111 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 2011-12 the major traditions will be Christianity and Judaism, and the theme will be war.  Through a range of classical and modern sources, we will explore the complex ways in which issues in religion relate to the causes and conduct of war.  In addition to working with cases presented in class, each student will prepare an independent study project dealing with religious issues at play in a contemporary conflict.

Fall semester.  Professors Doran and Niditch.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2021, Fall 2022, Fall 2023, Fall 2024

122 The End of the World: Utopias and Dystopias

War, pestilence, famine, flood, and other calamities have been taken in a diverse range of traditions as signs of “the end of days,” as signals that the world as we know it is on the verge of collapse. Some traditions suggest that a troubled and chaotic reality will be replaced by a new and perfect world whereas some predict a much diminished and barren new creation. Others indeed see the destruction as utter and final. While many traditions allow for survivors, some are quite explicit about the identity of this remnant and about the reasons for their salvation. In this course, we will examine a variety of sources and media, ancient and modern, discuss the cultural, sociological, and psychological roots of apocalyptic worldviews, and explore the ways in which ancient texts have been appropriated in subsequent imaginings of the end of the world.

Omitted 2011-12.  Professors Doran and Niditch.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2023

123 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 2011-12. Professor Niditch.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2015

125 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:  modern monastic Roman Catholicism, mainline and fundamentalist Protestantisms, Hindu and tribal India, Sufism and Pakistani Islam, Tibetan and Zen Buddhism, Biblical and contemporary Judaism, Japanese folk religion, and American neopaganism.

Omitted 2011-12. Visiting Lecturer Shapiro.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2022

152 Introduction to Buddhist Traditions

(Offered as RELI 152 and ASLC 152 [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 M. Heim.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2022, Spring 2023

182 Islam and the Muslim World

The commonly held assumption about "Islam" and the "Muslim world" is that these are monolithic categories. Indeed, the study of Islam and the Muslim world show that the forms of religious life and their meanings vary widely. This course provides an historical and ethnographic examination of Islam through time and across space. This course will historicize Islam as a world religion and situate Muslims in the contexts of their own cultural traditions. The overall aim of the course is to introduce students to the people and cultures of the Muslim world and to understand what holds the Muslim world together, the commonalities of Muslim religious experience across cultures, and Islam’s varied social and religious forms. To tend to these overall objectives, we will begin by considering the social context, both the underlying principles and tensions, of the early formative period of Islam and how these were expressed in the social and religious relationships that emerged. Considering the religious alongside the political and moral forces that brought Islam into being, we examine changing roles of religion in human history. We explore how individuals organize, construct and discuss everyday senses of personal, ethnic, national, and religious identity, and deal with issues of being a majority or a minority Muslim population in a society. We will make use of ethnographies, biographies, autobiographies, and artistic expressions (poetry as well as visual arts) by and about Muslims in order to capture the historical and contemporary diversity of Islam and the Muslim world.

Spring semester.  Visiting Lecturer Mustafa.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012

210 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.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2023, Spring 2025

213 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.

Omitted 2011-12.  Professor A. Dole.

2023-24: Not offered

215 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 2011-12. Professor A. Dole.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2008, Fall 2012, Fall 2014, Fall 2016, Fall 2018, Spring 2022

222 Religious Ethics and Human Rights

This course examines central issues in the relationships between several religious traditions and human rights.  The first two-thirds of the course is largely theoretical: we explore some of the most influential religious and philosophical criticisms of human rights, assess several proposed theories of human rights, and survey the approaches to justifying human rights of three religious traditions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  In the remaining third of the course we will consider several contemporary human rights debates in which religion is centrally or frequently involved.  These may include women's rights, sexual orientation, religious violence and terrorism, religious freedom, and the role of religion in politics and public law.

  Fall semester.  Visiting Lecturer Sorrells.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2011

235 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.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2008, Spring 2010, Spring 2012, Spring 2013

238 African-American Religious History

(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.

