Full Course Directory

African Religions

RELA 2700 | Festivals of the Americas

Readings will include contemporary ethnographies of religious festivals in the Caribbean and South, Central, and North America, and increase their knowledge of the concepts of sacred time and space, ritual theory, and the relationships between religious celebration and changing accounts of ethnicity.

RELA 2750 | African Religions

An introductory survey of African religions. The course concentrates on African indigenous religions, but Islam and Christianity are also discussed. Topics include African mythologies and cosmologies, as well as rituals, artistic traditions and spiritualities. We consider the colonial impact on African religious cultures and the dynamics of ongoing religious change in the sub-Sahara.

RELA 2750 | African Religions

Introduces the mythology, ritual, philosophy, and religious art of the traditional religions of sub-Saharan Africa, also African versions of Christianity and African-American religions in the New World.

RELA 2850 | Afro Creole Relg in Americas

A survey course which familiarizes students with African-derived religions of the Caribbean and Latin America

RELA 2850 | Afro Creole Religions

This survey course investigates African-inspired religious practices in the Caribbean, Latin America, and the U.S., particularly those religions--such as Haitian Vodou, Cuban Regla de Ocha (aka “Santería”), Brazilian Candomblé, and black churches in North America--which are deemed emblematic of local African-descended populations and even entire New World societies. By reading ethnographies, we will compare features common to many of these religions—such as polytheism, initiatory secrecy, divination, possession trance, animal sacrifice—as well as differences—such as contrasting evaluations of the devotional use of material objects, relations with the dead, and the commodification of ritual expertise. We will consider how devotees deploy the history of slavery and re-interpret African influences in their practices, and evaluate practitioners' and anthropologists' debates about terms such as “Africa,” “tradition,” “syncretism,” “modernity,” and “creole.”

RELA 3000 | Women and Religion in Africa

This course examines women’s religious activities, traditions and spirituality in a number of different African contexts. Drawing on ethnographic, historical, literary, and religious studies scholarship, we will explore a variety of themes and debates that have emerged in the study of gender and religion in Africa. Topics will include gendered images of sacred power; the construction of gender through ritual; sexuality and fertility; and women’s agency in indigenous religious movements, Muslim communities and Christian congregations in Africa. 

RELA 3351 | African Diaspora Religions

This seminar examines changes in ethnographic accounts of African diaspora religions, with particular attention to the conceptions of religion, race, nation, and modernity found in different research paradigms. Prerequisite: previous course in one of the following: religious studies, anthropology, AAS, or Latin American studies.

RELA 3351 | African Diaspora Religions

This seminar examines changes in ethnographic accounts of African diaspora religions, with particular attention to the conceptions of religion, race, nation, and modernity found in different research paradigms. Prerequisite: previous course in one of the following: religious studies, anthropology, AAS, or Latin American studies.

RELA 3559 | Religious Themes in African Literature and Film

An exploration of the ways in which religious concepts, practices and issues are addressed in African literature and film.  Literary genres include novels, short stories and poetry; Cinematographic genres include commercial "Nollywood" movies, as well as "Christian video films"   We will examine how various directors and authors interweave aspects of Muslim, Christian and/or traditional religious cultures into the stories they tell.

RELA 3559 | Magic and Witchcraft

Contact professor directly

RELA 3730 | African Literature and Films

An exploration of religious concepts, practices and issues as addressed in African literature and film.  We will examine how various African authors and filmmakers weave aspects of Muslim, Christian and/or traditional religious cultures into the stories they tell. Course materials will be drawn from novels, memoirs, short stories, creation myths, poetry, feature-length movies, documentaries and short films.

RELA 3890 | Christianity in Africa

This course examines the history of Christianity in Africa from its roots in Egypt and the Maghreb in the 2nd c. CE, to contemporary times when nearly half the continent's population claims adherence to the faith. Our historical overview will cover the flowering of medieval Ethiopian Christianity, 16th- and 17th- century Kongolese Christianity, European missions during the colonial period, the subsequent growth of independent churches, the emergence of African Christian theology, and the recent examples of charismatic and Pentecostal “mega-churches.”   We will consider the relationship between colonialism and evangelism; assess efforts in translation and inculturation of the gospel; reflect on the role of healing, prophesy and spirit-possession in conversion, and explore a variety of ways of understanding religious change across the continent.  We will attempt both to position the Christian movement within the wider context of African religious history, and to understand Africa's place in the larger course of Christian history.

RELA 3900 | Islam in Africa

This course offers an historical and topical introduction to Islam in Africa.  After a brief overview of the central features of the Muslim faith, our chronological survey begins with the introduction of Islam to North Africa in the 7th century.  We will trace the transmission of Islam via traders and clerics to West Africa and learn about the medieval Muslim kingdoms of the Sub-Sahara.  We will also consider the development of Islamic scholarship and the reform tradition, the growth of Sufi brotherhoods, and the impact of colonization, de-colonization and globalization upon Islam.

Readings and classroom discussions provide a more in-depth exploration of topics encountered in our historical survey.  Through the use of ethnographic and literary materials, we will explore questions such as the translation and transmission of the Qur'an, indigenization and religious pluralism; the role of women in Islamic movements, traditions and practice, and African Muslim spirituality. This course meets the Historical Studies requirement, as well as the Non-Western Perspectives requirement.

RELA 3900 | Islam in Africa

This course offers an historical and topical introduction to Islam in Africa.  After a brief overview of the central tenets and rituals of the Muslim faith, our chronological survey begins with the introduction of Islam to North Africa in the 7th century.  We will trace the transmission of Islam via traders and clerics to West Africa.  We will consider the medieval Muslim kingdoms; the development of Islamic scholarship and the reform tradition; the growth of Sufi brotherhoods; and the impact of European colonization and de-colonization upon African Muslims. We will also consider distinctive aspects of Islam in East Africa, such as the flowering of Swahili devotional literature, and the tradition of saint veneration. Readings and classroom discussions provide a more in-depth exploration of topics and themes encountered in our historical survey.  Through the use of ethnographic and literary materials, we will explore issues such as the translation and transmission of the Qur'an, indigenization and religious pluralism; the role of women in African Islam; and African Islamic spirituality. This course meets the Historical Studies requirement, as well as the Non-Western Perspectives requirement.  One prior course on Islam or African religions is recommended.

RELA 4085 | Christian Missions in Contemporary Africa

This seminar examines Christian missions in Africa in the 21st Century.  Through a variety of disciplinary lenses, we examine faith-based initiatives in Africa—those launched from abroad, as well as those initiated by Africans themselves.  What does it mean to be a missionary in Africa today? How are evangelizing efforts being transformed in response to democratization, globalization and a growing awareness of human rights?  What is the relationship between evangelism and economic development, proselytism and humanitarian aid, and mission and education today? This seminar is intended for advanced undergraduates with a serious interest—and preferably some experience—in Africa.  At least one prior course on Christianity and/or Africa is recommended.

RELA 4100 | Yoruba Religion

An in-depth study of Yoruba religion through its oral traditions, ritual performances, traditional art, independent churches, and its representation in literature. The course will cover the following subjects: Ifa divination; sacred kingship; the orisha; the concept of supreme being; plays by Ijimere, Soyinka, and Osofisan; Yoruba art and aesthetics; concepts of personal destiny, final judgment, ancestors, and rebirth.. The course concludes with a brief introduction to Santeria.

RELA 4559 | Evangelism in Contemporary Africa

This seminar examines Christian missions in Africa in the 21st Century. Through a variety of theoretical lenses and methodological approaches, we examine faith-based initiatives in Africa—those launched from abroad, as well as from within the continent.  What does it mean to be a missionary in Africa today? How are evangelizing efforts being transformed in response to democratization, globalization and a growing awareness of human rights? What is the relationship between evangelism and economic development, proselytism and humanitarian aid, mission and education today?

RELA 5620 | Ritual & Remembrance

By reading ethnographic accounts of ritual performances in West Africa and its Atlantic diaspora, the seminar considers theories of ritual, discursive and non-discursive forms of remembrance, and the production, malleability and politics of memory amidst the particular challenges that the histories of slavery, colonialism, and collective trauma pose to the development of collective identities in the Afro-Atlantic World.

RELA 7559 | Ritual and Remembrance

This interdisciplinary graduate seminar consists of readings in theories of ritual, memory and history, as well as ethnographies which focus on rituals performed in Africa and its Atlantic diaspora. We will consider both discursive (oral and written) and non-discursive (embodied, sensorial, spatial, ritualized, etc.) forms of remembrance, as well as examine ritual performances of memory and the politics of memory. We will explore topics such as the production of history and the particular challenges that the histories of slavery, colonialism, and collective trauma pose to the development of collective identities in the Atlantic World. At the end of the semester, students will be expected to write a seminar-length paper which interprets the themes of ritual and remembrance with respect to their own arena of research.

RELA RELA 2850 | Afro Creole Religions

This survey course investigates African-inspired religious practices in the Caribbean, Latin America, and the U.S., particularly those religions--such as Haitian Vodou, Cuban Regla de Ocha (aka “Santería”), Brazilian Candomblé, and black churches in North America--which are deemed emblematic of local African-descended populations and even entire New World societies. By reading ethnographies, we will compare features common to many of these religions—such as polytheism, initiatory secrecy, divination, possession trance, animal sacrifice—as well as differences—such as contrasting evaluations of the devotional use of material objects, relations with the dead, and the commodification of ritual expertise. We will consider how devotees deploy the history of slavery and re-interpret African influences in their practices, and evaluate practitioners' and anthropologists' debates about terms such as “Africa,” “tradition,” “syncretism,” “modernity,” and “creole.”

Buddhism

RELB 2054 | Tibetan Buddhism Introduction

Michael Schuman

Provides a systematic introduction to Tibetan Buddhism with a strong emphasis on tantric traditions of Buddhism - philosophy, contemplation, ritual, monastic life, pilgrimage, deities & demons, ethics, society, history, and art. The course aims to understand how these various aspects of Tibetan religious life mutually shape each other to form the unique religious traditions that have pertained on the Tibetan plateau for over a thousand years.

RELB 2054 | Tibetan Buddhism Introduction

A systematic introduction to Tibetan Buddhism, including aspects of its history, iconography, philosophy, ethics, monasticism, rituals, practices, and social milieu. Special attention will be paid to the various strands of Indo-Tibetan culture that have intertwined to produce the immensely rich tradition we see today, though we will also spend a good bit of time examining the uniquely Tibetan tantric technologies that evolved from this process. Previous knowledge of Buddhism is not necessary, but would be helpful for certain segments of the course.

RELB 2054 | Tibetan Buddhism Introduction

Provides a systematic introduction to Tibetan Buddhism with a strong emphasis on tantric traditions of Buddhism - philosophy, contemplation, ritual, monastic life, pilgrimage, deities & demons, ethics, society, history, and art. The course aims to understand how these various aspects of Tibetan religious life mutually shape each other to form the unique religious traditions that have pertained on the Tibetan plateau for over a thousand years.

RELB 2100 | Buddhism

Theravada, Mahayana, and Tantrayana Buddhist developments in India.

RELB 2100 | Buddhism

Theravada, Mahayana, and Tantrayana Buddhist developments in India.

RELB 2135 | Chinese Buddhism

TBA

This course examines the ways in which Chinese Buddhism differs from the Buddhisms of other countries. The first half of the course introduces Buddhism with a focus on the historical development of the tradition.The second half of the course surveys several philosophical schools and forms of practice including Huayan, Chan, Pure Land, and Tantric Buddhism.

RELB 2165 | Buddhist Meditation

This course offers a survey of Buddhist meditation traditions in India and Tibet, an introduction to the ways that meditation is adapted and used today throughout many areas of life, and a chance to practice secular meditation techniques in a contemplative lab. In class meetings are experimentally based.

RELB 2165 | Buddhist Meditation and the Modern World

Trauntz, Nicholas

This course offers a survey of Buddhist meditation traditions in India and Tibet, an introduction to the ways that meditation is adapted and used today throughout many areas of life, and a chance to practice secular meditation techniques in a contemplative lab. In class meetings are experimentally based.

RELB 2252 | Buddhism in Film

This course is an introduction to Buddhism and an exploration of the place of Buddhism within contemporary Asian, European, and North American cultures through film. The goals are 1) to identify longstanding Buddhist narrative themes in contemporary films, 2) to consider how Buddhism is employed in films to address contemporary issues, and 3) to gain through film a vivid sense of Buddhism as a complex social and cultural phenomenon.

RELB 2450 | Zen

This course is a study of the development and history of the thought, practices, goals, and institutions of Zen Buddhism as it has evolved in India, China, Japan, and America. Among the topics discussed are meditation, enlightenment, the role of Zen in the arts, life in a Zen monastery, and the rhetoric used in Zen. The course focuses on following these topics as the Buddhist tradition responds to various traditions. Developments in other forms of Buddhism are also considered and contrasted with Zen.

RELB 2559 | Buddhist Meditation Traditions

Contact professor directly

RELB 2559 | Religions of Korea 

This is a new course taught by Paul Groner with substantial help from a visiting Korean scholar, Hyekyung (Lucy) Jee. Korea has been influenced by religious traditions from China, Japan and the west; at the same time, it has developed its own interpretations of various religious traditions. This course focuses on four traditions in modern Korea that both cooperate and conflict with each other: Shamanism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Christianity. There are no prerequisites for the course, though previous courses in religious studies or the history of East Asia are useful.

RELB 2715 | Introduction to Chinese Religion

Natasha Heller

This course serves as an introductory survey of religious life in China, with emphasis on everyday religious practice over doctrine. Through primary texts (in translation), we will explore key figures and texts, core concepts, and ritual traditions with reference to the cultural, historical, political and material contexts in which they were conceived and expressed.

RELB 2715 | Chinese Religions

Heller, Natasha

This course serves as an introduction to the religious beliefs and practices of China. The course is organized by several broad themes in Chinese religion, but also proceeds in roughly chronological order. We will consider how the cosmos was conceived, how the human body took on religious meaning through ritual and self-cultivation, and how different traditions provided guidance for human behavior. We will examine different deities and how people interacted with them, and also consider the various ways in which the imperial court and government commanded religious authority and intervened in religious practice. In all these topics we will read and analyze texts from different religious traditions, with particular attention to language and genre, as well as draw on examples from material culture. In the final weeks of the course, we will look at religion in contemporary China, and consider how it has resisted or accommodated modern categories and pressures.

RELB 2715 | Chinese Religions

TBA

This course serves as a general introduction to the religions of China, including Confucianism, Buddhism, Daoism, and popular religion. By emphasizing the reading of primary texts in translation, we will explore the major ideas and practices of these traditions, making special note of the cultural, historical, political and material contexts in which they were conceived and expressed.

RELB 2770 | Daoism  

Hudson II, William Clarke

While early classics of Daoist wisdom are well-known nowadays, the Daoist religion--with its celestial gods and disease demons, communal rituals and private meditations--is relatively little-known. This course will cover the whole spectrum of Daoism in China, including early classics, religious history, practices, ideas, and ways of life. Through readings, lectures, discussions, and writing assignments, students will gain a general understanding of this ancient and vital tradition.

RELB 2900 | Buddhist Meditation Traditions

The goal of this course will be to examine different conceptions of Buddhist meditation and how these different conceptions affect the nature of practice and the understanding of the ideal life within a variety of Buddhist traditions.  Thus, the study of Buddhist meditation traditions reveals not just intricate forms of practice, but reveals the nature of the good life and how one lives it.

RELB 3030 | Mindfulness and Compassion: Living Fully Personally and Professionally

Dorothe Bach, Juliet Trail

This course provides an in-depth experience in contemplative practices to prepare students to live more fully, be more engaged & compassionate citizens & professionals, & navigate life's stressors with greater clarity, peace of mind, & healthy behaviors. Besides mindfulness training, this course will also foster the cultivation of compassion and prosocial qualities. For more info: http://pages.shanti.virginia.edu/Mindfulness__Compassion/

RELB 3030 | Mindfulness and Compassion

Bach, Dorthea, Bauer-Wu, Susan

This elective course provides an in-depth and rich experience in contemplative practices, namely secular mindfulness and compassion practices. It is designed to prepare students to live more fully, be more engaged and compassionate citizens and professionals, and navigate life’s stressors with greater clarity, peace of mind, and healthy behaviors. It’s based on Buddhist principles and the secular, evidence-based Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, yet expanded upon and modified specifically for college students. Pedagogical approaches will include regular in-class and homework guided meditations, rich interactive class discussions, and readings and discussions on the burgeoning research evidence in contemplative sciences. We will explore a variety of secular contemplative practices that foster self-awareness, emotional regulation, mental stability, and prosocial mental qualities, like empathy, compassion, generosity and gratitude. In addition to structured meditations, we will engage with a variety of informal practices to facilitate mindful awareness of everyday activities.

RELB 3150 | Buddhism and Gender

Lang, Karen

This seminar takes as its point of departure Carolyn Bynum's statements: "No scholar studying religion, no participant in ritual, is ever neuter. Religious experience is the experience of men and women, and in no known society is this experience the same." The unifying theme is gender and Buddhism, exploring historical, textual and social questions relevant to the status of women and men in the Buddhist world from its origins to the present day.

RELB 3160 | The Religions of Japan

Jee, Hye Kyung

This course is a survey of religions in Japan as well as their roles in Japanese culture and society. The topics that will be discussed are syncretism between Buddhism and Shinto, the development of uniquely Japanese forms of Buddhism, the spontaneous emergence of Pure Land Buddhism, the use of Shinto as a nationalistic ideology, and the role of Christianity. There are no necessary prerequisites; but a basic knowledge of Buddhism or Japanese history is very useful.

RELB 3170 | Buddhist Meditation

Contact instructor directly 

RELB 3190 | Buddhist Nirvana

This course explores the history and contested formulations of the Buddhist ideal of felicity, nirvana. We will explore the metaphors and concepts developed to think about nirvana, attending to Buddhist systematic, lyrical and narrative thought. Attention will be paid to the reception of the term in nineteenth century Europe, and the specter of nihilism which once shadowed the study of Buddhism, while sensitizing ourselves to much earlier criticisms of the idea of nirvana available in South Asia, both Buddhist and non-Buddhist. There are no prerequisites. This class should interest: students of Buddhism, Hinduism, South Asia, Theology, Literature and Religion, Philosophy, Anthropology, and students of the History of Religion with an interest in methodological issues involved in the study of religion.

RELB 3408 | Tibetan Buddhist Philosophy

Tibet possesses one of the great Buddhist philosophical traditions in the world. Tibetan Buddhist thinkers composed comprehensive and philosophically rigorous works on human growth according to classical Buddhism, works that surveyed ethics, meditation practice, the nature of personal identity, and enlightenment itself. In this seminar we will read and discuss famous Tibetan overviews of Buddhist philosophy. Pre-Requisites: One prior course in religion or philosophy recommended.

RELB 3559 | Contemporary Chinese Religions

This course explores religion in contemporary China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.  Topics include the revival and reimagination of traditional Buddhist and Daoist practices, the growth of Christianity, the role of Islam, and the emergence of new religious groups.  Course materials will include primary sources in translation, journalistic account, and documentary films.  

RELB 3559 | Anthropology of Tibetan Buddhism

Ana Lopes

This course provides an overview of the anthropological literature related to Tibetan Buddhism. Special attention will be paid to the ways this religion was assimilated in neighboring Himalayan countries and, in a later phase, around the world. Topics to be addressed include, among others, spiritual practices, doctrines, sacred places, religious politics, and issues of identity, ethnicity and nationalism.

RELB 3559 | Buddhist Tantra

Contact instructor directly 

RELB 3559 | Confucianism

Hudson II, William Clarke

Contact instructor directly 

RELB 3559 | Mindfulness and Compassion

Bauer-Wu, Susan

This elective course provides an in-depth and rich experience in contemplative practices, namely secular mindfulness and compassion practices. It is designed to prepare students to live more fully, be more engaged and compassionate citizens and professionals, and navigate life’s stressors with greater clarity, peace of mind, and healthy behaviors.  See the following link for entrance requirements: http://pages.shanti.virginia.edu/Mindfulness__Compassion/

RELB 3559 | Yogic Traditions of South Asia

An exploration of concepts and practices associated with the Indic categories of yoga and tantra in major religious traditions of South and Himalayan Asia.

RELB 3655 | Buddhism in America

This course is a seminar that examines the development of Buddhism in America going from its earliest appearance to contemporary developments.

RELB 3655 | Buddhism In America

Deitle, Ben

Contact instructor directly 

RELB 5011 | Readings in Chinese Buddhist Texts I

Readings from Chinese Buddhist (and other religious) texts. Texts are chosen based on student interest. The meeting time and place will also change, based on consensus. This is a Chinese language course. Students must have already taken one course on Classical Chinese language, such as CHIN 5830.

RELB 5012 | Readings in Chinese Buddhist Texts II

Groner, Paul

Contact instructor directly 

RELB 5055 | Buddhist Philosophy

Study of the Pali and Sanskritic Buddhist philosophical traditions.

RELB 5055 | Buddhist Philosophy

This is a course introducing the subject of Buddhist Philosophy as it developed in Classical India from roughly 200 C.E.-1300 C.E in conversation with multiple traditions of reasoning--that is, as a discipline involving (as a minimum) conceptual analysis and the give and take of reasons and arguments, and worthy of being engaged with philosophically today. Topics of concern for Buddhist philosophers introduced in this course include: reductionism about personal identity; mereology; skepticism with respect to identity criteria for things (in the broadest possible sense) and non-realism with respect to truth more generally; the relationship between conventions and theories of the world; the distinction between conceptual and non-conceptual content; the prospect of a nominalist semantics and the prospects for solipsism as a metaphysical, epistemological and methodological claim. This course has no prerequisites, but an introduction to philosophy and / or an introduction to Buddhism will be particularly helpful. This course should be of interest to students of Buddhism, Philosophy (Ancient and Contemporary), Hinduism, South Asia, Theology, and all those interested in the place of reasons in any life worth living.

RELB 5170 | The Dalai Lamas of Tibet

Contact instructor directly 

RELB 5250 | Seminar in Japanese Buddhism 

Groner, Paul

This course is a survey of issues in the study of Shinto and Japanese Buddhism, as well as their roles in Japanese culture and society. Among the topics discussed are syncretism between Buddhism and Shinto, the relationship between folk religion and the monastic traditions, the emergence of Esoteric Buddhism in Japan, the development of uniquely Japanese forms of Zen and Pure Land, the emergence of Nichiren Buddhism, the use of Shinto as a nationalistic ideology, and position of Buddhism in a modern society. A basic knowledge of Buddhism or Japanese history (at least one course) is very useful for understanding the course.

RELB 5270 | Seminar in Chinese Buddhism

Groner, Paul

Studies in the development of the major Buddhist traditions in China with some consideration of Confucian and Daoist developments. The course begins with a consideration of classical texts of the indigenous traditions of China: Confucianism and Daoism. It then moves to an examination of how Buddhism entered China and was affected by these traditions. The alternation of court patronage and persecution of Buddhism combined to produce uniquely Chinese forms of Buddhism. At the same time, Buddhism profoundly influenced Confucianism and Taoism. The second half of the course focuses solely on Buddhism, especially the great philosophical and practical traditions of Tiantai, Huayan, Chan and Pure Land. Attention will also be given to institutional history and folk religion. Undergraduates are welcome, but must have at least one course in Buddhism.

RELB 5390 | Tibetan Buddhist Tantra Dzokchen

RELB 5430 | Sanskrit Religious Texts I

Lang, Karen

Contact instructor directly 

RELB 5440 | Sanskrit Religious Texts II

Lang, Karen

Contact instructor directly 

RELB 5460 | Seminar in Mahayana Buddhism

Lang, Karen

This seminar will explore the origins and development of Mahayana Buddhism through looking at Mahayana scriptures (sutras) and the Mahayana philosophical treatises (sastra) of the Madhyamaka and Yogacara schools. Open to undergraduates who have taken at least one course in Buddhism.

RELB 5470 | Literary Tibetan V

Advanced study in the philosophical and spiritual language of Tibet, past and present. Prerequisite: RELB 5000, 5010, 5350, 5360, or equivalent.

RELB 5470 | Literary Tibetan V

TBA

Advanced study in the philosophical and spiritual language of Tibet, past and present. Prerequisite: RELB 5000, 5010, 5350, 5360, or equivalent.

RELB 5480 | Literary Tibetan VI

Advanced study in the philosophical and spiritual language of Tibet, past and present. Prerequisite: RELB 5000, 5010, 5350, 5360, or equivalent.

