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 2013-14 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.2017-18: Offered in Fall 2017
(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.
Fall semester. Professor M. Heim.2017-18: Offered in Spring 2018
(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.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. Professors M. Heim and Jaffer.2017-18: Offered in Spring 2018
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 2013-14. Professor A. Dole.2017-18: Not offered
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.
Omitted 2013-14. Professor Wills.2017-18: Not offered
This course will explore some of the issues, tensions, and questions that arise from the relationship between government and religion in the United States. Potential topics to be considered include the role of religious thought in the development of the American Constitutional order; the interactions and tensions between the First Amendment’s twin commitments to free exercise and non-establishment of religion; institutional versus individual religious freedom; and the challenges associated with defining “religion” for legal and constitutional purposes. While our primary focus will be on the American constitutional system, we may also consider alternative models (e.g., the established Church of England) for comparative purposes. Readings and discussions will draw upon historical, legal, and theological materials. Spring semester. Visiting Lecturer Rene Reyes.2017-18: Not offered
(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.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?
Spring semester. Professors A. Dole and Wills.2017-18: Offered in Spring 2018
(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.
Spring semester. Professor M. Heim2017-18: Offered in Spring 2018
(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. This discussion course requires participants to prepare a series of closely argued essays related to assigned readings and films.
Spring semester. Professor Niditch.2017-18: Offered in Spring 2018
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. 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.
Omitted 2013-14. Professor Niditch.2017-18: Offered in Fall 2017
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. In this critical watershed period, following Babylonian conquest, the biblical writers try to make sense of and cope with the trauma of war, dislocation, forced migration, and colonialism. Their problems and their responses strike the reader as incredibly contemporary and lay the foundation for critical themes in modern Judaism.
Spring semester. Professor Niditch.2017-18: Not offered
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.2017-18: Not offered
This course orients students to the landscape of conflicts and imaginations around gender in early Christianity. It explores both the regular demands in early Christian literature that women and men exhibit traditional roles and behaviors, as well as the more daring suggestions made within this literature that women and men step out of such prescribed roles. It also importantly explores how gender appears representationally: How do masculinity and femininity work to process, shake up, or stabilize certain social relationships? How does gender relate to demands to avoid or maintain certain sexual practices? How does gender process or avoid anxieties about bodily life at large? This course is organized primarily around special topics, themes, and figures, giving sustained attention, for instance, to the figure of Mary Magdalene and the suffering Jesus, and their variously gendered descriptions in early Christian literature. What kinds of worries about and assertions of power and vulnerability do these descriptions suggest?
In order to understand the various claims about gender in early Christian literature, one must also have a sense of mechanisms and meanings around gender in the Greco-Roman world in which these texts were written. So while much of our time in class will be spent closely reading early Christian texts, we will be historically situating them within a larger thought-world and set of cultural conventions. We will also be repeatedly asking what these texts do and mean in contemporary debates about gender and sexuality. To what extent do early Christian texts or figures propose or exhibit a kind of gender-queerness, for example?
Fall semester. Visiting Lecturer Kotrosits2017-18: Not offered
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 2013-14. Professor Doran.2017-18: Offered in Spring 2018
The parables of Jesus are often seen as the most distinctive feature of Jesus’ teaching. Through close reading, we will try to grasp what kind of a story is being told in each parable. We will then explore to whom each particular story is told in its present literary context in the gospels. Can one read these parables outside this literary context and recover an “original” formulation more suited to the socio-economic world of first-century CE Galilee? Are these parables less about describing the heavenly kingdom than about challenging real groups to change their positions?
Spring semester. Professor Doran.2017-18: Not offered
This course investigates the fascinating story of how a movement which started in a small unimportant province of the Roman Empire rose to a privileged status within that Empire. We will explore the many ways in which followers of Jesus attempted to articulate who Jesus was and the many “Christianities” that arose from these attempts. Was he divine or human or something in between? If divine, what was the relationship between God and Jesus? All of these debates and conflicts were played out against the background of a Greek understanding of the divine, the universe, and what it was to be human, and the backdrop of the Roman Empire where the emperor was held to be divine. We will examine the Christian separation from Judaism and the growing intolerance towards Judaism. Finally, we will inquire how Christianity consolidated its creedal formulation once it enjoyed a privileged position under the first Christian emperor, Constantine. This creedal articulation was to dominate the Western Roman Empire throughout the medieval period but was to cause disunity and fraction within the Eastern Roman Empire.
