100. Mystery and Meaning: An Introduction to the Study of Religion.
What is religion? Why are people religious? What power does religion have for individuals and societies? How does religion function as a way of knowing, acting, and being in the world? How did the study of religion arise in the modern West, and how scholars of religion go about studying it? What ways have they devised to grasp the rich varieties of religious experiences and expressions that they classify as religions? Throughout the course, students will study a wealth of material that may be regarded as religious, from societies past and present, literate and non-literate, and from around the globe. Finally, students will reflect on the place of the religious in contemporary society. Offered each semester.
200. Explaining Religion.
Why are people religious? This seminar explores both classic and modern interpretations of what religion is, does, and means. The course places emphasis on introducing basic methodological and theoretical tools for the study of religions and their intellectual historical background. This entails exploring a selection of readings that have been and are influential in religious studies, drawn from diverse academic disciplines. The course considers basic methodological approaches for understanding religion as a human construction, offers a general picture of the field of religious studies as a whole, and provides basic research skills that will develop students' abilities to do independent research. Offered every fall.
Religion in the World
These 100-level thematic courses are designed to introduce the fascinating interdisciplinary field of religious studies. Each course examines a particular theme or topic, highlighting a key interpretive approach or approaches for understanding religion. Courses highlight the diverse academic strengths of the department’s instructors.
101. Sacred Cinema.
Films often wrestle with profoundly spiritual issues and questions: Is there a god(s)? What is life all about? Who am I? Is there a way that a person (society) ought to live that is existentially real, true and meaningful? This course explores three types of American popular film dealing with religion: (1) Films that re-vision traditional religion to make it relevant for a contemporary audience; (2) films that are not explicitly religious (with no obvious symbols, personages, sacred histories in the plot) but nonetheless explore themes and questions that are central to religion; (3) the religious documentary.
102. Religion and Science.
Religion and science are two different ways of knowing and understanding the world that usually ask very different questions. Sometimes, however, the answer that one or the other discipline gives to its understanding of reality brings the two into conflict with each other. Nevertheless, for most of human history, the two have been able to accommodate each other quite amicably. In this course, we examine the role that each discipline plays in society, and some points where the two have come into conflict (creation, evolution, bioethics, for example). Finally, we ask whether religion and science are reconcilable or are ultimately hostile to each other.
103. Religion and Ecology.
How does religion shape human understanding of, and participation in, ecological systems? This course samples widely from a range of religious traditions to come to a better understanding of the diverse ways that people have developed for interacting with animals, plants, water and the land, and how those behaviors work in tandem with systems of knowledge and practice. The class has a substantial focus on environmental ethics, and thinks hard about how different religious systems might contribute to either or both environmental degradation and solutions to environmental problems. Traditions sampled may include Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Daoism, Judaism, Buddhism, Native American religions and Wicca/ Neo-Paganism. Also offered as Asian Studies 105 and Environmental Studies 103.
205. Introduction to the Hebrew Bible
(Old Testament). (In English)
This course is designed to enable the student to use the insights of modern biblical scholarship to read the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) in an informed manner. The student is introduced to the entire array of methods used for understanding biblical texts, although historical, sociological and literary analyses are emphasized. Attention is also given to the ways modern Judaism and Christianity understand specific biblical passages. Offered every fall. .
206. Introduction to the New Testament.
The goals of this course are identical to those of Religious Studies 205, although that course is not a prerequisite. The same forms of analysis that were used to understand the Hebrew Bible are used to understand the New Testament. The course emphasizes the different ways Christian communities understood the Christian message and how these different understandings came to be embodied in a single collection of documents. Offered every spring. Also offered through European Studies.
Surveys of Religious Worlds
221. Religious Life of India.
In this course we will explore some of the major religions of South Asia through ritual, text, and daily life. We will learn about Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Islam, Sikhism, and others, through the doctrine and practices of each tradition. In each context we will examine the themes of perfection, eroticism, asceticism, class hierarchy, caste, gender, purity, and violence. Throughout the course of the semester we will also consider representations of diversity across South Asian religious traditions.
Offered every fall. Also offered in Asian Studies.