RELB 5480 | Literary Tibetan VI

Gentry, James

RELB 5490 | Religious History of Tibet

Surveys political, social, religious, and intellectual issues in Tibetan history from the fifth to fifteenth centuries, emphasizing the formation of the classical categories, practices, and ideals of Tibetan Buddhism.

RELB 5520 | Seminar in Daoism

Hudson II, William Clarke

Topics on the history, scripture, thought, and practice of religious Daoism, with an emphasis on the formative period (2nd-10th c.).

RELB 5559 | Buddhist Modernities

Contact instructor directly 

RELB 5559 | Buddhist Meditation

In this seminar we will survey recent scholarly research on the history, literature, and practices of Buddhist meditation in Asia, with a focus on Tibet. We will read traditional works on meditation, studies of meditation, as well as books and articles on a host of related issues, including consciousness, self, and experience.

RELB 5559 | Truth and Tradition: Intro to Buddhist Scholasticism

This course examines the distinct genres of Buddhist systematic thought (commentary, conspectus, monograph, etc.) and explores how they function, and how hermeneutics interacts with epistemology, this as a way of clarifying what Buddhist scholasticism might be. Special attention is paid to Vasubandhu, but also other thinkers, in this course.

RELB 5559 | Buddhist Digital Humanities 

Contact instructor directly

RELB 5559 | Tibetan Buddhist Literary History 

Contact instructor directly 

RELB 5559 | Buddhist Ethics

Lang, Karen

This seminar will explore the place of ethics and moral reasoning in Buddhist thought and practice. The major focus will be on Buddhism but we will also consider how Buddhist attitudes were shaped by Hindu and Jain views. Materials to be examined will be drawn from a wide range of sources, from classical Buddhist and Hindu scriptures to contemporary narratives. Among the topics to be explored: karma and rebirth, peace/nonviolence and war, human and animal rights, suicide and euthanasia, abortion and contraception, gender and sexuality.

RELB 5559 | Tibetan Buddhist History

Contact instructor directly 

RELB 5559 | Buddhism and Psychology

This class explores topics related to the often fraught interrelations among Buddhist thought, psychological studies, and the study of the mind and consciousness in philosophy and neurology.  We will focus on recent developments, looking at such matters as the cultural embeddedness of psychological uses of Buddhist meditation, the argument for a physicalist approach to Buddhist thought, and the neurological correlates to meditation.

RELB 5600 | Pali

Lang, Karen

An introduction to reading Pali Buddhist texts. Some knowledge of Sanskrit useful but not necessary.

RELB 5660 | Seminar on Indian Buddhism

Lang, Karen

This seminar will focus on the development of Buddhism in India and the spread of these ideas into the neighboring South Asian countries of Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan.   We will examine the divergent views on the nature of the Buddha and his teachings and explore how these views changed by reading translations of various canonical and post-canonical writings of Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism, along with contemporary scholarship on these issues.    We will examine both doctrinal texts and the story literature of both traditions for information on Buddhist beliefs and practices.   We will also look at what archeological records suggest about the social history of South Asian Buddhism.

RELB 5715 | Chinese Religion and Society

Hudson II, William Clarke

Contact instructor directly 

RELB 5715 | Chinese Religions

Hudson II, William Clarke

This is the graduate student section for RELB 2715. Students registering for RELB 5715 will participate in RELB 2715 class sessions, but will also have additional biweekly meetings, with extra readings, and a longer paper. The place and time for the additional meetings will be decided by consensus. No prior knowledge of Chinese religions is presupposed. Advanced undergraduate students may also choose to register for RELB 5715 instead of RELG 2715.

RELB 5800 | Literary Tibetan VII

Investigates the techniques and presuppositions involved in the methods used to study Buddhism, including textual, historical, philosophical, and social scientific methods.

RELB 5800 | Literary Tibetan VII

TBA

Examines the Yogachara-Svatantrika system as presented in Jang-kya's Presentation of Tenets, oral debate, and exercises in spoken Tibetan. Prerequisite: RELB 5000, 5010, 5350, 5360, 5470, 5480 or equivalent.

RELB 5810 | Literary Tibetan VIII

Contact instructor directly 

RELB 5810 | Literary Tibetan VIII

Gentry, James

RELB 5991 | Seminar in Chinese Buddhism

Heller, Natasha

The topic for Spring 2017 will be modern Chinese Buddhism, covering the late 19th century through the present.  This period saw the emergence of new discourses and practices, and for much of this time Buddhism also faced greater state oversight in both China and Taiwan.  We will look at intellectual and institutional responses to these challenges, including how Buddhist thinkers addressed science and war, as well as how Buddhist organizations developed charities, tourist sites, and new media.  We will also consider the role of Chinese Buddhism in global religious networks.

RELB 8230 | Adv Literary & Spoken Tibetan

Readings in various genres, including philosophy, poetry, ritual, narrative, and so forth.

RELB 8230 | Advanced Literary and Spoken Tibetan

Examines selected topics and techniques of Tibetan education.

RELB 8559 | Advanced Pali

Lang, Karen

Reading course in Pali suttas.

Christianity

RELC 1050 | Intro Christian Tradition 

Cooper, Valerie

This course will explore Christianity in its modern and historical contexts, combining an examination of current scholarship, worship and praxis. Because one course could not begin to exhaust the wide diversity present in Christianity, we will instead focus on several smaller questions over the course of the semester. The first half of the course will ask the question,” Who was Jesus?” We will consider some of the historical, textual, sociological, theological, and archaeological evidence surrounding his life and the subsequent Jesus Movement which developed into early Christianity. Efforts will be made to place Jesus’ life in the context of Jewish popular movements of his time. The second half of the course will ask the question,” What is the church?” and consider the development of the Christian church from the time of Constantine onward. This discussion of Christian worship will be accented by students’ field visits to churches in the Albemarle County area. Course materials will include those dealing with the development of a few specific denominations, as well as larger subsets of Christianity such as Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism. Although Christian traditions worldwide will be addressed, the main emphasis of the second half of the course will be modern American Christianity.

RELC 1210 | Hebrew Bible/Old Testament

This course provides an introduction to the Hebrew Bible, known to Jews as the Tanakh and the Torah and to Christians as the Old Testament. We will read, for example, the narratives about Abraham & Sarah, Jacob, Rachel & Leah, Joseph, David, Solomon, Esther, Daniel, Job and the prophecies of Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel and Amos. This course also provides an introduction to methods of modern biblical scholarship; using these methods, we will examine the Hebrew Bible in its original ancient Near Eastern context to learn about the major phases in the history and religion of ancient Israel. We will consider the diverse genres and theological themes found in the Hebrew Bible and the literary artistry of its whole. Finally, we will read Jewish and Christian interpretations of the text in order to understand the complex process by which the text was formulated, transmitted and interpreted by subsequent religious communities.

RELC 1210 | Hebrew Bible/Old Testament

Laugelli, Ben

This course provides an introduction to the Hebrew Bible, known to Jews as the Tanakh and the Torah and to Christians as the Old Testament. We will read, for example, the narratives about Abraham & Sarah, Jacob, Rachel & Leah, Joseph, David, Solomon, Esther, Daniel, Job and the prophecies of Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel and Amos. Using methods of modern biblical scholarship, we will examine the Hebrew Bible in its original ancient Near Eastern context to learn about the major phases in the history and religion of ancient Israel. We will consider the diverse genres and theological themes found in the Hebrew Bible and the literary artistry of its whole. Finally, we will read Jewish and Christian interpretations of the text in order to understand the complex process by which the text was formulated, transmitted and interpreted by subsequent religious communities.

RELC 1210 | Hebrew Bible/Old Testament

This course provides an introduction to the Hebrew Bible, known to Jews as the Tanakh and the Torah and to Christians as the Old Testament. We will read, for example, the narratives about Abraham and Sarah, Jacob, Rachel and Leah, Joseph, David, Solomon, Esther, Daniel, Job and the prophecies of Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel and Amos. Using methods of modern biblical scholarship, we will examine the Hebrew Bible in its original ancient Near Eastern context to learn about the major phases in the history and religion of ancient Israel. We will consider the diverse genres and theological themes found in the Hebrew Bible and the literary artistry of its whole. Finally, we will read Jewish and Christian interpretations of the text in order to understand the complex process by which the text was formulated, transmitted and interpreted by subsequent religious communities.

RELC 1220 | Early Christianity & New Testament

Studies the history, literature, and theology of earliest Christianity in light of the New Testament. Emphasizes the cultural milieu and methods of contemporary biblical criticism.

RELC 2050 | Rise of Christianity

How did a movement that began as a Jewish sect become the official religion of the Roman Empire and forever change the world? In this course, we will trace Christianity’s improbable rise to religious and cultural dominance in the Mediterranean world during the first millennium of the Common Era. We will examine archaeological remains, artistic creations and many different kinds of writings—including personal letters, stories of martyrs and saints, works of philosophy and theology, and even gospels that were rejected for their allegedly heretical content—as we reimagine and reconstruct the lives and struggles of early and medieval Christians. Our goal will be to understand the development of Christian thought, the evolution of the Church as an institution, and how Christianity was lived out and practiced by its adherents.

RELC 2050 | Rise of Christianity

How did a movement that began as a Jewish sect become the official religion of the Roman Empire and forever change the world? In this course, we will trace Christianity’s improbable rise to religious and cultural dominance in the Mediterranean world during the first millennium of the Common Era. We will examine archaeological remains, artistic creations and many different kinds of writings—including personal letters, stories of martyrs and saints, works of philosophy and theology, and even gospels that were rejected for their allegedly heretical content—as we reimagine and reconstruct the lives and struggles of early and medieval Christians. Our goal will be to understand the development of Christian thought, the evolution of the Church as an institution, and how Christianity was lived out and practiced by its adherents.

RELC 2060 | The Reform and Global Expansion of Christianity

How did Christianity become a global religion with hundreds of denominations and nearly two billion adherents? In this course, we will explore the reform and expansion of Christianity in the second millennium of the Common Era, from the high Middle Ages to the present day.

RELC 2155 | Whiteness and Religion

Contact instructor directly 

RELC 2215 | Mormonism and American Culture

In the nineteenth century, Mormonism had the distinction of being one of the most overtly persecuted religions in the U.S. Today, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the nation's fourth largest religious body and has a reputation for hyper patriotism and middle class mores. In addition to introducing who the Mormons are, their beliefs and religious practices, this seminar will use their story to better understand religion and its adaptive strategies. More specifically, we will be asking what is the American idea of being properly religious? How did conflicts over Mormonism help define the legal limits of religious liberty and, even today, why does it serve as a test of public tolerance for religion? How have Latter-day Saint teachings about modern revelation, gender, race, sex and marriage, as well as controversies about whether or not Mormons are Christian, positioned and repositioned Mormons within American society? We will approach these questions from a variety of perspectives: historical, sociological, ethnographic, and theological.

RELC 2215 | Mormonism and American Culture

This course is designed to add substantive depth to a general understanding of American religious pluralism and insight into the socio-historical context of American religion through the study of Mormonism. In addition to introducing Mormonism's basic beliefs and practices, the course will explore issues raised by Mormonism's move toward the American mainstream while retaining its religious identity and cultural distinctiveness.

RELC 2230 | New Testament Greek

Kovacs, Judith

The Department calls attention to this course offered through the Classics Department, which can be counted towards the major in Religious Studies: This intermediate course aims to solidify knowledge of Greek grammar, syntax, and vocabulary and to give practice in reading and translating texts from the New Testament gospels (especially Luke and John). It also presents basic principles of historical study of the gospels in their first century context. The course presupposes two semesters' study of ancient Greek (classical or Koine) or the equivalent.

RELC 2240 | New Testament Greek II: Letters of Paul

This intermediate-level Greek course (prerequisite Greek 1010-1020 or equivalent) aims to solidify students’ knowledge of Greek grammar, syntax, and vocabulary, while reading and interpreting letters of Paul (1 Corinthians and Romans) and Paul’s followers (Ephesians). Attention will also be given to basic principles of textual criticism of the New Testament. Counts towards Classics and Religious Studies majors (as RELC)

RELC 2360 | Elements of Christian Thought

This course considers the complex world of Christian thought by examining various perspectives on the nature of faith, the being and action of God, the identity of Jesus of Nazareth, the role of the Bible in theological reflection, and the relationship between Christian thought and social justice. Students will read various important works of Christian theology and become acquainted with a range of theological approaches and ideas. Authors considered include Anselm of Canterbury, John Calvin, Karl Barth, Elizabeth Johnson, and many others. The course is suitable for those seeking an academic introduction to Christian theology and those wishing to deepen their understanding of this religious tradition. No previous knowledge of Christian thought is required.

RELC 2360 | Elements of Christian Thought  

This course considers the complex world of Christian thought, examining various perspectives on the nature of faith, the being and action of God, the identity of Jesus of Nazareth, the role of the Bible in theological reflection, and the relationship between Christian thought and social justice. Students will read various important works of Christian theology and become acquainted with a range of theological approaches and ideas. Authors considered include Anselm of Canterbury, John Calvin, Karl Barth, Elizabeth Johnson, and many others. The course is suitable for those seeking an academic introduction to Christian theology and those wishing to deepen their understanding of this religious tradition. No previous knowledge of Christian thought is required.

RELC 2401 | History of American Catholicism

Catholicism in the United States has often been in a dilemma. On the one hand, its spiritual loyalty to Rome and its growth through immigration made it appear "foreign" to most Americans. On the other, the American Catholic support for religious liberty drew suspicion from Rome. In 1960, the election of John Kennedy seemed to signal the acceptance of Catholics as Americans. In 1965, the Second Vatican Council seemed to ratify what had long been a cherished American Catholic tradition. To understand the significance of these events of the 1960s, the course will treat the following themes: the early Spanish and French settlements, the beginning of English-speaking Catholicism in Maryland, with its espousal of religious liberty, the establishment of the hierarchy under John Carroll and its early development of a strong sense of episcopal collegiality, immigration and nativism, American Catholic support of religious liberty and conflict with the Vatican at the end of the 19th century, and the American Catholic contribution to Vatican II (1962-1965). The course will conclude with an analysis of social, political, and theological developments in the American Catholic Church since the end of the council. Course requirements: 1) a mid-term and final exam; 2) an analysis of an historical document selected from collections on reserve.

RELC 2460 | Spirit of Catholicism

The course will trace the origins and development of Roman Catholic doctrine in light of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). The following topics will be treated: the nature and person of Christ as examined in the first ecumenical councils from Nicaea (325) to Chalcedon (451); the nature of the Church and its authority vested in bishops and the pope; original sin, grace, and justification; the rise of hte Reformation in western Christianity.

RELC 2460 | Spirit of Catholicism: Its Creeds and Customs

The course will trace the origins and development of Roman Catholic doctrine in light of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). The following topics will be treated: the nature and person of Christ as examined in the first ecumenical councils from Nicaea (325) to Chalcedon (451); the nature of the Church and its authority vested in bishops and the pope; original sin, grace, and justification; the rise of the Reformation in western Christianity.

RELC 2559 | Kingdom of God in America 

The course examines the influence of theological ideas on social movements in twentieth and twenty-first century America, and it clusters around such basic questions as: How do ideas about God shape the way communities and individuals engage the social order?  What role do nineteenth century European and American Protestant theologies play in informing the American search for "beloved community"?  What are the social consequences of religious beliefs?  Our primary historical focus is the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 60’s, but we will also explore the student movements of the late 1960's and a variety of faith-based social movements of recent decades.  Resources include theological books, novels, social criticism and historical documents, film and music, and guest lectures by former activists and participants.  Requirements:  two pages (5-7 pages in length), two exams, weekly reading summaries, and participation in discussion sections.

RELC 2559 | Pentecostalism

Cooper, Valerie

This course will study the history, theology, and practices of Pentecostalism, the fastest growing Christian movement in the world, from its origins among poor whites and recently freed African Americans to its phenomenal expansion in places like South America, Asia, and Africa. The course will use race, class, and gender analysis to evaluate the cultural influences and future trajectory of Pentecostalism in the US and elsewhere in the world.

RELC 2850 | Kingdom of God

The course examines the influence of theological ideas on social movements in twentieth and twenty-first century America; and it seeks to answer such questions as:  How do religious commitments shape the patterns of everyday living, including economic, political, and sexual organization, as well as racial perception?  How do our ideas about God shape the way we engage the social order?  What role do nineteenth century European and American Protestant theologies play in informing the American search for “beloved community”, which was the term Martin Luther King Jr. sometimes used interchangeably with the Kingdom of God?  What are the social consequences of religious beliefs?  Although our primary historical focus is the American Civil Rights Movement from 1954-1968, we will also look at counter-cultural movements of the late 1960’s, as well as the faith-based community-development movement and recent community organizing initiatives.

RELC 2850 | Kingdom of God

The course examines the influence of theological ideas on social movements in twentieth and twenty-first century America; and it seeks to answer such questions as:  How do religious commitments shape the patterns of everyday living, including economic, political, and sexual organization, as well as racial perception?  How do our ideas about God shape the way we engage the social order?  What role do nineteenth century European and American Protestant theologies play in informing the American search for “beloved community”, which was the term Martin Luther King Jr. sometimes used interchangeably with the Kingdom of God?  What are the social consequences of religious beliefs?  Although our primary historical focus is the American Civil Rights Movement from 1954-1968, we will also look at counter-cultural movements of the late 1960’s, as well as the faith-based community-development movement and recent community organizing initiatives.

RELC 3006 | Augustine's City of God

Augustine’s magnum opus The City of God is the most important book in Western Civilization that almost nobody has read. It is one of the greatest works of human intellect in the West, and had an almost unmatched impact on Western history. Yet its very scale is so galactic as to intimidate even the most serious reader. This course provides an introduces you to the book in an accessible way so you understand its structure, the thought of Augustine, the world of Late Antiquity in which he lived, and the fundamental questions that drive the book forward, from its beginnings in the sack of pagan Rome in 410 AD to Augustine’s concluding vision of the Heavenly Jerusalem at the End of Time. By the end of this course, you will not only understand the content of The City of God but you’ll also have a profoundly new way of thinking about politics, religion, the course of history, and Christian understandings of humanity's relationship to the divine.

RELC 3009 | Protestant Theology

This course examines the writings of important Protestant theologians from the 1500s to the present day. Beginning with key texts by Martin Luther, John Calvin, and writers from the radical reformation, we then engage major eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth-century thinkers such as John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, Friedrich Schleiermacher, and Karl Barth. We also examine recent developments in process, liberationist, and feminist theology. Topics considered include the role of the Bible in theological reflection, the nature of God, Christology, sin and salvation, and Christian ethics. 

Some familiarity with the academic study of Christian thought is useful, but not required.

RELC 3030 | Jesus and the Gospels (formerly known as the Historical Jesus)

This course focuses on Jesus of Nazareth as an historical figure, that is, as he is accessible to the historian by means of historical methods.  Our most important – though not our only – ancient sources of information on Jesus are the four canonical Gospels, and so much of the course will involve reading and attempting to understand these texts.  To that end, we will discuss the special problems involved in the interpretation of ancient texts, as well as the various methods used by contemporary scholars in response to these problems.  We will also discuss the complex relationship of literary works and historical persons they depict.  Ultimately, we will attempt to reconstruct at least the broad outlines of Jesus’ activity and teachings, while also attempting to define the limits of our sources.

RELC 3030 | Jesus and the Gospels

Ashley Tate

This course focuses on Jesus of Nazareth as an historical figure, that is, as he is accessible to the historian by means of historical methods. Our most important sources of information on Jesus are the canonical Gospels, and so much of the course will involve reading and attempting to understand these texts. We will attempt to reconstruct at least the broad outlines of Jesus activity and teachings, keeping in mind the limits of our sources.
 

RELC 3040 | Paul: Letters and Theology

The apostle Paul is arguably the most important figure in the development of early Christianity.  Of the 27 books of the New Testament, thirteen are explicitly attributed to Paul; of these thirteen, seven are near unanimously recognized by scholars as having been written by Paul himself – his letter to the Thessalonians being the earliest piece of Christian literature that we have today.  Paul is also the primary hero of the longest narrative in the New Testament, the Acts of the Apostles, as well as multiple non-canonical narratives.  In this course we will study the life, teachings, and influence of Paul through careful reading of four different types of ancient texts.  We will consider: 1) his own letters, paying close attention to his role within the larger Christian community, including his disputes with other prominent figures; 2) letters written in Paul’s name by Christians of subsequent generations, including some texts the authenticity of which is still disputed by scholars (e.g. 2 Thessalonians and Colossians) and others that were quite clearly composed well after Paul’s death (e.g. his correspondence with the philosopher Seneca); 3) narrative texts in which Paul plays a leading role, including the canonical Acts and the non-canonical Acts of Paul; and 4) non-Pauline canonical texts that seem to contradict Paul’s positions on multiple issues (e.g. James and 2 Peter).  Because the one absolutely incontrovertible thing we know about Paul is that he was a resident of the Roman empire in the first century C.E., we will begin with an historical survey, setting the material covered in this course within its geographical, cultural and social contexts.

RELC 3043 | Themes in Eastern Orthodoxy  

Guroian, Vigen

Rather than a broad historical overview of Orthodox Christianity, this course is an introduction to the thematic core of the Orthodox Christian tradition. We will first review the major elements of the Orthodox faith that developed over the course of the Byzantine era. Then we will examine some themes to which Orthodox theologians have given considerable thought. These include: scripture and tradition, liturgy and sacrament, the meaning and role of icons, faith and spirituality, the nature of the church, Christian ecumenism, and Christianity and culture.

RELC 3045 | History of Bible  

Gamble, Harry

The history of the formation, transmission, translation, forms and uses of the Christian Bible from the 1st to the 21st century.

RELC 3056 | In Defense of Sin

Exploration of transgression in Judaism and Christianity with a focus on the Ten Commandments and the seven deadly sins. Reflection on who determines what is sinful and why. Close reading of texts challenging the wrongfulness of acts and attitudes long considered sinful, with critical attention to the persuasiveness of religious rules.

RELC 3056 | In Defense of Sin

Exploration of transgression in Judaism and Christianity with a focus on the Ten Commandments and the seven deadly sins.  Reflection on who determines what is sinful and why.  Close reading of texts challenging the wrongfulness of acts and attitudes long considered sinful, with critical attention to the persuasiveness of religious rules.  Does religious practice remain focused on pleasing God, or does it now principally fulfill familial / ethnic obligation?  Or has it perhaps become simply a personal quest with indeterminate goals?  What does sin have to do with the modern world?

RELC 3058 | Christian Vision in Literature

Wilson, William

RELC 3058 is a study in Christian imaginative literature from the Bible to the modern period and addresses such issues as the nature of the Christian sacramental outlook, the Christian adoption of the Greco-Roman epic form, and the faith's reliance on stories and narratives in the modern "post-Christian" world.

RELC 3077 | Christian Theologies of Liberation

Cox, Kendall

“Liberation Theology” has emerged in modern contexts of violence and oppression as a faithful form of critique and protest. It radically contextualizes the pervasive scriptural emphasis on freedom from injustice and exploitation. In this course, we will examine the larger biblical narrative of human suffering and divine justice and the way it is reanimated in global theologies of liberation, including Latino/a, Black, and feminist theology.

RELC 3090 | Israelite Prophecy

In this course, we will examine the phenomenon of prophecy in ancient Israel. We will read in translation most of the stories from the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament about prophets (Moses, Deborah, Samuel, Elijah, Elisha), as well as the books attributed to prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and The Twelve). We will locate each primary text in its historical, cultural, and political contexts, compare Israelite prophecy to similar phenomena in the neighboring cultures of the ancient Near East, and consider modern anthropological studies of shamanism. At the end of the course, we will examine the transformation of prophecy in the Second Temple period and the emergence of apocalypticism.

RELC 3150 | Salem Witch Trials

Ray, Benjamin

The course will explore the historical scholarship, fictional literature, and primary source materials relating to the infamous Salem witch trials of 1692. How did the accusations begin? Why did they spread far and wide? Serious theories and wild speculations abound, both in 1692 and today. Who were the female and male heroes, victims, and villains of this tragic episode? The most gripping personal stories are to be found in the court records and in the literary portrayals by Nathaniel Hawthorne and Arthur Miller. The course will draw upon parts of the following historical works: Entertaining Satan by John Demos, Satan and Salem by Benjamin Ray, and The Witches: Salem 1692 by Stacy Schiff, in addition to selected journal articles, as well as Arthur Miller's classic play The Crucible. All discussion sections will be online, and students will write three two page essays on the reading materials.  The  class will make extensive use of the online  "Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive” <http://salem.lib.virginia.edu/> which  contains all the original court documents and contemporary accounts.

