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Religion

Year:

2020-21

111 Introduction to Religion

This course introduces students to the comparative study of religion by exploring two distinct families of religious traditions, focusing on ways in which scholars draw on texts and historical contexts to understand religious doctrines and practices. The traditions examined vary from year to year. In 2020-21, we will focus on Christian and Buddhist traditions. Texts will be drawn from both classical and modern sources and from a variety of geographical and cultural locations, and will explore the relationship between religion and issues of political economy (which, in this context, means the intersection of economic and political dynamics within societies). In both traditions we will examine different configurations of this relationship, with a range that extends from deep interconnection (where religion, economics, and politics are intimately intertwined) to complete separation (where, at least notionally, religion has nothing to do with issues of political economy).

Classes will meet in person on campus.  Remote students will either attend class sessions by videochat or will have access to audio recordings of class meetings.  All students, local and remote, will have access to pre-recorded video content;  all students will contribute to class discussion via posts to Moodle.  Local and remote students may be asked to prepare brief presentations on assigned readings to be delivered either in person or by prerecorded video.

Fall semester. Professors A. Dole and M. Heim.

2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2008, Fall 2009, Fall 2010, Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2021, Fall 2022

125 Personal Religion in the Bible and Beyond

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, especially 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 2020-21. Professor Niditch.

2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
Other years: Offered in Spring 2019, Fall 2022

127 Ethics and the Hebrew Scriptures

This course explores legal and narrative traditions of the Hebrew Bible as they pertain to questions about the nature of just and unjust behavior. We will study biblical texts that underscore the moral choices encountered by individuals and societies in a wide array of arenas: economic, ecological, sexual, gendered, political, and military. The goal is to understand variations in the responses of biblical writers to a range of ethical issues within their social and historical contexts. We will also attend to the influence of these ancient materials on subsequent cultural attitudes and human interactions, for the ethical traditions of the Hebrew Bible have been received, understood, and remade with varying results, positive and negative.

An integral remote feature of our course will be on-line participation by several internationally recognized scholars who have studied modern appropriations of biblical ethics. The will join us iin conversation and present some lectures in class.

Spring semester. Professor Niditch.

2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
Other years: Offered in Spring 2019, Spring 2021

129 Ethnographic Methods in Religious Studies

(Offered as ANTH 208 and REL 129) Ethnography refers to both a set of research methods and a genre of scholarly writing about living people. In this course, we will read influential ethnographies of religious communities, as well as conduct ethnographic research on and writing about local communities ourselves. We will begin with a close reading of a classic work in the field. This will help us get a sense of what ethnography is and better understand its place in the study of religion. Then we will engage in a series of exercises to learn essential ethnographic methods and practice writing fieldnotes and ethnographic narrative. As the semester progresses, students will propose and conduct sustained fieldwork projects on local religious communities, which they will synthesize in ethnographic narratives that they will workshop with the instructor and their peers. By the end of the course, students will have substantial experience in ethnographic research and writing, as well as a nuanced understanding of the challenges and ethics of engaging in both.

Omitted 2020-21.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2019

134 Religious Traditions in America:  A History of Communities and Their Scriptures

This course offers a historical introduction to several of the major religious traditions in America. To unpack the vast diversity of “religious traditions” in America, this course will take two approaches. First it will map out the roots and routes of “communities” including, but not limited to, Jews, Catholics, Buddhists, Protestants, Muslims, and various “American Originals” such as Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, Latter Day Saints (Mormons), and Pentecostals. We will also read the “scriptures” that communities have produced, that is, the primary source literature essential to their understanding of their place among the religious traditions of America and the interpretations offered by historians. First-year students are especially welcome.