222. Buddhist Religious Traditions.
This course offers an introduction of Buddhism from its genesis in India to Buddhism important role as a global religion today. Topics include the basic teachings and practices of early Buddhism in India in the sixth to fifth centuries BCE, the development of sophisticated philosophical teachings, meditational techniques and religious practices, lay and monastic life that arise with the historical spread of Buddhism into Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia, Tibet, China, Japan and, more recently, the West. Offered every other year. Also offered in Asian Studies.
223. The Religious Life of China.
This course surveys China’s unique religious heritage through a selective survey of major thinkers, texts and cultural expressions. The primary emphasis is on the historical development and mutual influence of the “three teachings”— Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism — with special attention given to the relationship between philosophy and popular practice, and to the interaction among political and religious institutions. Topics include gods and the sacred, ritual, ethics, human nature, meditation, mysticism and salvation. Also offered as Asian Studies 223. Offered every other year. Also offered in Asian Studies.
224. Islamic Religious Traditions.
An introductory examination of that religious tradition which, originating in seventh-century Arabia under the inspiration of the Prophet Muhammad, has come to include one-fourth of humankind, and predominates throughout the Middle East, North and East Africa, Pakistan, portions of India and Indonesia. The course considers the career of the Prophet and the growth of the central institutions of Islamic civilization and endeavors to identify the varied aspirations and concerns of Muslims in the contemporary world. Also offered in Asian Studies.
225. Religious Traditions of Judaism.
An introductory examination of the religious traditions of Judaism from the biblical period through the 21st century. Just as Christianity is no longer the religion of the Hebrew Bible, neither is Judaism. Emphasis is placed on the development of Rabbinic (modern) Judaism and its evolution in the modern world. The course also covers recent movements and events such as the emergence of new forms of Judaism, Zionism, the Holocaust and the birth of Israel. Offered every other spring.
226. The Religious Life of Japan.
At the Far Eastern end of Asia, Japan has benefitted over the centuries from a complex inter-mingling of indigenous and foreign traditions that gave rise to Japan’s unique religious heritage. Students will learn about the different ways of being religious from pre-history to modern times through studying the ways of the kami, religion and the arts (for example, the tea ceremony), Pure Land and Zen Buddhism, State Shinto, new religious movements, and spirituality in contemporary Japanese popular culture.
Offered every other year. Also offered in Asian Studies.
227. Religion in Ancient Greece and Rome.
This course is an exploration of the development and evolution of religion in the worlds of ancient Greece and Rome. We first study the religious systems of each, and then examine how these systems affected each other and how each coped with systems that infiltrated from other regions. Finally, we examine the effect that the religious assumptions of the Greco-Roman world had on Judaism and Christianity (which were but two options among many) and the benefits that all of these systems offered to potential adherents. Offered every other year.
231. Christian Religious Traditions.
A survey of the development of Christian traditions from the first century to the present. This course focuses on diversity of what came to be called Christianity and the eventual establishment of what we now think of orthodox Christian positions on issues like the divinity of Jesus and salvation. This course also focuses on key issues in the ongoing development of Christianities around the world. Special attention is given to the diversity of beliefs and practices in what we usually imagine as a monolithic tradition. Offered annually.
3019-1. Buddhism & Neuroscience.
This team taught course is an attempt to bridge the divide between the humanities and the hard sciences though a study of an important form of Theravada Buddhist meditation. Studying cognitive science, we can ideally understand the mechanics of meditation, identify the structure of the cognitive states it produces, and examine the physiological and biological effects of meditation. Topics and activities in the classroom will include: Evolution of the human brain; organization of the brain; neural circuits involved in automatic control of the body (breathing, blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature etc); methods to study the brain during mediation (fMRI and PET scanning); and changes in brain structure resulting from meditation (MRI/ tensor diffusion imaging) and how these structural changes differ from other types of experience/learning. Studying Theravada Buddhism, we can ideally examine the ways people attribute meaning to their experiences, the way those structures of meaning effect religious practices, and the effects religious doctrine and practices have in human life. This part of the course will offer: an introduction to Theravada Buddhism; an outline of meditation as a Buddhist practice; a close reading of key southern Buddhist meditation treatises, and a focus contemporary meditation movements in Thai Buddhism. Key in this unit is to identify the goals and various understandings of meditation as a religious practice and to assess the contributions Theravada Buddhism makes for understanding human consciousness. Our class will be divided into three components: (1) meditation and cognitive neuroscience; (2) meditation in the Buddhist tradition, focusing on S.E. Asia; (3) science, meditation and religious experience: issues and interpretations.
