Religion

2023-24

115 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.

Spring semester. Professor A. Dole.

123 Love and Mysticism

This course introduces students to the notion of love in mystical traditions. Rather than moving outward, mystical love leads to an inner proficiency represented by the higher Self. For some traditions, love participates directly as a guide toward enlightenment, playing an important if not an essential part in the attainment of the highest stages of oneness. For others, love is applied to the mystical path in order to see the way more clearly, helping to reveal the dynamics in the spiritual practices. To grasp these possibilities, students will read excerpts from mystical texts that address the notion of love as well as novels written by experienced, initiated, or enlightened authors that complement these treatises. Through these texts, we will examine questions such as: What is mystical love and how is it expressed? What is the difference between love as an instrument and as a medium in spiritual practice? How does this phenomenon apply to our lives?

Spring semester. Professor Brodnicka.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2015

124 Ecology and Religion

Have Western religions estranged us from the natural world? How does the environment shape religious thought and practice? This course explores religion in both the ancient world and in our present time, in order to uncover a history of entanglement, and tension, with the world’s places, plants, and animals. From revelations on top of mountains to animal sacrifice, religious practice cannot be separated from the natural environment. We will study the following themes: defining religion and nature; cosmology; spirituality and materiality; sacred and secular space; anthropocentrism (the preeminence of humans over other living beings); animal and vegetal life. 

Fall semester. Visiting Assistant Professor Westermayer.

Pending Faculty Approval

Other years: Offered in Fall 2023

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 2023-24.

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

Omitted 2023-24.

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

143 Religion in Ancient India

(Offered as RELI 143 and ASLC 143) 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 

Other years: Offered in Fall 2013, Spring 2015, Fall 2016, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2021, Fall 2023

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.

2023-24. Visiting Assistant Professor Chen

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

163 Books and Readers in Judaism

What is “scripture?” What does “literature” mean in ancient Judaism? This course examines Jewish literature from the late Second Temple period until the Rabbinic period, with a critical focus on the form and materiality of books and reading culture. We will study the major changes in Jewish books from Hellenistic times into the late Roman period and Christian era. Our primary aim is to study how books, as material artifacts, helped shape how readers created meaning. Students will study the formation of the Hebrew Bible, the translation of the Bible into Greek, “pseudepigraphal” works (falsely attributed), the Dead Sea Scrolls, and Rabbinic Judaism (such as the Mishnah, Tosefta, and the Talmud). This is a history of Judaism that places the developments in literature into the larger context of the rise of book culture in the premodern West. 

Spring semester. Visiting Assistant Professor Westermayer.

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. 

Fall semester. Professor Niditch.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Fall 2021, Fall 2023

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.”

Fall semester. Professor A. Dole

Other years: Offered in Fall 2023

175 Jesus

Who was Jesus of Nazareth? How was he remembered? What are the social and political implications of telling stories about Jesus’s life and teachings? This course explores the origins of the founder of Christianity, and the evolution of Jesus the Jew from northern Judea to Jesus the divine man, esoteric teacher, and cultural icon. We will read texts from the New Testament, as well as the texts that were excluded, such as the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Judas. Our primary aim is to think through the various ways that Jesus was remembered, both within and outside of Christianity. We will also study how different groups adapted stories about Jesus for political, theological, and social issues. In addition to reading ancient literature, we will study early depictions of Jesus in art and material culture. Students will cultivate insights into not only the contested origins of Christianity, but also the challenges of historical memory and representation. 

Fall semester. Visiting Assistant Professor Westermayer.

Pending Faculty Approval

Other years: Offered in Fall 2023

183 Islam through Media: Past, Present, Representation

(Offered as ASLC-183, RELI-183) The discourses of Islam that play out in contemporary mass media often implicate the media themselves: Do these media misrepresent Islam, and how might Islam be truthfully represented? Does Islam require an iconoclastic hostility to representational media in general, or is this idea just one more misrepresentation? This course takes a historical perspective on such topical questions and on the media through which they circulate and proliferate, exploring how various tools and technologies of representation have shaped Islamic thought and practice, Muslim social worlds, and non-Muslims’ understandings of Islam across multiple modern and pre-modern contexts. We will examine the continuities and differences among representations and performances of Islam through media such as television, visual art, cinema, relics and artifacts, photography, theatre, audio recording, toys and games, manuscript and print, and internet-based media. Our analysis of the aesthetic, ideological, and political idioms, investments, and strategies of diverse pieces of media will situate them in their social contexts with support from secondary literature. We will compare and experiment with various theories of media produced in the Euro-American academy and in Islamic intellectual cultures. 