Fall semester. Assistant Professor Barba.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2020

135 Race and Religion in the U.S. West/Mexico Borderlands

(Offered as REL 135, AMST 231, HIST 135 and LLAS 135) One historian aptly described the U.S. West as “one of the greatest meeting places on the planet." The region is a site of cultural complexity where New Mexican Penitentes maintained a criminalized sacred order, an African American holiness preacher forged the global Pentecostal movement, Native Americans staked out legal definitions and practices of "religion," Asian immigrants built their first Buddhist and Sikh temples in the face of persecution, and dispossessed Dust Bowl migrants (in the spirit of the Joad family in John Steinbeck’s novel the Grapes of Wrath) arrived and imported no-nonsense southern Baptist and Pentecostal sensibilities. Until recently, standard surveys of religious history in North America have devoted minimal attention to the distinctive role of religion in the American West and the region's shifting border, having largely focused rather on religious history in the flow of events westward from Massachusetts’s Puritan establishment. In this historical survey, we examine the contours of religion by taking into account new "sights," "cites," and "sites" of race, class, and gender in order to deconstruct and reconstruct the larger incomplete meta-narrative. First-year students are especially welcome.

Spring semester. Assistant Professor Barba.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2021

143 Religion in Ancient India

(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.

Classes will meet in person on campus.  Remote students will either attend class sessions by videochat or will have access to audio recordings of class meetings.  All students, local and remote, will have access to pre-recorded video content.  Local and remote students may be asked to prepare brief presentations on assigned readings to be delivered either in person or by prerecorded video.

Spring semester. Professor M. Heim.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2013, Spring 2015, Fall 2016, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2021

152 Introduction to Buddhist Traditions

(Offered as RELI 152 and ASLC 152) This course is an introduction to the diverse ideals, practices, and traditions of Buddhism from its origins in South Asia to its geographical and historical diffusion throughout Asia and, more recently, into the west. We will explore the Three Jewels—the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha—and how they each provide refuge for those suffering in samsara (the endless cycle of rebirth). We will engage in close readings of the literary and philosophical texts central to Buddhism, as well as recent historical and anthropological studies of Buddhist traditions.

Omitted 2020-21. Professor M. Heim.

2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
Other years: Offered in Fall 2008, Fall 2009, Fall 2010, Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2022

166 Beginning the Bible

Familiarity with the Bible is essential to any liberal arts education. This course is the place to begin. A master-work of great complexity revealing many voices and many periods, the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament is a collection of traditional literature of various genres including prose and poetry, law, narrative, ritual texts, sayings, and other forms. We seek to understand the varying ways Israelites understood and defined themselves in relation to their ancestors, their ancient Near Eastern neighbors, and their God. Course assignments are a series of interpretive essays in which students become accustomed to close work with biblical texts, employing methodological approaches introduced throughout the semester.

Omitted 2020-21. Professor Niditch.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2009, Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Fall 2021

172 Christianity and Capitalism

The past century and a half have seen Christians engaging capitalism in various ways. Some have argued that capitalism and Christianity are opposed at the level of first principles, with capitalism dedicated to an ethos of competition and Christianity to one of co-operation. Others have argued that capitalism is just human freedom in the sphere of economics, and that the Christian’s duty is to defend capitalism against threats from those who would dismantle it. Some have argued that Jesus preached the virtue of poverty; others, that he blesses his followers with wealth. This course explores the history of Christian engagements with capitalism since the middle of the nineteenth century. We will examine not only Christian condemnations or valorizations of capitalism (Christian socialism and “corporate Christianity”), but also engagements that defend some aspects of capitalism while criticizing others (the Social Gospel movement and the Roman Catholic tradition of social thought). We will also examine ways in which capitalism has influenced both church history and Christian theology through discussion of the financial history of Christian publications and institutions, and the recent phenomenon of the “Christian corporation.”