238. Global Christianities.
This course explores Christianity outside the United States and Europe. Catholic and Protestant Christianities in addition to newer forms of Christianity are included, and case studies are drawn from Africa, Asia and Latin America. Pentecostal Christianity (also called Charismatic Christianity) is a particular focus. The course considers the conflict and interplay of older forms of Christianity, often part of the inheritance of colonialism, with more recent arrivals; probes the relationship between religion and the processes of globalization; and questions whether any of these forms of Christianity can be described as globalized, and, if so, whether global Christianity resists or supports globalization. Also offered in Global Studies.
267. The Holocaust.
This course focuses on the development of the Holocaust from 1933 to 1945, within the contexts of Christian anti-Semitism, Nazi ideas of race and empire, and World War II. We also address the relationship between the Nazi genocide against the Jews and Nazi persecution of other groups such as Slavs, Roma and the disabled. Finally, we consider the Holocaust’s implications for Jewish and German identity, Christian and Jewish theology, international law, and understanding genocide broadly. Also offered as History 267 and through European Studies and Peace Studies.
272. The Crusades.
The medieval phrase “taking the cross” described a variety of military actions, often characterized as God’s will. They were influenced by and generated new ideological expressions of legitimate religious violence. This course looks at crusades to the area known as the “Holy Land,” and the expanded ideology of crusading that underpinned attacks against heretics, Iberian Muslims, Jews, pagans, and others. Issues engaged include: crusaders’ motivations; ideas of Christian holy war and just war; Islamicate perceptions of the crusades; pogroms against Jews; the Military Orders such as the Knights Templar; and cultural interaction and non-interaction among western Christians, eastern Christians, and Muslims in the “Latin East.”
273. Religion and Visual Culture.
This course considers the interaction between visuality and religion: the role that seeing might play in religious practice and the role that religion might play in visual practice. It explores not just the ways that images and objects can embody and communicate meaning, but also how they can elicit powerful responses (e.g. fascination, excitement, faith, desire, or fear) in those who view them, and how they help humans to constitute the worlds that they inhabit. The course draws upon case studies from multiple religious traditions. Also offered in Asian Studies.
282. Indian Epics.
Epic myths are some of the earliest – and most exciting – forms of religious literature. In this course we will study two of South Asia’s most popular epics, and consider how they have changed over time to remain relevant across several communities. We will read, see, and hear several versions of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, and consider how the stories change in oral, performed, artistic, and film versions. The themes of violence, history, and law will be considered. Also offered through Asian Studies. Also offered in Asian Studies.
288. Cults and New Religious Movements.
The rise of new religious and spiritual movements (NRMs) in North America since the 1960s is a response to the rapidly changing religious, social and political conditions of the modern world. The objective of this course is to explore the origins, nature, beliefs and practices of NRMs. Who joins these groups and why? Do NRMs “brainwash” their followers? Are NRMs dangerous and violent? How have NRMs been portrayed in the mass media and in particular, by the news media?
3000-3999. Special Topics.
These 200-level courses deal with significant topics in religious studies. Offered occasionally. The content of each course or section will vary and will be announced each semester.
331. Pilgrimage as a Spiritual Journey.
This course explores the experiences, rituals, stories, beliefs, temples/shrines, images and traveling communities associated with the religious phenomenon of pilgrimage. What kind of travel is pilgrimage? Does it have a particular structure? Are there different kinds of pilgrimages? What kind of religious experience does pilgrimage provide? These and other questions are examined through a close study of selected pilgrimages in Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism. Satisfies HUM distribution requirement.
How are goddesses portrayed in different communities and traditions? This course examines the phenomenon of goddess worship from a cross-cultural perspective, drawing upon materials from ancient and contemporary India and China, pre-Christian Ireland, classical Greece, contemporary Haiti, and present-day America. It analyzes the ways in which gender is used religiously, and the ways in which religion operates within gendered social relations, in order to consider the question of the relationship between female divinities and the roles and status of human women. Also offered as Asian Studies 333. Satisfies HUM distribution requirement.