RELC 3181 | Medieval Christianity

Komornicka, Jolanta

Contact instructor directly 

RELC 3215 | American Religious Innovations

This course is about America’s newer religious movements: Scientology, the Nation of Islam and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The class will be using theories of ritual and text to understand how religious communities constitute themselves around an originating vision and retain a sense of continuity notwithstanding dramatic change.  Readings for the course are organized by these three themes – originating vision, narrative canon and embodiment of belief – in order to facilitate comparison.  In addition, we will be asking why these three religious movements have created such crisis for the American state and anxiety among its citizens.   Three short papers and periodic exercises reflecting on questions raised by our reading will be required.

RELC 3222 | From Jefferson to King

A seminar focused upon some of the most significant philosophical and religious thinkers that have shaped and continue to shape American religious thought and culture from the founding of the Republic to the Civil Rights Movement, including Thomas Jefferson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Jane Addams, William James, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Martin Luther King, Jr. This course fulfills the College’s Second Writing Requirement.

RELC 3222 | Protestants and Pragmatists

An introductory seminar in American religious thought exploring the key ideas of two interrelated traditions in the United States, Protestant Christian theology and American pragmatic philosophy. Our main focus will be reading and interpreting some classic philosophical and religious texts highlighting both the interconnections and disputes among them. The course finishes with a look at the issues raised by contemporary authors working in these traditions of American thought. Course Requirements Engaged listening and participation, five reading responses (2 pp. each), two short essays (5 pp. each), an in-class midterm, and a take-home final examination.

RELC 3222 | From Jefferson to King

A seminar focused upon some of the most significant philosophical and religious thinkers that have shaped and continue to shape American religious thought and culture from the founding of the Republic to the Civil Rights Movement, including Thomas Jefferson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Jane Addams, William James, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Martin Luther King, Jr.  This course fulfills the College’s Second Writing Requirement.

RELC 3231 | Reformation Europe

Lambert, Erin

Surveys the development of religious reform movements in continental Europe from c. 1450 to c. 1650 and their impact on politics, social life, science, and conceptions of the self. Cross-listed as HIEU 3231.

RELC 3231 | Reformation Europe

Lambert, Erin

Surveys the development of religious reform movements in continental Europe from c. 1450 to c. 1650 and their impact on politics, social life, science, and conceptions of the self. Cross-listed as HIEU 3231.

RELC 3245 | Religious Liberty

Contact instructor directly 

RELC 3292 | Book of Job

The biblical figure of Job continues to shape how we conceive of the nature of divine justice, the problem of unjust suffering, the limits of human knowledge, and the possibility of integrity. In this seminar, we will consider first how Job is depicted in the Bible. Then, we will examine how Job has been interpreted and portrayed in early Jewish and Christian interpretations and, finally, how Job serves as a vehicle for articulating profound questions about the nature of human existence in philosophical and literary works of the modern period; we will consider, for example, interpretations of the book of Job by the artist and poet William Blake, the theologian Søren Kierkegaard, the writers Franz Kafka and Cynthia Ozick, and the filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen.

RELC 3315 | Jefferson and Religion 

Gamble, Harry

This course will examine several inter-related topics, including the religious formation and outlook of Thomas Jefferson, Jefferson’s conception of the proper relation of religion and the civil power, Jefferson’s conception of a university (most particularly the University he founded) as a secular institution, and the role of religion at the founding and during the subsequent history of the University of Virginia up to the present. Required reading will include all or parts of: Edwin Gaustad, Sworn on the Altar of God: A Religious Biography of Thomas Jefferson; G. W. Sheldon and D. Dreisbach, eds., Religion and Political Culture in Jefferson’s Virginia;, W. Hudson, The English Deists: Studies in the Early Enlightenment; K. Walters, The American Deists: Voices of Reason and Dissent in the Early Republic; Thomas Jefferson: Writings (Library of America); F. Rudolph, The American College and University: A History; Minutes of the University of Virginia Board of Visitors; and a variety of other sources and studies.

RELC 3447 | History of Christian Ethics  

Mohrmann, Margaret

This course surveys the development of Christian ethical thought and teaching from its beginnings through the Reformation era. Major ethical themes are traced through the centuries, as the church’s scripture, evolving doctrine, and emerging tradition interact— in thought, word, and deed—with secular society, politics, and philosophy. Readings are taken mostly from primary texts, such as the Bible and the writings of selected Christian thinkers, but also include an online text that provides historical and theological background ethical issues in historical context, and selected secondary works that examine particular ethical issues in historical context. Class sessions are a combination of lecture and discussion.

RELC 3470 | Christianity and Science

Christian Europe gave rise to modern science, yet Christianity and science have long appeared mutual enemies. In this course we explore the encounter between two powerful cultural forces and study the intellectual struggle (especially in Galileo, Newton, Darwin, and Freud) about the place of God in the modern world.

RELC 3559 | Christian Discipleship and Martyrdom

What defines Christian martyrdom? How does it relate to the broader demands of Christian discipleship? How does it relate to the ethical themes of love and justice? This course will engage readings in Christian theology and ethics to pursue these questions. The seminar emphasizes martyrdom in Christian tradition, but comparative religious research can be incorporated into student projects. 

RELC 3559 | Apocryphal Christian Literature

This course offers a survey of “apocryphal” Christian literature of the second to fourth centuries CE, that is, gospels, acts, apocalypses and letters that were not included in the New Testament.  Some of these texts seem to have been intended to supplement the canonical literature; others represent substantially different, often contrary, views.  We will read a selection of texts, including the Gospel of Thomas, the Infancy Gospel of James, the Gospel of Judas, the Acts of John, the Apocalypse of Paul, the correspondence of Paul and Seneca, and the Acts of Andrew and Matthias in the City of the Cannibals.  Our close reading of these highly interesting, highly entertaining primary sources (in English translation) will reveal the remarkable diversity of early Christianities.  

RELC 3559 | Catholic Experience

Contact instructor directly 

RELC 3559 | God, Love and Sin Middle Ages

Hawthorne, Laura

This course explores Western Christian thought during the Middle Ages, beginning with Augustine at the end of late antiquity through the early fifteenth century. We will examine the theological works and historical context of authors throughout the period, paying particular attention to their ideas about divine love, human sin, and gender. In addition to Augustine, we will read works by Anselm of Canterbury, Bernard of Clairvaux, Peter Abelard, Hildegard of Bingen, Thomas Aquinas, Catherine of Siena, and Julian of Norwich. The course will encourage you to develop your skills as a scholarly thinker, researcher, and writer. The readings and discussions will be challenging, but the instructor will provide guidance and encourage student interaction and collaboration. Students of all years and majors are encouraged to enroll. Contact the instructor to discuss the class.

RELC 3559 | Gender and Power in Medieval Christianity

Why were women excluded from the priestly hierarchy of the church? How did male clerics subsequently circumscribe women’s roles in the church? And how did women respond? These are the questions that we will explore in this course on the intersection between gender and power in pre-modern Christianity.

RELC 3559 | Body and Spirituality in Christianity

Why do Christians seem so preoccupied with regulating and restricting sexual behavior? Does this arise out of a sheer hatred of the body, or are more complex motives at work? In this course, we will attempt to answer these questions by exploring the attitudes of Christians in the formative period of the church—roughly from the first to sixth centuries of the Common Era—towards the body, sexuality and spirituality.

RELC 3559 | Joseph, Esther, Daniel, Tobit

We will conduct a close critical reading of some of the finest narratives in ancient Judaism: The story of Joseph, the biblical Books of Esther and Daniel, and the Book of Tobit. Each tells of an ancient Jewish hero living outside the land, in exile, who works, against all odds, to deliver her or his people. In tandem with these works, we will also consider several related biblical and extra-biblical texts (including Nehemiah, Ruth, Joseph and Asenath, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, and Judith). We will attend to the literary, historical, and theological significance of these works and to themes they have in common, such as the refiguring of exile and restoration, the role of women in ancient Israel, the function of coincidence and coincidental reversals, the role of human activity in the face of a seemingly remote deity, the temptations of assimilation, and the vindication of the underdog and trickster.

RELC 3559 | Bible and Early Christians

This course explores the role that the Bible played in shaping a distinctly Christian culture in the later Roman Empire, which came to be the dominant culture across Europe and Byzantium. For the early Christians, the Bible was not simply a source of doctrine about God, but it also constituted an alternative body of literature to the classics (Homer, Hesiod, Vergil), which was to be read, interpreted, and emulated in a similar fashion. We will examine the variety of written and oral forms that early Christian interpretation of the Bible took (commentaries, homilies, orations, poetry, polemical literature), the social settings in which these documents were produced (pulpit, schoolroom, public debate), and the competing exegetical approaches that were developed (allegory, typology). Students will gain an appreciation for the complexity and diversity of early Christian biblical interpretation and an understanding of how the Bible came to serve as the foundation of Western culture.

RELC 3559 | Gender, Sexuality

This experimental seminar, supported by the Mead Endowment, will engage contemporary discussions about Christianity, gender, and sexuality. The precise focus of the course will be shaped by student interests. A couple of meetings in Fall 2011 will be devoted to identifying students\' scholarly concerns; Professor Jones will then prepare a syllabus for the Spring semester. Topics than might be addressed include the following (the list is not exhaustive): theology, feminism, and womanism; human sexuality, sexual ethics, and marriage; the nature of "masculinity" and "femininity"; reproduction, contraception, and abortion; intimate partner violence; pornography; child-rearing and the family. For two-thirds of the semester, the seminar will focus on scholarly materials. During the last third of the semester, the seminar will visit religious and political groups in Washington, D.C., in order to hear different perspectives on the issues. The cost of these trips will be covered by the Mead Endowment. Participation in this seminar is by permission only. Students with an interest in enrollment should send Professor Jones an email that (a) lists relevant courses taken at U.Va; (b) identifies some areas of scholarly interest, pertinent to this course; and (c) explains, briefly, why the student would like to participate in the seminar. The email address: pdj5c@virginia.edu

RELC 3559 | Lost and Found: The Prodigal Retold

Cox, Kendall

The Parable of the Prodigal Son is a paradigmatic tale of waywardness, rebellion, and redemption. One of the most popular and influential stories in Western scriptures, it has been depicted and retold countless times by artists, theologians, novelists, poets, and filmmakers. In this course, we will discuss the parable and some of its most popular retellings and representations, including creative works from the first century to the present.

RELC 3559 | O'Connor and Percy

Guroian, Vigen, Wilson, William

This course covers the major fiction of two important American writers of the twentieth century who challenged and tested the modern temper with a Christian imagination and vision of the human condition. We will read together ten or so of Flannery O’Connor’s short stories. These include such stories as “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” Revelation,” “The Enduring Chill,” “Good Country People,” and “Parker’s Back.” In addition one of O’Connor’s two novels will be read, either Wise Blood or The Violent Bear It Away. Three of Walker Percy’s novels are on the docket: The Moviegoer, Lancelot, and The Last Gentleman. Requirements include several papers and a take-home essay final.

RELC 3559 | Augustine and His World

Augustine of Hippo is one of the most influential and intriguing thinkers in the Western theological and philosophical traditions. As an intellectually gifted North African bishop who had himself struggled to accept the claims of Christianity, he was deeply engaged in the controversies of his day, maintaining a broad network of contacts that reached from Spain and Gaul in the West to Palestine in the East. He shaped how his contemporaries and subsequent generations have thought about politics, war and violence; the body and sexuality; the will; evil; sin; the interpretation of Scripture; the Church; and the triune being of God. In this course, we will examine the development of his thought from the Cassiciacum dialogues to his mature writings, considering how this was shaped by the theological, cultural, and political tensions of the world in which he lived. We will also consider Augustine’s unique preoccupation with knowing himself, particularly in the Confessions, which is seen asthe first example of autobiographical literature in the Western tradition. We will be reading extensive selections, in English translation, of his major works, including (but not limited to) Confessions, On Christian Teaching, The City of God, and On The Trinity.

RELC 3559 | God and the Mystery of the World

This course explores the experience and idea of mystery in theological perspective. The goal is to understand, analyze and appreciate the diverse expressions of mystery in human identity and psychology, social and ethical relation, and aesthetic encounter. Works to be considered include: Karl Rahner,” Encounters in Silence"; Eberhard Jüngel "God as the Mystery of the World"; Martin Buber,” I and Thou"; Howard Thurman,” Deep River"; Dorothy Day,” The Long Loneliness"; Walker Percy,” The Moviegoer"; Michalengelo Antonioni,” Blow-Up” ; Stanley Leavy,” In the Image of God: A Psychoanalysist’s View"; Timothy Goringe,” The Education of Desire: Towards a Theology of the Senses", and Darcey Steinke,” Easter Everywhere".

RELC 3559 | African-Americans and the Bible

Cooper, Valerie

In this course, we will look at the ways African American scholars, clergy, laity, men, women, the free, and the enslaved, have read, interpreted, preached, and taught scripture. In examining these interpretations, we will also seek to sketch out a broader theology, history, and sociology of black people as they used the tool at hand, the Bible, to argue for their own humanity, create their own cultures, and establish their own societies. We will also undertake the interpretive enterprise, seeking to find common ground for understanding the meaning of the biblical text in our own, and others' communities.

RELC 3620 | Modern Theology

Who are the great modern Christian theologians? What do they have to say to us? What do they argue about? Who did they offend and why? In this seminar we shall read major works by four of the truly great modern theologians of the twentieth century. Two are Protestant (Karl Barth and Paul Tillich), and two are Catholic (Karl Rahner and Henri de Lubac).

RELC 3625 | Christ

This course explores what it means to say that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ or Messiah. We will discuss candidates for the proper starting point of theology, including the claim that Jesus is the Christ. How is the doctrine of Jesus as the Christ built up from biblical witnesses, the Church Fathers, and Church councils? What roles do heresies play in this construction? What differences are there between the “Jesus of history” and the “Christ of faith,” and should we accept this distinction? What are the functions of creeds? What is “revelation”? More particularly, what events in the life of Jesus are central to Christological claims? Sustained attention is given to the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus; and particular attention is given to the preaching of Jesus, especially his teaching of the Kingdom of God.

RELC 3675 | Women in Ancient Christianity

Why were women excluded from the priestly hierarchy of the church? How did male clerics subsequently circumscribe women's roles in the church? And how did women respond? These are the questions that we will explore in this course on the intersection between gender and power in pre-modern Christianity.

RELC 3681 | Cultural Catholicism

Today many North Americans insist on a Roman Catholic baptism, wedding, and funeral but otherwise want little to do with the institutional Church. In this seminar, we will try to make sense of “secular” or “cultural Catholics.” Are they just lazy, or do they have good reason for ambivalence about their Church? What would it take to overcome such ambivalence?

Ambivalent or distanced Catholics may retain certain inclinations (for example, opposition to the death penalty) or patterns of thought (for example, redemption through community) which tie them to Rome in some peculiar way. We will explore Roman Catholic experience outside the official structures of the Holy See (for example, devotions, pilgrimages, shrines, art, fiction, cinema, television), particularly as committed Catholics argue over how to honor their spiritual tradition in day-to-day life. We will study current challenges wrought by women, Jews, and gays. We will pay special attention to dissent as an emerging hallmark of Catholic culture in the United States. Can we reduce Catholicism to a set of rules? If instead Catholicism asserts itself as a way of living, how does this mindset evolve and from where does it take its spiritual cues? How has Catholic culture in the United States moved from obedience to protest, from passion to ambivalence?

RELC 3685 | Christianity, Gender, Sexuality

This seminar engages a range of theological and ethical perspectives on sexuality and gender. There are four sections to the course. First, we'll consider landmark statements in the Bible and in the Christian tradition, reading authors like Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine of Hippo, Simeon the Theologian, and John Paul II. Second, we'll engage important texts of feminist and womanist theology, stretching from the revolutionary work of Mary Daly to contemporary authors like Serene Jones and Monica Coleman. Third, we'll engage a diversity of opinions about same-sex relationships and explore the exciting field of queer theology. Finally, we'll read some cutting-edge works that tackle themes discussed throughout the semester. 

Requirements: participation in class discussion and (a) two 10-page papers OR (b) one 20-page research paper. While there are no firm pre-requisites, students who enroll in this class should have taken at least one course in the U.Va Department of Religious Studies, ideally in the field of Christian thought or western philosophy of religion.

RELC 3690 | Gospel of John 

Kovacs, Judith

A close reading of the Gospel of John, this course first locates the Gospel in its first century context, considering literary, historical, and theological questions, and then surveys the book’s later influence. Questions raised include: What is distinctive about the portrayal of Jesus in the Gospel of John in comparison with the synoptic gospels? How does the Gospel use irony, misunderstanding, and other literary techniques to draw out the meaning of Jesus’ teachings and actions? What clues are there in the text for imagining the specific historical situation in which the Gospel was written? What are the reasons for, and implications of, its depiction of "the Jews"? The class will conclude with an examination of the Gospel’s reception history, including fictional lives of the author, the important role the Gospel played in the development of the church’s teaching about Jesus, and its influence on visual art, poetry, music, and film.

RELC 3695 | Sex and Creation in Christianity

Guroian, Vigen

In this course we will ask and examine such questions as: What is the origin of human sexuality and what are its purposes? What do our sexual identities as male and female have to do with the Christian doctrines of Creation, the imago Dei (image of God), original sin, and salvation? Are male and female complementary or incidental? What value does the Christian faith give to the body? How should we view the body with respect to our sexuality? Is there gender or sexuality in the Kingdom of God? What meaning is there in sexual love? Why marriage? Why singleness? Where in our lives does sex belong? Our inquiry will include readings that range from the Bible and early Christian writers to contemporary theologians.

RELC 3700 | Revelation to John

Kovacs, Judith

This course considers the last book of the New Testament from two different points of view. First we will study the Revelation to John in its original, first-century context, comparing it with other works in the same genre, the Jewish apocalypses Daniel, 1 Enoch, and 2 Esdras, and asking questions about the historical setting in which the book was written and its message in and for that context. Secondly, we will consider the book’s reception, that is how it has been used and interpreted through the centuries, not only in theological commentaries but also in art (e.g. the woodcuts of Albrecht Dürer and illustrations of William Blake), hymns, spirituals, reggae music, and popular songs, political comment, poetry, and fictional works such as the Left Behind series.
No prerequisites.
For registration priority given to Religious Studies majors.

RELC 3715 | Walker Percy and Flannery O'Connor

Guroian, Vigen, Wilson, William

This course covers the major fiction of two important American writers of the twentieth century who challenged and tested the modern temper with a Christian imagination and vision of the human condition.

RELC 3804 | American Catholic Social Thought

This reading and discussion seminar will trace the evolution of American social and political thought from the Catholic Church's assimilation of an immigrant population to sometimes  unfriendly environment.  The American Church would accordingly support the organized labor movement and set an example for the European Church.  While the American Catholic Church developed progressive social thought, it sometimes refused to take a stand on such "political" issues as slavery.  During the Great Depression, there were, however, further developments in both papal social thought and its acceptance and accommodation to the American ethos.  Post World War II years saw the assimilation of older ethnic groups and yet the plight of new arrivals and racial minorities.  Gradually the American Church addressed these new problems and, in light of Vatican II, took up new issues such as nuclear arms and capital punishment.

RELC 3880 | Religion in Children's Literature

Guroian, Vigen

Contact instructor directly 

RELC 3890 | Christianity in Africa

This course examines the history of Christianity in Africa from its roots in Egypt and the Maghreb in the 2nd c. CE, to contemporary times when nearly half the continent's population claims adherence to the faith. Our historical overview will cover the flowering of medieval Ethiopian Christianity, 16th- and 17th- century Kongolese Christianity, European missions during the colonial period, the subsequent growth of independent churches, the emergence of African Christian theology, and the recent examples of charismatic and Pentecostal “mega-churches.”   We will consider the relationship between colonialism and evangelism; assess efforts in translation and inculturation of the gospel; reflect on the role of healing, prophesy and spirit-possession in conversion, and explore a variety of ways of understanding religious change across the continent.  We will attempt both to position the Christian movement within the wider context of African religious history, and to understand Africa's place in the larger course of Christian history.

RELC 4044 | Religion and American Courts

Contact instructor directly 

RELC 4044 | Religion and the American Courts

What is the legal expanse of religion in American society?  This seminar will explore the limits of spiritual convictions in a liberal democracy which guarantees religious freedom. This course will examine:  1) the First Amendment; 2) legal methodology; and 3) the contemporary debate over whether citizens and public officials have a duty to refrain from making political and legal decisions on the basis of their religious beliefs. After surveying the theoretical literature, we will turn to specific legal issues involving the practice of religion in the United States.  The Supreme Court’s understanding of the Religion Clauses changed substantially in the twentieth century, and so we will focus on the second half of the last century. Requirements:  1) oral presentation; 2) final fifteen-page paper; 3) regular class participation; and 4) three short exams.

RELC 4085 | Christian Missions in Contemporary Africa

This seminar examines Christian missions in Africa in the 21st Century.  Through a variety of disciplinary lenses, we examine faith-based initiatives in Africa—those launched from abroad, as well as those initiated by Africans themselves.  What does it mean to be a missionary in Africa today? How are evangelizing efforts being transformed in response to democratization, globalization and a growing awareness of human rights?  What is the relationship between evangelism and economic development, proselytism and humanitarian aid, and mission and education today? This seminar is intended for advanced undergraduates with a serious interest—and preferably some experience—in Africa.  At least one prior course on Christianity and/or Africa is recommended.

RELC 4559 | American Church-State Conflicts

This course considers how courts decide religious liberty cases and the public debate about those decisions. This means students will spend much of their time thinking about the values and social contexts that give coherence to a confusing array of seemingly contradictory court opinions. Consequently, we will be analyzing the logic of the court and its evolving cultural context, not merely the facts of court cases. Ultimately, the course is designed to develop the capacity to think critically through the use of relevant legal documents and to appreciate their influence on the shape of religion -- as well as other social institutions, such as education -- in America.

RELC 4559 | Evangelism in Contemporary Africa

This seminar examines Christian missions in Africa in the 21st Century.  Through a variety of theoretical lenses and methodological approaches, we examine faith-based initiatives in Africa—those launched from abroad, as well as from within the continent.  What does it mean to be a missionary in Africa today? How are evangelizing efforts being transformed in response to democratization, globalization and a growing awareness of human rights?   What is the relationship between evangelism and economic development, proselytism and humanitarian aid, mission and education today?

RELC 4559 | Family Values

Exploration of family structures and norms, specifically of what came to be known in the United States as “family values” in the early 1970s.  Particular attention to the Family Research Council and James Dobson’s “Focus on the Family” today.  How are family values enforced and transmitted through religious communities, social pressures, and laws?  What shaped prevailing attitudes toward:  adoption, abandonment, child abuse, neglect, wife beating, incest, and sexual regulation in general?  How, if at all, do television shows such as Modern Family, American Dad, and The Simpsons reinforce or undermine traditional “family values” ?  How have American politicians manipulated social anxiety about professional women, divorce, childhood depression, gays, and lesbians?

RELC 4610 | Sex and Morality

How have Jewish and Christian morals shaped sexual experience in the West?  What do contemporary Americans mean by “family values” ? Focusing on the United States today, we will analyze pre-marital sex, the sexual revolution, promiscuity, abortion, prostitution, gay marriage, rape, teaching sex education in public schools, and “senior sex.”  We will pay special attention to art, film, and the media in challenging sexual mores.  What does sexual activity have to do with religious practice?  How will we theorize or understand sexual desires we don’t share?  How appropriate is it for the government to legislate sexuality?  What is the future of sex in America? Requirements:  informed class participation; three brief exams; seminar presentation; final 15-20-page paper. Please note that no laptops will be permitted in this seminar.

How have Jewish and Christian morals shaped sexual experience in the West?  What do contemporary Americans mean by “family values” ?  Focusing on the United States today, we will analyze pre-marital sex, the sexual revolution, promiscuity, abortion, prostitution, gay marriage, rape, teaching sex education in public schools, and “senior sex.”  We will pay special attention to art, film, and the media in challenging sexual mores.  Please note that no laptops will be permitted in this seminar. What does sexual activity have to do with religious practice?  How will we theorize or understand sexual desires we don’t share?  How appropriate is it for the government to legislate sexuality?  What is the future of sex in America?