Omitted 2020-21. Professor A. Dole.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2017, Fall 2019, Fall 2021

174 Becoming Christian in the Ancient World

As of 2015, 2.3 billion people—over 31% of the world’s population—identified as Christian (according to the Pew Research Center). But this population includes remarkable diversity, and what “looks Christian” in one region does not necessarily “look Christian” in another. How can one tell what religion someone is? What does it mean to become or to identify as Christian? And who gets to decide what “authentic” Christianity is? This course approaches these questions by looking to the past: by studying the origins of Christianity and its spread from a small part of the eastern Mediterranean to North Africa, Europe, and Asia from the late second through seventh century C.E. We will explore the development and variety of Christian groups within their historical contexts, including their religious, political, and social circumstances. Topics will include martyrdom, pilgrimage, material religion (including relics), monasticism, theological disputes, and religious conflict. 

Fall semester. Assistant Professor Falcasantos.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2020, Spring 2022

185 Orthodoxy and Heresy in Islam

In this course we will explore the past and present of Islamic orthodoxy—the authoritative prescription of the correct (T. Asad). We will examine pre-modern and modern Muslim authors and schools of thought that are engaged in establishing and prescribing normative standards of Islamic ideals and practice. In the course of exploring works of Islamic law, theology, philosophy, mysticism, Qur'anic commentary, and other genres that exhibit an “orthodox-izing" tendency (S. Ahmed), we will pay close attention to the roles played by political authorities and events, social and religious institutions and concepts; and to the ways that these motivate, shape, and guide Islamic discourse that is directed toward establishing authoritative truth. Our objectives are to address several principal questions. Can the emergence of Sunnism be interpreted as the development of orthodoxy? To what degree is Islam directed towards the authoritative establishment of an exclusive truth? Are Muslims perpetual and persistent orthodox-izers? How can interrogating “Sunni" orthodoxy and “sectarian” heresies teach us about how claims to authority are made and how truth is conceptualized in Islam?

Omitted 2020-21. Associate Professor Jaffer.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2020, Fall 2021

210 What Is Religion Anyway?: 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.

Spring semester. Professor A. Dole and Assistant Professor Falcasantos.

2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
Other years: Offered in Spring 2008, Spring 2009, Spring 2010, Spring 2011, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Spring 2022

215 The Cognitive Science of Religion

The cognitive science of religion (CSR) is a relatively new field that applies developments in the cognitive sciences and in evolutionary psychology to the study of religion. This course will survey the recent literature on the subject, and will bring this material into conversation with “classical” naturalistic theorizing concerning religion. Topics covered will include the theory of cognitive "massive modularity" that grounds much of the work in this area; the theories of reciprocal altruism and coalitional psychology; and the question of whether religion is an adaptation or an "evolutionary by-product". We will read works by David Hume, Robert Trivers, Pascal Boyer, Justin Barrett, Richard Dawkins, Lee Kirkpatrick, Ara Norenzayan, and others.

Omitted 2020-21. Professor Andrew Dole.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2008, Fall 2012, Fall 2014, Fall 2016, Fall 2018, Spring 2022

220 Christianity and Islam in West Africa

(Offered as BLST 210 [A] HIST 210 [AF] and RELI 220) The course will examine the transformative impact of Christianity and Islam on West African societies since the wave of Muslim reformist movements and Christian evangelical movements of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The central question of the course will revolve around the idea that Muslim and Christian movements are essential to the transformation of West African societies during these critical centuries in West African history. Although course lectures and discussions will examine broad religious currents throughout West Africa, the course will focus on in-depth case studies on Nigerian, Ghana, and Senegal - three countries where Islam and Christianity profoundly transformed state-society relations from the eighteenth century to the twenty-first century.

Omitted 2020-21. Professor Vaughan.

