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Courses

The following information is from the 2018-19 Vassar College Catalogue.

Religion: I. Introductory

100 Introduction to American Studies 1Semester Offered: Fall

(Same as AMST 100) Topic for 2018/19a: 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 first-year students and sophomores only.

Two 75-minute periods.

101 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 2018/19.

Two 75-minute periods.

102 Religion, Media & American Popular Culture 1Semester Offered: Fall

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 1Semester Offered: Spring

(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? Jonathon Kahn and Quincy Mills.

107 Inner Paths: Religion and Contemplative Consciousness 1Semester Offered: Spring

(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.

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.

Not offered in 2018/19.

Two 75-minute periods.

150 Jews, Christians, and Muslims 1Semester Offered: Fall

(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.

Two 75-minute periods.

152 Religions of Asia 1Semester Offered: Spring

(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. Michael Walsh.

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 2018/19.

Two 75-minute periods.

180 Interrogating Religious Extremism 1Semester Offered: Fall

(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. Agnes Veto.

Open only to first-year students; satisfies the college requirement for a First-Year Writing Seminar.

Two 75-minute periods.

181 Imagining China 1Semester Offered: Fall

(Same as ASIA 181) In this seminar we examine from a broad comparative perspective some of the many ways China has been imagined - cosmologically, imperially, monastically, textually, mythologically, architecturally, constitutionally - taking into account voices from within and without China, past and present. As we shift from some of the earliest imaginings from within ancient China toward more modern imaginings, colonial representations of China become a priority as we move into modernity and the formation of the Chinese nation-state. One of our class objectives is to better understand what impact acts of imagination had and continue to have on Chinese society. Michael Walsh.

 

Open only to first-year students; satisfies the college requirement for a First-Year Writing Seminar.

Two 75-minute periods.

182 Global Christianities 1Semester Offered: Spring

This course explores what unites and divides contemporary Christian communities around the world by focusing on the concrete ways in which Christians experience divine power, construct meaning out of the vicissitudes of life, and embody holiness. We attend to the diversity of Christian experiences and practices through the use of ethnographic sources devoted to communities in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Oceania. The course is divided into three themes: one dedicated to communal and personal relationships with God, a second focusing on the varieties of Christian ritual, and finally a third focusing on Christian ethics and moral formation. Klaus Yoder.

Two 75-minute periods.

189 Religion, Community Organizing, and Movements for Civil Rights 1Semester Offered: Fall

(Same as AFRS 189) In American life religion is often portrayed as a divisive force. Yet historically, religious actors, communities, spaces, and motivations have contributed to broad-based collective movements for civil and human rights. This course explores the ways in which religions have supplied resources that help communities organize and develop visions of collective life. Jonathon Kahn. 

Open only to first-year students; satisfies the college requirement for a First-Year Writing Seminar.

Two 75-minute periods.

Religion: II. Intermediate

200 Regarding Religion 1Semester Offered: Spring

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. Michael Walsh.

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 2018/19.

207 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.

Not offered in 2018/19.

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 2018/19.

211 Islam in Europe and the Americas 1Semester Offered: Fall

(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 2018/19.

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 2018/19.

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 2018/19.

Two 75-minute periods.

216 Israeli Media 1Semester Offered: Fall

(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. 

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.

Not offered in 2018/19.

Two 75-minute periods.

219 New and Alternative Religious Movements in the United States 1Semester Offered: Spring

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.

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 2018/19.

Two 75-minute periods.

222 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 2018/19.

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.

Not offered in 2018/19.

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.

Not offered in 2018/19.

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.

Not offered in 2018/19.

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 2018/19.

Two 75-minute periods.

235 Religion in China 1Semester Offered: Fall

(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.

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 2018/19.

245 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 Michael Epstein.

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

Not offered in 2018/19.

Two 75-minute periods.

