This course will examine the ways different religious beliefs and practices are represented in a variety of print, film, television, and other media in our culture and the ways in which those representations may function to influence opinions, actions, and policy. Analysis of media content will accompany an introduction to the study of religions presented and misrepresented in popular culture.
Meets general academic requirement HU (and W when offered as 101).
Religious ideology and rhetoric play a significant role in violent conflict in the modern period, a phenomenon that we are only now coming to appreciate fully. In this course we will examine some of the centralreligious issues that have been at the forefront of modern conflicts. We will consider some of the ways thatreligious terminology, symbolism, and myth have been employed as a way of marking difference and setting identity boundaries from the First World War to the current “War on Terror.”
Gender and sexuality as fundamental aspects of human experience play important roles in all major religious systems whether explicit and positive or suppressed and denigrated. In this course we will explore how the varied understandings of gender and sexuality in different cultures and at different times have influencedreligious practice and belief and how, in turn,religions have affected these understandings. We will also consider how this interaction between gender and sexuality andreligion has affected the status of men and women in their various roles and orientations.
O sole God, like whom there is no other! The idea of one God was first expressed by the pharaoh Akhenaten who lived between 1352-1336 b.c.e. Over 3000 years later, three major world religions are still struggling to understand and incorporate this seemingly simple concept of monotheism. In this course we will explore some of the issues that surround monotheism and examine how the idea of one God has shaped the development of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam individually and in relation to each other. In doing so, we will attempt to gain a better understanding of the nature, role, and meaning of the ideas of God in western consciousness and culture.
Religious myth and ritual is full of allusions to animals. From the “Scapegoat” and the “Lamb of God” to the “Sacred Cow” and the “Chinese Dragon” animals are central to the symbolic representation and language of almost every religious tradition. This course will compare and contrast the way animals are imagined and used in the beliefs and practices of several religious traditions.
What is a “good” life? Is there a single way of being “good” or “moral?” How and on what basis are moral choices made? How is the moral self constituted? This course introduces students to the dynamic and complex nature of ethical deliberation and practice in the everyday with a focus on the moral traditions of South Asia. We will examine diverse conceptions of the moral self and the good life through a study of how morality is understood, lived, and experienced within the framework of the Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, and Islamic traditions. In particular, we will explore the role of elements like time, age, tradition, emotions, agency, the “other,” and oral and textual narratives in ethical practice and thinking, and critically examine the assumptions of secular liberal ethics. We will also consider responses from within the Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain traditions to violence. No previous study of religion, ethics, or South Asia is necessary.
Does modernity mark the end of religion? Doesreligion become irrelevant in the modern world? What is the place ofreligion in modernity? What form does it take? Does modernity shapereligion or doesreligion shape modernity? In this course, we will consider the complexrelationship betweenreligion and modernity through an examination of the interactions betweenreligion and core historical processes constitutive of modernity including colonialism, the rise of the modern nation-state, secularization, capitalism and consumerism. We will begin by examining the categories ofreligion and modernity, and critically examine the supposed dichotomy between them as well as between tradition and modernity,religion and the secular, andreligion and the nation as we proceed through the semester. The course will focus primarily on case studies that examine specific interactions between modernity and some of the world’s largestreligious traditions including Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam in different geographical contexts across the world including India, Egypt, Great Britain, the United States and Thailand.
Meets general academic requirements HU and DE (and W when offered as 122).
From Genesis’ depiction of the divine organization of the universe in the Hebrew Bible to Hindu traditions of creation’s emanation from Brahma, narratives concerning the origin of the world have attracted devotional and scholarly attention from around the globe since ancient times. In this course, we will use the comparison of creation stories as an introduction to the study of myth, its relationship to ritual, and its place and function inreligious traditions. Furthermore, we will critically examine the ways in which different cultures have used stories of origins to address questions regarding contemporary political, social, orreligious contexts. Particular emphasis will be placed on creation stories from the ancient Near East and Bible, and the symbolic and literary connections between them.