2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
Other years: Offered in Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Spring 2022

229 The Virgin Mary: Image, Cult, Syncretism (ca. 400-1700)

(Offered as HIST 229 [TC/P/C], ARHA 229 and RELI 229) When, in 431, the Council of Ephesus declared the Virgin Mary to be Theotokos or God-Bearer, she had already been venerated in Egypt since the third century as a re-instantiation of Isis. The syncretism of her cult explains her ubiquitous popularity in medieval Byzantium and the Latin West, but also in early Islamic Syria and colonial Latin America. Her frequent depiction on moveable wooden panels (icons) and mosaics accompanied her early rise to liturgical prominence. By 1200, she rivaled Jesus Christ in religious importance, not only through her role as intercessor, but also as dispenser of divine grace in the form of breastmilk. She was the most active miracle-working saint in all of Christianity. Her frequent depiction on icons, altarpieces and devotional panels accompanies – and, in part, explains – the development of figurative art in the West. In colonial America, the introduction of her cult ended prior religious forms of expression, but also helped them to partially survive in a new context. In this seminar, students will produce a 15-page research paper based on a careful analysis of textual and visual sources as well as pertinent scholarship. Two class meetings per week. This course will be conducted in class but also include remote students via zoom.

Fall semester. Visiting Professor Sperling.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2020, Spring 2022

232 The "Stuff" of U.S. Religion: Material and Visual Approaches

Mid-twentieth century pioneer televangelist and prominent radio preacher, Oral Roberts, would adjure those under the sound of his voice to establish a “point of contact.” Many would then proceed to “reach out” and place their hands on the radio. Most of his “audience” tuned in without attending his revival services. From radios, bound scriptural texts, bells, incense, drums, clothing, and human bodies, at the center of observable religious practices is an interaction between humans and the objects they use to make sacred utterances legible and meaningful. In this course we will consider the material aspects (photographs, inanimate objects, clothing, film, etc.) that have distinguished religion in the United States. Steady streams of immigrants have introduced new sacred objects to the world of material religion in the U.S. By hewing closely to a chronological flow of events in U.S. history, we will examine how social, technological, and theological shifts have altered the world of material religion.

Omitted 2020-21. Assistant Professor Barba.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2019

234 The Sanctuary Movement: Religion, Activism, and Social Contestation

(Offered as REL 234, AMST 234 and LLAS 234) From sanctuary cities and states to sanctuary campuses and churches, declarations of sanctuary sites have swept the nation in recent years. The U.S. Sanctuary Movement, established in 1982 to harbor Central American asylum seekers fleeing civil wars, has today assumed broader social implementations in the New Sanctuary Movement. Beginning with an examination of antecedents to the U.S. Sanctuary Movement in global contexts, this course will offer students an in-depth study of the Sanctuary Movement since the 1980s with special attention to the New Sanctuary Movement which is active today throughout the country. Engagement with sanctuary workers outside the Amherst area may occasion one or two field trips, depending on availability.

Limited to 20 students. Fall and spring semesters. Assistant Professor Barba.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2020, Spring 2021

239 Evangelical Christianity

Evangelical Christianity, or evangelicalism, eludes precise definition. As most commonly used, the term refers to a sector of Protestant Christianity whose historical provenance runs from the eighteenth century to the present day. Originating in Europe and North America but now a global phenomenon, evangelicalism in the United States has enjoyed periods of pervasive influence and times of cultural marginality—recovering in the late twentieth century a mainstream status it had seemingly lost. This course is concerned with the history and shifting nature of evangelicalism. Sometimes regarded as a monolithic movement adhering to a fixed set of traditional Christian doctrines and practices, evangelicalism has been throughout its history innovative, changing, and internally diverse. Sometimes seen as politically reactionary, evangelicalism has at times promoted recognizably progressive reforms. Sometimes seen as serving an ethnically and racially narrow constituency, evangelicalism has also shown a marked capacity to cross ethnic and racial boundaries. How are these seemingly contradictory patterns (or perceptions) to be understood? Over the course of the semester we will explore questions such as: How have evangelicals themselves attempted to define the "mainstream" culture in the various environments they have entered? How has evangelicalism handled racial and ethnic difference? How have evangelicals understood their place in the history of the world and of the Christian tradition?

