Religion
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Amherst College Religion for 2014-15

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 2014-15 the major traditions will be Chrisitanity 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.

2013-14: Offered in Fall 2013
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2008, Fall 2009, Fall 2010, Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2014

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 2014-15.  Professors Doran and Niditch.

2013-14: Not offered

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: beliefs, traditions, and customs concerning the dead; ancient and contemporary apocalyptic groups; ritual healing; Wicca; and recent films, television programs, and on-line and interactive media rich in the occult or the overtly religious. 

Spring semester. Professor Niditch.

2013-14: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2009, Spring 2015

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.

Spring semester.  Professor M. Heim.

2013-14: Offered in Fall 2013
Other years: Offered in Spring 2015

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.

2013-14: Offered in Fall 2013
Other years: Offered in Fall 2008, Fall 2009, Fall 2010, Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2014

171 Images of Jesus

One of the most dominant symbols in Western culture, the figure of Jesus, has been variously represented and interpreted--even the canonical Christian Scriptures contains four different biographies. This course will explore shifts in the contours of that symbol and the socio-cultural forces at play in such changes, as well as debates about the understanding of the figure of Jesus.  Beginning with recent films about Jesus, the course will turn to examine the biographies in the Christian Scriptures and the heated debate in the fourth century over the identity of Jesus as Son of God.  We will then trace trajectories through the medieval period in the visual and audial image of Jesus. To conclude, we will focus on the "social" Jesus, that is, Jesus the capitalist and the Jesus of liberation theology, as well as on the feminine Jesus, for example, portrayals of Jesus as mother and bride.Spring semester.  Professor Doran.

2013-14: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2015

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.

Spring semester.  Professor A. Dole.

2013-14: Offered in Spring 2014
Other years: Offered in Spring 2008, Spring 2009, Spring 2010, Spring 2011, Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2015

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.

Fall semester.  Professor A. Dole.

2013-14: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2008, Fall 2012, Fall 2014

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.

Omitted 2014-15. Professor Wills.

2013-14: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2008, Spring 2010, Spring 2012, Spring 2013

237 Catholicism in the United States

This course will survey the historical development and contemporary state of Roman Catholic Christianity in the United States. It will cover such topics as: the early development of Catholicism in the North American colonies of Spain, France, and Britain; the waves of immigration—e.g., Irish and German, eastern European, and Latino—that have successively transformed American Catholicism; changing patterns of Catholic thought and practice, both elite and popular; Catholic social and political movements, e.g. the Catholic Worker Movement; controversies over Catholicism’s place in American politics, from ante-bellum anti-Catholic movements to the present time;  and contemporary American Catholic debates over issues of gender and sexuality. 

Fall semester.  Professor Wills.

2013-14: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2014

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.

2013-14: Offered in Fall 2013
Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2014

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 2014-15. Professors A. Dole and Wills.

2013-14: Offered in Spring 2014

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.

Omitted 2014-15.  Professor M. Heim

2013-14: Offered in Spring 2014
Other years: Offered in Fall 2011

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.

Omitted 2014-15. Professor Heim.

2013-14: Not offered

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.  This discussion course requires participants to prepare a series of closely argued essays related to assigned readings and films.

Omitted 2014-15. Professor Niditch.

2013-14: Offered in Spring 2014
Other years: Offered in Spring 2009, Fall 2010

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.  Course assignments are a series of interpretive essays in which students become accustomed to close work with biblical texts, employing methodological approaches introduced throughout the semester. 

Fall semester.  Professor Niditch.

2013-14: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2009, Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2014

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.  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.

Omitted 2014-15.  Professor Niditch.

2013-14: Offered in Spring 2014
Other years: Offered in Spring 2008, Spring 2012

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.

2013-14: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2008, Spring 2012, Spring 2015

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.

Omitted 2014-15.  Professor Wills.

2013-14: Offered in Spring 2014
Other years: Offered in Spring 2010, Spring 2012, Spring 2013

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.

Spring semester.  Professor Doran.

2013-14: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2009, Spring 2011, Spring 2013, Spring 2015

274 The Parables of Jesus

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?

Omitted 2014-15.  Professor Doran.

2013-14: Offered in Spring 2014

275 History of Christianity--The Early Years

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.

Omitted 2014-15.  Professor Doran.

2013-14: Offered in Spring 2014
Other years: Offered in Spring 2008, Fall 2009, Spring 2012, Spring 2013

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 2014-15. Professor A. Dole.

2013-14: Offered in Fall 2013
Other years: Offered in Fall 2008, Fall 2010

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 2014-15. Professor A. Dole.

2013-14: Offered in Spring 2014
Other years: Offered in Spring 2009, Spring 2011

282 Muhammad and the Qur'an

(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 2014-15. Professor Jaffer.