Spring Semester. Professor Molloy

Other years: Offered in Fall 2013

218 The Problem of Evil

(Offered as RELI 218 and PHIL 229). Christian religious traditions have assumed that God is omnibenevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent.  But attributing these attributes to the creator of the universe makes the existence of evil puzzling.  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 classical and recent philosophical discussions of these questions.  Among other topics, we will explore the free-will defense and its recent revisions, skeptical theism, open theism, and the "multiverse theodicy."

Omitted 2023-24.

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

223 West African Religion as Philosophy

(Offered as BLST 323, PHIL 215 and RELI 223) This course explores the structure, beliefs, and practices of West African indigenous religions with an eye to their deeper philosophical meanings. We will examine several West African religions from the perspective of experts and practitioners who present the underlying philosophy of these traditions, exploring their epistemology (how knowledge works) and metaphysics (the nature of being). We will focus on concepts of the person, the word, the world, and community as well as the important role of orality as the foundational paradigm of this philosophy. 

Omitted 2023-24.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2022, Spring 2025

224 The Garden: Nature and Religion in the Mediterranean

Offered as ARCH-224 and RELI-224.The garden is an enclosure that separates civilization from wilderness. It is a tangible place that has given rise to abstract and dynamic ideals in Western culture and religion. This course investigates the history of the garden, or rather the environmental setting of the ancient world’s famous moments of enlightenment and self-fashioning. We will study how ancient cultures fashioned nature—how they arrayed flowers, plants, trees, water—and how, through this manipulation of the world, they also fashioned themselves, and the “other.” For example, the Greeks made their gardens “simple,” in polemical contrast with their Persian neighbors, who preferred exotic plants and ample shade. We will study how cultures not only constructed their spaces, but the kinds of people they believed would emerge from such spaces. Gardens can teach us how people think about gender, identity, the value and meaning of vegetal and animal life, resource management, and even storytelling. We will study literature, art, and archaeology. We will spend ample time outside of the classroom, taking advantage of Amherst’s outdoor offerings, including a field trip to a garden.

Spring semester. Visiting Assistant Professor Westermayer.

227 Hell

How do ideas about Hell and the possibility of eternal punishment shape attitudes toward death, influence understandings of morality, and reflect lived realities? Focusing on the history of Christian formulations of Hell, this course explores the variety of ways people have imagined what happens to them after death, how those ideas have developed, and what those ideas can tell us about the people who wrote, read, and talked about Hell. We will explore depictions of Hell from the ancient world to today, including literature, architecture, art, film, video games, and music, and our discussions will consider how the geographies, punishments, and monsters of Hell have fit within religious discourses, reflected social contexts, and helped shape human behavior.

Omitted 2023-24.

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

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.  

Omitted 2023-24.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2020, Spring 2021

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.

Omitted 2023-24.

2023-24: 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.

Fall semester. Professor M. Heim

Other years: Offered in Fall 2020, Fall 2021, Fall 2023

262 Folklore and the Bible

The Hebrew Bible is a rich anthology of traditional, communicative media including a range of genres that might be compared to the folktales, myths, proverbs, riddles, symbolic dramas, and other creative works of more familiar contemporary cultures. This course introduces students to the cross-discipline of folklore studies and explores the ways in which that field in comparative literature enriches our appreciation 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. 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-centure collectors such as the Brothers Grimm, modern popularizers including film-makers such as Walt Ddisney, cartoonists, and the creators of contemporry advertisements recast peices of lore, in the process helping to represent, shape, or misshape us and our culture.

Omitted 2023-24.

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

275 The Body in Ancient Christianity

The body provides our first contact with the world and each other. It is also a tool of social formation and site of competition: meanings and ideologies are mapped onto the body through narrative, image, and practice. How does the experience of living, moving and breathing in a body affect the experience of worship, practices of Christian formation, and engagement with theological debates? How did ancient Christians understand this, and how do we?

