century. Using a combination of primary and secondary materials, we will examine the legal and theological foundations of heresy inquisition, the methods and procedures employed, the movements and offenses pursued, and the experiences and testimonies of men and women involved in such proceedings. Focusing on cases from various European polities and colonial dominions, we will address issues such as religious conformity and social control, the changing nature of orthodoxy and heterodoxy, the efficacy of evangelization and the sincerity of conversion, race, gender, class, and cultural dynamics, and the use of inquisition records as a window into popular beliefs and practices. Attention also will be given to pertinent scholarly interpretations and debates, related church pronouncements, and critically examining the image of “The Inquisition” in literature, the arts, and popular discourse.

Spring semester.  Professor Sessions.

2014-15: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2010

48 American Religious Thought:  From Edwards to Emerson--and Beyond

The eighteenth-century Calvinist Jonathan Edwards and the nineteenth-century Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson are among the most complex and influential figures in the history of American religious thought--an influence that has grown, not receded, in recent decades. Both were innovative and very distinctive thinkers, yet each also serves as a major reference point for ongoing and centrally important tendencies in American religious life. American Evangelical Protestantism has for the most part long since departed from the Calvinism that Edwards espoused, yet many of its core convictions (e.g., the necessity for conversion and the prospects for a wider spread of Christianity in the world) nowhere receive a more powerful analysis and defense than in the works of Edwards. Emerson stands in similar relation to very different currents of thought and practice, both within and beyond American Protestantism, that emphasize self-realization and an inclusive, pluralistic attitude that draws insights from a diverse range of religious traditions. This course will closely examine selected texts by both figures, but will also place them in the context of New England religious thought from Puritanism to Transcendentalism and consider their engagement with some of the major issues of the period (e.g., issues of race and slavery). Attention will be given to the similarities that exist alongside their differences. The course will conclude by examining their relation to subsequent (and contemporary) trends in American religious thought and practice.  

Fall semester.  Professor Wills.

2014-15: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2009, Fall 2010, Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013

49 Christianity, Philosophy, and History in the Nineteenth Century

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 2009-10. Professor A. Dole.

2014-15: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2008, Fall 2010, Fall 2013

50 Liberation and Twentieth-Century Christian Thought

In the middle of the nineteenth century Karl Marx characterized religion as “the opium of the people,” a tool of the ruling classes to keep the poor in subjection. By the end of the century, in the face of rising unrest related to political and economic developments, Christian thinkers in Europe and the United States found themselves facing the question of the church’s role in relation to questions of social and economic justice. Should Christianity be a force for radical social change in a progressive direction, or should Christians instead work for peace and “brotherly love” within existing social structures? This course will track the development of debates on these subjects, discussing the “Social Gospel,” Christian pacifism and realism, German Christianity during the Nazi period, liberation theology and its descendants. Some of the authors to be treated are Adolf von Harnack, Kirby Page, Reinhold Niebuhr, Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Gustavo Gutiérrez, James Cone, and Elizabeth Schüssler-Fiorenza.

Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2009-10. Professor A. Dole.

2014-15: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2009, Spring 2011, Spring 2014

51 The Problem of Evil

(Offered as Religion 51 and Philosophy 29.) 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 recent philosophical discussions of these questions. We will read works by J. L. Mackie, Nelson Pike, John Hick, Alvin Plantinga, Robert and Marilyn Adams, and others.

Limited to 25 students.  Spring semester.  Professor A. Dole.

2014-15: Offered in Spring 2015
Other years: Offered in Spring 2010

53 The Islamic Mystical Tradition

(Offered as Religion 53 and Asian 56)  This course is a survey of the large complex of Islamic intellectual and social perspectives subsumed under the term Sufism. Sufi mystical philosophies, liturgical practices, and social organizations have been a major part of the Islamic tradition in all historical periods, and Sufism has also served as a primary creative force behind Islamic aesthetic expression in poetry, music, and the visual arts. In this course, we will attempt to understand the various significations of Sufism by addressing both the world of ideas and socio-cultural practices. The course is divided into four modules: central themes and concepts going back to the earliest individuals who identified themselves as Sufis; the lives and works of two medieval Sufis; Sufi cosmology and metaphysics; Sufism as a global and multifarious trend in the modern world.

Spring semester. Professor Jaffer.