250 Across Religious Boundaries: Understanding Differences 1Semester Offered: Fall and Spring

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 2018/19a: The Celestial Sphere: The Power of Myth. This course focuses on the powers, limitations, structures, and nuances of myth through a critical examination one of the major languages of Western Esotericism, Astrology. Beginning with an investigation of diachronic (historical evolution) versus synchronic (present symbolic system) visions of the zodiac, the course investigates the archetypes, systems of folklore, psychologies, and esoteric practices associated with astrology, repeatedly returning the semiotic question: "How and why does these things mean what they are purported to mean." Rick Jarow.

Topic for 2018/19b: African American Religions and the Practice of Social Criticism. (Same as AFRS 250) This class  introduces students to the study of African American religions. Our focus is not only the historical variety of religious practices, but equally on the way the study of African American religious practices, serve to influence, wrestle with, protest, and critique constructions of race and racial identities. By considering topics such as the religious culture of the enslaved in the antebellum South, the development of independent black churches in the late 18th and 19th centuries, expressive culture in music, sermon, and song, and the intersections of religion and black political movements, we explore the ways the category of religion functions as a contested site to think through notions of black liberation, agency, and struggle. Jonathon Kahn.

Topic for 2018/19b:  Spirituality, Ecology, and the Environment. This course investigates the many relationships between spirituality, religion, and nature. How do emerging ecological paradigms challenge conventional religious worldviews? How have conventional religious traditions (Buddhism, Christianity, etc.) responded to this? How can Earth based traditions (Native American, South American Shamanic, etc.), Eco-feminism, and other nature-informed discourses revision our spiritual understanding of the natural world? What spiritual paradigms may emerge from the environmental movements of the last fifty-plus years? How is this relevant to myself and my community? Topics covered include environmental ethics, science and religion, cosmologies of humanity and nature, relationship between humans, plants, and animals, practices of "the wild." Rick Jarow. 

Two 75-minute periods.

254 A Hundred Gospels and the Confusing, Conflicted Life of Jesus 1Semester Offered: Fall

(Same as JWST 254) 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.

255 Western Mystical Traditions 1Semester Offered: Spring

(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 2018/19.

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 2018/19.

Two 75-minute periods.

280 Christian Theology and the Body 1Semester Offered: Spring

This introduction focuses on the relationship between spirituality and embodiment in Christian thought, ritual, and ethics. Religion 280 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.

286 Advanced Topics in Ethnomusicology: Music and Buddhism 1Semester Offered: Spring

(Same as ASIA 286 and MUSI 286) This course examines the interplay of Buddhist practices and music making in Asia and the West.  From temple music in Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Tibet, to dance theater in Thailand, theater in Japan, the contemporary Western compositions of John Cage and Toru Takemitsu and the films of Nam June Paik, Buddhist music is a rich tapestry that illuminates complex histories, varied aesthetics and contrasting theologies. Through the lenses of social and musical development this course will delve into Buddhism's spread through Asia and to the West, its encounters with Hinduism, Christianity, Shinto, colonization and high modernism, and the various ways in which sound is used to express devotion, contemplation, ideology, and narrative. Justin Patch.

Two 75-minute periods.

287 Theology of the Prison 1

How might the experience of imprisonment have influenced the development of Christian ideas about the body, salvation, and justice? Is it possible that the contemporary crisis of America's "prison-industrial complex" demands a recovery of this aspect of the Christian tradition? In this course, students analyze the experience and representation of imprisonment in influential theological, philosophical, and literary texts from antiquity to the present. At the same time, we examine how inmates in contemporary American prisons are using a wide range of theologies and spiritual practices to heal, gain perspective, and critique unjust institutions. Doing so allows us to assess how the Christian tradition may be used to interpret and challenge American notions and policies regarding punishment and rehabilitation. Klaus Yoder.

Not offered in 2018/19.

Two 75-minute periods.

