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Courses

The following information is from the 2017-18 Vassar College Catalogue.

Religion: I. Introductory

100 Introduction to American Studies 1

(Same as AMST 100) Topic for 2017/18a: The American Secular: Religion and the Nation-State. Is there a distinct realm in American politics and culture called the secular, a space or a mode of pubic discourse that is crucially free of and from the category of religion? This class considers the sorts of theoretical and historical moments in American life, letters, and practice that have, on the one hand, insisted the importance and necessity of such a realm, and on the other hand, resisted the very notion that religion should be kept out of the American public square. We will ask whether it is possible or even desirable---in our politics, in our public institutions, in ourselves---to conceive of the secular and the religious as radically opposed. We will ask if there are better ways to conceive of the secular and the religious in American life, ways that acknowledge their mutual interdependence rather than their exclusivity. Jonathon Kahn.

 

Open to freshmen and sophomores only.

Two 75-minute periods.

101b. An Examined Life: Religious Approaches to Enduring Questions 1

What is a good life? How do we understand dying and death? Does God exist? Is there evil? Why do we suffer? How do we love? What's the proper way to treat one's neighbor? This class explores the variety of ways that religious thinkers have responded to these ancient, persistent, and troubling questions about the nature of human existence. Our focus is on philosophical texts, however we also consider filmic representations of these problems. Jonathon Kahn.

Not offered in 2017/18.

Two 75-minute periods.

102a. Religion, Media & American Popular Culture 1

How does the mass media change religious values and behaviors? How might we understand the relationship between American Christians and American culture? Has sports, television or entertainment replaced religion? Is popular culture hostile to faith or is it religious in wholly new and unexpected ways? In this course we explore these questions by looking in detail at American television, film, popular literature and the internet. We also examine how specific religions and religious symbols are expressed in popular culture, what happens when traditional religions borrow pop cultural forms or ideals, and how the American media is abetting a trend towards religious eclecticism and hybridity. Christopher White.

Two 75-minute periods.

104 Religion, Prisons, and the Civil Rights Movement 1

(Same as AFRS 104) African American citizenship has long been a contested and bloody battlefield. This course uses the modern Civil Rights Movement to examine the roles the religion and prisons have played in theses battles over African American rights and liberties. In what ways have religious beliefs motivated Americans to uphold narrow definitions of citizenship that exclude people on the basis of race or moved them to boldly challenge those definitions? In a similar fashion, civil rights workers were incarcerated in jails and prisons as a result of their nonviolent protest activities. Their experiences in prisons, they exposed the inhumane conditions and practices existing in many prison settings. More recently, the growth of the mass incarceration of minorities has moved to the forefront of civil and human rights concerns. Is a new Civil Rights Movement needed to challenge the New Jim Crow?

Not offered in 2017/18.

107b. Inner Paths: Religion and Contemplative Consciousness 1

(Same as ASIA 107) The academic study of religion spends a lot of time examining religion as a social and cultural phenomenon. This course takes a different approach. Instead of looking at religion extrinsically (through history, philosophy, sociology, scriptural study, etc.) "Inner Paths" looks at the religious experience itself, as seen through the eyes of saints and mystics from a variety of the world's religious traditions. By listening to and reflecting upon "mystic" and contemplative narratives from adepts of Jewish, Christian, Islamic, Hindu, Daoist and other traditions we learn to appreciate the commonalities, differences, and nuances of various "inner paths." Readings include John of the Cross, Theresa of Avila, Rabbi Akiba, Rumi, Thich Nhat Hanh, Ramakrishna, and Mirabai. Rick Jarow.

Not offered in 2017/18.

Two 75-minute periods.

112 An Introduction to Islam 1

(Same as AFRS 112) This course introduces students to Muslim cultures, beliefs, and practices through the lens of journey, migration and quest. Voyage and migration have characterized Muslim communities ever since Muhammad sent a group of his followers to seek refuge with the Christian king of Abyssinia. Over the centuries, Islamic legal, literary, and philosophical traditions have reflected deeply on migration and journeying, and Muslim communities have settled around the world. We explore Muhammad's miraculous journey to Jerusalem, the event of migration to Medina, the role of travel in the expansion of the Islamic world, Muslims as religious minorities in the 20th century, and the place of Islam in the contemporary global refugee crisis. Sources include scripture, theology, history, poetry and literature, ethnography, autobiography, and film. Kirsten Wesselhoeft.