Fall semester.  Professor Wills.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Fall 2017

242 Yoga Traditions

(Offered as RELI 242 and ASLC 242 [SA].) While yoga is often practiced today at the gym for health and exercise, it has a long philosophical history in the religions of India. This course traces the intellectual traditions of yoga from early South Asian texts to its modern global and secular forms. Yoga entails training in contemplative, postural, and respiratory techniques as a means to such varied goals as knowing the true self, experiencing nirvana, meeting god, making good karma, and enhancing well-being. We will examine yoga philosophy in the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and the writings of Patanjali, and then turn to its flowering in the development of medieval and modern Hinduism as we look at tantrism, guru devotion, and bhakti religiosity. Finally, we will explore the history of its modern expressions in physical exercise, stress management, and “secular spirituality.”

Spring semester.  Visiting Lecturer S. Heim.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2010, Spring 2012

252 Buddhist Life Writing

(Offered as RELI 252 and ASLC 252) 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.

Fall semester.  Professor M. Heim

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Spring 2014, Spring 2018

253 Theravada Buddhism

(Offered as RELI 253 and ASLC 253 [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.

Spring semester. Professor Heim.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Spring 2011, Spring 2012, Spring 2016, Spring 2021

261 Women in Judaism

(Offered as RELI 261 and WAGS 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.

Omitted 2011-12. Professor Niditch.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2009, Fall 2010, Spring 2014, Spring 2020, Spring 2022

263 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.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2009, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Fall 2021

265 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.

Spring semester.  Professor Niditch.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2014, Fall 2016, Fall 2024

267 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.

Spring semester.  Professor Niditch.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2008, Spring 2012, Spring 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Spring 2020

271 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.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2010, Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014

273 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 2011-12. Professor Doran.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2009, Spring 2011, Spring 2013, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2021

275 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”?

Spring semester.  Professor Doran.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

278 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 2011-12. Professor A. Dole.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2013, Fall 2017, Fall 2020, Fall 2023

279 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.

Omitted 2011-12. Professor A. Dole.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2009, Spring 2011, Spring 2014

282 Muhammad and the Qur'an

This course deals with the life of Muhammad (the founder and prophet of Islam) and the Qur’an (the Muslim Scripture). The first part deals with the life of Muhammad as reflected in the writings of the early Muslim biographers. It examines the crucial events of Muhammad’s life (the first revelation, the night journey, the emigration to Medina, the military campaigns) and focuses on Muhammad’s image in the eyes of the early Muslim community. The second deals with the Qur’an. It focuses on the history of the Qur’an, its canonization, major themes, various methods of Qur’anic interpretation, the role of the Qur’an in Islamic law, ritual, and modernity.

Omitted 2011-12. Professor Jaffer.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2008, Spring 2009, Spring 2010, Spring 2011, Spring 2013

316 Philosophy of Religion

(Offered as RELI 316 and PHIL 219.) 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 2011-12. Professor A. Dole.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2009, Spring 2013, Spring 2016, Spring 2021

318 The Problem of Evil

(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 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.  Omitted 2011-12.  Professor A. Dole.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2010, Spring 2015, Fall 2018

335 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.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2009, Fall 2010, Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013

352 Buddhist Ethics

(Offered as RELI 252 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 2011-12. Professor M. Heim.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2010, Spring 2011, Fall 2012, Spring 2015, Spring 2017, Fall 2020, Fall 2021

362 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.

Omitted 2011-12. Professor Niditch.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2009, Spring 2013, Spring 2016, Spring 2018

365 Personal Religion in the Bible

In contemporary discussions about the role of religion in the lives of individuals we often hear questions such as the following: Does God hear me when I call out in trouble? Why do bad things happen to good people? How do I define myself as a believer? What is the role of prayer? Do I have a personal relationship with a divine being, apart from the institutional religion?  What roles do material objects, personal images, and private practices play within my religious life?  This course will suggest that questions such as these are entirely relevant to the study of early Judaism in the late biblical period, a time when the preserved literature and the evidence of material culture place great emphasis on the individual’s spiritual journey.  This course introduces students to ways of thinking about personal religion and applies that theoretical framework to the study of a variety of sources in the Bible and beyond.  Topics include the Book of Job, the confessional literature of the prophets, psalms of personal lament, visionary experiences, vow-making, incantations, ancient graffiti, and memoirs written in the first person. This course has no prerequisites and provides students with the methodological and historical background to appreciate this interesting corpus, its social context, and its composers.