289 The Hebrew Bible 1Semester Offered: Spring

(Same as JWST 289) The Bible is one of the most important foundational documents of Western civilization. This course surveys the literature of the Hebrew Bible (Christian 'Old Testament') within the historical, religious and literary context of ancient Israel and its neighbors. What social and religious forces created these books, and how did they shape the lives of the ancient Israelites, their descendants, and all those they influenced for three thousand years? All texts are read in English translation.  Agi Veto.

Two 75-minute periods.

290 Field Work 0.5 to 1Semester Offered: Fall or Spring

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.

298 Independent Work 0.5 to 1Semester Offered: Fall or Spring

The department.

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

Permission of instructor required.

Religion: III. Advanced

300 Senior Seminar 1Semester Offered: Fall

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

Senior Religion majors only.

One 2-hour period.

301 Senior Thesis 0.5Semester Offered: Spring

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 2018/19.

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.

 



 

Open to Sophomores, Juniors and Seniors only.

Not offered in 2018/19.

One 2-hour period.

330 Religion, Critical Theory and Politics 1Semester Offered: Spring

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 2018/19b: Religion, Art and Politics​. (Same as JWST 330) Nowadays, we accept the idea that religion, like so much else, is political. It makes sense, then, that visual culture, which can be used, situated, manipulated and exploited in the service of religion can serve to affirm and in some cases to subvert the political messages of religion. This class  explores examples of the collusions of religion, art and politics, as well as their collisions in the productions of majority and minority culture in Judaism, Christianity and Islam in the West, from antiquity to postmodernity. Marc Michael Epstein.

Prerequisite(s): any 100- or 200-level course in Art or Religion. 

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 2018/19.

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 2018/19.

One 2-hour period.

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

(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.

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 2018/19.

One 2-hour period.

350 Comparative Studies in Religion 1Semester Offered: Spring

Topic for 2018/19b: Key Controversies in Science, Technology and Religion. (Same as STS 350) This course introduces students to new and controversial topics in the study of religion, science, technology and spirituality. We examine controversial issues such as evolution/creation, artificial intelligence, science fiction as spirituality, religious and secular views of the mind, issues in biomedical ethics such as cloning, the neurology of religious experience, technologically-mediated spirituality, pseudo-science and parapsychology. Christopher White.

Topic for 2018/19b: Dreams, Myths and Visions in the Religious Imagination. This seminar focuses on the understanding and utilization of dreams and myths in Eastern and Western religious traditions. It explores dream and visionary passages in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic works as well as traditional interpretations of dreams, and their attendant myths in India and Tibet.  In addition to working with traditional commentaries and interpretations, the course considers contemporary theoretical approaches from structuralist and post-structuralist sources, depth psychology, and cognitive science.  Readings  include passages from the Hebrew Scriptures, the Book of Revelation, the Qur'an, the Bhagvata-Purana, and the Tibetan Book of the Dead.  Critical materials include the works of Tsong Kha Pa, Freud, Jung, Laberge, and others. Rick Jarow.

One 2-hour period.

355 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 2018/19.

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.

Not offered in 2018/19.

One 2-hour period.

385 Asian Healing Traditions 1Semester Offered: Fall

(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.

387 Muslim Feminist and Womanist thought and Praxis 1Semester Offered: Fall

(Same as WMST 387) This seminar explores the work of Muslim thinkers and activists who critically take up issues of gender and sexuality in Islamic contexts. These thinkers, who often identify as feminist or womanist, challenge Western feminist orthodoxies as well as certain religious frameworks, drawing on Islamic traditions in order to imagine and work towards a capacious gender justice. We read feminist and womanist interpretation of Qur'an and hadith, Islamic history, theology, ethics, spirituality and law, and explore how Muslim gender activists in a range of global contexts relate to intellectual traditions of Islamic feminism. We consider the interventions of Muslim feminists and womanists for gender theory and activism more broadly. Key themes include marriage, parenthood, and divorce, religious authority, colonialism and race, tradition, political activism, spiritual practice, and history of sexuality. Kirsten Wesselhoeft.

yes

One 2-hour period.

399 Senior Independent Work 0.5 to 1