Two 75-minute periods.

150a and b. Jews, Christians, and Muslims 1

(Same as JWST 150) An historical comparative study of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The course focuses on such themes as origins, development, sacred literature, ritual, legal, mystical, and philosophical traditions, and interactions among the three religions. Marc Michael Epstein, Kirsten Wesselhoeft.

Two 75-minute periods.

152b. Religions of Asia 1

(Same as ASIA 152) This course is an introduction to the religions of Asia (Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Zen, Shinto, etc.) through a study of practices, sites, sensibilities, and doctrines. The focus is comparative as the course explores numerous themes, including creation (cosmology), myth, ritual, action, fate and destiny, human freedom, and ultimate values. Rick Jarow.

Open to all students except seniors.

Two 75-minute periods.

160 Relatively Uncertain: A History of Physics, Religion and Popular Culture 1

(Same as PHYS 160 and STS 160) This course examines the cultural history of key ideas and experiments in physics, looking in particular at how non-scientists understood key concepts such as entropy, relativity, quantum mechanics and the idea of higher or new dimensions. It begins with an assumption that's widely accepted among historians -- namely, that the sciences are a part of culture and are influenced by cultural trends, contemporary concerns and even urgent personal ethical or religious dilemmas. In this course we are attuned to the ways that physicists drew key insights from popular culture and how non-scientists, including religious or spiritual seekers, appropriated (and misappropriated) scientific insights about the origin and nature of the world, its underlying laws and energetic forces, and its ultimate meaning and purpose. Brian Daly and Christopher White.

Not offered in 2017/18.

Two 75-minute periods.

180 Interrogating Religious Extremism 1

(Same as JWST 180) Where is the center in religion? And what defines the fringes, borders, margins and extremes? The aim of this course is to the concept and category of religious "extremism" and how it relates to the equally fraught idea of "mainstream religiosity:" to what extent does it draw on it and yet differ from it? What is the difference between "extreme" and "marginal"? After investigating these categories, we identify beliefs and social practices of contemporary Jewish, Christian and Muslim groups that depart from what we have identified as "mainstream" bodies of tradition in significant ways and seek to understand the complex theological and social agenda behind them. We also investigate how these groups portray themselves and construct their identity vis-a-vis the more centered groups by simultaneously laying claim on tradition and radically deviating from it. Agi Veto.

Open only to freshmen; satisfies the college requirement for a Freshman Writing Seminar.

Two 75-minute periods.

Two 75-minute periods.

184 Seeing God in Art, Image and Inner Experience 1

Religious traditions and philosophies across world history have faced the question of how to represent or picture the sacred. This means addressing whether divinity or holiness can be visible at all, or whether truth must keep out of sight, accessible only through language or inner experience. For this course, we read broadly across sources from classical philosophy, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism in order to compare the different justifications for or prohibitions against making divinity visible or tactile. Doing so prepares us to consider the power of images in contemporary mass media and question the relationship between beauty and deception. Klaus Yoder. 

Two 75-minute periods.

187 Spirit, Flesh & Body: An Introduction to Christian Theology 1

This introduction focuses on the relationship between spirituality and embodiment in Christian thought, ritual, and ethics. Religion 187 provides an overview of the historical development of Christianity while integrating analyses of contemporary communities, literatures, and practices. The main question that guides the class is how Christians in different times and places experience the gap between spirit and flesh. How does this binary apply to notions of the human being, the interpretation of divine revelation, and political movements? Over the course of the semester, students will examine Christian concepts of the relationship between body and spirit for the ways in which they have been used to legitimate as well as subvert social hierarchies and forge new communities. Klaus Yoder.

Two 75-minute periods.

Religion: II. Intermediate

200b. Regarding Religion 1

To study religion is to study culture and society, as well as to critically engage and participate in the humanities and social sciences. In this course we compare and critique different approaches to the study of religion and think about the category of religion in relation to other topics and social concerns. Jonathon Kahn.