Why is travel almost universally understood to hold the potential for significant transformation? How do various communities and individuals define sacred travel through their own practice, and how does it define them in turn? This course employs the many methodologies of religion studies in investigating pilgrimage around the world. We will look to a number of modern theoretical interpretations of sacred journey, and will examine ethnographic accounts of pilgrimage primarily in the contexts of Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. Pilgrimage will serve as our window onto these traditions’ ethical systems, cosmologies of space and time,religious art and aesthetics, and views of the body’s agency and power, and in some cases, onto the contested space of multiple traditions’ holy ground.
Meets general academic requirement DE and HU (and W when offered as 134).
This course will explore the evolution of religious life in the United States and of American ideas about the nature and place ofreligion within American society. Beginning in the colonial period and continuing through the present, this class will examine the phenomenon ofreligion in the United States and consider the ways that immigrants, atheists, and founders of newreligious movements have changed and challenged established assumptions about what it means to be an American. Using primary documents, and particularly court cases, the class will explore the contested terrain of Americanreligious life and ask how our understanding ofreligion has shaped notions of statehood, citizenship, and equality in the United States.
From the biblical world to modern America, asserting the power to speak with the divine has provided people the ability to enact social change, critique the powerful, and legitimate new religious beliefs. In this course, we will explore three different, but ultimatelyrelated ways that people have claimed to converse with the divine world: divination, shamanism, and prophecy. We will place particular emphasis on understanding the social significance and political function that these practices have played in the past, and continue to play today. More generally, we will also explore questions ofreligious belief and experience. The course will conclude with a reexamination of traditions of divine communication within Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in light of cross-cultural comparisons with otherreligious traditions.
In this course, students explore the methodological and theoretical frameworks that define the academic study of religion. Coverage includes analysis of multiple disciplinary perspectives including sociology, anthropology, history, phenomenology, and psychology. Additionally, students will put the theoretical into practice by using the methods studied in class to analyze the beliefs and practices of variousreligious traditions.
Meets general academic requirement HU (and W when offered as 202).
This course seeks to introduce students to the diversity of religious thought and practice in India from its earliest manifestations in recorded history to the present. The Indian subcontinent is the birthplace of four of the world’s religions—Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism—and also home to a large population of Muslims, Jews, Zoroastrians and Christians. In this survey course, we will examine the emergence of these traditions within their specific socio-historical contexts and explore the dynamic interactions and resemblances between them. We will pay particular attention to the relationship between traditions as they are expressed and understood in texts and as they are lived and experienced in everyday life. We will read primary sources in translation including the great Indian epic, the Rāmāyana and draw on material from various disciplines that inform the study of religion including history and anthropology, as well as film. No prior knowledge of India or Indian religions is required.
Meets general academic requirements DE and HU. Also counts toward Asian Studies and International Studies.
This course will address the origins and development of Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism and trace the interactions of these religions as they have shaped the spiritual and ethical environment that exists in China today. The course will also consider material culture, popular forms, and folk traditions and, finally, the unique challenges posed by the modern Chinese political situation.
Students will study the native Japanese religious tradition, Shinto, as well as the Chinese traditions that have become fundamental to Japanese religion (Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism) as they have been interpreted in Japan. The course will also consider material culture, popular forms, folk traditions, and the ‘new religions’ of modern Japan as well as attitudes toward religion in today’s Japan.
How do religious groups form and develop? How do these groups differ from “traditional”religious communities? In this course, we will examine NewReligious Movements (NRM) from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. We will investigate the beliefs, practices, and symbolism of several NRMs, seeking to understand both the unique histories of these groups and the patterns of development that may share. Finally, we will consider how these new movements interact with establishedreligious traditions and how they are perceived by those outside of the group.
Meets general academic requirement HU (and W when offered as 216).
From its origins in India to its development throughout East and Southeast Asia and beyond, Buddhism has prospered in a wide variety of cultures and environments. This course will introduce students to the origins, evolution, and manifestations of Buddhism in scripture, practice, and artistic expression.