Omitted 2020-21. Professor A. Dole.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2014, Spring 2016, Spring 2018, Spring 2020, Spring 2022

240 Religion on the Move: Religion and Migration in North America

(Offered as RELI 240 and LLAS 240) Little Syria in Manhattan, Crypto-Jewish homes in New Mexico, colonias Mormonas in northern Mexico, a Gurdwara deep in the crop-combed fields of California, and Detroit’s New Bethel Baptist Church (the vocal antechamber of Aretha Franklin’s #1 hit you might know as “R-E-S-P-E-C-T”) seem to have little in common. However, a historical examination of such sites reveals that they share basic social building blocks, shaped under similar push and pull factors. This course is concerned with the ways in which migrant groups have altered the religious landscape of North America and how they innovatively reproduce practices from their places of origin. Our main focus will be on the ramifications of religious movement within the U.S.; however, we will also explore migrations that have shaped the continent. Crossing into the U.S. from the eastern seaboard, the Pacific Rim, and the southern border with Mexico, migrants bring their new ways of creating sacred space and negotiating religious life. We will seek to understand the multifaceted relationships between religion and migration. How have migrants negotiated the role of religion in their private and public lives? What have been the social consequences pertaining to gender, praxis, politics, and respectability? The course takes into account migrations prior to the twentieth century in order to understand regional cultures within the U.S. Additionally, case studies in this course will draw heavily from the third wave of American immigration, characterized by twentieth-century “internal migrations” of African Americans, Latinas/os, Native Americans, and rural dwellers into the urban environments. We will conclude by examining the ways in which forces of modern globalization have changed the nature of religious diversity in the U.S. We will extensively compare migrant cultures as we interrogate power and privilege pertaining to race and religion. The cultural production of these migrant groups under study will bring to the class an empathetic understanding of diverse cultures and their forms of belonging.

Omitted 2020-21. Assistant Professor Barba.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2018, Spring 2020

253 Theravada Buddhism

(Offered as RELI 253 and ASLC 253) 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.

Classes will meet in person on campus.  Remote students will either attend class sessions by videochat or will have access to audio recordings of class meetings.  All students, local and remote, will have access to pre-recorded video content.  Local and remote students may be asked to prepare brief presentations on assigned readings to be delivered either in person or by prerecorded video.

Spring semester. Professor M. Heim.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Spring 2011, Spring 2012, Spring 2016, Spring 2021

255 Buddhist Ethics

(Offered as RELI 255 and ASLC 256) 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.

Classes will meet in person on campus. Remote students will either attend class sessions by videochat or will have access to audio recordings of class meetings. All students, local and remote, will have access to pre-recorded video content. Local and remote students may be asked to prepare brief presentations on assigned readings to be delivered either in prson or by prerecorded video.

Fall semester. Professor M. Heim.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2010, Spring 2011, Fall 2012, Spring 2015, Spring 2017, Fall 2020, Fall 2021

261 Jewish Identity and MeToo: A Study of Women in Judaism

(Offered as RELI 261 and SWAG 239) Ranging from ancient texts to contemporary documentaries, we explore the portrayals and roles of women in Jewish tradition.  Sources include biblical and apocryphal texts; Rabbinic literature; selections from medieval commentaries; letters, diaries, and autobiographies written by Jewish women of various periods and settings; works of fiction; and visual media. An important thread in the course examines contemporary responses to and interpretations of classical sources, as writers and film-makers examine or refashion the tradition in the light of current challenges facing women in Judaism. This discussion course requires participants to prepare a series of closely argued essays related to assigned readings and films.

Omitted 2020-21. Professor Niditch.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2009, Fall 2010, Spring 2014, Spring 2020, Spring 2022