Required for all majors. Encouraged for correlates.

Two 75-minute periods.

201 Jewish Textuality 1

(Same as JWST 201) This course addresses characteristic forms of Jewish texts and related theoretical issues concerning transmission and interpretation. On the one hand, canonical texts–Bible, Midrash, Talmud–are considered, including some modern (and postmodern) reactivations of these classical modes. On the other hand, special attention is given to modern problems of transmission in a post-canonical world.

 

Prerequisite(s): JWST 101 or permission of the instructor.

Two 75-minute periods.

205 Religion and Its Critics 1

Some say it is impossible to be both a modern and a religious person. What are the assumptions behind this claim? The course explores how religion has been understood and challenged in the context of Western intellectual thought from the Enlightenment to the present. Kant, Hegel, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Freud, and Buber are some of the thinkers whom we study. Jonathon Kahn.

Not offered in 2017/18.

207a. Christian Ethics and Modern Society 1

This course is an introduction to Christian ideals of faith, conduct, character, and community, and to modern disputes over their interpretations and applications. Our emphasis is on how Christian thinkers have negotiated the emergence of modern values about authority, rights, equality, and freedom. In what ways have Christian beliefs and moral concepts been consonant with or antagonistic to democratic concerns about gender, race and pluralism? Some of the most prominent Christian ethicists claim a fundamental incompatibility with this democratic ethos. We examine these claims and devote special attention to how Christian thinkers have dealt with the ethics of war, sexuality and the environment. Jonathon Kahn.

Two 75-minute periods.

210 Secularism and Its Discontents 1

Is there a distinct realm called the secular, which is free of and from the religious? As sons and daughters of the Enlightenment, we've come to think that there is. What sort of philosophical and historical moments have led to the public insistence on a non-religious space? What projects in ethics, politics, and identity have the insistence on the secular authorized? This class both analyzes and contests modern assumptions about secularism and the religious, and asks whether the ideals of secularism have materialized. Is it possible or even desirable to create realms scrubbed free of the religious, in our politics, in our public institutions, or in ourselves? Jonathon Kahn.

Not offered in 2017/18.

211 Islam in Europe and the Americas 1

(Same as AFRS 211 and INTL 211) Various processes of migration and conversion have contributed to the development of Muslim minority communities in Europe and the Americas, dating back to the 17th century. From enslaved Muslims in the Americas, to the Nation of Islam, to colonial and post-colonial migrations, to the debates over whether and how to define "European," "American," and "Latin@" Islams, this course covers the history of these religious communities and movements, their relationships with European and American states, and how contemporary European and American Muslims have described and theorized the experience of being a religious minority or diaspora. Key themes include race & ethnicity, gender & sexuality, transnational media, political resistance, ethics, and spirituality. Kirsten Wesselhoeft.

213 The Experience of Freedom 0.5

(Same as ASIA 213) This six week course looks at the four paths of freedom that have emerged from Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, and Confucian thought. Concepts and practices we will consider include: karma (the yoga of action), jnana, (the yoga of knowledge), bhakti, (the yoga of love) and tantra, (the yoga of imminent awareness). The focus of this course is on practice in a contemporary context. Rick Jarow.

Prerequisite(s): RELI 152.

Not offered in 2017/18.

214 Italian Folklore: Goddesses, Muses, Saints, and Black Madonnas 1

(Same as DRAM 214 and ITAL 214) This course focuses on Italian folk traditions revolving around women - saints and Madonnas. Rooted in Catholic tradition, many rituals have permeated everyday culture and social structures of belief and behavior. This course takes us on a journey through time and space, traveling through centuries and different Italian regions. The case studies vary in genre, from the literary to the visual, from the kinetic to the culinary, and include: the mysticism of Saint Catherine of Siena; Beatrice as a muse and guide in Dante's Paradiso (The Divine Comedy); the tammuriata, a women's drumming and dance tradition for the Black Madonna of Montevergine; the symbolism of the Virgin Mary in Siena's Palio; women's healing ritual of tarantismo; feminism and the Black Madonna of Trastevere in Rome. We approach the cases through the lenses of Italian Studies, Women's Studies, Folklore, Performance Studies, and Contemplative Studies. The practical use of music, dance, drawing, journaling, and a variety of contemplative practices are part of the course. Conducted in English.

