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This course explores Jewish life and society in the modern world. It will examine different ways that Jews have engaged with the non-Jewish societies in which they lived, and the ways that they - whether by choice or not - remained distinct from them. We will consider how traditional Jewish society was transformed by new ideas and new social realities, and look at the multifaceted ways that Jews have constructed modern, secular identities in the wake of those transformations. Meets general academic requirement HU.
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. Meets general academic requirement HU. Offered as a cluster course with PHL 233 Philosophy of Religion.
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. Meets general academic requirement HU.
The act whereby a person communicates with a divine agent is a common aspect of religious systems. From the biblical world to modern America, asserting the power to speak with, or even control divine forces has provided people the ability to enact social change, critique the politically powerful, and legitimate new religious beliefs or practices. In this course, we will explore three different, but ultimately related 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 of religious 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 other religious traditions. Meets general academic requirement HU.
Is morality simply a matter of following rules or the cultivation of virtues? What are human beings like morally? How are ethical beings constituted? What determines the moral status of a person? Moving away from a conception of ethics as a matter of moral rules and codes, this course introduces students to the dynamic and complex nature of ethical deliberation and practice in the everyday with a focus on South Asian moral traditions. During the first half of this course, we will examine conceptions of the moral self within the framework of three religious traditions – Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism – paying close attention to how it is lived and experienced in the everyday in particular ethnographic contexts across but not limited to South Asia. We will explore the role of such elements like time, empathy, tradition, emotions, agency, the “other,” and age in ethical practice and thinking. During the second half of the semester, we will consider responses from within the Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain traditions to the contemporary moral issue of violence, as well as the problem of secularism and human rights. No previous study of religion or ethics is assumed. Meets general academic requirement HU and DE.
In this course we will explore how religion has motivated human migrations, and the impact these migrations have had on religious practices, traditions, and, perhaps most important, identities of both the migrant groups and the groups they encounter. The central focus of the course will be migrations into Europe. We will study the era of so-called convivencia which followed Muslim incursions into Spain in the 8th century, and is often viewed as a model time of religious tolerance. This period of contentious co-existence was a critical one in the formation of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. Finally, we will consider modern-day migrations into Europe, evaluating how these movements are shaping our understanding of religion today. Key concepts for consideration will include globalization, transnational, multiculturalism, and identity, as well as religion. Meets general academic requirement HU and DE. Offered as a cluster course with FLM 230 Travel and Cultural Encounters in Film.
This class introduces students to the ideology and a variety of practices of secularism. The separation of church and state has come to be seen as a defining feature of modern liberal society. When and why did this separation become necessary? What does it entail? Is it universally applicable and/or necessary? What are the implications of secularism for the role of religion in the contemporary world? Are religion and politics mutually exclusive? In order to answer these questions, we will consider both early and recent scholarship on secularism, and examine the practice of secularism in different geographical contexts including the United States, Europe, the Middle East, and South Asia. We will also examine the relationship between secularism and the modern liberal values of tolerance, freedom, equality, autonomy, and democracy, and ask whether the former ensures and/or is necessary for the latter. Throughout our examination, we will pay close attention to the categories of “religion” and “the secular” that underlie the theory and practice of secularism. The course will move across several disciplinary boundaries including sociology, religion studies, political science, philosophy, and anthropology. Meets general academic requirements DE and HU.
This course examines the history of the Jewish people in the United States from the mid-seventeenth century to the present. It will explore the social, political, economic, and cultural dynamics of American Jewish life, and consider those dynamics in relation to developments in American and modern Jewish history. Through course reading and in-class discussion, students will become acquainted with some of the major themes of American Jewish history. Readings will include both primary and secondary sources, and course assignments are designed to help students develop research and analytical skills as they learn about the American Jewish past. Meets general academic requirement HU.
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 HU and DE.
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. Meets general academic requirement DE and HU. Offered as a cluster with COM 284 Asian/American Media.
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. Meets general academic requirement DE and HU.
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. Meets general academic requirments DE and HU.
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. Meets general academic requirement HU.
Human identity, individually and collectively, is shaped in significant ways by the presence, the perception, and the definition of the other. In the case of Jews and Christians, the mutual heritage of biblical Israel and its covenant with God demands that each continue to articulate its relationship to the other explicitly or implicitly. In this course, we examine the dynamics of the relationship from antiquity to the present, focusing on key transitional periods and major figures, and analyzing the impact of 'the other' on their respective self-understandings and interactions. Meets general academic requirement HU and W.
Zen (or Chan, as it is pronounced in China) Buddhism emerged in the 7th century in China, developing a unique meditative program and the richest literary tradition in Chinese Buddhism. This course examines that history, and queries popular and traditional notions of Zen as pure, iconoclastic, and mysterious. We will reevaluate Zen’s presentation of itself in temple histories, sacred biographies, garden design, poetry collections, and landscape paintings, and engage in some self-reflection on America’s fascination with “mindfulness” and “Zen.” Meets general academic requirments DE, HU and W.
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 the Christian history. Meets general academic requirement HU.
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.
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. Meets general academic requirments DE, HU and W.
An historical and thematic consideration of leading thinkers and way of thought in the Jewish tradition. Topics to be considered include: the relationship between the Jewish people and Judaism, relations between Judaism and other religions, faith and reason, the problem of evil, and Judaism and politics. Students will be exposed to primary sources including the Bible and Talmud, as well as medieval and modern Jewish thinkers. Meets general academic requirement HU.
Drawing on critical theory related to the construction of national and ethnic identities, this course will examine different ways in which social groups have 'imagined communities' linked to the name 'Israel' in the past and the present. Readings will cover textual, artistic, and biological imaginings of various 'Israels,' and raise questions concerning the multiple ways in which other religious and cultural communities have conceived of their own identities. As a culminating undergraduate experience, students will explore these topics through book presentations, in-class discussion of readings, and independent research.