This course will survey the beliefs, practices, and history of Islam, focusing on how Islam has evolved over time and culminating in a close examination of the forms Islam takes today and the place of Islam in current events. Special consideration will be given to what it means to consider Islam as a religion rather than a cultural or political entity. Attention will also be given to Islam's relationship with other monotheistic traditions and to American Islam.
Judaism has ancient roots and encompasses a multifaceted array of rituals, laws, holidays and life-cycle events. Using “Time” and “Space” as the dual focal points of our course, we will examine the development of diverse Jewish communities from antiquity to the modern era in order to better understand the origins and practices of the spectrum of Jewish groups encountered today. Consequently, this course will emphasize the heterogeneity of Judaism as a religious system throughout history, while also examining what makes this diverse group of traditions and texts “Jewish.”
Christianity is not and never has been a single set of beliefs and practices; instead, the religion is marked by diversity of thought and action. The purpose of this course is to engage the variety in the tradition through the exploration of rituals and beliefs held by different Christian communities around the world and through time. In addition to primary and secondary readings, students will also explore the visual arts, architecture, and music as manifestations of Christian diversity. Additional themes for consideration will include the place of the Bible and its interpretation, the role of church leaders and their relationship to the divine, and ethical/moral differences that are present within the tradition.
Jews and Christians alike regard the books of the Hebrew Bible as scripture. Yet, modern scholarship has sought an alternative approach to understanding this complicated collection of ancient texts that sets aside its identification as revelation and attempts to grasp the historical, political, and cultural contexts that surrounded its composition. Consequently, this course will introduce students to the Hebrew Bible as a repository of ancient Israelite traditions that were developed and shaped in specific historical and social contexts. To that end, rather than read the Bible from front to back like a novel written of whole cloth, we will begin by reading the final portion of the Bible, known as the “Writings,” first and work our way back through the Prophets, finishing with the Torah. By doing this, we will examine first those biblical books that provide the clearest glimpse of the scribal practices that framed production of the Hebrew Bible as a whole, as well as its compositional complexity. In addition, students will place particular biblical passages in dialogue with texts from Mesopotamia, Egypt, Moab, and Ugarit, illuminating Israel’s place in the religious and political world of the ancient Near East.
Meets general academic requirement HU. Also counts toward Jewish Studies.
This course studies the distinctive scriptural foundation of Christianity in its literary, historical, and theological contexts. Topics may include Jesus as an historical figure and as the object of early Christian faith; the relationships of various early Christian communities to one another and to contemporary Judaisms, Greekreligions, and philosophies; the place and role of Paul; the gospel genre and its several examples; the definition of the canon; approaches to interpreting the New Testament. No prior study of the New Testament is expected.
This course provides an exploration of the ways in which literary imagination (metaphor, literary style, narrative voice, description, creative manipulation of time and place) interacts with religious imagination (projections of tradition, expression of mystical experience, ritual, symbolic phenomena) to produce works of a transformative nature. Examples from both Eastern and Western literary traditions may be chosen.
Meets general academic requirement HU (and W when offered as 263).
300-349: Religious Expressions (Texts, Rituals/Practices, Fine and Performing Arts)
Did you ever wonder how ancient texts, like the New Testament, reach the modern world? In this course, students will explore the challenges and opportunities of studying New Testament and other ancient Christian materials in their oldest forms. Central to this examination will be how the texts were read, interpreted, and transmitted within Christian communities over time. This course will include an introduction to several techniques used to analyze ancient scriptural materials as well as the basic syntax and vocabulary of Koine Greek. No previous language skills are expected or required.
This course examines the practices of death and desire in the unique traditions of Tibetan tantra, a form of Himalayan Buddhism. Tibetan tantra involves practices of wrathful deities, sexual yogas, and subtle body technologies to produce a unique understanding of mind and body and their potential for transformation in both sexual union and in death. We will look at the foundational Tibetan Book of the Dead cycle of texts, as well as explore their evolving meanings in contemporary, non-Buddhist contexts like American Hospice. How have Tibetan Buddhists associated desire, power, and knowing? How might investigations of Tibetan practices of death and desire inform our own?