Open to sophomores, juniors, and seniors. May be counted towards the Italian major.

Not offered in 2017/18.

Two 75-minute periods.

215 Religion, Art and Politics 1

An exploration of various aspects, spiritual and political, of the interdependence of art and religious culture from the dawn of human consciousness through postmodernity. May be taken more than once for credit when content changes. Marc Michael Epstein.

Not offered in 2017/18.

Two 75-minute periods.

216a. Israeli Media 1

(Same as JWST 216) This course provides students with an in-depth understanding of current political, social and religious developments in Israel by reading and analyzing Israeli media including newspapers, web sites, blogs, TV clips and more. During the first part of the course students learn the development of the Israeli media from the birth of Israel until today as well as the connection between different newspapers to different political parties and religious sectors and the role they play in contemporary political and social debates. Through the study of historical texts and current media, students gain an understanding of Israel's complex multi-party political system, key political actors, the economic structure and the differences between the religious and political sectors in Israeli society. Tzach Yoked.

Two 75-minute periods.

218 Spiritual Seekers in American History & Culture 1880-2008 1

(Same as AMST 218) This course examines the last 120 years of spiritual seeking in America. It looks in particular at the rise of unchurched believers, how these believers have relocated "the religious" in different parts of culture, what it means to be "spiritual but not religious" today, and the different ways that Americans borrow from or embrace religions such as Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. We focus in particular on unexpected places of religious enchantment or "wonder" in our culture, including how science and technology are providing new metaphors for God and spirit. Christopher White.

Two 75-minute periods.

219a. New and Alternative Religious Movements in the United States 1

All religions, new and old, have a beginning, and all religions change over time. Even the most established and popular religions today, like Islam and Christianity, began as small, marginalized sects. In this class, we think carefully about how religions develop and change by examining closely religious movements in one of the most vibrant religious nations in world history, modern America. We study radical prophets, doomsday preachers, modern messiahs, social reformers and new spiritual gurus and we talk about how their new religious movements developed and interacted with more mainstream religious currents in nineteenth- and twentieth-century America. This course proceeds in a roughly chronological fashion, beginning with new and alternative religions in the nineteenth century and moving on to more recent groups. Some of the questions we consider as we proceed are: Why do new religions begin? Why do people join them? How do they both challenge and conform to wider American norms and values? How should the American legal system respond to them? How do more mainstream believers respond to them? Christopher White.

Not offered in 2017/18.

220 Text and Traditions 1

Study of selected oral and written texts and their place in various religious traditions.

May be taken more than once for credit when content changes.

Prerequisite(s): one course in Religion.

Open to all students.

Not offered in 2017/18.

Two 75-minute periods.

222a. Women, Gender, and Sexuality in Islamic Spaces 1

(Same as WMST 222) This course explores the relationship between Islam, gender, and sexuality through a focus on space. The course is organized through six key spaces that have formed gendered bodies in Islamic contexts and diasporas: the home, the mosque, the baths (hammam), the school, the public square, and the interior soul. As we move through each of these spaces, we explore how sexual difference, gender, sexuality, and religious practice take on different shapes in different settings, and at different life stages. We read canonical works of Muslim feminist thought, as well as the classical sources they engage with. We pay attention to gender diversity in the classical traditions and contemporary Islamic contexts, coming-of-age and other life stages, and to the role of gender and sexuality in mystical relationship with the divine. Kirsten Wesselhoeft.

 

Not offered in 2017/18.

Two 75-minute periods.

225 Anthropology of Islam 1

(Same as ANTH 225) This course surveys contemporary global Islam through an anthropological lens. We read a selection of recent ethnographies of Muslim communities around the world, from countries including Indonesia, Morocco, Yemen, Lebanon, Senegal, Sudan, and India. As we move through these various worlds, we look for the shared questions and debates that connect Muslims around the globe. We investigate how anthropologists have tried to define Islam based on their observations of Muslim diversity. Through these sources, and through our own ethnographic exercises and visits to Muslim sites in the Hudson Valley, students also are introduced to the ethnography of religion as a practice, and its methodological, theoretical, and ethical challenges. Key themes include ritual and sacred text, politics and nation, gender & sexuality, legal pluralism, migration, postcolonialism, and violent conflict.  Kirsten Wesselhoeft.