RELC 4610 | Sex and Morality

Portmann, John

How have Jewish and Christian morals shaped sexual experience in the West?  What do contemporary Americans mean by “family values”?  Focusing on the United States today, we will analyze pre-marital sex, the sexual revolution, promiscuity, abortion, prostitution, gay marriage, pornography, rape, teaching sex education in public schools, and “senior sex.”  We will pay special attention to selected legal decisions in minting sexual mores, as well as to art, film, and the media in challenging values.

What does sexual activity have to do with religious practice?  How will we theorize or understand sexual desires we don’t share?  How appropriate is it for the government to legislate sexuality?  What is the future of sex in America?

Requirements: 1) informed seminar discussion; 2) two exams; 3) final 15-20 page paper 

RELC 5006 | Augustine's City of God 

Combining lecture and discussion, this class will read, slowly, the entire City of God, in an attempt to understand that work's argument, paying attention to the various audiences to which it was addressed, and (so far as we can tell) Augustine's larger overall theology, politics, and vision of history.

RELC 5009 | Bonhoeffer, Niebuhr and King

This graduate seminar explores the theologies of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Reinhold Niebuhr and Martin Luther King, Jr., with attention to their intellectual inheritance and formation, historical context, and influence on modern religious thought.  Course requirements include three 1800-2000 word essays or one 6000-7500 research paper, weekly discussions, a class presentation and readings in primary and critical sources.  Undergraduate enrollment by permission of instructor.

RELC 5009 | Bonhoeffer, Niebuhr and King

The course has four goals: (1) to understand the theologies of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Martin Luther King Jr.; (2) to explore the themes of resistance and reconciliation in their writings and actions; (3) to examine their ambivalent relationships with academic theology; and (4) to consider the promise of lived theology for contemporary religious thought.

RELC 5043 | Prospects in Eastern Orthodox Theology

Guroian, Vigen

Contact instructor directly 

RELC 5048 | Philo of Alexandria and Hellenistic Judaism

Gamble, Harry

This seminar will explore the works and thought of Philo Judaeus (ca. 20 BCE-50 CE), the most prolific Jewish thinker and writer of antiquity.  In addition to extensive reading of Philo’s work, the seminar will have a view to the socio-political, intellectual and religious context to which he belonged, namely Hellenistic Judaism, particularly in Egypt, to the relation of Philo to other forms of Judaism in the ancient world, and to the significance of Philo for early Christian thought.

RELC 5077 | Pius XII, Hitler the US and WW II  

Since Rolf Hochhuth’s play, "The Deputy” was first performed in Germany in 1963, controversy has swirled around Pius XII, the wartime pope.  Hochhuth [portrayed the pope as anti-Semitic--and hence silent in regard to the Holocaust--and pro-Hitler, partly out of fear of communism.  Since then the pope and the Vatican have had defenders and attackers.  The literature on both sides of the question has been more heated than historical.  The course will investigate that controversy through the lens of American relations with the Vatican. After general reading on both sides of the question of the role of the pope, including several recent books that rely on the recently opened Vatican Archives up to 1939, the students will choose a topic in consultation with the professor on which to write a major paper. Course requirements: 1) attendance at class and discussion; 2) short weekly papers on the readings: and 3) a major paper of 20 pages on a topic approved by the professor.

RELC 5077 | Pius XII, Hitler the US &WW II

For the past forty years the role of Pius XII and the Vatican during World War II has been controversial. This seminar will look at that controversy and place it in the context of newly available archival material. The students will read several books on both sides of the question and then present their own research papers, the topics of which will be chosen in consultation with the professor.

RELC 5130 | Being and God 

This seminar takes contemplation in the Christian tradition as its focus. Accordingly, we shall begin by examining what Plato and Aristotle say about *theoria* and then see how the first Christians took up these two quite different understandings. Does *theoria* touch on something fundamental to Christianity or does it add something superfluous to it? How does *theoria* (and, in the West, contemplatio) influence Christian understandings of the Hebrew Bible? These questions will lead us to consider the elaborate development of contemplatio in the Medieval Latin West, especially in the Victorines and Aquinas. Yet the adventures of the gaze do not stop there, and we shall also consider the partial revival of contemplation in phenomenology and in analytic philosophy of religion. What is the relation, if any, between *theoria* and “mysticism” ? More generally, should one speak of *theoria* in the register of “experience” ? These are among the questions we shall discuss.

RELC 5155 | Ecology, Christianity, and Culture

Guroian, Vigen

The character and content of this course differs from the policy-oriented nature of many standard courses in environmental ethics. If there is an underlying premise to the class, it is that the environmental crisis is not external to ourselves but rather originates “within” us, as we are sinfully disposed to misuse not only our own bodies but the whole of Creation. If this is so, then a Christian ecological ethic must include serious reflection on theological anthropology, doctrines of Creation and Salvation, and a theology of culture. It must include an ecological spirituality.

RELC 5158 | History of Christian Ethics  

Mohrmann, Margaret

This course is designed to provide a solid understanding of the historical roots, from the New Testament period to the Reformation, of Christian ethics, experience in working with historical source materials, and familiarity with some important interpreters of this history. In seminar discussions, we will primarily explore primary materials, but also consider the work of interpreters such as Ernst Troeltsch and Peter Brown.

RELC 5230 | Pentecostalism

Cooper, Valerie

Examines the history, theology, and practices of Pentecostalism, the fastest growing Christian movement in the world, from its origins among poor whites and recently freed African Americans to its phenomenal expansion in places like South America, Asia, and Africa.

RELC 5291 | Genesis

A seminar of the book of Genesis, its formation, and its subsequent interpretation. We will examine the literary artistry of the book—the dramatic and tangled narrative that opens the Hebrew Bible—by considering its plot, characterization, and compositional history. Using methods of modern biblical scholarship, we will further consider the book in its historical and religious context. And, finally, we will examine the early history of how the book was interpreted. Readings will include not only biblical texts, but other ancient Near Eastern compositions that shed light on Genesis, early biblical interpretation, and secondary scholarship on the history, literature and religion of Ancient Israel. 

This course is open to graduate students; undergraduate students (who have completed RELC/RELJ 1210) may contact the instructor to discuss permission to enroll. 

Hebrew is not a prerequisite for the course, but advanced students in classical Hebrew may elect to take a translation component.

RELC 5445 | Atonement

This course engages landmark Christian statements about atonement. For about two-thirds of the semester, we will read “classic” texts – specifically, works by Anselm of Canterbury, Peter Abelard, Julian of Norwich, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Friedrich Schleiermacher, G. W. F. Hegel, Karl Barth, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and Sergius Bulgakov. In the remaining third of the course we will consider contemporary statements by René Girard, Delores Williams, Nancy Duff, Jon Sobrino, James Cone, and others. Questions addressed include the following: How do the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ relate to sin and salvation? What role do the Hebrew Bible and New Testament play in the formation of accounts of atonement? How does Christian experience, communal and individual, fund reflection on atonement? In what ways have different theologians described and conceptualized the reconciliation of God and humankind? Have classical descriptions of the cross directly or indirectly sanctioned violence against women and people of color? How do different perspectives on atonement bear on theological ethics?

While of direct interest to students interested in Christian thought and theological ethics, this course can also serve as a high-level survey of important Christian writings from the medieval period to the present day. It is intended primarily for graduate students in Religious Studies and related disciplines; interested undergraduates should email the professor directly to discuss enrollment.

RELC 5551 | After the New Testament

Gamble, Harry

Early 2nd century Christianity in the literature of the Apostolic Fathers (esp. 1 Clement, Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle of Barnabas, the Didache, Martyrdom of Polycarp).  Topics include emerging church orders, issues of legitimacy and authority, liturgical ideas and practices, uses of  (Jewish) scripture , relations to Judaism, and the ethos of Christianity in the early second century.

RELC 5551 | Seminar in Early Christianity

Lacoste, Jean-Yves

There is no description for this course, but here is the reading list:

Origen, Contra Celsum, Translated with an introduction and notes by Henry Chadwick, CUP
Celsus, On the True Doctrine: A Discourse Against the Christians, translated by R.J. Hoffmann, OUP
Porphyry, Against the Christians: The Literary Remains, translated by R.J. Hoffmann, OUPLacoste

RELC 5559 | Marriage

Guroian, Vigen

This course studies the history, theology, and ethics of marriage in the Christian faith from the New Testament through the present. It will cover Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant traditions with special emphasis on the rites, their development and meaning. as well as contemporary loci of discussion and controversy such as divorce, remarriage, gay marriage, courtship, and sexuality.

RELC 5559 | Making of Christian Orthodoxy

In this course, we will study the key developments in Christian theology in Late Antiquity.  Topics include the relationship between Christianity and Greek philosophy; biblical exegesis; the being of God and Christ; mysticism and contemplation; and the liturgy. We will focus on the Trinitarian and Christological controversies of the fourth and fifth centuries, tracing the exegetical, philosophical and liturgical roots of the debates.

RELC 5559 | Theology in the Third Reich

This seminar offers graduate students and selected undergraduates an opportunity to pursue close readings and original research on topics related to theology, theologians, and the religious practices of Protestants (mainly) between 1933 and 1945 in Germany. The goals of the seminar are to identify and analyze the differing theological responses to Hitler, to trace doctrinal commitments and scriptural practices as they shaped perceptions of Jews, other non-Aryans and homosexuals, and, more generally, to understand the relation between religion and race. Readings include: (1) primary documents, i.e., theological writings, church publications, sermons, circular letters from seminaries and parishes, personal letters, and university lectures; (2) theological and religious writings of the period (Harnack, Barth, Bonhoeffer, Heidegger, Tillich, Löwith, Gogarten, Kittel); (3) critical studies of theology and theological culture in the Third Reich (Klaus Scholder, Doris Bergen, Robert Erikson, Susannah Heschel, Victoria Barnett, John Conway, Richard Stiegmann-Gall, Robert Krieg); and (4) constructive works on Christian theology and the Holocaust (Edith Wyschogrod, Stephen Haynes, ). All readings are in English. Requirements include weekly summaries of reading, active participation in the seminar, an annotated bibliography, either two 2400 – 3000 word research papers or one 4800- 6000 word paper; and a class presentation. Instructor’s permission is required for enrollment.

RELC 5559 | Patristic Exegesis

Kovacs, Judith

This seminar on patristic exegesis considers the interpretation of the Bible in the first few centuries of the church, with particular attention to the exegesis of Origen, John Chrysostom, the Cappadocian Fathers, and Augustine. Topics will include interpretations of Genesis, the Song of Songs, the Gospel of John, and 1 Corinthians, as well as how early Christian interpretation of the Bible relates to classical culture (the system of education, classical rhetoric, and interpretation of Homer and Hesiod). The seminar is intended primarily for graduate students in JCA and SIP; it also welcomes interested graduate students in TEC and advanced undergraduates (by permission of the instructor). There is no language requirement but opportunity will be offered for interested students to read texts in the original.

RELC 5559 | The Icon in Eastern Orthodox Christianity

Guroian, Vigen

This is a course on the icon in Orthodox Christianity. We will read theological works on the meaning of icons, but also on the value of art and its relationship to culture and the sacred. We will consider the icon as a way of doing theology and as a medium of worship and prayer. Readings range from John of Damascus’s 8th century apologetic in defense of the holy icons to modern Orthodox theological aesthetics and theologies of the icon, Included are the writings of Leonid Ouspensky, Vladimir Lossky, Paul Evdokimov. Andrew Louth, Michael Quenot, and Philip Sherrard. We will study at close hand Byzantine, Armenian, Syrian, and Coptic iconography and gospel illumination.

RELC 5559 | Liturgy in Late Antiquity

This course will explore the role played by "liturgy" in creating and sustaining identities in Late Antiquity (c. 200-800 CE), especially in Christianity, but also in Judaism. Through the study of texts, art, and architecture, we will explore the ways that various rituals and communal experiences helped individuals to locate themselves in the world.

RELC 5559 | Modern Russian Religious Thinkers

Guroian, Vigen

In this seminar, we will focus on two Russian religious thinkers whose lives were closely intertwined, especially during their early years within Russia and as émigrés compelled to leave their homeland in the 1920s. The intellectual stature and brilliance of Fr. Sergius Bulgakov (1871-1944) and Nicholas Berdyaev (1874-1948 cannot be understated despite the fact that neither has yet entered the Religious Studies canon. Both began as Marxists but by the first decade of the twentieth century had made a turn toward philosophical idealism and strove to articulate a radical Christianity. In his mature work, each expounded a profound Christian philosophy and theology. We begin our study with several selections from Bulgakov’s and Berdyaev’s early writings, but quickly move to some of their most valuable mature works. From Bulgakov’s massive corpus, we will concentrate on his two masterpieces: his Christology, The Lamb of God and his ecclesiology, The Bride of the Lamb. From Berdyaev’s prolific output, we will consider three titles that rank among his most profound and influential works: his Christian theosophy, Freedom and Spirit, his ethics, The Destiny of Man, and his existentialist defense of personality and freedom, Slavery and Freedom.

RELC 5559 | Contemporary Catholic Theology

The seminar explores crucial developments in late-20th and early-21st century Catholic theology and social thought. First, the course engages debates in theological method, especially in terms of their relationship with themes of enculturation and the public relevance of Catholic thought. The second unit explores major doctrinal trajectories that have emerged in light of these methodological debates. Shifting to a global theological perspective, the course concludes by investigating the role of Catholic theology in relation to crucial ethical concerns today: poverty/economics, human trafficking, immigration, and ecology.

RELC 5559 | Roman Catholic Moral Tradition

This class will study the Roman Catholic moral tradition, giving attention to historical matters, to recent debates and current concerns, and especially to the tradition of encyclicals on broadly moral matters promulgated since Leo XIII. A persistent question throughout the class will be the several strategies whereby the Roman Catholic church has attempted to speak to "all persons of good will,” while remaining faithful to the particularities of its history and distinct character.

RELC 5559 | Continental Philosophy

Yates, Christopher

This course will examine the central 19th and 20th century movements and figures in European philosophy that comprise the tradition commonly called Continental Philosophy, particularly in its relationship to matters of meaning and belief. 

RELC 5559 | The Nag Hammadi Library and Gnosticism

Contact instructor directly 

RELC 5559 | Ancient Fiction and Early Christian and Jewish Narratives

Several important phenomena in the history of literature coincide in the first centuries CE: the invention of the novel (that is, fictive literature in prose), the adoption of the book (or “codex” ) format, and the emergence of Christian literature, specifically the composition of prose narratives about Jesus and his disciples.  In this seminar, we will ask how and to what extent these phenomena are related.  To that end, we will read a wide variety of texts, including the earliest romance novels (e.g. Chariton’s Chaereas and Callirhoe), Jewish novellas (e.g. Joseph and Aseneth) and Christian narratives both canonical (e.g. the Gospel of Mark) and apocryphal (e.g. the Acts of Paul).  In these texts we will read about prison escapes, crucifixions, apparent deaths and resurrections, love at first sight, true love lost, beast fights in the arena, travel to exotic lands, shipwrecks, and pirates—lots and lots of pirates. We will consider questions of definition and genre, but our primary goal will be—through reading both widely and deeply—to increase our understanding of how ancient prose narratives function.  Simply put, we will try to become better readers of these texts.

RELC 5559 | Catholic Biblical Scholarship

Contact instructor directly

RELC 5559 | Religions of the Roman Empire

In this course we will study the diverse religious landscape of the Greco-Roman world from the end of the Roman Republic through the rise of Christianity.  We will consider a variety of religious practice and expression, including the Roman public religion, Dionysiac/Orphic cult, Isis cult, Mithras cult, Cybele cult, Greco-Roman Magic, Hellenistic Judaism and early Christianities. We will work with a variety of ancient sources, including literature, images and other material culture in an effort to understand these ancient cults and the people who participated in them.  While most have long since ceased to be practiced, two of these ancient religions are still around today.  In the last weeks of the course, we will make a special effort to place Judaism and Christianity within their Roman context, alongside the other “religious options” of the period.

RELC 5559 | Freedom

A graduate seminar that investigates diverse theological and philosophical treatments of freedom. During the semester, we will consider three overlapping areas of concern: (a) sin, grace, and the "bound will"; (ii) divine providence and human action; and (iii) analyses of gender, sex, race, and class -- i.e., the question of "liberation,” broadly construed. Authors studied may include the following: Augustine of Hippo, Anselm of Canterbury, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, Immanuel Kant, Sojourner Truth, Karl Marx, W. E. B. Dubois, Simone de Beauvoir, Karl Barth, Paul Tillich, James Cone, Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, and Catherine Keller.

Undergraduates wishing to take this class must apply for permission from the instructor, and must have done a fair amount of academic work in  Christian theology and western philosophy of religion.

RELC 5559 | America's Bibles

This course asks why and to what ends have Americans produced so many versions of the Bible, as well as several new scriptures, such as the Book of Mormon and Mary Baker Eddy’s Science and Health? A minor, though recurring theme in the course will be the modernist crisis over questions of historicity and myth, reason and revelation.  So, we will be thinking about the Bible both as a sacred text for some and an unavoidable cultural object for all Americans. Finally, the three-century scope of the course lends itself to a reappraisal of American religious history from the vantage point of Bible use. This reappraisal will take us through such themes as race, gender, nationalism, millennialism, and science, using such approaches as material Christianity and narrative criticism. Students will be asked to find and introduce briefly to the class a version of the bible or other American scripture not treated by the syllabus. A 15-20 page paper on a question or text of your choice will also be required; the length dependent on degree program.

RELC 5559 | Foundations of Western Christianity 

Although Christianity is often treated as a "Western" religion, it is helpful to remember that it began as a religion rooted in the Eastern Mediterranean, which reached Asia long before many places in Europe. In this course, we will examine the making of a distinctly Western form of Christianity, which came to provide the intellectual and cultural foundation of European society. Through a carefulreading of primary sources (as well as a consideration of some artistic, architectural and epigraphic evidence), we will study the theological, philosophical, ritual and cultural innovations of Christians in the period 350-600 AD. All sources will be assigned in English translation, but there will be an optional language component, which will give interested students the ability to read sources in Latin and/or Greek.

 

RELC 5665 | Freedom

This seminar investigates diverse perspectives on freedom. We will consider three overlapping areas of concern: (a) sin, grace, and the “bound will”; (b) divine providence and human action; and (c) analyses of gender, sex, race, and class as they bear on the issues of “subjection” and “liberation,” broadly construed. We will read landmark works by Augustine of Hippo, Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards, Immanuel Kant, G. W. F. Hegel, Sojourner Truth, Friedrich Nietzsche, James Cone, Judith Butler, and several others.

The seminar is primarily intended for graduate students, but open to advanced undergraduates with a strong and extensive background in the academic study of Christian thought and/or western philosophy and political theory.

RELC 5676 | Human Image, Divine Image

Guroian, Vigen

This is a study of major Patristic authors and modern Eastern Orthodox theologians who have reflected on the imago Dei and the humanity of God in their Christology and Christian anthropology. The writers that we will read include: Gregory of Nyssa, Ephrem the Syrian, Cyril of Alexandria, Maximus the Confessor, Nicholas Cabasilas, Vladimir Lossky, John Zizioulas, and Nicholas Berdyaev.

RELC 5685 | Orthodoxy and Heresy  

This seminar traces the making of Christian 'orthodoxy' in Late Antiquity. Our focus will be debates concerning the doctrines of God and Christ, which we will place in their historical, philosophical and exegetical contexts. Our study is informed by the move in modern scholarship towards anti-essentialist notions of orthodoxy and heresy, and so we will be attentive to the myriad ways in which early Christians sought to authorize their own views.

RELC 5700 | Patristic Greek

Kovacs, Judith

Readings of Greek fathers such as John Chrysoston and Gregory of Nazianzus, with emphasis on grammar, syntax and rhetoric. An intermediate to advanced level course.

RELC 5795 | The Icon in Orthodox Christianity 

Guroian, Vigen

Contact instructor directly 

RELC 5830 | Love and Justice Christian Ethics 

Childress, James

An examination of various conceptions of neighbor-love (agape) and justice and their relations (e.g., identity and opposition) in Protestant and some Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox literature (mainly from the 20th and early 21st centuries).  The principles of agape and justice will be considered in the context of interpretations of human nature (e.g., the locus and power of sin), theological convictions (e.g., God as creator, preserver, and redeemer), and approaches to moral reasoning.  In addition, attention will be devoted to the distinction and relations between agape and other modes of love, particularly philia and eros.  Finally, in passing, the seminar will also examine the implications of different interpretations of agape (and its relations to justice) for selected practical areas, such as friendship, forgiveness, punishment, war, and allocation of resources.

RELC 5910 | Religion, Race and Politics in American Society

Cooper, Valerie

This course will evaluate the role of religion and race in shaping political campaigns, party affiliation, and the nature of political consensus around issues from the 1960s to the present.  Of particular interest here will be racially- or religiously-affiliated groups and movements like the Tea Party, the Occupy Wall Street protests or the Civil Rights Movement. In the end, we will test the hypothesis that religion and race have been two of the most potent tools for building political power in the US in the last five decades.

RELC 5976 | The Theology of Friedrich Schleiermacher

This graduate-level seminar focuses on the major Protestant theologian of nineteenth-century Europe, Friedrich Schleiermacher. We will read most of Schleiermacher's major works, spending considerable time on his magnum opus, The Christian Faith. Topics considered include theological method; religious experience; the doctrines of God, Christ, creation, and church; theology and gender; and the relevance of Schleiermacher for contemporary philosophical theology. Students ought to have a background in Christian thought and some familiarity with European philosophy.

RELC 5980 | Theology of Karl Barth 

A close examination of the thought of Karl Barth -- arguably the most important European Protestant theologian of the twentieth century. While we will deal with some of Barth’s early work -- specifically, the second edition of *Epistle to the Romans* -- our primary focus will be the mighty *Church Dogmatics*. Topics considered include the role of the Bible in theological reflection, theological epistemology, the doctrine of God, election, human being and human agency, Christology and atonement, sin and evil, and the nature of Christian community. This course is primarily intended for graduate students with interests in Christian theology, western philosophy of religion, theological ethics, and biblical exegesis. Advanced undergraduates who wish to enroll must have significant background in the academic study of Christian thought and should contact the instructor before signing up on SIS.

RELC 7250 | Kierkegaard and the Philosophy of Religion

Lacoste, Jean-Yves

Description not available, but here’s the reading list:

Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments and Johannes Climacus, Edited and translated by H.V. Hong and E.H. Hong, Princeton UP;
Concluding Unscientific Postscript to the Philosophical Crumbs, edited and translated by A. Hannay, Cambridge UP

RELC 7515 | Themes & Topics Christian Thought: Through the Middle Ages

This seminar attempts to acquaint graduate students with major works in Christian thought, in order to provide them with the requisite background both for Comprehensive Examinations in Christian thought and also to orient them to engage various major accounts of the Christian tradition. What are the major debates and concepts that have informed Christian thought historically?  What styles of reasoning and deliberation have been explored, and to what ends? Engaging those questions should open angles of interpretation on what is “Christian” and “theology,” and how they relate to other disciplines. The assigned works are considered many of the most important benchmarks for the larger tradition, in both its Latin Western and Greek Eastern formulations, through the High Middle Ages.

RELC 7515 | Reformation to the Present

This seminar acquaints graduate students with landmark works in Christian thought. In addition to functioning as a survey of major thinkers, it also provides the requisite background for comprehensive examinations in Christian thought. What are the major debates and concepts that have informed Christian thought? What styles of reasoning and deliberation have been employed, and to what ends? Authors considered may include: Martin Luther, John Calvin, Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Schleiermacher, Søren Kierkegaard, Karl Barth, Sergius Bulgakov, H. Richard Niebuhr, Karl Rahner, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Gustavo Gutiérrez, Mary Daly, James Cone, Rosemary Radford Ruether, and Sarah Coakley.

RELC 8315 | Trinity

This seminar seeks to examine the doctrine of God as triune from the period of the early Church through to the period of high scholasticism. We shall focus on Gregory of Nyssa in his engagement with Eunomius, pass to Augustine’s theology of the Trinity, and conclude with Aquinas’s theology of the Trinity. Other theologians — ancient, medieval and modern — shall be referred to in the seminar, and participants are required to read widely in patristic, medieval and modern theology of the Trinity. Assessment will be by one term paper, the topic of which will be discussed individually with Professor Hart.

RELC 8340 | Contemporary Political Theological Ethics

A graduate seminar studying recent work in political theology, especially but not exclusively in Christian thought.