Omitted 2011-12. Professor Niditch.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2010, Spring 2013

367 Jews Writing in Greek: The Formation of Jewish Identity in the Greco-Roman World

The second-century CE writer Numenius of Apamea said that Plato was nothing but Moses speaking Greek.  In this course we will examine the ways in which Jews living outside Judea articulated their religious traditions in the face of more dominant cultures.  We will read works by writers such as Artapanus, Eupolemus, Philo, Josephus, as well as the Wisdom of Solomon and 2 Maccabees.  We will also ask what it meant for the Hebrew Bible to be translated into Greek.

Omitted 2011-12.  Professor Doran.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2022, Fall 2024

370 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 2011-12 the course will focus 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.

Spring semester. Professor Doran.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2022

372 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.

Omitted 2011-12.  Professor Doran.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2009, Fall 2012, Fall 2016

382 Debating Muslims

This course is an introduction to the intellectual tradition of Islam. We will explore works of theology, philosophy, governance, and mysticism authored by Muslim intellectuals of various stripes. The course uses primary sources (in English translation) to introduce the concepts that Muslim intellectuals articulated and the movements that they engendered from the 8th century through the 20th century. We will investigate questions concerning the rise of sectarianism in Islamic civilization, language and revelation, prophecy, heresy, causality and miracles, the role of logic and human reasoning in the Islamic tradition, and conceptions of the Islamic state in the pre-modern and modern periods.

Omitted 2011-12. Professor Jaffer.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2008, Fall 2013, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018

490 Special Topics

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.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Spring 2013, Fall 2013, Spring 2014, Fall 2014, Spring 2015, Fall 2015, Spring 2016, Fall 2016, Spring 2017, Fall 2017, Spring 2018, Fall 2018, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Spring 2022, Fall 2022, Spring 2023, Fall 2023, Fall 2024

498, 499D 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.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Spring 2023, Spring 2025

499 Senior Honors

Spring semester.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Spring 2023, Spring 2025

Departmental Courses

124 Folk Religion in Cross-Cultural Perspective

As world religions move through time and across geography and culture, they are met and transformed by the local, or folk, sensibilities of the communities with which they come in contact.  Indeed, it is that very fluidity, that ability to absorb and contain diversity that arguably gives the world religions their strength, durability, and influence on a large scale.  It is in their many folk particularities that these religions come to life in distinct, rich, sometimes surprising and contradictory ways—ways that reveal cultural essentials, shape lives, engage both intimate and institutional power relations, and re-imagine the broader traditions in which they participate.  This course will explore folk religious belief and practice across the world, focusing on ethnic communities, women, immigrants, and other non-elites.  Case studies include material from China, South and Southeast Asia, Mexico, Israel, southern Europe, West Africa, and the United States.  As folk religion is not always visible or available to outsiders, our entry point will be ethnographic material, and the course will include grounding in ethical and methodological questions concerning field work in religious contexts.

Fall semester.  Visiting Lecturer Shapiro.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2023

285 The Islamic Mystical Tradition

(Offered as RELI 285 and ASLC 356.)  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. Visiting Lecturer Mustafa.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Fall 2022, Fall 2023

Related Courses

- (Course not offered this year.)ANTH-221 Indian Civilization (Course not offered this year.)BLST-315 Myth, Ritual and Iconography in West Africa (Course not offered this year.)HIST-319 Religion, Empires, and Secular States in the Nineteenth Century (Course not offered this year.)