Two 75-minute periods.

231 Hindu Traditions 1

(Same as ASIA 231) An introduction to the history, practices, myths, ideas and core values that inform Hindu traditions. This year's course focuses on the major systems of Indian philosophy and the spiritual disciplines that accompany them. Among topics examined are yoga, upanishadic monism and dualism, the paths of liberative action (karma), self realization (jnana), divine love (bhakti), and awakened immanence (tantra). Philosophical understandings of the worship of gods and goddesses will be discussed, along with issues of gender, caste, and ethnicity and post modern reinterpretations of the classical tradition. Rick Jarow.

Prerequisite(s): 100-level course in Religion, or permission of the instructor.

Two 75-minute periods.

233 The Buddha in the World 1

(Same as ASIA 233) An introduction to Buddhist traditions, beginning with the major themes that emerged in the first centuries after the historical Buddha and tracing the development of Buddhist thought and practice throughout Asia. The course examines how Buddhist sensibilities have expressed themselves through culturally diverse societies, and how specific Buddhist ideas about human attainment have been (and continue to be) expressed through meditation, the arts, political engagement, and social relations. Various schools of Buddhist thought and practice are examined including Theravada, Mahayana, Tantra, Tibetan, East Asian, and Zen. Michael Walsh.

Two 75-minute periods.

234 Creole Religions of the Caribbean 1

(Same as AFRS 234 and LALS 234) The Africa-derived religions of the Caribbean region---Haitian Voodoo, Cuban Santeria, Jamaican Obeah, Rastafarianism, and others---are foundational elements in the cultural development of the islands of the region. This course examines their histories, systems of belief, liturgical practices, and pantheons of spirits, as well as their impact on the history, literature, and music of the region. Lisa Paravisini-Gebert.

Not offered in 2017/18.

Two 75-minute periods.

235 Religion in China 1

(Same as ASIA 235) An exploration of Chinese religiosity within historical context. We study the seen and unseen worlds of Buddhists, Daoists, and literati, and encounter ghosts, ancestors, ancient oracle bones, gods, demons, buddhas, dragons, imperial politics, the social, and more, all entwined in what became the cultures of China. Some of the questions we will try to answer include: how was the universe imagined in traditional and modern China? What did it mean to be human in China? What is the relationship between religion and culture? What do we mean by 'Chinese religions'? How should Chinese culture be represented? Michael Walsh.

Not offered in 2017/18.

Two 75-minute periods.

243 Islamic Traditions 1

An exploration of Islamic history, with special attention to issues of prophecy, religious leadership, mythology and sacred scriptures. Among the topics examined are Islamic law, theology and philosophy, as well as the varied expressions of Islamic religious values and ritual, especially Shi'ism, Sufism, and orthodox Sunnism. Particular attention is given to women in Islam and to Islamic architecture.

Prerequisite(s): RELI 150, RELI 152, or permission of the instructor.

Not offered in 2017/18.

245b. Jewish Traditions 1

(Same as JWST 245) An exploration of Jewish practice and belief in all its variety. The course traces the evolution of various "Judaisms" through each one's approaches to the text of scripture and its interpretations, Jewish law and the observance of the commandments. It analyzes the Jewish life-cycle, calendar and holidays from a phenomenological perspective, and traces the development of the conceptualization of God, Torah, and the People and Land of Israel in Jewish life, thought, and culture from antiquity through the present day.  Marc Epstein.

Prerequisite(s): RELI 150, JWST 101, JWST 201 or permission of the instructor.

Not offered in 2017/18.

Two 75-minute periods.

250 Across Religious Boundaries: Understanding Differences 1

The study of a selected topic or theme in religious studies that cuts across the boundaries of particular religions, allowing opportunities for comparison as well as contrast of religious traditions, beliefs, values and practices.