2014-15: Offered in Spring 2015
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Spring 2009, Spring 2010, Spring 2011, Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014

55 Islamic Intellectual Tradition

This course is an introduction to the most important philosophers and theologians in classical Islam. It uses primary sources (in English translation) to introduce the concepts that Muslim intellectuals articulated and the movements they engendered in the ninth through twelfth centuries. In this course, we will examine questions concerning the nature of God, the immortality of the human soul, causality and miracles, and the creation of the world. Although many of the philosophical and theological problems that we will examine first arose a thousand years ago, the problems are still the subject of debate throughout the Islamic world.

Fall semester. Professor Jaffer.

2014-15: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2008, Fall 2009, Fall 2010, Fall 2012, Fall 2013

63 Suspicion and Religion

This course traces the rise of what has been termed the “hermeneutics of suspicion,” particularly in connection with the criticism of religion. The discourse of suspicion arose out of the German Idealist tradition of the philosophy of religion, flourished in the later nineteenth century, and lives on in present-day academic and popular treatments of religion and of the study of religion. In this course we will read both the classical suspicious authors (Hegel, Feuerbach, Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud) as well as their latter-day descendants. In discussion of these two authors our primary concern will be to understand the characteristic structure and the appeal of suspicious treatments of religion; but we will also be interested in the question of what makes religion specifically an attractive target of suspicion.

Spring semester.  Professor A. Dole.

2014-15: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2010

64 The Nature of Religion: Theories and Methods in Religious Studies

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. One class meeting per week.

Spring semester.  Professor Heim.

2014-15: Offered in Spring 2015
Other years: Offered in Spring 2008, Spring 2009, Spring 2010, Spring 2011, Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014

65 Religion in Scientific Perspective

The idea of “scientific explanations of religion” has a long history in the academy, and the fortunes of scientific explorations of religion have been mixed. But the past decade has seen the emergence of new approaches to this project, as a growing body of literature has applied the tools of the cognitive sciences and evolutionary theory 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. We will read works by David Hume, Stewart Guthrie, Pascal Boyer, Scott Atran, Justin Barrett, Richard Dawkins, Robert Hinde, David Sloan Wilson, and others.

Omitted 2009-10. Professor A. Dole.

2014-15: Offered in Fall 2014
Other years: Offered in Fall 2008, Fall 2012

71 Buddhist Literary Cultures

This course studies Buddhist literature and literary aesthetics from South Asia, China, Tibet, Japan. We will consider several genres including biographies of the Buddha, hagiographies, sutras, epics, folk tales, poetry, short stories, plays, and novels. We will explore how literature may be uniquely empowered to generate and reflect certain sensibilities and to make certain truths known. We will also be focusing on what the texts mean for the people who write, hear, read, and preserve them and how these meanings occur over time. By examining how literary ideals inflect religious, ethical, and political values (and vice versa), we will be attentive to how literary communities and institutions work. Students in the course will experiment with writing and appreciating poetry by participating in a “Haiku Slam.”

Omitted 2009-10. Professors Heim and Zamperini.

2014-15: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2008

74 The Moral Self:  A Comparative Inquiry

Religious thinkers and philosophers in many times and places have worked out conceptions of the human self or agent who has desires, emotions, character traits, and intentions, and have asked how these various aspects of human nature help or hinder moral progress. This course studies various classical and contemporary treatments of human moral capacity, including arguments that our identities and actions are not a function of our conscious agency, but of social and psychological forces of which we are largely unaware.  We will read from a number of theorists (Foucault, Bourdieu, Butler, and others), but the course will be centered on a comparative analysis of the moral psychologies of the 13th century Christian figure Thomas Aquinas and the 5th century Buddhist figure, Bhadantacariya Buddhaghosa.

Fall semester.  Professors Heim and Reeder.

2014-15: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2009

77, 78D Senior Departmental Honors

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.

2014-15: Offered in Fall 2014
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2008, Fall 2009, Fall 2010, Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013

78 Senior Honors

Spring semester.

2014-15: Offered in Spring 2015
Other years: Offered in Spring 2008, Spring 2009, Spring 2010, Spring 2011, Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014

97, 98 Special Topics

Independent Reading Course. Reading in an area selected by the student and approved in advance by a member of the Department.

Fall semester. The Department.

2014-15: Offered in Fall 2014 and Spring 2015
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2008, Fall 2009, Fall 2010, Fall 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Spring 2013, Fall 2013, Spring 2014

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