In this course we will examine how issues relating to gender and sexuality have influenced Jewish experience. We will discuss a wide range of Jewish history and literature, extending from the Bible to contemporary Jewish culture, in order to gain a broad perspective on how gender and sexuality have played a role in Jewish life and thought over time. We will consider how gender and sexualityrelate to questions of power and authority and discuss the ways that bodies, both gendered and sexual, become meaningful in different Jewish contexts.
Meets general academic requirement HU (and W when offered as 354).
Until the rise of the Roman Emperor Constantine, the history of Christianity was marked by a plurality of belief structures, a constant threat of persecution, and a fluid leadership structure. With the imperial patronage of Constantine the face of ancient Christianity changed forever, embracing a close relationship between the church and the state, instituting particular formulas of belief, and solidifying the hierarchy of the ecclesiastical structure. Among other important developments in this period is the construction of the first grand Christian worship structures, the composition of the Nicene Creed, and the development of the canon of the New Testament. This class will examine these changes in the context of late antique society and politics and trace the influence of these changes across the span of Christian history.
This course will examine the Holocaust and its historical context by considering both the pre-war position of Jews in Europe and the factors that led to the destruction of European Jewry during WWII. Religious context and responses to these events within affected communities will be studied through a variety of sources, including literature, film and memoirs.
Meets general academic requirement HU (and IL when offered as 358).
American Muslims come from a wide diversity of backgrounds and cultures. In this course we will explore the historical contexts and current realities of Muslim communities in the United States. Questions to consider will include: How have traditional Islamic and Muslim doctrines and practices converged with American ideals of pluralism and secularism? Is there a distinctive “American Islam”? How have Muslim culture and Islam enriched the broader American culture?
Meets general academic requirements HU and DE and W.
Islam presents a particular challenge for Women's and Gender Studies. A submissive, veiled woman is often the first image that comes to mind when Westerners think of Islam. Paradoxically, the oppressed Muslim women has become for non-Muslims a primary symbol of the perceived dangers of Islam, even as that image is used to represent disempowerment. Yet Islam is a major world religion with over 1.6 billion adherents, approximately half of whom are women, and all of whom are sexual beings whose religious positioning intersects with their gender and sexuality in myriad ways. So what do Muslims really believe about gender and sexuality? And what do they do? In this course, we will examine constructions of gender and sexuality in Islam by investigating both traditional sources such as the Qur'an, Hadith, and Islamic Law; and also by considering how Muslim women today are challenging the patriarchal structures of authority, while at the same time critiquing Western feminism.
Writers, philosophers, and scholars have engaged a fascinating array of questions from within the Jewish tradition since before the Common Era. In this seminar, we will survey the works of particular Jewish thinkers, from antiquity to the modern day, with special attention to certain topics and historical developments. Subjects to be considered include the Jewish people’s encounter with the religious or cultural “other,” the opposition or congruence of faith and reason, the persistence of evil, the nature of God and scripture, and what it means to be “Jewish.” The structure of the course will constitute a “who’s who” of Jewish thinkers through history, such as Philo of Alexandria, Moses Maimonides, Baruch Spinoza, and Ahad ha-Am. The final project will also allow students to discover and present the thought of a Jewish intellectual not included in this selective survey at the end of the semester.
Meets general academic requirement HU.
400-499: Advanced Seminars in the Study of Religion
The seminars are a culminating undergraduate experience for our majors and other advanced students. Faculty and students work together to explore a research topic in depth. Each course offers both theoretical and methodological content.
This project is designed for religion studies majors who have consistently proven to be excellent students. It offers them the opportunity to pursue a self-designed major research and analysis thesis in close consultation with a faculty member.
Prerequisite(s):Instructor permission required.
Religion Studies Internship and Independent Study/Research