Topic for 2017/18b: Global Christianities. This course provides an introduction to the Christian tradition by examining what unites and divides contemporary Christian communities around the world. It focuses on the concrete ways in which Christians encounter divine power, construct meaning out of the vicissitudes of life, and embody holiness. We attend to the diversity of Christian experiences and practices using ethnographic, historical, and theologicalsources devoted to communities in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Oceania. We begin with an introduction to the origins of the Christian movement in late antiquity and its global expansion in modernity through European evangelization and colonization. From there, the course divides into thematic units, each of which explores a different facet of Christian culture, such as personal and communal experiences of the divine, the role of language in spiritual revelations, the place of the body in Christian worship and ritual, and finally, Christian politics in modernity. Klaus Yoder. 

 

Two 75-minute periods.

255 Western Mystical Traditions 1

(Same as JWST 255) Textual, phenomenological and theological studies in the religious mysticism of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. May be taken more than once for credit when content changes.

Topic for 2017/18b: Kabbalah. A survey of the historical and phenomenological development of the theoretical/theosophical and practical/magical dimensions of the Jewish mystical tradition from its biblical origins to postmodernity. Marc Michael Epstein.

Prerequisite(s): any 100 level course in Religion or Jewish Studies or permission of the instructor. 

Two 75-minute periods.

266 Religion in America 1

What are the major cultural and intellectual forces shaping religions in America? How have religious Americans encountered people of other faiths and nationalities? Why have they seen America as both a promised land and a place of bondage, conflict or secularization? What are the main ways that religious Americans think about faith, spirituality, religious diversity and church and state? How might we understand the complexity of these and other issues in a country of so many different religious groups---Protestant, Jewish, Catholic, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim? Christopher White.

Not offered in 2017/18.

267 Religion, Culture and Society 1

The study of the interaction among religion, culture and society.

May be taken more than once when the content changes.

Prerequisite(s): one course in Religion or Asian Studies, or permission of the instructor.

Not offered in 2017/18.

Two 75-minute periods.

283 A Hundred Gospels and the Confusing, Conflicted Life of Jesus 1

(Same as JWST 283) Who was Jesus? What does the Bible say about him? How did it come to say what it does? Was he a humble carpenter? A divine being? A revolutionary? A rabbi? Was he learned in ancient wisdom, or simple and charismatic and fresh in his teaching? The sources dance in, about and around the issues as they alternately confirm and confound definitions. The canonical Gospels-accounts of Jesus' life accepted as authoritative by Christians-number four. But even these four contradict each other and require "harmonization" in the eyes of believing Christians. And they are only four out of ten completely preserved examples. In addition to these ten, there are a further six Gospels describing only the childhood of Jesus, four partially preserved Gospels (including the Gospel of Mary Magdalene), and tens of fragmentary, reconstructed, and completely lost Gospels. Once thing is certain from all of these documents: Jesus wasn't a Christian. How, then, did he come to be regarded as the founder of a new religion, a religion that would be called Christianity? And how did he come to be understood as God, the Son of God, or both at the same time? Marc Michael Epstein.

Two 75-minute periods.

285 Judaisms 1

(Same as JWST 285) The changing social and intellectual landscape of contemporary Jewry has made it impossible to speak of a singular or monolithic  "Judaism" in the twenty-first century. But it has also made us realize that historically there never was such a singular or monolithic Judaism. This course addresses the development of Judaisms, along with their basic texts and concepts including Torah, Talmud, midrash, legal codes, polemics, and forms of expression from autobiography to literature to poetry, in oral, written, dramatic and cinematic media. We also observe the broad range of ways in which Jewish life has been lived in the Middle East, Europe, South and East Asia, Africa and America. Emphasis is placed both upon those groups that adhered to the basic texts and concepts as well as upon those which rejected them in favor of alternate interpretations or of secularisms. We examine the relationship of Jewish religious cultures with the religious cultures of the populations among which Jews have found themselves living as demographic (and sometimes as ethnographic) minorities. Agi Veto.

Two 75-minute periods.

290a or b. Field Work 0.5 to 1

Supervised field work in the community in cooperation with the field work office. The department.

By permission, with any unit in Religion as prerequisite and work in other social sciences recommended.

298a or b. Independent Work 0.5 to 1

The department.

Prerequisite(s): one semester of appropriate intermediate work in the field of study proposed.

Permission of instructor required.