334. The Ways of the Gods: Shinto in Modern Japan
Shinto or the “Way of the Gods” has long been viewed as the “archaic indigenous religion” of Japan. This course explores how, in fact, Shinto is an invented religion that changed radically throughout modern Japanese history as it evolved from local cults worshipping kami to state Shinto and new religious movements in the pre-war period to its modern guise today as religious organizations independent of state control. Topics include: Shinto mythology, religious ultra-nationalism, emperor worship and the imperial system (also called State Shinto), the Yasukuni shrine war memorial issue, Shinto in popular culture, and the role of contemporary shrines and festivals, and kami worship and ecology. Offered every other year. Also offered in Asian Studies.
335. Religion and Violence
This course focuses on the intersection of and assumptions about the relationships between religion and violence. Looking at various instances of the use of force and coercion, as well as verbal and symbolic violence in religious contexts, this course engages the course topic through specific case studies, both historically distant and contemporary, to draw attention to the intersections of political, economic, and demographic concerns that shape instances of “religious violence.” This course also engages with how we may define “religion,” how we may define “violence,” and how they are perceived and discussed together in cases of terrorism, war, and persecution of minority groups. The primary goal of the course is to examine our own as well as the broader society’s assumptions about religion and violence, and to develop better critical approaches to understanding their relationships to one another.
Also offered through Peace Studies
336 Religion and Theology in the Fantasy World of J. R. R. Tolkien
This is a seminar in which we will discuss the question of the theology of Tolkien’s fantasy world and whether or not there is a “religion” that derives from that theology. We will examine Tolkien’s works to determine whether or not he posits a sacred world inhabited by sacred beings and if so, for whom they are sacred. Students will be asked to choose a methodology for the study of religion and then use that methodology as an analytical lens throughout the semester to assess the questions before the seminar.
4000-4999. Special Topics Seminars.
These 300-level seminars deal with significant topics in religious studies on an advanced level. Offered occasionally. The content of each course or section will vary and will be announced each semester.
412. Cross Cultural Perspectives of Healing.
This class uses healing traditions as the lens with which to examine culture. During the semester students will have the opportunity to meet healers from around the world. In a typical semester presenters include a Traditional Chinese Medical practitioner, an Ayurvedic physician (from India), a shaman from Peru, an exorcist, a native American Healer an allopathic physician, new age healers, a Christian Scientist and others. Also offered in Global Studies and Biology.
360. Majors Seminar.
This is an in-depth examination of theoretical and methodological approaches to the study of religion that will enable students to do sophisticated independent research. Required of all majors in religious studies, ideally in the spring of their junior year.
450, 451. Directed Studies in Religion.
An individual study program for candidates for honors in religious studies or others showing special interest and aptitude in the study of religion, as approved by the department chair and the instructor under whom the work will be completed. A term paper is required as the product of the special study. (A 2.5 average is required.) Also offered as Asian Studies 450 and 451 at the discretion of the instructor.
489, 490. SYE: Senior-Year Experience.
An individual study program for candidates for majors in religious studies that fulfills the requirements for their SYE and may be taken in place of Religious Studies 360 with approval of the department chair. (A 2.5 average is required.)
An extended term paper is required as the product of the special study.
498, 499. SYE: Honors.
This is a departmentally approved honors project requiring an extended term paper that is the product of the special study. A cumulative GPA of 3.5 in the department is required to do an honors project.
An introduction to Hebrew language, the form of which (biblical, rabbinic, modern) is determined by the interests of the class. No prior knowledge is presupposed. In the first semester, students are introduced to the script and basic grammar and vocabulary. If modern Hebrew is taught, there is an emphasis on conversational skills; if biblical or rabbinic Hebrew, the emphasis is on ability to read the relevant texts. Offered occasionally by request.
111-112. Hellenistic Greek.
The first term and much of the second are spent mastering the essentials of Greek grammar and vocabulary of the period necessary to proceed in the second semester to readings in the New Testament. Offered occasionally by request.