This course explores these themes in the context of ancient Christianity (late first century through the sixth century). In our readings we will consider early Christian discussions about the connection between the body/flesh and the soul/spirit, as well as issues of embodiment (for example, dietary habits, education, ritual practices, and funerary care). We will also explore how the body featured within the politics of boundary formation, particularly in regard to distinguishing Christians from “Others,” to defining doctrinal orthodoxy, and to establishing hierarchies within Christian communities. These investigations require a close reading of our authors, but always with a view toward the world that informs the text and which the author of the text aims to shape. Consequently, our primary readings will be supplemented by secondary literature that provides historical grounding and theoretical perspectives.

Omitted 2023-24.

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

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.

Omitted 2023-24. 

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

277 Religion and Violence in the Roman Empire

(Offered as RELI 277 and HIST 274 [TC/TE/P] ) 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.

Omitted 2023-24.

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

280 The Qur'ān As Literature

(Offered as RELI-280 and ENGL-297.)

Intensive study of the rich literary repertoire of the Qur’ān. An introduction to its literary qualities, including style, structure, eloquence, and unity; and an introduction to its characters (principally the prophets) and themes. We will further study the Qur’ān as Arabic literature, as Abrahamic literature, as Late-Antique literature, as Mystical literature, and as World literature. No pre-requisites. First year students welcome. 

Omitted 2023-24.

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

283 Orthodoxy, Heresy, and Apostasy in Islam

(Offered as RELI 283 and ASLC 283) What is correct Islamic belief and practice? Is there such a thing? Who has been labeled a heretic, unbeliever, or apostate in the history of Islam, and why? How did Muslim “freethinkers” contest Islamic orthodoxies? We will discuss the ways that a wide variety of Muslim sects or denominations developed in the history of Islam. Our objectives are to examine how groups and individuals established, prescribed, or remade standards of Islamic belief and practice; and to examine how they faced the plurality of Muslim sects and other religions. We will pay special attention to the theme of salvation, which shaped the ways that Muslims classified sects and other religions. As we explore the above issues we will read from a range of Islamic discourses, including scripture, theology, law, and mysticism. All readings are in English. Open to all students.

Omitted 2023-24.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2020, Fall 2021

285 The Qur'an and Its Controversies

(Offered as RELI-285, ASLC-285, and ENGL-301)  An exploration of several salient questions concerning the Qur’ān, the Islamic Revealed Book. How have Muslims explained the Qur’ān’s own proclamation of its supernatural origin and its miraculous quality?  How does the Qur’ān engage with and respond to the Hebrew Bible and Christian scriptures? Who has the authority to interpret the Qur’ān and why? These are just a few of the tantalizing questions that will occupy us over the course of the semester. We will also discuss the ways that the Qur’ān has been read as a work of law, theology, and mysticism, and how it has shaped theories of the state. Finally, we will isolate the Qur’ān from the Islamic tradition and explore the many ways that it can be read as a work of literature. 

Fall semester. Professor Jaffer.

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

288 The Lives of Muslim Saints

(Offered as REL 288 and ASLC 288) 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.

Omitted 2023-24.

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

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.

Omitted 2023-24.

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

321 Replacing Religion

For as long as “religion” has been a distinct object of reflection and inquiry, opinion has been divided about whether it is good or bad, necessary or contingent, universal or parochial.  And accompanying such differences of opinion have been revisionary projects with different levels of ambition, ranging from the renovation of existing religious traditions to the abolition of all forms of religion. The middle range of this spectrum is occupied by proposals not to eliminate religion but to replace it with something better. The idea that animates this sort of project is that there may be forms of culture that, if they are not religion precisely, can serve those functions that religion serves without causing the problems that religion causes. This course will explore a range of attempts to replace religion with one or more alternatives that are evident in the historical records of the past two centuries. We will explore attempts to create “religions of humankind”;  the creation of explicitly non-religious intentional communities that are nevertheless modeled on religious communities in important ways; explorations of such phenomena as competitive sports and political ideologies as alternatives to religion; and the emergence of the term “spiritual but not religious” to name a recognizable, if loosely defined, relationship to religion.  Students in this course will write an independently researched paper on a topic of their choosing at the end of the semester.

Omitted 2023-24.

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

333 Latinx Religion and Immigration

Offered as RELI-333, LLAS-333.