Religion: III. Advanced

300a. Senior Seminar 1

An exploration of critical issues in the study of religion. Christopher White.

Senior Religion majors only.

One 2-hour period.

301b. Senior Thesis 0.5

Written under the supervision of a member of the department; taken in the Spring semester. Permission required.

315 Religion and American Culture 1

Advanced study in selected aspects of the history of religions in the United States. May be taken more than once for credit when the content changes.

Not offered in 2017/18.

320 Studies in Sacred Texts 1

(Same as ASIA 320) Examination of selected themes and texts in sacred literature.

May be taken more than once when content changes.

Topic for 2017/18a: Great Understanding is Broad and Unhurried: Sage Voices from China's Past and Rethinking the Good Life. The beginning of this course title comes from the 4th century BCE philosopher, Zhuangzi. In this class we read some of China's greatest teachers and among other things, question their relevance in today's world. Without domesticating their ideas we explore a range of primary text readings including Zhuangzi, Laozi, Confucius, Du Fu, Huineng, Mencius and more. Michael Walsh



 

Open to Sophomores, Juniors and Seniors only.

One 2-hour period.

330 Religion, Critical Theory and Politics 1

Advanced study in selected aspects of religion and contemporary philosophical and political theory. May be taken more than once for credit when content changes.

Topic for 2017/18a: Islam, Decolonization, and Reform​. (Same as AFRS 330 and INTL 330) This course surveys the development of Islamic movements in French, British, and Dutch colonial territories and the subsequent post-colonial states. We focus on the various projects of religious, moral, societal, and political reform that developed during this period. We ask how political projects of revolution and resistance related to projects of theological and moral revival in Islam. Theories of sexuality are a central part of these movements, and the seminar focuses in large part on how new (normative and descriptive) accounts of gender and sexuality emerged in Islamic discourses in this period, responding to and shaping the political dynamics of decolonization. Kirsten Wesselhoeft.

Topic for 2017/18b: Race and Political Theology. (Same as AFRS 330) In recent years, "political theology" has emerged as a crucial notion in the humanities. Most narrowly, political theology refers to Carl Schmitt's claim that all "significant political concepts" of the modern nation-state have theological and religious roots. Until very recently, theorists of political theology have ignored the ways in which race functions as a significant political concept of the state. This seminar explores the intersection between race and political theology. We examine multiple conceptions of political theology. And we ask most centrally: In what ways are constructions of race rooted in theological concepts and histories? We ask this question both from the perspective of the state as well as from accounts of African American experience in historical and literary texts. We consider writings by Carl Schmitt, Frederick Douglass, Ralph Ellison, Albert Raboteau, and Toni Morrison. Jonathon Kahn.

One 2-hour period.

332 Tantra Seminar 1

(Same as ASIA 332)

Prerequisite(s): one 100-level course in Asian Studies or Religion.

Not offered in 2017/18.

One 2-hour period.

341 The Goddess Traditions of India, China and Tibet 1

(Same as ASIA 341) Beginning with a study of the Great Mother Goddess tradition of India and its branching out into China and Tibet, this course considers the history, myths and practices associated with the various goddess traditions in Hinduism and Buddhism. The relationship of the goddess and her worship to issues of gender, caste, and ethics, and spiritual practice are also considered. Rick Jarow.

Not offered in 2017/18.

One 2-hour period.

345 Violent Frontiers: Colonialism and Religion in the Nineteenth Century 1

(Same as ASIA 345) What is the relationship between religion and colonialism and how has this relationship shaped the contemporary world? During the nineteenth century the category of religion was imagined and applied in different ways around the globe. When colonialists undertook to 'civilize' a people, specific understandings of religion were at the core of their undertakings. By the mid-nineteenth century, Europe's territorial energy was focused on Asia and Africa. Themes for discussion include various nineteenth-century interpretations of religion, the relationship between empire and culture, the notion of frontier religion, and the imagination and production of society. Michael Walsh.

Not offered in 2017/18.

346 Studies in Jewish Thought and History 1

(Same as JWST 346) Advanced study in selected aspects of Jewish thought and history.

May be taken more than once for credit when the content changes.

Prerequisite(s): any 100-level Religion course.