RELC 8920 | Seminar in Early Christianity

Gamble, Harry

Contact instructor directly 

RELG 2160 | Religion in America Since 1865

Religion in America Since 1865 is an historical examination of the social and cultural change that affected the religious life of Americans over the ensuing 150 years.  The course studies theological change in Protestantism, the emergence of three kinds of Judaism, controversy and change in American Catholicism, the origins of fundamentalism and Pentecostalism, various expressions of African-American faith, the attraction of Asian religions to non-Asians in America in the 1960s and afterwards, and the rise of the religious right.  We also explore the effects of immigration, urbanization, politics, and intellectual change on religions in America.  Readings include Dennis Covington’s Salvation on Sand Mountain about snake handling Pentecostals in Appalachia, Abraham Heschel's The Sabbath, sermons of Martin Luther King, Jr., and an essay by basketball coach Phil Jackson about his practice of Buddhism and the way it influenced his coaching of the championship Chicago Bulls.  Fulfills historical studies and humanities area requirements for the College.

General Religious Studies

RELG 1010 | Intro Western Religious Traditions

Studies the major religious traditions of the Western world; Judaism, Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, and Islam.

RELG 1010 | Intro Western Religious Traditions

An historical survey of the origins and development of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Subjects include the origins of monotheism, the rise of Israel as a nation, early Christianity, the rise of Islam in the Middle Ages, the Protestant Reformation, Christianity during the Enlightenment, and the influence of modern science and industrialism on 19th and 20th century religious life. Requirements: Weekly readings, two tests and a final

RELG 1040 | Introduction to Eastern Religious Traditions

Introduces various aspects of the religious traditions of India, China, and Japan.

RELG 1040 | Intro Eastern Religious Traditions

Introduces various aspects of the religious traditions of India, China, and Japan.

RELG 1040 | Intro Eastern Religious Traditions

Gentry, James

Introduces various aspects of the religious traditions of India, China, and Japan.

RELG 1500 | Intro Sem Religious Studies: Religion in America

Analysis of different modes of reflecting on religion in America, in ways that throw light on those modes of inquiry, on the category of "religion," and the idea of America.

RELG 1500 | Intro Sem Religious Studies: Polytheism

This is a course which considers what the study of religion might look like when we do not take Monotheism(s) as  paradigmatic of the meaning of religion. This course explores polytheism as far as possible on its own terms, and not as a foil for monotheism. We shall look to Ancient Greece, Rome and India, and consider the prospect of the return of the gods in European Modernity.

RELG 2155 | Whiteness and Religion

This lecture class examines the role that religion has played and still plays in defining a racial category known as whiteness. By reading cultural histories and ethnographies of the religious practices of various U.S. communities, we will examine how immigrant groups now classified as white (Irish, Italians, Poles, Jews, etc.) and religious images (depictions of Jesus and the Virgin Mary) "became white" and the role that religious practice played in this shift in racial classification.

RELG 2160 | Religion in America Since 1865

Religion in America Since 1865 is an historical examination of the social and cultural change that affected the religious life of Americans over the ensuing 150 years.  The course studies theological change in Protestantism, the emergence of three kinds of Judaism, controversy and change in American Catholicism, the origins of fundamentalism and Pentecostalism, various expressions of African-American faith, the attraction of Asian religions to non-Asians in America in the 1960s and afterwards, and the rise of the religious right.  We also explore the effects of immigration, urbanization, politics, and intellectual change on religions in America.  Readings include Dennis Covington’s Salvation on Sand Mountain about snake handling Pentecostals in Appalachia, Abraham Heschel's The Sabbath, sermons of Martin Luther King, Jr., and an essay by basketball coach Phil Jackson about his practice of Buddhism and the way it influenced his coaching of the championship Chicago Bulls.  Fulfills historical studies and humanities area requirements for the College.

RELG 2190 | Religion and Modern Fiction

Modern fiction—in the 20th and 21st centuries—often creates questions that are intrinsically religious, spiritual, or ethical in character.  Fiction may ask about the human spirit and human nature, evil and suffering, identity and community, reason and revelation, grace and transformation. This course will explore writers who have pursued such questions, and how they have imagined traces of the sacred or transcendent through the distinctive language and experience of their works.

Some of our writers (such as Elie Wiesel, Flannery O'Connor, and Marilynne Robinson) write fiction that explicitly reflects religious traditions.  Others (Hermann Hesse, E. M. Forster, and Toni Morrison) create apparently secular narratives that nonetheless reveal religious or ethical “dimensions” or implications.  Still others (Mary Doria Russell and Yann Martel) employ a variety of cultural and spiritual traditions to disclose new and distinctive religious visions.  Religious theorists such as Martin Buber and John Caputo provide ways to try out different vocabularies for such visions.  And the writers selected may change.
Requirements: Regular attendance and participation; two guided essays with prompts on assigned material (about 6 pages each, worth 25% and 40%); and a short paper on assigned material (about 8 pages, 35% of grade) in lieu of a final exam.
note: Relg 2190 can meet the 2nd writing requirement, on request.

RELG 2190 | Religion and Modern Fiction

Modern fiction—in the 20th and 21st centuries—often creates questions that are intrinsically religious, spiritual, or ethical in character. Fiction may ask about the human spirit and human nature, evil and suffering, identity and community, reason and revelation, grace and transformation. This course will explore writers who have pursued such questions, and how they have imagined traces of the sacred or transcendent through the distinctive language and experience of their works.

Some of our writers (such as N. Scott Momaday, Elie Wiesel, Shusaku Endo, Marilynne Robinson) write fiction that explicitly reflects religious traditions.  Others (Hermann Hesse, E. M. Forster) create apparently “secular” narratives that nonetheless reveal religious or ethical “dimensions” or implications.  Still others (Toni Morrison, Paul Harding, and Yann Martel) employ a variety of cultural and spiritual traditions to disclose new and distinctive religious visions.  Religious theorists such as Martin Buber and John Caputo provide ways to try out different vocabularies for such visions. And the writers I have selected could change somewhat.

Requirements: the course will be taught through discussion more than lecture, so regular attendance and active participation are important. There will be two guided essays with flexible prompts on assigned material (about 2000 words each); and a short paper on assigned material (about 8 pages, 2400 words) in lieu of a final exam.  RELG 2190 can meet the 2nd writing requirement, on request.

 

RELG 2210 | Religion Ethics and Environment

Where do ideas of nature come from, and what cultural and political consequences do they carry?  This course interprets humanity’s changing ecological relationships through religious and philosophical traditions. It takes up ethical questions presented by environmental problems, introduces frameworks for making sense of them, considers relations between imagination and behavior, and argues over the implications for personal commitments and public policy. Online discussion sections. 

RELG 2210 | Religion Ethics & Environment

Where do ideas of nature come from, and what cultural and political consequences do they carry?  This course interprets humanity’s changing ecological relationships through religious and philosophical traditions. It takes up ethical questions presented by environmental problems, introduces frameworks for making sense of them, considers relations between imagination and behavior, and argues over the implications for personal commitments and public policy. Online discussion sections. 

RELG 2260 | Religion, Race, Film

Cooper, Valerie

This course will explore themes of religion, race, gender, and relationship to the religious or racial “other” in films from the silent era to the present. It will consider film as a medium and engage students in analysis and discussion of cinematic images, with the goal of developing hermeneutic lenses through which these images can be interpreted. The films selected all deal with issues of race, religion, gender, and relationship, and ask the ultimate question,” How should we treat one another?”

RELG 2300 | Religious Ethics and Moral Problems

This course examines several contemporary moral issues from the standpoint of major Western religious traditions (Protestant and Catholic Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) as well as from several broadly secularistic perspectives. We will consider moral issues such as marriage, friendship, truthfulness, capital punishment, warfare, and the meaning of work, career, and vocation. Particular attention will be paid to what selected authorities and thinkers in the above traditions say about these issues, how they reach their conclusions, and how their theological or philosophical convictions influence their moral judgments (and vice-versa).

RELG 2370 | Religion After Jefferson

Mathewes, Charles, Warren, Heather, Schaeffer, Kurtis , Balfour, Lawrie

This course explores religion and the idea of "religion" as one of the most powerful forces in the world today, for good and for ill. The course argues that Thomas Jefferson's solution developed in his Virginia Statute for the Establishment of Religious Freedom and other writings is central to American debates about religion and American responses to conflicts involving religion in a globalized world. Discussions focus on primary sources including excerpts from John Locke, Alexis de Toqueville, landmark Supreme Court cases, Sigmund Freud, Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, and The Dalai Lama. Guests speakers from the law school and other universities are planned.

RELG 2380 | Faith and Doubt in Modern Age

This course introduces undergraduates to seminal writings in modern Western thought that explore and question the meaning, truthfulness, and uses of religious belief.  The goal is to develop a multi-storied narrative of the variety of interpretations given to the idea of God in modernity and to clarify the conditions of responsible religious belief in a pluralistic and possibly post-modern world.  Lectures and discussions will follow such questions as:   Is belief in God a product of wishful thinking?  Is religious belief a symptom of neurotic behavior?  If there is no God, is everything permissible?  Is atheism (new and old) parasitic on the moral convictions inspired by religion?  Is religion a primitive stage in human intellectual development in need of an education to reality?  Does religion promote violent tendencies among individuals and groups?  Is it inherently immoral?  On what basis do some intelligent people argue that belief in God is rational and others that belief in God violates reason?  We will consider such questions by studying the modern critiques of religion and the implications of such critiques for believers and people of faith.  Our sources novels, film, music and writings by philosophers, theologians and psychologists. 

RELG 2455 | Christian America?

This general religious studies course (RELG) tackles the large and multifaceted question of American religious identity, understood both in terms of the religious significance of the nation and the religious identities of the American people. To do this, we will move between the realms of politics, culture, and everyday social interaction. Topics of particular concern will include: debates about religion during the drafting of the Constitution, and the subsequent history of religion and public life; the historical development of religious diversity in the United States; the history of religious intolerance in America; and contemporary social, political, legal, cultural, and spiritual implications of pluralism. The unifying theme will be the ongoing debates over the religious identity of the United States, a country at once profoundly Christian, on the one hand, and both officially secular and demographically diverse, on the other.

RELG 2475 | God

An introduction to the personality of God as portrayed in the sacred literatures, histories, and practices of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. What are the major personality traits of God as displayed in the three Abrahamic scriptures? In discussions, journals and writing assignments, students will be offered opportunities to comment on how these literatures portray the attributes of God and to explore various implications and wonderments.

RELG 2559 | Whiteness and Religion

This class examines the role religion plays in defining a racial category known as whiteness. By reading cultural histories and ethnographies of the religious practices of various communities, we will examine how groups now classified as white (Irish, Italians, Poles, Jews, etc.) and religious images (depictions of Jesus and the Virgin Mary) "became white" and the role that religious practice played in this shift in racial classification.

RELG 2559 | Religion and Revolution

Mesard, Hellen Elizabeth

Contact instructor directly 

RELG 2559 | Religion and Race in Film

Cooper, Valerie

This course will explore themes of religion, race, and relationship to the religious or racial "other" in films from the silent era to the present. It will consider film as a medium and engage students in analysis and discussion of cinematic images, with the goal of developing hermeneutic lenses through which these images can be interpreted. The films selected all deal with issues of race, religion, gender, and relationship, and ask the ultimate question,” How should we treat one another?"

RELG 2559 | Jerusalem

This course traces the history of Jerusalem with a focus on its significance in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. How have these communities experienced and inhabited Jerusalem? How have they imagined the city and interpreted its meaning? How have Jews, Christians, and Muslims expressed their attachments to this contested space from antiquity to modern times? Our exploration will be rooted in primary texts—literary and documentary sources and visual images—and informed by historical and cultural context as well as scholarly approaches to sacred space.

RELG 2559 | Violence, Literature, and the Sacred

Contact instructor directly 

RELG 2559 | Literature and Ethics

Geddes, Jennifer, Bouchard, Larry

This course explores the intersection between literature and ethics through close readings of literary texts and attentive readings of theoretical works in ethics, literary criticism, philosophy, and theology.

RELG 2559 | Theories of Religion

Hudson II, William Clarke

An introduction to classic twentieth-century theories about religion from the social sciences and the human sciences.

RELG 2630 | Business Ethics and Society

A study of the philosophical and religious frameworks for interpreting and evaluating human activity in the marketplace. This includes major theoretical perspectives, contemporary issues within the marketplace, and corporate ethics.

RELG 2650 | Theology, Ethics and Medicine 

Childress, James

An analysis of the ethical principles that should undergird decisions in science, medicine, and health care. The lectures readings, and discussions will focus on ethical principles developed within different ethical traditions (such as Protestantism, Catholicism, Judaism, and Humanism) and on their implications for cases in abortion, death and dying, research involving human subjects, artificial reproduction, genetic engineering, cloning, and allocating resources. Several films, videotapes, and cases will be used. Requirements: Midterm, final examination, 3 brief papers (2 pages) and participation in discussion.

RELG 2650 | Theological Bioethics

This course examines the ethical principles that commonly guide decisions in health care. It focuses on ethical principles accepted by many Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and humanistic traditions, and embedded in a liberal, pluralistic society, and it examines debates about the implications of these principles for suicide and assisted suicide; terminating life-sustaining treatment; abortion and maternal-fetal relations; artificial reproduction, including human cloning; using human subjects in research; genetic counseling, screening, and engineering; health-care reform; allocating life-saving medical resources; obtaining and distributing organs for transplantation; and public health issues surrounding AIDS, pandemic influenza, Ebola, & possible bioterrorist attacks. The course will use numerous actual and hypothetical cases to highlight moral issues.

RELG 2650 | Theological Bioethics

What is the relationship between bodies, beliefs, and power? This course analyzes challenging ethical issues in religion and health care from Christian (Catholic and Protestant), Jewish, and Islamic theological perspectives. We begin by exploring various bioethical frameworks (narrative, virtue, principles) before applying these methods to a range of practical issues: end of life care, maternal-fetal relations, transplantation ethics, genetics, research ethics, health care, and global health.  In addition to theology and philosophy, the course readings, lectures, and discussions engage the disciplines of politics, law, and public policy.

RELG 2660 | Spirituality in America

What does “spiritual but not religious” mean, and why has it become such a pervasive self-description in contemporary America? This interdisciplinary course surveys spirituality in America, with a particular eye for the relationship between spirituality and formal religion, on the one hand, and secular modes of understanding the self, such as psychology, on the other. Along the way we’ll study everything from AA to yoga to Zen meditation, with stops in rock music and jazz, Beat poetry, Abstract Expressionist painting, spirit photography, the feminist movement, environmentalism, and recent film. The study of spirituality forces us to confront many of the central concerns of modern American life: psychology, self-help, and therapeutic culture; global religious and cultural encounters; gender and sexuality; and consumerism and mass culture. In the end, we’ll come to see spirituality in America as a complex intermingling of the great world religions, modern therapeutic psychology, the politics of movements for social change, and a crassly commercialized, billion-dollar culture industry.

Is this the fate of religion in a modern, capitalist, globalized society?

RELG 2660 | Spirituality in America

What does “spiritual but not religious” mean, and why has it become such a pervasive self-description in contemporary America? This interdisciplinary course surveys spirituality in America, with a particular eye for the relationship between spirituality and formal religion, on the one hand, and secular modes of understanding the self, such as psychology, on the other. Along the way we’ll study everything from AA to yoga to Zen meditation, with stops in rock and jazz, Beat poetry, Abstract Expressionist painting, spirit photography, the feminist movement, environmentalism, and recent film. The study of spirituality forces us to confront many of the central concerns of modern American life: psychology, self-help, and therapeutic culture; global religious and cultural encounters; gender and sexuality; and consumerism and mass culture. In the end, we’ll come to see spirituality in America as a complex intermingling of the great world religions, modern therapeutic psychology, the politics of movements for social change, and a crassly commercialized, billion-dollar culture industry. Is this the fate of religion in a modern, capitalist, globalized society?

RELG 2700 | Festivals of the Americas 

By reading case studies of various religious festivals in locations throughout the Caribbean and South, Central and North America, as well as theoretical literature drawn from social anthropology and religious studies, students will become familiar with significant features of contemporary religious life in the Americas, as well as with scholarly accounts of religious and cultural change. Students will become more critical readers of ethnographic and historical sources, as well as theories from the Study of Religion (Jonathan Z. Smith, Ronald Grimes, Lawrence Sullivan), and will increase their ability to theorize about ritual, festivity, sacred time, ritual space and ethnicity.

RELG 2713 | Sensing the Sacred

Seeing is believing. Or is it? In this experiential course, we will examine the role of sensory perception in religious imagination. Drawing on approaches from anthropology, psychology, history, philosophy, and cognitive science, among others, and on case studies from Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, and ancient Israel, we will consider how religious practitioners think about the senses, uses the senses to experience the world, assign meaning to sensory experiences, and deploy sensory metaphors to describe their experience of the sacred. We will reflect on a conundrum central to many religions: since religious practitioners often imagine the sacred in transcendent terms, how can humans, as sensory beings, experience that which is purportedly beyond sense? One goal of the course is to evaluate whether analyzing cultural assumptions about the senses, as well as how practitioners use the senses and sensory metaphors, can shed light on the values, truth claims, and orientations of various religions.

RELG 2800 | African American Religious History

Cooper, Valerie

Why are churches still segregated when every other American institution has made relatively successful efforts at integration? RELG 2800, “African American Religious History” will explain the history of the color line that still separates US churches. This course explores African American religious traditions by combining an examination of current scholarship and contemporary worship. While the course will emphasize the growth and spread of Evangelical Christianity among African Americans, it will also consider non-Christian influences like Islam and African traditional religions upon black churches and black communities. In considering the wide variety, popularity, economic strength, political leadership, and ubiquity of religious institutions in the African American community, what role does religion play for black people? Why, after hundreds of years, is 11 am on Sunday morning still the most segregated hour of the week in the US?

RELG 2820 | Jerusalem

This course traces the history of Jerusalem with a focus on its significance in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. How have these communities experienced and inhabited Jerusalem? How have they imagined the city and interpreted its meaning? How have Jews, Christians, and Muslims expressed their attachments to this contested space from antiquity to modern times? Our exploration will be rooted in primary texts--literary and documentary sources, and visual images--and informed by historical and cultural context, as well as scholarly approaches to sacred space.

RELG 3051 | Religion and Society

Hudson II, William Clarke

Contact instructor directly

RELG 3057 | Existentialism

Ferreira, Jamie

Examination of selected 19th and 20th century representatives of existentialist thought: Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, Camus, Sartre, Heidegger, Jaspers, Marcel, de Beauvoir.

RELG 3200 | Martin, Malcolm, and America

An analysis of African-American social criticism centered upon, but not limited to, the life and thought of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X

RELG 3215 | American Religious Innovation

Contact instructor directly 

RELG 3255 | Ethics, Literature & Religion

Explores how ethical issues in religious traditions and cultural narratives are addressed in literature, scripture, essay, and memoir. How do stories inquire into “the good life”? How may moral principles and virtues be “tested” by fiction? How does narrative shape identity, mediate universality and particularity, reflect beliefs and values in conflict, and depict suffering?

RELG 3360 | Conquests and Religions

This course examines the history of religions in the colonial Americas—the Caribbean, South, Central, and North America from the late-15th century to the mid-19th century—and attends to signature religious devotions, personalities, institutions, and events in the New World during this historical epoch of intense cultural encounters.  Beginning with Islamic-ruled Spain and the Aztec and Incan empires, and the class studies the historical changes in the religious practices of indigenous peoples, enslaved Africans and European settlers in Latin America and the Caribbean under European colonization and the transatlantic slave trade. We will consider issues of historiography—specifically, the problem of interpreting the at times hostile, ex post facto-written extant archival sources about the religious practices of subalterns and the use of such primary data in the writing of secondary literature.  Students will develop their abilities to evaluate primary sources (in English translation), and to identify the interpretive choices which scholars make in the crafting of historical narratives.

RELG 3360 | Religions in the New World 

Schmidt, Jalane

A history course which examines Latin American and Caribbean religions from the 1400s through the 1830s. We will proceed topically (in rough chronological order), studying religious encounters during the pre-Columbian era, the Spanish conquest and colonial eras, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, Latin American independence (1820s), and slave emancipation in the anglophone Caribbean (1830s). The class will focus primarily upon the signature religious episodes, devotions, personalities and institutions of indigenous, African, Afro-creole, and mestizo communities, since these "gente de color" constituted the majority population in the New World during this historical epoch. We will consider issues of historiography specifically, the problem of interpreting (sometimes hostile) extant archival sources and the use of such primary material in the writing of secondary literature. Students will develop their abilities to evaluate primary sources (in translation), and to identify the interpretive choices which scholars make in the crafting of historical narratives.

RELG 3375 | Spiritual Writing

This course concerns the  quest for meaning, purpose and direction and explores individual encounters with the sacred.  Half of the class is devoted to the study of contemporary spiritual writing from diverse religious and spiritual traditions in fiction, memoir, diaries, and creative non-fiction.The other half of the class is a writing workshop. Students will write about matters of the spirit (as they understand the term) in various genres and will share their work with classmates. This course fulfills the Second Writing Requirement.

RELG 3380 | Feasting, Fasting, Faith

Through reading, studying films and eating, we will learn how preparing food, consuming it, and abstaining from it have been made sacred and ethical  in Jewish and Christian Practices. This course will be especially relevant to people with an ardent interest in foods (foodies).

RELG 3450 | The Emotions

Exploration of how what we feel colors what we know, what we believe.  What are human emotions and why do we have them?  Philosophers, psychiatrists, religious thinkers, and neurologists disagree.  We will analyze these variations, along with the question of whether the emotions can be controlled or educated. We will focus on William James, who influentially argued that for most believers, religious experience is first and foremost emotional.

RELG 3485 | Moral Leadership

Exploration of moral ways of inspiring and influencing other people.  Special attention to the thought of Machiavelli, Nietzsche, Al Gore, and Oprah; styles of leading; the role of the so-called global elite in contemporary world affairs; the media; censorship; the Internet; plagiarism; globalization; and going to war.  What is the definition of leadership?  What does traditional religious observance have to do with the definition?  What is the role of judgment in moral leadership?  Requirements:  informed class participation; three brief exams; final 8-12-page paper. Please note that no laptops will be allowed in this seminar.

RELG 3559 | God is Dead

Wellmon, Chad

This course considers the complex history of secularization in order to discern when and how God died. Was it a long and painful death, a slow act of forgetting, the atrophy of a metaphysical desire, a turn to science, or a modern effort to redefine the place of religion? After reading contemporary reports of this death from Hitchens and Dawkins, and twentieth century classics such as Russell, we will consider the long history of secularity and ‘the secular’ from Erasmus and Hobbes to Habermas and Ratzinger -- drawing from Luther, Montainge, Pascal, Locke, Diderot, Kant, Goethe, Schiller, Hölderlin, Feuerbach, Marx, Hegel, Freud, Comte, Durkheim, Kafka, Nietzsche, and Weber. We will consider the meaning of the death of God for philosophy and religion, literature and sociology. Secondary sources will include: Taylor, Asad, Mahmood, Connolly, Berlinerblau, Bonhoeffer, and Altizer.

RELG 3559 | Favorite Things and Sacred Objects

This course will look at the things we love—possessions, prizes, collectibles, curios—and the objects we hold sacred—icons, idols, totems, charms—and the ways we acquire them, make them, think about them, imagine them, value them, and ascribe meaning to them. What different kinds of relationships do we have with the objects around us? Why are some things considered disposable and others sacred? How do our sacred and secular divides affect how we think about and engage with the objects around us? We will read literature, theology, philosophy, theory, and essays that engage with these questions.

RELG 3559 | The History of Evil

This lecture course examines the way that various cultures from the Ancient Near East forward have conceived of malice and misfortune under categories broadly gathered under the title of "evil." It will survey a wide range of texts and cultural myths to equip students with a rich understanding of how a large swath of humanity has conceived a large swath of the challenges facing human existence, historically and today.

RELG 3559 | Peace & Justice in America

Aiken, Guy

This course traces the development of political nonviolence among Protestants, Catholics, and Jews in the United States in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, culminating with Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement. Other key figures might include William Lloyd Garrison, Henry David Thoreau, Jane Addams, Howard Thurman, Dorothy Day, Reinhold Niebuhr, A. J. Muste, Bayard Rustin, and the rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. 

RELG 3559 | Theology Death and Dying

Pickell, Travis

This class focuses on religious and theological understandings of death and dying, particularly within Christian and Jewish traditions (though some attention will be given to other traditions). We will explore questions such as: why do human beings (and non-human creatures) die? Is death evil, and if so, what is it about death that is evil? Would it be a good thing to live forever? How do religious traditions shape the human response to death?  