265 The Rise of Apocalyptic and the Words of the Wise

A growing sense of alienation and a fear of disaster affect our daily lives as extreme weather events, superbugs, and political upheaval increasingly become part of experienced, perceived, or dreaded reality. We seem to inhabit a world turned upside-down. Among Jews, the period from the sixth century B.C.E. to the first century of the Common Era was comparable to our own in terms of mood and the range human responses. In this critical watershed period following Babylonian conquest, the biblical writers tried to make sense of and cope with the trauma of war, dislocation, forced migration, ecological disaster, and colonialism. They sought to explain the situation in which they found themselves, offered ways of coping, and expressed hopes for utter transformation so that the troubled world would be replaced with a new and better reality. We will read from the work of the great exilic prophets in the books of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Isaiah, examine some of the so-called “wisdom” traditions in the Hebrew Bible and Apocrypha exemplified by Job, Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, and Tobit, and, finally, explore the phenomenon of Jewish apocalyptic in works such as Daniel, the Dead Sea Scrolls, 4 Ezra, and 2 Baruch.  The problems of these authors and their responses, which laid the foundation for critical themes in Christianity and Judaism, strike the reader as incredibly contemporary. Our work in this ancient material will be enhanced by relevant examples from our own times.

Our study of ancient material will be juxtaposed with the viewing of modern films. We will explore these examples of popular culture in break-down groups that will then share their work with the class as a whole.

Spring semester. Professor Niditch.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2008, Spring 2021, Spring 2022

276 Women and Religion in Greece and Rome

(Offered as REL 276 and SWAG 276) Girls playing the bear. Sacred virgins buried alive. Women starving themselves for God. How does each of these occurrences fit within the religious experiences of ancient women? What, if anything, can they tell us about women’s lives? This course explores these and related questions by considering the place of women within the religious frameworks of the Mediterranean basin from approximately 500 B.C.E. to 600 C.E. We will examine evidence for women’s religious practices from literary, material, and legal sources, as well as the intersection of religious polemic and discourses about gender. We will also discuss the challenges of reconstructing women’s lives and practices. To do this, we will utilize insights from various disciplines, including religious studies, sociology, gender studies, history, archaeology, and literary studies.

Spring Semester. Assistant Professor Falcasantos.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2021

277 Religion and Violence in the Roman Empire

Literature from the later Roman empire abounds with accounts of heightened acts of violence between religious groups: Roman judges torture religious deviants; monks massacre banqueters and destroy temples with their bare hands; Christians clash with each other on darkened city streets; Christians attack Jewish synagogues and festival-goers. What about the late Roman world encouraged such violence? Were some religious groups more or less tolerant than their counterparts? Were incidents of violence primarily rhetorical, or do they reflect the real volatility of social interactions? How might the literary representation of violence be an act of violence itself or encourage physical violence? This course investigates the intersection of violence and religion from the third through the seventh century C.E., paying particular attention to questions of definition, legitimacy, and the interpretation of violent acts. As we explore these questions, we will engage with ongoing theoretical discussions about identity, violence, social performance, and boundary construction. Over the course of the semester, students will compile research portfolios that examine and analyze incidents of inter-religious violence.

Fall Semester. Assistant Professor Falcasantos.

2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
Other years: Offered in Fall 2020

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.

Classes will meet in person on campus.  Remote students will either attend class sessions by videochat or will have access to audio recordings of class meetings.  All students, local and remote, will have access to pre-recorded video content;  all students will contribute to class discussion via posts to Moodle.  Local and remote students may be asked to prepare brief presentations on assigned readings to be delivered either in person or by prerecorded video.

Fall semester. Professor Dole.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2008, Fall 2010, Fall 2013, Fall 2017, Fall 2020

281 Muslim Reformers of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

(Offered as HIST 281 [TC], ASLC 282 and RELI 281) A study of eminent Muslim reformers in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, hailing from diverse Islamic cultures and geographical locations including South Asia, West Africa, Egypt, Arabia, Iran, Central Asia, and the Ottoman Empire. We will examine ways in which religion intersected with social and political reform projects, explore thematic conversations among these reformers that transcend time and place, and look at ways in which many of these issues continue to resonate to the present day.

Limited to 25 students. Not offered in 2020-21 Professor Ringer.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2018, Spring 2020

287 Islamic Intellectual Tradition: The Classics

(Offered as RELI 287 and ASLC 287) In this course we will study the foundational texts that were composed within the intellectual traditions of Islam (800–1200) and which have stimulated intellectual discourse in Islamic cultures until today. Our primary goal will be to understand the nature and significance of the debates that took place within pre-modern Islamic societies and to grasp the issues at stake in them.