Not offered in 2017/18.

One 2-hour period.

350 Comparative Studies in Religion 1

(Same as STS 350) An examination of selected themes, issues, or approaches u see in illuminating the religious dimensions and dynamics within particular cultures and societies, with attention to the benefits and limits of the comparative method.  Past seminars have focused on such topics as myth, ritual, mysticisms, and iconography.  May be taken more than once for credit when content changes.

Topic for 2017/18b: Science, Religion and Technology: Controversies and Problems: In this seminar we survey recent arguments and controversies between scientists and religious believers in the modern West.  We  investigate sources of conflict, issues that have caused tension, and different possibilities for reconciliation between the two groups.  We also examine ways of talking about science, religion and technology that go beyond the "conflict" model (science versus religion) and look instead at how these different parts of culture shape and influence one another. How have new sciences and technologies challenged and altered religious beliefs and practices?  How have religious people in turn shaped new scientific ideas?  We examine these questions by looking at specific controversial cases such as evolution/creationism, the mind/body problem, medical ethics, human cloning, artificial intelligence and emerging technologies. Christopher White.

One 2-hour period.

355a. The Politics of Sacred Space 1

This course examines the relationship between notions of spatial and temporal orientation and connects these to the fundamental importance of sacrality in human action and existence. Some of our questions include: what is sacred space? What is a sacred center? How are places made sacred through human action? To what extent is sacrality a matter of emplacement? What role does sacred space play in local and global environments? Michael Walsh.

Not offered in 2017/18.

375 The I-Ching: China's Great Text of Divinatory Wisdom 1

(Same as ASIA 375) One of the great texts of Classical China, The I-Ching (Fu Xi 伏羲, c. 2800 BCE), has emerged as a global phenomenon; connecting to fields of science, architecture, psychology, and to a "situational spirituality" based on the Daoist notion that all things incorporate the wisdom of the Way.

This course offers an intensive study of the text (in translation) along with its corollary subjects of Daoist cosmology, divination, ethics, and "finding the right path" through any situation. The eight archetypal trigrams, sixty-four divinatory modalities, understanding of the nature of change through the permutations of yin and yang are examined, as are the I-Ching's prominent values of modesty and wu-wei or "effortless effort." Every student learns how to work with the text, so that its study becomes more than a theoretical exercise. In this spirit of the I-Ching we "Approach with small steps/quantities (小過)", and "be flexible to constant change in order to be sustainable (易窮則變,變則通,通則久). Rick Jarow.

Prerequisite(s): any 100-level Asian Studies, Chinese/Japanese, or Religion course, or permission of the instructor.

One 2-hour period.

380 b.Religion, Sex, and the Modern State 1

(Same as WMST 380) This course examines the intertwined regulation of religion and sexuality by modern states through six case studies from around the world: Nigeria, France, Norway, Iran, Uganda, and India. These cases take us through a range of political systems and both religiously homogenous and religiously diverse societies, showing how in each case the state is intimately concerned with the relationship between religion, sexuality, and sexual difference. Through our analysis of these cases, we cover topics including comparative secularisms, race and citizenship, Islamic law, postcolonial feminist and queer theory, the sociology of religious revival, and religion and global media. At the end of the course, students will have a globally-informed and nuanced understanding of the stakes of contemporary debates about religious freedom, women's rights, and LGBTQ rights around the world. Kirsten Wesselhoeft.

Not offered in 2017/18.

One 2-hour period.

385a. Asian Healing Traditions 1

(Same as ASIA 385) This seminar offers a comprehensive view of the traditional medical systems and healing modalities of India and China and examines the cultural values they participate in and propound. It also includes a "laboratory" in which hands-on disciplines (such as yoga and qi-gong) are practiced and understood within their traditional contexts. From a study of classical Ayur Vedic texts, Daoist alchemical manuals, shamanic processes and their diverse structural systems, the seminar explores the relationship between healing systems, religious teachings, and social realities. It looks at ways in which the value and practices of traditional medical and healing systems continue in Asia and the West. Rick Jarow.

Prerequisite(s): RELI 231 or permission of the instructor.

Not offered in 2017/18.

399 Senior Independent Work 0.5 to 1