RELG 3559 | Ethics, Literature, Religion

Bouchard, Larry, Geddes, Jennifer

This course explores ethical questions raised by particular literary texts (mostly prose fiction but also memoir, poetry, drama, and scripture) as well as the narrative, or “storied,” dimensions of ethical thought and expression. By ethical questions, we mean inquiries into what it can mean to be a “good” person and live a “good life”; how we should live with and respond to those around us, especially when involving matters of flourishing and suffering; and what visions of the world we should seek to cultivate and realize. We will explore the following proposals: 1) there are relationships between how we respond to literary texts and how we interact with and respond to persons; 2) narrative precedes principles; 3) human beings are story-telling and story-craving animals; and 4) the stories we read and the stories we tell shape who we are, what we deem important, and what we hold sacred. 

Format: the course is taught as a seminar with guided discussion.  Assignments include very short written responses to select literary and theoretical readings, two critical essays, and a final presentation reflecting back on the course.

RELG 3559 | Research Seminar in Religion, Conflict, and Peace

Advanced research on religion, politics and conflict for students of "religion-on-religion" conflict/conflict resolution. Research methods drawn from religious studies, politics, anthropology and linguistics, history, sociology, nursing, philosophy, systems analysis and data science. Topics recommended by current  work in the Global Covenant of Religions, the UVA Initiative on Religion in Conflict, and other professional work in the field.

RELG 3559 | Religion and Foreign Affairs

Approaches  in “religion-on-religion” conflict resolution. Special attention to two approaches developed at UVA (“Hearth to Hearth Conflict Resolution” and “Scriptural Reasoning) and to “Global Covenant of Religions,” an NGO whose research is planned at UVA. Students join research teams comprised of majors in Religious Studies, Systems Analysis, Politics, and Anthropology (and ethno-linguistics). Admission by application to pwo3v@virginia.edu.

RELG 3559 | Civil Rights

The seminar considers the American civil rights movement as theological drama.  The goal is to analyze and understand the movement, its participants and opponents, in religious and theological perspective.  While interdisciplinary in scope, the seminar will probe the details of religious convictions in their dynamic particularity and ask how images of God shape conceptions of race, community and nation and modes of practical engagements.  Readings include four seminal studies of the period, writings by movement and anti-movement activists, and documents archived at http://archives.livedtheology.org/, in the digital history titled,” The Civil Rights Movement as Theological Drama".  Course requirements include active participation in class discussions, one 20-30 presentation, weekly reading summaries (250-300 words), one research paper (10-12 pages, or 3000-3400 words), and a take-home final.

RELG 3559 | Spiritual Writing

This course concerns the  quest for meaning, purpose and direction and explores individual encounters with the sacred within the context of religious traditions.  Students will study examples of contemporary spiritual writing from diverse traditions in fiction, memoir, and creative non-fiction and will be required to write about matters of the spirit in various genres. Intructor permission required.

RELG 3559 | Human Dignity

Wellmon, Chad

Appeals to human dignity are ubiquitous in daily speech, as well as religious, ethical, legal, political, and philosophical discourse. And yet, when people invoke human dignity are they talking about the same thing? And what are the ramifications––ethically, politically, legally––if they are not? This course considers both the history of the term, from concepts of the imago dei to recent legal formulations, and contemporary ethical debates.

RELG 3559 | Global Ethics and Climate Change 

This seminar focuses on the ethics of climate change as it considers broader attempts to develop moral responsibilities across national, cultural, and religious borders.

RELG 3559 | Religion on Fire

The course examine “religion” as an element of socio-political activity in major conflicts in the past two decades: examining the global phenomenon of irremediable, religion-related violent conflict, recent efforts to diagnose religion-specific sources of both violence and peacebuilding, and prospects for cooperative peacebuilding efforts among governmental, civil society, and religious agencies.

RELG 3559 | Idolatry

To the monotheistic traditions, idolatry represents one of the most abhorrent moral transgressions. Permeating both the religious and the secular, the prohibition against idol worship has become deeply ingrained in Western culture delineating the boundaries between "true" and "strange."  Yet, while the religious significance of idolatry seems to have vanished, the idol continues to remain in the vocabulary of our everyday language.  Beginning with Biblical sources and concluding with contemporary texts, this course will examine the philosophical framework of casting idolatry as an unspeakable sin: What is an idol, and why is idolatry so objectionable?  With an emphasis on Judaism, though not exclusively, we will discuss idolatry in the context of representation, election, otherness, emancipation, nationalism, secularism, religious innovation, and messianism.

RELG 3559 | Bioethics Moral Legal Religious Perspectives

Hurst, Ashley

This course will analyze contemporary bioethical issues through moral/philosophical, legal and religious perspectives to understand what is at stake for individuals and communities as science and technology change what we know, who we are and how we relate to one another as human beings.

RELG 3559 | Faith and Community in the Abrahamic Religions: Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

Against a backdrop of violence today among members of the three Abrahamic traditions, the course examines two potential sources and practices of peace. One is shared study across the borders of the three traditions. The other is shared work in helping repair the social order. Students will study themes of home and shelter from the three sacred text traditions. They will then put those themes to practice by participating, during class time, in Charlottesville community-building projects.

RELG 3559 | New Course in Religious Studies: Theology and Politics

Jonathan Teubner

In recent years there has been an increased focus on the political role religious actors play for good or for ill. But scant attention has been paid to the theological motivation of religious actors’ political action. This course is designed to introduce students to theologians, bishops, imams, rabbis, and religious philosophers who have actively engaged politically and to the theological underpinnings of their engagement. By focusing both on their theological thought as well as their social and political location, we shall investigate the correlation between theology and politics. In addition to the historical readings, students will also hear from guest lecturers who will speak about how a particular religious figure has informed or motivated their own political action.

The hypothesis for this course is that there are patterns of religious reasoning displayed in both the writings and political action of theologians. By investigating both the theology and the political action, we may be able to understand the relation between religion and politics in ways that have been obscured by the study of religion that reduces religious action to standard social scientific categories

RELG 3559 | Early American Religion

Where does evangelicalism come from? Why do we have separation of church and state in the US? What is Mormonism? How did Christianity spread among African-Americans? Who were the Puritans? What role did religion play in the Revolution, the debates over slavery, the Civil War?

This course surveys religion in colonial North America and the United States from the first European settlements through the Civil War. We will use a variety of sources, including film, art, and primary documents, to investigate two kinds of questions: first, what was the role of religion in early American history—meaning, how did religion influence social development, culture, region, economic life, politics, slavery, settlement and expansion, war, and family life? And second, what is the history of religion in early America—meaning, how did various religious groups (Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Native American, African American, Evangelical, Mormon) grow, develop, and change over time? The time period under consideration saw immense change in religious life and thought, change driven by immigration, revivalism, new religious movements, and—most spectacularly—the republican ideology of the American Revolution, which saw the United States emerge as nation without a formal religious establishment. The drama and debates of this period—about unity and diversity, about political freedom, national character, and religious belief—still resonate today.

RELG 3600 | Religion and Modern Theatre

What relationships does religion have with the theatrical arts? Performance plays a major role in religious ritual, and the story of contemporary theatre in America can map a trajectory from Greek tragedy through medieval pageantry to modern and avant-garde dramas all the way to Broadway’s The Book of Mormon. This course will examine how drama and performance are linked with religious traditions and experience, sacred themes, and with some secular and theological perspectives on religion.   Modern theatre has often sought to revitalize its historical and thematic relations with ritual and sacred stories, and it has also probed the ethical and performed dimensions of selves and communities—as seen against the presence (or absence) of either a transcendent, divine horizon or an immanent sense of the sacred. Theatre also presses boundaries of moral and theological acceptability by staging questions about truth and illusion, obscenity and frivolity, and what sorts of stories we should tell. What differences do such relations make in our enjoyment, understanding, and criticism of theatrical drama? How can theatre expand and nuance the study of religion and culture?

We will encounter a number of classical dramas (e.g., Greek tragedy,” mystery” plays, Shakespeare) and plays by modern-or-contemporary dramatists (such as Peter Shaffer), who bring new takes to ancient themes.  Some dramatists have explicitly explored religious themes or subjects (such as Denys Arcand's film-about-a-performance, Jesus of Montreal; the Scholem Aleichem story turned into Fiddler on the Roof; Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Schwartz’s Mass; and Wole Soyinka’s exploration of Yoruba religion and European theatrical traditions in Death and the King’s Horsemen).  We will also look at ostensibly secular plays and musicals (such as Jonathan Larson’s musical, Rent, or T.S. Eliot’s The Cocktail Party) that nonetheless take up questions of religion, spirituality, and political life (more examples: plays by Samuel Beckett, Brian Friel, Caryl Churchill, Tony Kushner, John Patrick Shanley, Stephen Adly Guirgis, and Mary Zimmerman).  And we will sample ritual theory, performance theory, and religious/theological views of drama and theatrical performance.  The syllabus is always changing and will be available soon.

Mode of teaching: some lectures, much discussion, reading/performing aloud, perhaps play attendance and film screenings, possibly even class performance.

Requirements: regular class attendance and participation; three prompt-directed essays (meeting the 2nd writing requirement for those who desire it) and/or a creative project in lieu of the third essay.

RELG 3630 | Idolatry

To the monotheistic traditions, idolatry represents one of the most abhorrent moral transgressions. Permeating both the religious and the secular, the prohibition against idol worship has become deeply ingrained in Western culture delineating the boundaries between "correct" and “false” worship, “true” and "strange" communities.  Even outside religious contexts the “idol continues to remain in the vocabulary of our everyday language.  Beginning with Biblical sources and concluding with contemporary texts, this course will examine the philosophical framework of casting idolatry as an unspeakable sin: What is an idol, and why is idolatry so objectionable? Reading texts from different religious and intellectual traditions, we will discuss idolatry in the context of representation, election, otherness, emancipation, nationalism, secularism, religious innovation, and messianism. Final research paper and project presentation.

RELG 3780 | Faulkner and the Bible  

Wilson, William

Go Down Moses, If I forget Thee Jerusalem, Absalom, Absalom!...These and many other novels by William Faulkner indicate that this author was deeply influenced by biblical narrative and verse. This course will explore this influence. The primary goal is simply to see how a critical knowledge of the Bible can help us better understand Faulkner's complex and very challenging writing. However, the course will also be deeply concerned to understand why the Bible became a vital tradition in the development of American letters, and how biblical themes were employed in the struggle over race relations and regional identity, and especially in the South, Faulkner's homeland.

RELG 3800 | African American Religious History 

Cooper, Valerie

Contact instructor directly

RELG 3800 | African American Religious History

RELG 3820 | Global Ethics and Climate Change

Addressing planet-wide problems seems to require a global ethic, but is a global ethic possible in a world of many moral cultures and religious traditions? This seminar takes up the ethical questions posed by climate change as ways into the search for shared grounds of cooperation across human difference. We examine political, philosophical, and religious arguments about justice amidst inequality, fairness across borders, harm across generations, and duties to other species. We also explore relations of science, ethics, and culture in developing practical responsibilities for global environmental change.

RELG 3850 | Proseminar in SIP

RELG 3950 | Evil in Modernity: Banal, Demonic 

Modernity is riddled by evil. Its history is in large part a chronicle of wickedness and savagery; and many of its most powerful thinkers have struggled to grasp the truth about evil. Some argue that the great lesson of modernity is its failure to come to terms with evil, a failure that reveals the modern world to be morally and spiritually bankrupt. This class will investigate the attempts of various modern thinkers to understand evil, in order both to gain a deeper purchase on evil's manifestations, character, and effects, and to understand the several challenges that evil presents to the modern world's self-understanding. We will read novels, study texts in theology, history, philosophy, political theory, and psychology, and view several films, all in the service of our basic investigation into the inner history both of modern thought about evil, and of evil in modernity, in the hopes of understanding some of the implications of that history for the future.

RELG 4023 | Bioethics Internship Seminar

Marshall, Mary Faith

This course is designed to provide students with experience in discerning and analyzing ethical issues as they arise in particular clinical settings. Each student spends approximately four hours each week in a clinic, hospital unit, or other health care- related venue (the same one throughout the semester), under the mentorship of a health care professional engaged in that setting. Seminar time focuses primarily on student experiences and observations in their placements, plus discussion of readings that explore selected ethical issues common to clinical medicine and the role of the ethicist/observer. During the second half of the semester, each student presents for class critique an analysis of an ethical issue or question that arises in his or her setting, and that will form the basis of the student's final paper for the class. Students must have some background knowledge of bioethics' methods and common questions. Admittance to the course is by application only; for details, see the Undergraduate Bioethics Program Website at http://bioethics.virginia.edu/internships.html.

RELG 4023 | Bioethics Internship Seminar

The course enables students to spend time in medical settings as 'participant-observers,' in order to gain first-hand experience of the subject matter that is the focus of the theory, teaching, and practice of bioethics. Prerequisites: Bioethics Major/Minor

RELG 4023 | Bioethics Internship Seminar

Marshall, Mary Faith

The course enables students to spend time in medical settings as 'participant-observers,' in order to gain first-hand experience of the subject matter that is the focus of the theory, teaching, and practice of bioethics. Prerequisites: Bioethics Major/Minor

RELG 4220 | American Religious Autobiography

Multidisciplinary examination of religious self-perception in relation to the dominant values of American life. Readings represent a variety of spiritual traditions and autobiographical forms. This course counts as a religious studies majors seminar.

RELG 4220 | American Religious Autobiography

Multidisciplinary examination of religious self-perception in relation to the dominant values of American life. Readings represent a variety of spiritual traditions and autobiographical forms.

RELG 4450 | Visions of the Apocalypse

Contact instructor directly 

RELG 4500 | Pilgrimage

The Majors’ seminar in Religious Studies gives you an opportunity to step back and consider what you have been studying and how you have been studying it.  Hopefully, this will clarify why you have devoted yourself to the study of religion. One goal of the seminar is to recall that religions are studied through diverse lenses—for example, through the methodologies of different disciplines and through the eyes of particular theorists; these shape the way religion is approached, understood and interpreted. religion. The focus of this seminar is the pilgrimage, emphasizing the diverse ways in which this complex ritual has been experienced, described and understood in diverse traditions. Contemporary pilgrimages we will discuss include the Hajj to Mecca, Israel Birthright, the Camino (to Santiago de Compostella, Spain), and the Rolling Thunder Run to the Wall (via motorcycle, to the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Wall in DC).

RELG 4500 | Majors Seminar: Sex, Gender and Religion

RELG 4500 | Religion and Psychology

Portmann, John

Exploration of the will to believe, with attention to religious emotions such as fascination, terror, guilt, wholeheartedness, and ecstasy. What motivates religious conversion?  What keeps someone loyal to the religion of his parents?  What impulse prompts a believer to commit acts of hatred or terrible violence in the name of God?  How does contemporary psychiatry compete with or complement pastoral counseling?  Emphasis on Nietzsche, James, Freud, and Daniel Kahneman.  Requirements: 1) regular and substantive class participation; 2) two brief exams; 3) a class presentation; and 4) a final 15-20-page paper

RELG 4500 | Majors Seminar: Thinking with Animals

This course moves beyond questions about animals framed in terms of legal rights to explore how humans have used and continue to use animals to identify, enforce, transgress and transcend the confines of self and species. Attention is paid to a wide range of periods, sources and regions.

RELG 4500 | Majors Seminar  Book Culture in Religions

Contact instructor directly

RELG 4500 | Majors Seminar  Secularism and Religion

Does religion belong in the public square? Does it have a legitimate role in public life, despite a lack of unanimity in the religious beliefs of the public? Can religion be separated from public and political life? This course examines these and related questions and queries the ways in which religion shapes, challenges, and clashes with the modern nation-state. It further examines the degree to which religion has served to shape—and to challenge—contemporary societies in the context of the modern nation-state, all while examining why religion has historically found a role for itself in political life.

RELG 4500 | Majors Seminar  Evil and Suffering

Contact instructor directly 

RELG 4500 | Death and the After Life

Ray, Benjamin

The subject of death and dying in ancient and modern literature, contemporary Christian theology, Jewish, and Buddhist traditions, medical ethics, the American civil war, and public monuments.

RELG 4500 | Comparative Scriptures

Alexander, Elizabeth

The goal of this seminar is to develop an informed and critical perspective on the study of religion through the study of scripture, its history and function in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The seminar does not make the case for any single definition of religion or take a particular theological perspective on scripture, but rather encourages students to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches.

RELG 4500 | Self, Spirit(s) and Experience

What does it mean to sense a spiritual presence?  What is religious experience and how do we explain it?  How do individuals describe their encounters with God or spirits, and how do we view these accounts?  Divine inspiration, miracles, epiphanies and revelations are integral to many religious traditions, yet prove difficult to understand.  In attempting to come to terms with religious experience in a variety of cultures from around the world, we will analyze some classic works in the sociology and psychology of religion.  We will also consider anthropological, historical and cognitive interpretations of this fundamental, but illusive feature of religion.

RELG 4500 | Majors Seminar; Religion and Drama

This edition of the Majors Seminar will look at how theatrical drama is linked both with religion historically and with ways that religion can be defined and studied. We will be concerned with how drama has been understood as an element within religion, and also with how religion has provided important perspectives on even secular drama and theater. As always, part of the seminar will be devoted to definitions or approaches to the study of religion. What all can the term "religion" mean? Can we speak of religion "in general,” given that religion is most often found in particular traditions of belief, practice, and experience? We will pay special attention to how ideas about society and psychology, culture and identity, symbol and ritual, ethics, and theology figure in academic approaches to religion. We will also examine a selection of plays, performances, and interpretations of theatre and ask how they might further our understanding of the nature of religion. Assignments: one or two short reaction papers, oral presentation of these in class, an essay-style mid-term exam, and a final paper on a course related topic.

RELG 4500 | Majors Seminar; Scripture

Alexander, Elizabeth

What is the difference between sacred texts, scripture and canon? Why do some texts come to be more authoritative than others? How are sacred texts used differently within different religious communities (e.g. amongst African-Americans Christians, Fundamentalist Christians? Muslims? Jews)? What else is significant about scripture besides its semantic content? Do non-semantic aspects of scripture have significance? How do theologians understand the revelation of God that is manifest in scripture in
conceptual terms? How do we decide when scripture should continue to have authority? Perhaps scripture should be disregarded for other forms of religious "truth" like personal experience. We will explore these and other questions central to understanding the religious phenomenon of scripture. We will also examine the emergence of biblical scripture as a historical phenomenon. We will also consider a number of theorists on the role of scripture in religious experience.

RELG 4500 | Majors Seminar: Religious Book Culture

History of the Book, Histoire du livre, Textual Studies, Sociology of the Text, and Print Culture are all designations for the academic study of not only the material culture surrounding “the book” as artifact, but also the intellectual history of book transmission and its authority as well as the religious and theological notions of “the book” as scripture. This course is intended to examine book culture, written and oral, in Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. We will trace the historical development of “the book,” from the scroll to the codex to the modern printed edition, with an eye to comparing how each religious tradition, materially and intellectually, conceives of “the book.” The questions we will address include: How has the notion of “the book” defined religious and medieval scholastic cultures? What are the competing conceptions of knowledge and its authority as expressed in the written and oral text, and the role of aurality therein? With what materials are books written and made? What has been the impact of modern print culture on the older scribal cultures and manuscript traditions? And how have religions used the notion of “the book” and its printed version to proselytize their message and to define the religious Other?

RELG 4500 | Majors Seminar Religion and the Modern State

Wilson, William

Contact instructor directly 

RELG 4500 | Majors Seminar: Modern American Marriage

Using a variety of approaches and methods, this course will examine the modern history of Christian marriage and family construction in its cultural context. Equal emphasis will be given to early modern and contemporary American marriage, including gay marriage and polyfidelity. Particular attention will be paid to such issues as the gendered ideologies and practices of marriage, especially in relation to the shift from patriarchal to companionate marriage; the connection between marriage, citizenship and civil rights; and the significance of sex, as the root symbol of marriage. We will trace these issues through the evolution of marriage rites and American law and consider contemporary practical challenges posed to specific religious communities. 

RELG 4500 | Majors Seminar: God, Politics and War

Once upon a time, we lived under kings, who were great warriors and high priests.  Now we largely don't have kings, our rulers are not soldiers, and neither rulers nor soldiers are perceived to possess special theological mojo, whose votaries are elsewhere.  How did this change happen?  This course studies the complicated interactions, both historically and today, between human political and social life, the presence of war and conflict within it, and the role of religion in both politics and war.  We will study how humans have come to distinguish activities they describe as "politics" from "religion," and how they have differentiated both from the use of violence in war.  We will watch films, read plays, and study philosophical, political, sociological and theological texts in pursuit of answers to our questions: how did humans come to distinguish religion, politics, and war, and in what ways do they remain, perhaps despite our best efforts, intertwined? 

RELG 4500 | Religion and Children

This seminar will focus on children and religion, examining the topic from several theoretical vantage points (e.g. sociological, historical, psychological, ethnographical).  We will draw on different religious traditions to consider ideas about the spiritual development of children, what children represent in religious literature, and materials designed to instruct children in a faith.

RELG 4500 | Pilgrimage

Majors’ seminars give in Religious Studies give you an opportunity to step back and consider what you have been studying and how you have been studying it, and hopefully, to better clarify why you have devoted yourself to the study of religion.  One goal, then, of the seminar is to recall that religions are studied through diverse lenses—for example, through the methodologies of different disciplines (for example: anthropology, sociology, history psychology, and material culture) and through the eyes of particular theorists).  The methodologies and theories shape the way we approach, understand and interpret religion. Majors’ seminars also have a distinct focus, and ours will be studying the phenomenon of pilgrimage, emphasizing the diverse ways in which it has been experienced (actually and virtually), described and theorized.

RELG 4559 | Bioethics Internship: Health Policy Administration

Mohrmann, Margaret

Also listed as PHSE 4500/7500 The Bioethics Internship: Health Policy and Administration is designed for fourth-year undergraduate students who have declared a minor or interdisciplinary major in bioethics or have significant course background in bioethics, as well as for graduate students in any discipline who are pursuing studies in or relevant to health policy and/or administration. It is designed to provide students with experience in discerning and analyzing ethical issues as they arise in healthcare institutions in regard to policy making and implementation and to other organizational issues. Each student spends several hours a week in the UVA medical center under the mentorship of an administrator engaged in some facet of the institution’s operation. Seminar time focuses on the students’ observations and analyses of particular ethical issues that arise in their placements. Each student chooses an observed ethical issue to analyze for a final project, which is presented to the class and written up as the term paper. Admittance is by instructor permission, based on an emailed request detailing relevant courses taken (and grades) plus reasons for wishing to take the course, including how it may fit into the student's future academic and career trajectory; send enrollment requests electronically to Prof. Mohrmann (mem7e) and the course co-leader, Prof. Lois Shepherd (lls4b).  

RELG 4559 | American Religion in the 1960s

This course explores the interplay of religion, politics, and American popular culture in the 1960s and 70s.  Subjects covered include Vietnam and the peace movement, the popularization of Asian religions, Christian rock opera, hippie religious communes, women in religion, and the neo-evangelical revival.

RELG 4800 | Research Methods in Religious Studies

Designed for students in the Distinguished Majors Program (DMP), this course offers third- and fourth-years the resources they need for conceiving and executing a substantial research project.  Participants will practice essential scholarly skills including: 1) critical and analytical reading; (2) formulating a research topic and questions; (3) crafting an evidence-based argument, and (4) developing a professional voice in non-fiction prose. The course also surveys religious studies arguments constructed from different types of data, sources and evidence so that students get a sense of the range of the field. The class assignments culminate in a prospectus (12-15 pages) and an annotated bibliography (15-20 sources) that will serve as the foundation for the student’s eventual thesis. 

As a follow-up to this course, DMP students are expected to enroll in RELG 4900 (“Distinguished Major Thesis”), which affords them an opportunity to write the thesis they have conceived.  But whether one plans to write a thesis or not, RELG 4800 offers an accessible introduction to the craft of advanced research in religious studies and the humanities more broadly. DMP students from other departments have successfully participated in this course in the past; all researchers are welcome!

The class is conducted as a workshop in which students submit work-in-progress to their peers for feedback and discussion.  An additional aspect of the course, then, entails initiation into the culture of advanced research wherein constructive feedback is given and received in a generous spirit. 

RELG 4800 | Research Methods in Religious Studies

This course offers third- and fourth-year Religious Studies majors resources for conceiving and executing a major research project.  As a follow-up to this course, students usually take RELG 4900, “Distinguished Major Thesis,” which affords them an opportunity to write the research project that they have conceived in this course.  Whether students plan to write a thesis or not, this course offers an accessible introduction to the craft of advanced research in Religious Studies.