Latinos, the largest ethnic minority group in the US, are fundamentally altering the nation’s religious landscape. From mosques and megachurches across the Southwest to storefront churches in places such and Hartford and New York City, the Latinx faithful congregate in diverse settings and thus challenge traditional ideas of what religious communities look like. Renewed immigration since the late twentieth century has played no small part in revitalizing American religious life and posing some of the greatest challenges to prevailing ideas of religious pluralism. Though once assumed to “all be Catholic,” current statistical data suggests a decline in Catholic affiliation as Latino of all generations are opting for alternatives such as Pentecostalism, New Age Movements, Mormonism, and Islam to name a few.

In this course, we will investigate historical and sociological perspectives to answer how and why religion continues to be a cornerstone for the development of Latin American (im)migrant communities and neighborhoods in the US. For several decades, scholars have recognized this profound connection between religion and immigration in regard to community formation and integration for recent arrivals. Religion has historically helped immigrants make sense of the overwhelming changes brought about by their movement from both a theological and sociological standpoint. From a theological standpoint, (im)migrants often interpret their migration as divinely willed and accordingly seek out guidance before, during, and after their journey. In this seminar style class, students will read various case studies, primary source materials, and theories about religion and migration to understand religion as both a barrier and a bridge for Latinx communities in the US. Students in this course will gain a broad understanding of factors affecting (im)migration from Latin America to the US and the role of religion in this process. We will pay special attention to the role of religion in (im)migrants’ journeys to the US, how religion impacts community formation across the US, and how religion facilitates transnational connections to one’s homeland. This course is open to all students.

Spring Semester. Professor L. Barba. 

350 Cool Buddhist Texts

(Offered as RELI 350 and ASLC 350) This course explores scripture, commentary, literature, and philosophy from the whole Buddhist world. We will seek the pleasures of encountering brilliant texts that have spoken to human beings across the millennia. The focus is on close analysis of primary texts, but we will also consider the historical and intellectual contexts in which they were produced and subsequently interpreted. All readings are in English translation, but we will also investigate the textual and linguistic worlds of classical Buddhist texts in Sanskrit, Pali, Chinese, Tibetan, and Japanese, and consider questions of translation. No prerequisites are required and the course is open to first-year students.

Omitted 2023-24.

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

360 Buddhist Stories from Modern East Asia

(See ASLC 360)

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.

Limited to 15 students.  Omitted 2023-24.

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

370 Ancient Christianity: Authors and Texts

Early Christianity was not a stable idea or collection of practices; rather, individuals held a range of positions on what constituted orthodox teaching, ritual practice, and how to live in society. How, then, did ancient Christians understand what it meant to be Christian? How did they understand salvation? Could Christians be intellectuals, wealthy, or participants in public life? This course investigates these questions through the close study of an ancient Christian author, supplemented by scholarly literature to better understand that author’s life, work, and social environment. The author of focus will vary from year to year. For the Spring 2022, we will study the life and work of John Chrysostom, a controversial, but popular, bishop from the late fourth century C.E., who was expelled from his position partly because he challenged the behaviors of the rich and powerful in his city.

Omitted 2023-24.

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

381 Islam: Authors and Texts

(Offered as ASLC-381 and RELI-381) Close readings from different school traditions in Islam. Topics may include: belief and unbelief; salvation, language and revelation; prophecy, intellect and imagination; ritual and prayer; human responsibility. 

Authors will vary from year to year. In Fall 2022, we will focus on the Mu‘tazila, a religious movement in Islam that became a dominant school in the ninth and tenth centuries. Our goal will be to understand, across a great cultural and chronological chasm, how the Mu‘tazila negotiated the meanings, principles, and implications of Islamic belief and practice; and how their ideas were adopted, perpetuated, and institutionalized within both the Sunnī and Shī‘ī traditions of Islam. 

Omitted 2023-24

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2014, Fall 2022

Departmental Courses

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.

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

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?

Spring 2324. Professor L. Barba

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. 

Omitted 2023-24.

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

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

Senior Departmental Honors Courses

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.

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

499 Senior Honors

Spring semester. The Department.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Spring 2023, Spring 2025
Exterior of Chapin Hall, a red brick, two-storied building
The Religion Department is in Chapin Hall