We will discuss the ways that Muslim intellectuals responded to specific philosophical questions: How did the universe come into being? Does it have a beginning? What is the nature of the soul? Is there an afterlife? Further, we will explore the way that prophecy, dreams, prayer, miracles, magic, and sacred objects—all of which were part of the social reality of Islamic societies—were explained using “reasoned” arguments and concepts. We will discuss the theories of language and revelation that Muslims developed to explain the Qur’an: What does it mean to receive revelation from a supernatural agent? And we will discuss the controversies that surrounded heresy and apostasy: Who counts as a heretic or an unbeliever and why?

In the course of examining the above issues, we will be attentive to the social and political forces that shaped intellectual activity in Islamic culture by considering the cross-cultural migration of ideas. We will study the ways that philosophical and scientific knowledge migrated from ancient Greece to Islamic lands, and the ways that such knowledge was refined, altered, interpreted, and advanced. Further, we will examine the process through which such knowledge was transmitted to western Europe and the ways that it stimulated intellectual activity there, leading to the Renaissance.

Omitted 2020-2021. Associate Professor Jaffer.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2008, Fall 2013, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018

288 The Lives of Muslim Saints

(Offered as REL 288 and ASLC 289) A study of the most venerated saints in the history of Islam. We will read from their biographies, poetry (paying special attention to the themes of love), and theoretical and literary works. We will examine how such literature discloses the dimensions of Islamic mysticism: rituals and practices (some of which were considered socially deviant), theories of the self/soul, epistemologies, cosmologies, and ontologies. We will examine the ways that Sufi theories and practices challenged other self-professed Islamic orthodoxies and orthopraxies. We will ask: what made these aspects of Islamic mysticism (often subsumed under “Sufism”) so appealing as articulations of Islam? To answer this question, we will attempt to grasp how Muslim saints understood their expressions of Islam in relation to the disciplines—especially law, theology, and philosophy—and to understand how their ways of being Islamic are meaningful expressions and interpretations of Islamic institutions, concepts, principles and values. In this course we will also engage with the theories that scholars of religion in North America and Europe have used to analyze and interpret the various dimensions of Islamic mysticism. In doing so, we will examine the ways that perceptions of Sufism (and Islam more broadly) have been shaped by European theories, paradigms, and methods of interpretation and discuss their value for understanding Sufism and Islam. No pre-requisites; first-year students welcome.

Fall Semester. Associate Professor Jaffer.

2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
Other years: Offered in Fall 2020

316 Philosophy of Religion 

(Offered as REL 316 and PHIL 219) Philosophy of Religion is philosophical reflection on matters that have traditionally been of religious concern, and on religion itself. Although philosophers have been discussing such topics for thousands of years, the period since the middle of the twentieth century has been particularly vibrant, with philosophers working within the analytic tradition producing a substantial body of literature on a variety of religious themes. This course introduces students to several major areas of discussion within this literature. Over the course of the semester we will discuss whether persons can survive death; God’s relationship to time; the issue of “religious belief” (the role it plays in religion and its rationality); and the significance of religious pluralism for religious adherence.

Spring semester. Professor A. Dole.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2009, Spring 2013, Spring 2016, Spring 2021

330 Latinx Religion

(Offered as RELI 330 and LLAS 330) On the dawn of the quincentenary of the Protestant Reformation, the April 2013 cover story of Time Magazine heralded the “Latino Reformation.” After 500 years of religious contact, conflict, and conversions throughout the Americas, “Latino USA” is undergoing unprecedented religious transformations. Latinxs, now comprising the largest ethnic minority group in the United States, are largely responsible for the new expressions of Abrahamic religious traditions in the country. This course is a historical survey of the growing and diverse U.S. Latinx religious experiences. The chronology of the course will begin with pre-contact Indian religions and cultures, then follow with an examination of Iberian Catholic and Indian contact cultures, Catholic and Protestant migrations into the U.S., and the negotiation and representation of Latinx religious identities today.