Spring semester. Professor Doran.2017-18: Not offered
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.
Fall semester. Professor A. Dole.2017-18: Offered in Fall 2017
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.
Spring semester. Professor A. Dole.2017-18: Not offered
(Offered as RELI 282 and ASLC 282 [WA].)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 2013-14. Professor Jaffer.2017-18: Not offered
(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 2013-14. Professor A. Dole.2017-18: Not offered
(Offered as ASLC 326, RELI 326 and WAGS 326.) In this course we will study the lives of prominent female teachers in Tibetan Buddhism from its inception up to the present day. Our focus will be on reconstructing the narratives of the trajectories to realization that women like Yedshe Tsogyal, Mandarava, Yid Thogma, Machig Labdron, Sera Khandro, and Ayu Khandro, among others, undertook, often at high personal and societal cost. By utilizing biographical and--as much as possible--autobiographical records (in English translation), we will analyze the religious and social aspects of these women’s choice to privilege the Vajarayana path to enlightenment, often (but not always), at the expense of more conventional and accepted lifestyles. In order to do so, we will explore in depth the meanings attached to femininity, masculinity, sexuality, and gender dynamics within Tibetan monastic and lay life.
The course will combine methodology from Buddhist studies, Tibetan studies, women and gender studies, critical theory, and literary criticism in an effort to unravel and explore the complex negotiations that Buddhist female teachers engaged in during their spiritual pursuit, in the context of traditional as well as contemporary Tibetan culture.
Recommended requisite: Previous knowledge of Tibetan culture and Buddhism. Omitted 2013-14. Professor Zamperini.2017-18: Not offered
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.2017-18: Not offered
(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 2013-14. 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 2013-14. Professor Niditch.2017-18: Offered in Spring 2018
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 2013-14. Professor Niditch.2017-18: Not offered
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 fall 2013 the course will focus on the biblical book of Judges. We will read the vivid and violent stories of Judges as a reflection of the actual emergence of the Israelites as an ethnic group in the central highlands, and ask how well the text reflects the historical reality, as best we can reconstruct it archaeologically. We will also read Judges as a collection of tales gathered together later in Israelite history, near the end of the independent life of Israelites under a native monarchy: what social work did these stories of ancient days do for their readers? We will introduce ourselves to the work of anthropologists and sociologists on how ethnic identity is constructed in the modern world, and ask how this research can be applied to ancient Israel. Finally, subsequent communities of interpreters have used the stories of Judges to build their own identities, and we will study and compare the readings of the early church fathers, rabbinic writings, and later thinkers, including the ongoing influence of Judges in literature and art.
Fall semester. Visiting Lecturer Moore.2017-18: Not offered
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 2013-14. Professor Doran.2017-18: Not offered
(Offered as RELI 382 and ASLC 382 [WA].) This course introduces students to the intellectual tradition of Islam. It focuses on the pre-modern period. We will explore works of theology, philosophy, and political theory that were composed by Muslim intellectuals of various stripes. We will use primary sources in English translation to examine the ideas that Muslim intellectuals formulated and the movements that they engendered. In our discussions we will investigate questions concerning the rise of sectarianism, language and revelation, prophecy, heresy and apostasy, God and creation, causality and miracles, the role of logic and human reasoning with respect to the canonical sources (Quran and Hadith), and conceptions of the Islamic state.
Fall semester. Professor Jaffer.2017-18: Offered in Fall 2017
(Offered as RELI 285 and ASLC 356 [WA]) 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.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 semester. The Department.2017-18: Offered in Fall 2017 and Spring 2018
Spring semester.2017-18: Offered in Spring 2018
Required of candidates for Honors in Religion. A continuation of RELI 498. A double course.
Open to seniors with consent of the instructor. Spring semester. The Department.2017-18: Offered in Spring 2018