The course surveys the skills needed for advanced research in Religious Studies: critical and analytic reading, formulating a research problem, crafting an evidence-based argument, and developing a professional voice in non-fiction prose. The course also exposes students to religious studies arguments constructed from different kinds of data, evidence and sources so that students grasp the field’s range.  

The course is conducted as a workshop in which students submit work-in-progress to their peers for feedback and discussion. They are thus initiated into the culture of advanced research wherein constructive feedback is given and received in a generous spirit.

RELG 4810 | Poetry and Theology

This seminar focuses on the writings of two important poets, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Geoffrey Hill. The one is Catholic, and the other questions religion at every level while also remaining open to the possibility of faith. Each poet raises major theological issues: belief, doubt, ecstasy, martyrdom, revelation, transcendence, and theodicy, among them. We will read, as closely as possible, some poems and prose writings by each poet, consider their theological contexts, and examine the ways in which theological issues are folded in their poems. Students will write two essays, one on each poet.  This is not a Majors seminar.

RELG 4810 | Poetry and Theology

This seminar seeks to develop a close reading of major religious poetry by two major religious poets

Prerequisite: 3.4 min GPA.

RELG 5070 | Interpretation Theory

We will explore various approaches to interpretative activity, with emphases on the nature and problems of understanding, especially in respect to literary, religious, and critical texts. 
Readings in the first part of the course reflect theories of interpretation often known as “hermeneutical.”  Some views considered include those of Schleiermacher, Dilthey, Gadamer, and Ricoeur, who locate meaning in our enacted relations with persons, texts, and other forms of expression—especially when separated by time and culture.  Hermeneutics wagers that to some extent, and in different ways, such distances can be overcome.  But this wager is contestable, as with Habermas’s critique of Gadamer.
The last half of the course explores elaborations of, alternatives to, and departures from the hermeneutical paradigm, as in the work of Bakhtin and Nussbaum, as well as critical practices associated with Derrida, Foucault, and Judith Butler, who in the late twentieth century began bringing this practice to issues of religion and ethics.
Requirements: Class participation and a brief presentation of (or response to) select assigned syllabus materials, a take-home essay examination (coming a week or so after the mod term break), and either a paper or a take-home essay final. Undergraduates wishing to enroll in this course are welcome, but need to first consult with the instructor.

RELG 5320 | Research Seminar in Religion, Conflict, and Peace 

Advanced research on religion, politics and conflict for students of "religion-on-religion" conflict/conflict resolution. Research methods drawn from religious studies, politics, anthropology and linguistics, history, sociology, nursing, philosophy, systems analysis and data science. Topics recommended by current  work in the Global Covenant of Religions, the UVA Initiative on Religion in Conflict, and other professional work in the field.

RELG 5455 | Recent Feminist Thought: Gender, Medicine, and Ethics

Mohrmann, Margaret

This seminar course will explore in depth works in feminist ethics, social/political thought, and theology with a specific focus on materials relevant to issues in biomedicine and health care. Topics will include feminist approaches to bioethics generally and to particular issues, such as disability, the transgender experience, and disparities in care. The emphasis in the course will be on careful reading and explication, usually of book-length works, and on recognition of characteristic feminist themes and methods of argumentation. Course requirements include response papers and a final research paper. Permission of instructor required. Open to advanced undergraduates.

RELG 5485 | American Religion and Social Reform

American Religion and Social Reform examines the history of the interplay between theology, morality, and politics in American history. Topics covered include temperance and prohibition, labor, civil rights, the peace movement, and environmentalism. Weekly reading, class presentation, and original research will be important components of the class. Open to graduate students and advanced undergraduates.

RELG 5541 | Just War

Childress, James

Contact instructor directly 

RELG 5541 | Seminar in Social and Political Thought: Public Health Ethics

Childress, James

This course will explore both ends and means in public health ethics. On the one hand, it will examine the broad goal of public health and reduction of the social burden of disease and injury. It will consider how this goal, which is grounded in a commitment to social welfare and social justice/equity, can be specified for purposes of guiding both policy and practice. On the other hand, public health’s population-based perspective poses a challenge to the traditional individual-centered, autonomy-driven perspectives in the U.S.’s public philosophy. This course will consider when, in a liberal democracy, the broad and specific goals of public health justify overriding liberty, privacy, confidentiality, etc., all of which establish presumptive (but non-absolute) constraints against certain societal and governmental interventions. It will examine the tension between giving priority to voluntary actions by members of the public and employing effective public health interventions, in such contexts as testing and screening, surveillance, quarantine/isolation, vaccination, and allocation of resources. 

RELG 5541 | Seminar in Social and Political Thought: Religion and Environmental Ethics

Childress, James

An comparative examination of religious beliefs, values, and practices, across several traditions, that bear on the natural environment and have implications for personal, communal, and public actions and policies.

RELG 5559 | Bonhoeffer and Modernity

This seminar is intended for graduate students and upper level undergraduates who wish to study the theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in intellectual and historical context.  In addition to weekly readings from the Bonhoeffer Werke, we will consider the writings of Adolf von Harnack, Karl Barth, Martin Heidegger, Martin Buber, Erich Przywara, Reinhold Niebuhr, W. E. B. Dubois, Mahatma Ghandi, and Hannah Arendt as influential sources of Bonhoeffer’s thought and actions.  His attention to the meaning of modernity remains the thematic focus.  Course requirements include a 20-25 page research paper; a weekly 250-word response to the readings; a half hour class presentation and a final exam in the form of a review essay on a scholarly book.  Written permission from the professor is necessary for enrollment in the seminar. 

RELG 5559 | Theology Ethics and Economy

This seminar considers the relation of modern economic thought to religious ethics. It reads texts from the emergence of an independent economic science and then considers how theological traditions have attempted to relate the ethics of love and justice to the science of self-interest. That encounter raises methodological questions about the relation of religion and capitalism and about roles for ethical judgments in economic thinking. Finally, we contextualize those questions within recent reform economic reform efforts, including the capabilities approach to development, the emergence of ecological economics, and the loss and recovery of happiness in consumer societies.

RELG 5559 | Religion and Foreign Affairs

A study of the recent turn to “Religion” as a focus of attention in US foreign affairs. Why did religion receive relatively little attention before 9/11 in the US Department of State and in university graduate programs in international affairs and diplomacy? The course begins with a survey of US government reports and foreign affairs literature on religion over five decades before 9/11. What happened in the early 21st century to make religion a front-page international news topic and a topic of at least modest (and growing) concern in think tanks and agencies devoted to international affairs? The course examines the role of religion in political and military conflicts over the past decade, including detailed case studies of religion and conflict in the Middle East and in East Asia. And what now? The second half of the course addresses very recent academic writing and US Department of State policy on the probable role of religion in conflict and peace in the coming decade. Classwork will be supplemented by field visits to religious communities in Virginia and by guest speakers in foreign affairs and international inter-religious diplomacy. During the last weeks of the course, students will interview State Department staff members on current events and policy.

RELG 5559 | Theology and Culture

Theological assessments of culture, considered as the human-made environment comprising: language and patterns of living; structures of belief, norms, and practices; and forms of work, thought, and expression. Topics include cultures as contexts for identity, secular experience and secularization, critiques of religion as an aspect of culture, cultural conflict and religious plurality, and theological interpretations of culture and nature.

RELG 5559 | Postliberal Theologies: Christian and Jewish

A study of postliberal Christian theologies, including Hans Frei, George Lindbeck, Robert Jenson, Stanley Hauerwas and a first and now second generation of their students. These theologians believe that postmodern criticisms of modern rationalism do not rule out recovering scripture and theological commentary as resources for knowing the world and our place in it. Thus, they revisit Christology and Trinitarian theology as sources of non-dogmatic and non-foundationalist Christian knowledge. Surprisingly, their “return to Christology” leads them also to re-value Judaism as an enduring source of knowledge. About 1/3 of the course will examine Jewish postliberal responses to these Christian theologians along with the beginnings of a Muslim response.

RELG 5559 | Hegel, Materialism, and Theology

This course examines Hegel's thought and its influence throughout the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries. We'll begin with a careful reading of some of Hegel's key texts, including Reason in History, thePhenomenology of Spirit, and the 1827Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion. Next, we'll examine the reception and development of Hegel's ideas in the work of Ludwig Feuerbach, Karl Marx, George Lukács, Max Horkheimer, and Theodor Adorno. Finally, we'll consider some recent engagements with Hegel by theologians and philosophers of religion, reading authors such as Robert Jenson, Slavoj Žižek, Peter Hodgson, Judith Butler, Catherine Malabou, and T. A. Lewis. This course will be of value to students with interests in continental philosophy of religion, political theory, Christian and Jewish thought, and critical theory.

RELG 5559 | American Religion and Social Reform

American Religion and Social Reform examines the history of the interplay between theology, morality, and politics in American history. Topics covered include temperance and prohibition, labor, civil rights, the peace movement, and environmentalism. Weekly reading, class presentation, and original research will be important components of the class. Open to graduate students and advanced undergraduates.

RELG 5559 | Genealogies of Secularity and Modernity

Wellmon, Chad

How and why did modernity become nearly synonymous with secularization?  This course sketches a genealogy of the secular from the Enlightenment to Jürgen Habermas’s debates with Cardinal Ratzinger. One of our basic goals will be to consider the intellectual origins and development of two sets of related concepts: reason-religion and modernity-secularization. How and why did central figures in modern European history distinguish reason and religion? And, is there an alternate history to be told? Might we be able to sketch a history of reason from the Enlightenment onward that is inextricable from religion? Can we trace a dialectic of the counter-Enlightenment, a different history of Enlightenment reason that undercuts purportedly modern oppositions between religion and faith, science and religion and the easy equation of modernity and secularization? Texts will include works from: Herder, Kant, Schleiermacher, Hegel, Heine, Marx, Nietzsche, Barth, Weber, Benjamin, Horkheimer, Adorno, Ratzinger, and Habermas, as well as more contemporary work from Taylor, Mahmood, Conolley, Berger, Asad and Casanova.

RELG 5559 | Prayer

Studies in the poetics and theology of prayer in the Jewish and Christian traditions. Sequence of topics: (a) Studies in poetics and  experience in  poetry and individual prayer; (b) Studies in the history of Jewish and Christian prayer and liturgy; (c) Philosophic and literary studies of liturgy as prayer. new course to provide graduate level study of prayer/liturgy for students of theology and of scriptural traditions. a new goal is also to provide work on poetics and literary theory as well as on scriptural traditions -- something we have not previously done in a theology or SIP course.

RELG 5559 | Recent Feminist Thought

Mohrmann, Margaret

This seminar course will explore in depth works published in the last decade or two that demonstrate feminist thought as increasingly integrated into "mainstream" conversations and controversies in ethics, both social/political and theological, and at the same time instrumental in taking those discussions in new and necessary directions. The emphasis in the course will be on careful reading and explication, usually of book-length works, and recognition of characteristic feminist themes and methods of argumentation. Course requirements include response papers, seminar presentations, and a final research paper. Permission of instructor required. Open to advanced undergraduates.

RELG 5559 | Notes from the Wasteland: Dostoevsky and Eliot

Guroian, Vigen

The title of this course is not just word play. It points to a common mind that belongs to both authors regarding the character of the modern world. Both gave us penetrating diagnoses of modernity, especially the failures of faith and love among its inhabitants. We will read Dostoevsky's Notes from the Underground The Idiot and The Brothers Karamazov as well as Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, Gerontion, Sweeney Among the Nightingales, The Wasteland, The Hollow Men, and The Four Quartets.

RELG 5559 | Philosophy of Science

The philosophy of science for students of theology and religious studies. The course has three components: history of philosophy of science in the West, studies in post-Newtonian logic of science, and comparative studies in the logic of experimental science and logics of scriptural interpretation in the Abrahamic traditions.

RELG 5559 | Abrahamic Scriptures in Dialogue

Introducing a model for Muslim-Jewish-Christian scriptural study. The course offers readings in the primary scriptures (Tanakh, New Testament, Qu’ran) and in Abrahamic theologies that emerge out of scriptural text study and out of philosophic reflection on text study. The course examines practices of scriptural study within each tradition and practices of shared study across (but respecting) the borders of these traditions. Readings as well in the UVA e-journals: Journal of Textual Reasoning; and Journal of Scriptural Reasoning.

RELG 5559 | Narrative and Drama

This seminar will assess contributions narrative and drama studies have made to ethical and theological reflection. It will especially look for differences in how narrative and theatrical modes reflect human experience, identity, and activity, and so may inform reflection in distinctive ways. Literary and theoretical materials will be examined together.

RELG 5559 | Approaches to American Religious History

This course introduces graduate students to the study of American religious history, and prepares them for advanced research, through a survey of key texts, subjects, and historiographical trends. We will attend to recent debates and developments in the field regarding method while aiming to balance an appreciation of diversity with the search for unifying themes. The primary focus will be on the 19th and 20th centuries. Students will produce a final, article-length research paper.

RELG 5559 | Religion and Common Good

How is a religiously pluralistic society to pursue the common good? This graduate seminar explores responses to this question within religious ethics at the local, national, and global levels. Readings will address major contributions to this topic within political philosophy before pivoting to responses in religious and theological ethics. Major themes include theories of justice, citizenship, and interpretation.

RELG 5559 | Power, Violence, and the Sacred

This course will explore the interrelations of power, violence and the sacred, with particular attention to the following questions: What is power? Is it inherently violent? Is there something sacred about violence and/or violent about the sacred? Are there such things as sacred power and secular power? And, if so, how do we distinguish between them? What is the relationship between religion and violence? In our exploration of these questions, we will read a selection of works by theologians, philosophers, and social theorists (for example, Hannah Arendt, Walter Benjamin, Judith Butler, Adriana Cavarero, James Cone, Michel Foucault, Rene Girard, Emmanuel Levinas, and Steven Lukes), as well as literary works that ask and explore these questions.

RELG 5559 | Ethics and Aesthetics

Contact instructor directly 

RELG 5559 | Environmental Ethics

Jointly led by an ethicist and an environmental lawyer, this seminar introduces students to major figures and frameworks in environmental ethics, including ecocentric and biocentric theories; consequentialism (including economic approaches); rights-based approaches, including environmental justice, the rights of animals, the rights of nature, and the argument among them; virtue ethics; religious perspectives; and relationships among law, philosophy and culture.  We will test the frameworks and theories through engagement with contemporary problems, such as treatment of animals, biodiversity loss, climate change, toxic exposures, and the production and consumption of food. The goals of the course are to familiarize students with the main concepts of the field, to give students experience in applying these concepts to problems in diverse ecological and cultural settings, and to think through the relation of ethics to practical decisions.  

RELG 5559 | Basic Philosophy for Students of Religion: Kant and After

“Basic Philosophy for Students of Religion: Kant and After" introduces students to the primary philosophic contributions of Kant, Reid, Hegel, Husserl, Peirce, Postmodernism, Recent Philosophies of Language and Logic. Discussion will focus on these thinkers' potential significance for contemporary studies in religion and theology. For grads and undergrads.

RELG 5559 | Abrahamic Feminisms

Feminists in Christianity, Judaism and Islam have been developing distinct and complex strategies (and abandoned some along the way) as scholars and activists. Sometimes, they have been able to draw upon each other's perspectives to inspire or clarify their own thinking and strategies. This comparative study will consider these contemporary feminist approaches to sacred texts, prayer, ritual practice, leadership, and community.

RELG 5559 | Suffering

Contact instructor directly 

RELG 5630 | Seminar on the Study of Religion and Literature

This seminar explores possibilities for interdisciplinary study in religion, literary art, and criticism.  Attention is given to three problem-areas in religion and literature: innovation and tradition, aesthetic experience and religious meaning, and what it may mean to engage in "religious,” "theological,” and "ethical" readings of literary works and their cultural settings.  The seminar is also is designed to direct students to important bibliography in religion and literature.   However, literary texts, not just adjacent criticism and theory, will be the weekly focus.

Issues are structured around important redefinitions of four major literary forms or genres:  epic poetry and its modes of composition, lyric poetry in terms of Romanticism and modern formalism, drama in terms of ritual and local histories, and prose fiction as social and moral inquiry—together with considerations of scripture read "as" literature.  Our focus is on the creative and productive (not just classificatory) functions of genre.  Of special concern will be with how generic relationships can provide an intersection between reading and authoring, productive-of or “giving rise to” religious, ethical, and theological experience and thought.

Requirements include active participation, short weekly response papers, and a journal article length paper on a topic related to the course and to one’s own research interests.

RELG 5775 | Religion on Fire

The course examine “religion” as an element of socio-political activity in major conflicts in the past two decades: examining the global phenomenon of irremediable, religion-related violent conflict, recent efforts to diagnose religion-specific sources of both violence and peacebuilding, and prospects for cooperative peacebuilding efforts among governmental, civil society, and religious agencies.    .

RELG 5780 | Wallace Stevens and the Absolute

This seminar attempts to develop a close reading of Wallace Stevens's major poems and to evaluate their theological significance. What is the character of the atheism of early poems such as “Sunday Morning” ? Is the project of a “supreme fiction” theological or anti-theological or both? In what sense, if any, is “The Auroras of Autumn” a poem concerned with belief? These are some of the questions that will interest us. While reading Stevens we will also be concerned to consider assumptions that structure our reading of poetry that involves religion, whether affirmatively or negatively, and to discover what is involved in developing a rigorous theological reading of modern poetry. What differences are there, if any, between reading canonical biblical poetry and canonical secular poetry that addresses the absolute? Reference will be made to theologians such as Karl Rahner and Hans Urs von Balthasar, among other theologians, and to literary critics: Harold Bloom, for example.

RELG 5835 | Ethnography and the Study of Religions 

Contact instructor directly 

RELG 5835 | Ethnography Study of Religion

This course is intended for students who want practice in studying religious experience and practice from an ethnographic perspective. Readings will include a wide range of ethnographies of religions and reflections on methodology. Students will engage in small ethnographic fieldwork projects, beginning with very simple encounters and concluding with what I call "deep hanging out," a process of spending time over several weeks in a fairly local setting where “religion” broadly interpreted, is practiced. We will study ways that people gather field notes and write up their findings.  This course is neither an introduction to ethnographic theories nor an overview of the exemplary ethnographies of religion. Rather, it is meant to train students in studying religion by observing it being practiced in diverse settings. That said, we will be consulting theories and reading ethnographies throughout the semester.

RELG 5850 | Narrative in Ethics and Theology

Bouchard, Larry , Childress, James

Examines the nature of narrative modes of representation and argument, and how narrative theory has been employed in contemporary ethics and religious thought.

RELG 5960 | What is Scripture

“What is Scripture?” This is the defining question for this introductory seminar in Scripture, Interpretation, and Practice. It is also the title of the first book examined in the course: WC Smith, What is scripture? a comparative approach. Following his lead, the course then samples two tradition-specific ways that Smith’s question might be answered: from Muhammad Iqbal on Islam to Georges Drefuys on Tibetan Buddhism. The course then moves to the approaches of Jewish and Christian theologians and philosophers, from Augustine to contemporary semioticians.  The course concludes with studies of the possible role of scripture reading in the history of inter-religious conflict and peace: “What does Scripture do?”

RELG 7130 | American Spirituality

What is “spirituality” and why has it become such a pervasive term in contemporary American culture? This course explores this question through historical interrogation of the category and its development since the early nineteenth century. The encounter of historic religious traditions, especially Protestant Christianity, with the intellectual, cultural, economic, and social currents of modernity will form the larger background for our analysis. We will read primary and secondary texts that investigate religious liberalism, the rise of psychology, secularism and secularization, consumerism, media, and globalization. Students will produce an article-length research paper.

RELG 7360 | Study of Religion 

Given the interdisciplinary character of religious studies, it is imperative for entering graduate students to gain a basic grounding in the theoretical and methodological studies in the field. By way of an examination of landmark texts, this course surveys the basic nineteenth and twentieth century approaches, as well as some contemporary methods. The course will facilitate critical engagement with classic concepts in the study of religion by applying them to examples of religious belief and practice.

RELG 7450 | Phenomenology and Theology

This seminar examines the work of two eminent proponents of the “new phenomenology” : Jean-Yves Lacoste and Jean-Luc Marion. Particular attention will be given to how the new phenomenology resets and refigures questions in systematic theology. Reference will be made to Hans Urs von Balthasar, Michel Henry, Jean-Louis Chrétien, Dominique Janicaud, Emmanuel Lévinas, Henri de Lubac, and Jacques Derrida, among others. Students will write a substantial essay on a topic chosen in conjunction with Professor Hart.

RELG 7528 | Topics in Modern Religious Thought: Levinas

This graduate seminar focuses upon the major writings of Emmanuel Levinas. Special attention will be given to *Totality and Infinity* and *Otherwise than Being*, although we shall also attend to his writings on the relations between art and ethics. Reference will be made to critiques of Levinas proposed by Maurice Blanchot and Jacques Derrida, and one important counter to Levinas, the non-intentional phenomenology of Michel Henry, will also be considered. The ability to read French would be a distinct advantage in taking this seminar.

RELG 7559 | TEC Proseminar

A Proseminar introducing students to the various methods and approaches of inquiry in theological, ethical, and philosophical/cultural dimensions of research

RELG 7559 | Religion, Theory, Theology, and Modernity

Mathewes, Charles, Jones, Paul

The purpose of this class is to acquaint graduate students with landmark texts that consider the place, significance, and purpose of religion in late modernity. Focusing on works written over the last few decades, which have seen a blossoming of interest in the issue of religion and modernity, we will draw on multiple genres of study: philosophy, anthropology, social science, religious studies, and theological inquiry. 

RELG 7559 | Aristotle, Plato and  Scripture: Medieval Theo-Philosophical commentary on the Bible and Qur’an.

A study of the sources and practice of Medieval Theo-Philosophical commentary on the Bible and Qur’an. Critical study of the texts of Plato and Aristotle most cited in medieval commentaries, followed by critical study of a sample of those commentaries, including Maimonides, Nahmanides, Augustine, Aquinas, Al Farabi, Ibn Sina, Ibn Rushd, Al Ghazali.

RELG 7559 | New Course in Religion Spirituality in America

What is “spirituality” and why has it become such a pervasive term in US culture? This course examines the category’s development since the early 19th century, considering especially the encounter of religious traditions with the intellectual, economic, and social currents of modernity. We will read primary and secondary texts that investigate religious liberalism, psychology, secularism and secularization, consumerism, and globalization.

RELG 7559 | Method and Inquiry in Religious Ethics

Mathewes, Charles, Jenkins, Willis

This advanced graduate seminar examines the range of possibilities for inquiry within religious ethics.  It considers philosophical, tradition-specific, comparative, and applied works, and focuses on interpreting their methodological variety. We will read and assess a range of major texts composed in recent years, attending not only to their explicit arguments, but the larger strategic choices they make, their intended aims, and the ways that they construct an audience and perhaps a field.

RELG 7559 | Signs of Salvation

A study of the sources of semiotics and pragmatism from Augustine to Peirce and beyond. The course examines the place of contemporary sign theory (semiotics) and reparative reasoning (pragmatism) in the history of philosophic theology in the west, with particular attention to the Abrahamic (Muslim, Jewish, Christian) scriptural traditions. Careful, detailed textual and formal (logical) studies in philosophy, scriptural interpretation, and theology, including Aristotle; the Stoics; early rabbinic and patristic sources; medieval Muslim, Jewish and Christian philosophies; modern, postmodern, and postliberal theorists.

RELG 7559 | Aristotle, Plato and Scripture: Medieval Theo-Philosophical commentary on the Bible and Qur’an.

A study of the sources and practice of Medieval Theo-Philosophical commentary on the Bible and Qur’an. Critical study of the texts of Plato and Aristotle most cited in medieval commentaries, followed by critical study of a sample of those commentaries, including Maimonides, Nahmanides, Augustine, Aquinas, Al Farabi, Ibn Sina, Ibn Rushd, Al Ghazali.

RELG 7559 | Rationality, Justification, Religious Belief

Ferreira, Jamie

Examination of two major approaches to the question of the justification of religious belief. These are classic texts with which you need to be familiar in order to make sense of contemporary discussions in philosophy of religion, including those discussions which shift the emphasis away from knowledge claims, justification, and ontology. We will read works by Kant (Critique of Practical Reason, Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone, and Metaphysics of Morals: Part II, Doctrine of Virtue), as well as by Hegel (Reason in History and Introd. To Lectures on Philosophy of Religion).