2013-14: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2008, Spring 2009, Spring 2010, Spring 2011, Spring 2013

284 Knowledge Triumphant in Classical Islam

Knowledge was one of the primary concerns in classical Islamic civilization. The search for knowledge dominated all branches of religious and intellectual life, and it pervaded the daily lives of Muslims. In this class we will read the classics from law, theology, philosophy and mysticism that were written in the ninth through twelfth centuries. We will focus our attention on texts in which questions surrounding the theme of knowledge are discussed at length and in detail. Questions we will explore include: What is knowledge and how is it attained? What is its relation to faith and doubt? How does knowledge inform religious practice and ritual? What theories of knowledge were developed in law, theology, philosophy, and mysticism? How does knowledge serve as a tool in these disciplines? Our broader objective is to understand how religious and intellectual life was shaped by discussions about knowledge within these disciplines. Fall semester.  Professor Jaffer.

2013-14: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2014

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 2014-15. Professor A. Dole.

2013-14: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2009, Spring 2013

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.  Spring semester.  Professor A. Dole.

2013-14: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2010, Spring 2015

323 Religion and Conspiratorial Thinking

Conspiracy theories are not inherently religious, but they are frequently informed by religious conceptions and valuations, and often circulate within particular religious communities.  If religious and conspiratorial thinking can get along fine without each other, why do they intersect as often as they do within history?  Addressing this question will require locating religion and conspiracy theorizing in relationship to each other within a broader field of thinking about the dynamics of human social interaction.  Readings for this course will include prominent examples of religiously-informed conspiracy theories from the modern period and works that explore the characteristic features of religious and conspiratorial thinking.  Of particular interest will be works that stand on the margin between conspiratorial thinking and social critique.  Authors will include John Robison, Jedediah Morse, Friedrich Nietzsche, Paul Blanshard, E. E. Evans-Pritchard, David Noebel, Pat Robertson, and Michel Foucault.  

The course will require the close reading and understanding of challenging texts, engagement with the ideas these present in class discussion, and the written exposition of positions and arguments.

Fall semester.  Professor A. Dole

 

2013-14: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2014

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.  

Omitted 2014-15.  Professor Wills.

2013-14: Offered in Fall 2013
Other years: Offered in Fall 2009, Fall 2010, Fall 2011, Fall 2012

352 Buddhist Ethics

(Offered as RELI 352 and ASLC 352.) A systematic exploration of the place of ethics and moral reasoning in Buddhist thought and practice. The scope of the course is wide, with examples drawn from the whole Buddhist world, but emphasis is on the particularity of different Buddhist visions of the ideal human life. Attention is given to the problems of the proper description of Buddhist ethics in a comparative perspective.

Spring semester.  Professor M. Heim.

2013-14: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2010, Spring 2011, Fall 2012, Spring 2015

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 2014-15. Professor Niditch.

2013-14: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2009, Spring 2013

363 The Body in Ancient Judaism

The body is a template; the body encodes; the body is a statement of rebellion or convention, of individual attitude or of identity shared by a group. Dressed in one way or another or undressed, pierced or tattooed, shaggy or smooth, fed one way or another, sexually active or celibate, the body, viewed in parts or as a whole, may serve human beings as consummate and convenient expression of world-view. In this course we will explore ancient Israelite and early Jewish representations of the body juxtaposing ancient materials and modern theoretical and descriptive works. Specific topics include treatment of and attitudes towards the dead, hair customs, views of bodily purity, biblical euphemisms for sex, food prohibitions, circumcision, and God’s body.  There are no prerequisites to this course.  The presentation fo relevant theoretical material and instruction in the reading of classical and modern Jewish sources is integral to the course itself.

Omitted 2014-15. Professor Niditch.

2013-14: Not offered

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 2014-15.  Professor Niditch.

2013-14: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2010, Spring 2013

370 Close Readings:  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 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. 

Omitted 2014-15.  Professor Doran 

2013-14: Offered in Fall 2013
Other years: Offered in Spring 2008, Spring 2012, Fall 2012

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 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 2014-15.  Professor Doran.

2013-14: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2009, Fall 2012

382 Debating Muslims

(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.

Omitted 2014-15. Professor Jaffer.

2013-14: Offered in Fall 2013
Other years: Offered in Fall 2008, Fall 2009, Fall 2010, Fall 2012

385 The Islamic Mystical Tradition

(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.

2013-14: Offered in Spring 2014
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Spring 2009, Spring 2010, Spring 2011, Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2015

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 semester. The Department.

2013-14: Offered in Fall 2013 and Spring 2014
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2008, Fall 2009, Fall 2010, Fall 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Spring 2013, Fall 2014, Spring 2015

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.

2013-14: Offered in Fall 2013
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2008, Fall 2009, Fall 2010, Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2014

499 Senior Honors

Spring semester.

2013-14: Offered in Spring 2014
Other years: Offered in Spring 2008, Spring 2009, Spring 2010, Spring 2011, Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2015

Related Courses

HIST-319 Religion, Empires, and Secular States in the Nineteenth Century (Course not offered this year.)
 

Chapin Hall