Omitted 2020-21. Assistant Professor Barba.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2019, Spring 2022

360 Buddhist Stories from Modern East Asia

What does it entail, and feel like, to embrace the modern world from a Buddhist perspective? The course examines key issues that have shaped the development of modern Buddhism across East Asia, while fostering a critical assessment of some fundamental assumptions in the making of the modern age. Threading through the entire course is a provocative dialogue between, on the one hand, modern events and intellectual currents such as scientific rationalism, secularization, imperialism, nationalism, feminism, and environmentalism, and on the other hand, seminal Buddhist teachings that stand profoundly persuasive across time and space. We unpack this dialogue through stories, which are drawn from China, Japan, Taiwan, Tibet, Vietnam, and from Europe and America. The seminar highlights literature as a vehicle for spiritual reflection especially in a global and postsecular world. All readings are in English. No prior knowledge of Buddhism is assumed. Requirements include weekly reflection papers, an oral presentation, and a final paper. Two class meetings per week.

Limited to 15 students. Not open to first-year students. Professor Ying. Omitted 2020-21.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2019, Fall 2021

367 Reading the Rabbis

For the Rabbis of post-biblical Judaism, the Hebrew Bible was a sacred resource to be mined, interpreted, developed, and reapplied. This course explores the rich corpus produced in classical Judaism of the post-biblical period. We will explore Rabbinic worldviews through the close reading of  legal and aggadic or non-legal texts from the Midrashim (the Rabbis’ explanations, reformulations, and elaborations of Scripture), the Mishnah, and the Talmud and examine diverse subjects 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. There are no prerequisites required for this course.

Omitted 2020-21. Professor Niditch.

2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2008, Spring 2012, Spring 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Spring 2020, Fall 2022

385 The Qur'ān and Its Controversies

(Offered as RELI 385, ASLC 385 and ENGL 301) Islam is a religion with over one billion adherents across the globe. The Qur'ān and Prophetic Traditions inform Muslim belief, socio-religious practices and rituals. They are the foundation of Islamic law and ethics; the main inspiration behind Islamic mysticism and arts; and motivations for Islamic piety. The Qur'ān has served as a model for theories of the Islamic state, fundamentalism and ideology. As one of the most widely read and recited books in the history of humankind, it has given rise to a tradition of interpretation that spans well over a thousand years and encompasses commentaries composed in Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Urdu, Malay, Javanese, and Swahili. We will study the Qur'ān’s thought world, including its major ideas, themes and symbols; the Qur'ān’s literary style and structure; the Qur'ān’s engagement with Jewish and Christian traditions; the historical process through which the Qur'ān became the first Arabic book; the process through which it became a scripture vested with authority; and the divergent ways that Muslims have venerated and interpreted the Qur'ān. We will focus on several salient questions: How did Muslims try to explain the seemingly contradictory material within the Qur'ān? How did they try to explain the Qur'ān’s proclamation that it is of supernatural origin? What methods of reasoning, literary devices, and sources of religious authority did Muslims invoke in order to fulfill the need for scriptural interpretation? How does the Qur'ān conceive of itself as a scripture and of revelation? How does it engage with and respond to earlier scriptures such as the Bible?

Omitted 2020-21. Associate Professor Jaffer.

2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
Other years: Offered in Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2021, Fall 2022

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.

2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022, Spring 2023
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2008, Fall 2009, Fall 2010, 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

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 the semester.

Open to seniors with consent of the instructors. Fall semester. The Department.

2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2008, Fall 2009, Fall 2010, Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2021, Fall 2022

499 Senior Honors

Spring semester. The Department.

2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
Other years: Offered in Spring 2008, Spring 2009, Spring 2010, Spring 2011, Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Spring 2022