RELG 7559 | Ethnographic Religious

This course familiarizes students with a range of ways of studying religious experience as it is evidenced in sacred texts, religious artifacts and images; as it is chronicled in historical documents; as it is reflected in literary and artistic creations; and as it revealed in contemporary practice. Readings will include a wide range of ethnographies of religions and reflections on methodology. Students will be expected to analyze religious practice in its various guises and to engage in a well-defined, ethnographic fieldwork project. Guest speakers will include young scholars who will report on their own fieldwork in religions and talk about their recently published work.

RELG 7559 | Charles Peirce

A study of Charles Peirce's semiotics in relation to his logic of scripture. Comparisons will be drawn between Peirce and Paul Ricoeur's approaches to signs, texts, scripture, and meaning. Secondary readings
on literary theory, semiotics and pragmatism; and on logic, scripture, and theology's practice

RELG 7559 | Paul Ricouer

A study of Paul Ricoeur's hermeneutics in relation to his practices of interpreting scripture, texts, critical methods, and narratives. Comparisons will be drawn between Ricoeur's and Charles Peirce's approaches to such matters as signs, discourse, symbols, metaphors, and interpretation. There will be secondary readings on literary theory, philosophy of history, and theological hermeneutics. Note that this course meets at the same time and same place as Peter Och's Peirce seminar and will have a similar syllabus.

RELG 7630 | Study of Religion

Given the multidisciplinary character of religious studies, it is imperative for new scholars to gain a basic sense of theoretical and methodological options in the field. By way of an examination of landmark texts, this course surveys the formation of religious studies in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and considers some important contemporary approaches.

RELG 8000 | Negativity and Religious Imagination

Examines ways in which tragedy (and other forms of imaginative literature), scripture and theology, and hermeneutics and criticism portray and reflect on aspects of suffering and evil.

RELG 8130 | Philosophy and Religious Ethics

Mohrmann, Margaret

In this seminar course, designed to help ensure the comprehensive background necessary for scholarship in religious ethics, we shall read and discuss several classic and mostly non-theological works and movements. The reading list is likely to include certain of Plato’s Dialogues and Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, along with some interpretive essays, followed by a more intensive concentration on Stoicism, the often academically neglected but pervasive and enduring influence on Western moral thought. We shall read works by Cicero, Seneca, and Epictetus, as well as current discussions of Stoic philosophy. The final weeks of the semester will be spent on later figures, such as MacIntyre and others whose work attempts to bring these early modes of ethical thought forward into contemporary discourse. Course requirements include response papers and three short research papers.

RELG 8205 | Husserl

This seminar proposes a close reading of two major texts by Edmund Husserl, *Ideas* I and *Ideas* II

RELG 8330 | Comparative Religious Ethics

This advanced graduate seminar will study the literature that has arisen in the past several decades concerning the possibility of a comparative religious ethics, both to understand the methodological challenges and material ambition of such a project. Students will be expected to produce research projects from the class.

RELG 8350 | Proseminar in SIP

Contact instructor directly

RELG 8350 | Proseminar in SIP

This one credit seminar introduces students the Scriptural Interpretation and Practice (SIP) program to recent approaches to the comparative study of scriptural sources and scriptural traditions.

RELG 8350 | Proseminar in SIP

RELG 8400 | Historiography of American Religion

This course provides advanced training in the study of American religious history through a careful analysis of important recent scholarship in the field. It is designed to accommodate graduate students whose primary work is in religious history, as well as students from a variety of fields—history, theology, religious studies, politics, literature, anthropology, art history, law, and others—who might benefit from a thorough grounding in the religious history of the United States. In this way, the course lays the foundation for further advanced study in American religious history and a variety of allied fields.

Our focus throughout will be on the “state of the art” —understood broadly to include recent trends and debates in both subject and method. We will read works by emerging and established practitioners in the field to assess the current shape of the field, and the way religious history dialogues with wider conversations in both religious studies and history. We will examine the assigned texts from multiple angles, including their utility for us as models of scholarship.

In addition to the primary focus on method—a focus that will take us into social history, political history, labor history, and cultural history—the course also covers a variety of religious traditions and subjects, seeking to balance an appreciation of diversity with the search for unifying themes. The majority of the readings covers the United States in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

RELG 8400 | Historiography American Religion

This course provides advanced training in the study of American religious history through a careful analysis of important recent and classic scholarship in the field. It is designed to accommodate graduate students whose primary work is in religious history, as well as students from a variety of fields—history, theology, religious studies, politics, literature, anthropology, art history, law, and others—who might benefit from a thorough grounding in the religious history and historiography of the United States.

Hinduism

RELH 2090 | Hinduism

This course offers a comprehensive survey of the history of the religion from its earliest days up to the time of the British presence in India.  No previous exposure to Hinduism or Indian religions more generally is required of students who wish to enroll in this course.

RELH 2090 | Hinduism

Surveys the Hindu religious heritage from pre-history to the 17th century; includes the Jain and Sikh protestant movements.

RELH 2195 | Theory and Practice of Yoga

Hubbard, Leslie

An investigation of yoga practice throughout history from multiple disciplinary perspectives. Topics include yoga's origins in ancient India, systematic yoga theories in Buddhism and Hinduism, Tantric Yoga, and the medicalization and globalization of Yoga in the modern period. Students' readings and writing assignments are supplemented throughout with practical instruction in yoga.

RELH 2559 | Theory and Practice of Yoga 

Contact instructor directly

RELH 3104 | The Jain Tradition  

This course examines the religious beliefs and practices of the Jains in India. Beginning with the teachings of Lord Mahavira and basic doctrines of Jainism, the course will consider the historical foundations of the Jain tradition through philosophical and doctrinal texts, and the rich Jain narrative tradition.  The second half of the course will focus more on contemporary Jain life and religious practice, both monastic and lay, through examination of the religious lives of ascetics and Jain laity, ritual practices of temple worship and pilgrimage, as well as modern sectarian movements within the tradition and the emerging Jain interest in environmentalism.

RELH 3440 | Gandhi to Terrorism: Religion and Violence

The purpose of this course is to study the phenomenon of religious violence in one geographic and cultural context. We will examine the roles of religion and violence in Indian political life from the British period until contemporary times, and through the Indian example, we will explore current questions and problems regarding the relationship between religion and politics. Prerequisite: Some knowledge of India/South Asia recommended.

RELH 3559 | Yogic Traditions of South Asia

An exploration of concepts and practices associated with the Indic categories of yoga and tantra in major religious traditions of South and Himalayan Asia.

RELH 3559 | Hinduism and Ecology

This course will explore Hindu views of the relationship between human, natural, and divine worlds, as well as the work of contemporary environmentalists in India. We will read texts both classical and modern (from the Bhagavad Gita to the writings of Gandhi), and will consider case studies of Hindu responses to issues such as climate change, river pollution, deforestation, and industrial agriculture.

RELH 3725 | Travel Writing and India

This course examines western encounters with India by reading the fiction and travel writing of Europeans, expatriate Indians, and Americans in India. In reading such works, the course will explore the place of India in the European and American literary and cultural imagination.

RELH 3740 | Hinduism through Narrative Literatures

In this course, we will read major narratives from the corpus of Hindu religious literature, including works of various genres (among them mythology, poetry, dramatic works, story literature, and fiction).  Throughout, we will ask a series of questions regarding these materials: what do they tell us about Hinduism, and about religion more generally?  How can and how should they be interpreted?  What gives these stories vibrancy, or what causes them to resonate with the reader?  It is hoped that in reading these stories students will not only gain a broad familiarity with the idioms of Indian narrative literature, but also a deeper appreciation for the non-dogmatic, quotidian, and metaphorical dimensions of the religion in question and of religion more generally.

RELH 5450 | Hindu-Buddhist Debates

This course examines philosophical debates of Hindu and Buddhist authors from the time of the founding of Buddhism to the medieval period. Primary sources in translation and secondary, scholarly sources are examined in this course. Prerequisite: Significant prior exposure to Hinduism and/or Buddhism.

RELH 5450 | Hindu-Buddhist Debates

This course examines philosophical debates of Hindu and Buddhist authors from the time of the founding of Buddhism to the medieval period. Primary sources in translation and secondary, scholarly sources are examined in this course. Prerequisite: Significant prior exposure to Hinduism and/or Buddhism.

RELH 5465 | Saiva Tantra  

The purpose of this course is to provide a comprehensive introduction to Indian tantric Saivism, beginning with the proto-tantric traditions of the "Outer Way" (atimarga) and including the increasingly goddess orientated and increasingly non-dualistic developments evidenced by the myriad traditions of the "Way of Mantras" (mantramarga).  Students who wish to take this course are expected to have a deep familiarity with Hindu traditions.

RELH 5475 | Social Vision in Hinduism

This course will examine the public and social dimensions of Hinduism. Topics will include the role of religion in shaping social institutions (e.g.: caste, the law), cultural attitudes toward sexual and other personal relationships, and the relationship between religion and government. Put in emic terms, we will explore the nature of the first three of the four Hindu goals of life (purusarthas): dharma, artha, and kama. Prerequisite: Basic Knowledge of Hindu Traditions

RELH 5559 | Aesthetics

This course will pursue a detailed and technical understanding of Indian aesthetic theory; it will, that is, pursue a comprehensive study of the Alaṃkāraśāstra, in particular the Kashmiri contributions to the same.  Knowledge of Sanskrit is not required but is a plus; significant knowledge of Hinduism/Indian Religions is required of all who want to enroll in this course.

RELH 5559 | Sanskrit

This is a Sanskrit reading course at the advanced level.  At least 2 years of formal study in Sanskrit is required of all students who wish to enroll in this course.

RELH 5559 | Yoga Philosophy and Technologies of Self

This course examines the classical Indian texts and traditions that established yoga as a field of learning and a religious discipline.  Attention will be paid to theories regarding the efficacy of yogic practice, the nature of the individual who is said to be affected and transformed by the same, and the history and diachronic development of these ideas over time and across the sometimes competing traditions of learning in premodern South Asia.  Students who wish to take this course are expected to have a firm understanding of classical Indian religions.

RELH 5559 | Ritual and Renunciation

This course will examine the relationship of two central religious institutions of premodern South Asia--ritual and renunciation--exploring their interrelations in classical Hinduism. Readings will be drawn from major scholarly works that treat these subjects, as well as from primary sources in translation. Students are expected to have a strong background in Hinduism and/or Indian religions as a prerequisite for enrolling in this course.

RELH 5559 | Hindu-Buddhist Debates

The most famous and fundamental Hindu-Buddhist debate concerns the existence and nature of the “self” or “soul” (Skt. atman), a perennial dispute born with the Buddha himself and active even today.  This disagreement is rarely purged from Hindu-Buddhist disputes, though it is frequently addressed indirectly, in the context of negotiating a disparate range of philosophical issues.  

RELH 8559 | Panini and Sanskrit Grammarians

In this course, we will study the most famous and influential of all traditional Sanskrit grammars, the Astadyayi of Panini. The purpose of this course is to teach students to read and interpret these materials on their own. Readings of primary texts in the original Sanskrit will occupy the majority of our time in this course. A very strong knowledge of Sanskrit is assumed. The Instructor's permission is required of any student who wishes to enroll in this class.

Islam

RELI 2070 | Classical Islam

Studies the Irano-Semitic background, Arabia, Muhammad and the Qur'an, the Hadith, law and theology, duties and devotional practices, sectarian developments, and Sufism.

RELI 2080 | Global Islam (formerly: Islam in the Modern Age)

Studies the 19th and 20th centuries in the Arab world, Turkey, and the Sub-Continent of India, emphasizing reform movements, secularization, and social and cultural change.

RELI 2080 | Global Islam

Studies the 19th and 20th centuries in the Arab world, Turkey, and the Sub-Continent of India, emphasizing reform movements, secularization, and social and cultural change.

RELI 2085 | Modern Islam

Surveys Islamic history from the "age of the great empires" (Ottoman, Safavid, Mughal) to the colonial period and up to the present day, including Islam in America. Islamic life and thought will be examined from multiple angles -- including popular piety and spirituality, philosophy and theology, law, gender, art, architecture, and literature -- with particular attention paid to the rise of modern Islamic "fundamentalist" movements.

RELI 2559 | Jewish-Muslim Relations

Jewish and Muslim communities share a complex history of interaction. It stretches from seventh-century Arabia to the present day and includes instances of collaboration as well as moments of violence. This course presents this history through documentary and literary sources. We will focus on points of contact between Muslims and Jews over time, in contexts ranging from courts and battlefields to sites of scholarly and artistic creativity.

RELI 2559 | Women, Gender and Islam

Omar, Sara

This course will survey issues pertaining to women and gender in Islam through an exploration of sacred texts (Qur’an and Hadith) and Islamic jurisprudence. We will consider the political, social, and intellectual milieu of Muslims during the early and classical periods, which contributed to the normative doctrine on gender and sexuality. This course is designed to introduce students to various debates pertaining to women, gender, and sexuality in the Islamic tradition. The purpose of this course is to familiarize students with the history and texts that form the backdrop of modern debates. This course will introduce students to how scholars have approached the study of major issues pertaining to women and gender, such as veiling, contraception, marriage and divorce, sex, and homosexuality. By the end of this course, students should have a nuanced understanding of the historical and modern discourse surrounding these issues, and be familiar with prominent female figures and their religious and social activities in Islamic history.

RELI 3110 | Muhammad and the Qur'an

Systematic reading of the Qur'an in English, with an examination of the prophet's life and work. Prerequisite: Instructor permission.

RELI 3120 | Sufism

This course will be a historical and topical survey of the development of Sufism from the classical Islamic period through the modern age, paying special attention to the interaction of ideas and the social and political contexts surrounding them.

RELI 3559 | Prophecy in Islam and Judaism

Prophecy provides the theme for our comparative inquiry into two sacred scriptures (the Qurʾan and the Hebrew Bible) alongside the rich traditions of Muslim and Jewish interpretive literature. We will consider narratives about specific prophets, medieval debates between and within Muslim and Jewish communities about the status and function of prophecy within their traditions, and modern theoretical approaches to prophecy.

RELI 3559 | Medieval Scholars and Books

A survey of medieval scholarship, book culture, and transmission of knowledge.

RELI 3559 | Shared Prophets

Omar, Sara

Contact instructor directly

RELI 3559 | Islam and Human Rights

Sachedina, Abdulaziz

RELI 3559 | Muḥammad and his Companions

Stafford, Samuel

An introduction to the biographies of Muḥammad and his earliest followers, the Companions. The course will introduce students to the major works of classical Arabic literary biography and how the authors of these works crafted the biographies of the earliest Muslims, who are venerated as the ideal and exemplary Islamic community. We will focus on the themes and conventions of the literary biographies of the Companions.

RELI 3900 | Islam in Africa

This course offers an historical and topical introduction to Islam in Africa.  After a brief overview of the central features of the Muslim faith, our chronological survey begins with the introduction of Islam to North Africa in the 7th century.  We will trace the transmission of Islam via traders and clerics to West Africa and learn about the medieval Muslim kingdoms of the Sub-Sahara.  We will also consider the development of Islamic scholarship and the reform tradition, the growth of Sufi brotherhoods, and the impact of colonization, de-colonization and globalization upon Islam.

Readings and classroom discussions provide a more in-depth exploration of topics encountered in our historical survey.  Through the use of ethnographic and literary materials, we will explore questions such as the translation and transmission of the Qur'an, indigenization and religious pluralism; the role of women in Islamic movements, traditions and practice, and African Muslim spirituality. This course meets the Historical Studies requirement, as well as the Non-Western Perspectives requirement.

RELI 3900 | Islam in Africa

This course offers an historical and topical introduction to Islam in Africa.  After a brief overview of the central tenets and rituals of the Muslim faith, our chronological survey begins with the introduction of Islam to North Africa in the 7th century.  We will trace the transmission of Islam via traders and clerics to West Africa.  We will consider the medieval Muslim kingdoms; the development of Islamic scholarship and the reform tradition; the growth of Sufi brotherhoods; and the impact of European colonization and de-colonization upon African Muslims. We will also consider distinctive aspects of Islam in East Africa, such as the flowering of Swahili devotional literature, and the tradition of saint veneration. 

Readings and classroom discussions provide a more in-depth exploration of topics and themes encountered in our historical survey.  Through the use of ethnographic and literary materials, we will explore issues such as the translation and transmission of the Qur'an, indigenization and religious pluralism; the role of women in African Islam; and African Islamic spirituality. This course meets the Historical Studies requirement, as well as the Non-Western Perspectives requirement.  One prior course on Islam or African religions is recommended.

RELI 5230 | Islamic Philosophy & Theology

This course surveys the major developments within Islamic philosophy and theology from the classical to the early modern periods. Topics covered include the early theological schools (Ash‘aris, Maturidis, Mu‘tazilis), the transmission of Greek philosophy into Arabic, Peripatetic philosophy, Illuminationism, Shi‘ite philosophy, and philosophical Sufism, concluding with the challenges faced by Islamic philosophy through the colonial and modern eras.

RELI 5400 | Muslim Comparative Theologies: Sunni-Shi'i Creeds

Sachedina, Abdulaziz

The seminar will undertake to study the comparative Sunni and Shi’ite theologies (‘ilm al-kalam) to underscore a historical development of Muslim creed in the context of social and political conditions. The course will concentrate on the development of Muslim Theology in general and the Sunni and Shi’ite creeds in particular.  It will primarily be a comparative theological study, and secondarily Sunni-Shi’i doctrinal analysis.  The major concern will be the development of creeds in Islam, the gradual process of formulating Principles of Religion (usul al-din), and their crystallization in the form of dogmas, with theological complexities.  The essential difference between the Sunni and Shi’ite schools of thought begins in their emphasis on the fundamentality of leadership for the continuation of the prophetic mission.  This difference also leads to their classification of the founding principles of Islam.  While the Sunnites have insisted on a communal consensus regarding the centrality of the community’s adherence to the Tradition for the continuation of the mission, the Shi’ites have regarded the ongoing need for authoritative guidance in the person of the Imam following the Prophethood.  There is agreement among all Muslims that three doctrines constitute the faith of Islam: Affirmation of the Unity of God, the Prophethood of Muhammad, and the Final Day of Judgment.  The Shi’ites add to these three two other doctrines: Affirmation about the Justice of God and the necessity of the Imamate of the rightful successors of the Prophet.  The Shi`a-Sunni differences have also impacted the development of juridical principles and ethical epistemologies based on the relationship between reason and revelation.

The objectives of the course are:
(i) To introduce the student to the history of Islamic theology,
(ii). To direct the student to form a relatively complete picture of Muslim creed by discussing the Sunni-Shi’ite doctrinal formulations, and,
(iii). To encourage the student to undertake a comparative study of Sunni-Shi’ite theologies.

RELI 5415 | Classical Islamic Sources 

Contact instructor directly

RELI 5540 | Seminar in Islamic Theology The Sunnite Creed

Sachedina, Abdulaziz

RELI 5540 will concentrate on the development of Muslim Theology in general and the Sunnite creed in particular. It will primarily be a Mu`tazili-Ash`ari theological study, and secondarily Sunni-Shi`i doctrinal analysis. The course is basically concerned with the development of creeds in Islam, the gradual process of formulating Principles of Religion (usul al-din), and their crystallization in the form of dogmas, with theological complexities. The essential difference between the Mu`tazili and Ash`ari theology lies in their emphasis on the fundamentality of `reason' versus `revelation'. This difference also leads to their classification of the founding principles of Islam. While the Mu`tazilites have insisted on the fundamentality of the religious institution of guidance such as prophethood and Imamate on rational grounds, the Ash`arites have rejected its necessity on rational grounds. This attitude towards the fundamentality of revelation in Ash`arite theology marks all their dogmatic formulations, including the nature of ethical judgement and the relation of divine will to human volition.

RELI 5540 | Seminar in Islamic Studies: Special Topics in Islamic Thought

RELI 5540 | Seminar in Islamic Studies: Introduction, Islamic Studies

RELI 5559 | Islamic Biomedical Ethics

Sachedina, Abdulaziz

The seminar will undertake to discuss the development of a new subfield in Islamic legal and ethical studies. Although there is a long history of legal theoretical studies among Muslim legal scholars, the study of social ethics and its various applications in research and biomedical ethics is searching to define its methodology as well as application in the growing awareness of the ethical issues that confront both medical and legal professionals in the Muslim world. The emergence of specifically Islamic approach to the resolution of ethical problems in the health care ethics indicates both casuistry and principle-based ethical deliberations and rulings. The seminar will outline the moral reasoning that Muslims have developed to provide ethical guidelines in various areas of ethical problematic in research as well as clinical settings. Selected readings in theological ethics, legal methodology and application, and a growing literature about the new rulings in bioethics will provide students of Islam and comparative ethics an opportunity to understand the underpinnings of Islamic theology and legal-ethical methodology that guide public health and medical research in Muslim countries around the world.

Readings will include: Abdel Rahim Omran: Family Planning in the Legacy of Islam Munawar Ahmad Anees, Islam and Biological Futures: Ethics, Gender and Technology Aziz Sheikh and Abul Rashid Gatard, Caring for Muslim Patients Mohammad Hashim Kamali, Principles of Islamic Jursiprudence. Prerequisite: RELI 207 or RELI 208

RELI 5559 | People of the Book: Jews, Christians and Others

Contact instructor directly

RELI 5559 | Islamic Philosophy and Theology

Contact instructor directly

RELI 5559 | Classical Quranic Commentary

This graduate seminar is intended to introduce students to the genres of medieval Arabic quranic commentary. We will examine and compare Israelite and hadith based exegesis, sectarian and mystical exegesis, as well as Quran qua Qurran commentaries.

RELI 5559 | Islam in South Asia

This course examines Islam in the South Asian context. We will explore the coming of Islam to South Asia and its cultural, political and intellectual development from the classical to the modern periods. Special attention will be given to issues of religious boundaries and identity, particularly as this relates to Muslim-Hindu interactions. The course will also aim to provide advanced exposure to current methodological trends within the subfield.

RELI 5559 | Virtue and Knowledge in Islam  

This seminar explores medieval manuals of virtue ethics in the traditional religious sciences, primarily Islamic law, and philosophy.

RELI 5559 | New Course in Islam Muslim Conceptions of Revelation

This graduate seminar examines competing conceptions of revelation in the medieval Islamic tradition, particularly in the areas of theology ('ilm al-kalam) and philosophy. *The requirement for both seminars is 2-3 years of Arabic.

RELI 5559 | Islamic Law: Theory and Practice

This graduate seminar addresses the origins and sources of Islamic law; the various schools of jurisprudence and the elaboration of Islamic legal theory and its practice in the medieval Muslim world).

RELI 5559 | Koranic Exegesis

Contact instructor directly

Judaism

RELJ 1210 | Hebrew Bible/Old Testament

This course provides an introduction to the Hebrew Bible, known to Jews as the Tanakh and the Torah and to Christians as the Old Testament. We will read, for example, the narratives about Abraham & Sarah, Jacob, Rachel & Leah, Joseph, David, Solomon, Esther, Daniel, Job and the prophecies of Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel and Amos. This course also provides an introduction to methods of modern biblical scholarship; using these methods, we will examine the Hebrew Bible in its original ancient Near Eastern context to learn about the major phases in the history and religion of ancient Israel. We will consider the diverse genres and theological themes found in the Hebrew Bible and the literary artistry of its whole. Finally, we will read Jewish and Christian interpretations of the text in order to understand the complex process by which the text was formulated, transmitted and interpreted by subsequent religious communities.

RELJ 1210 | Hebrew Bible/Old Testament

Laugelli, Ben

This course provides an introduction to the Hebrew Bible, known to Jews as the Tanakh and the Torah and to Christians as the Old Testament. We will read, for example, the narratives about Abraham & Sarah, Jacob, Rachel & Leah, Joseph, David, Solomon, Esther, Daniel, Job and the prophecies of Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel and Amos. Using methods of modern biblical scholarship, we will examine the Hebrew Bible in its original ancient Near Eastern context to learn about the major phases in the history and religion of ancient Israel. We will consider the diverse genres and theological themes found in the Hebrew Bible and the literary artistry of its whole. Finally, we will read Jewish and Christian interpretations of the text in order to understand the complex process by which the text was formulated, transmitted and interpreted by subsequent religious communities.

RELJ 1410 | Elementary Classical Hebrew I

Learning a new language can be extremely challenging and immensely fun. This course promises to be both. In this course (in combination with its sequel, HEBR/RELJ 1420) students will develop a basic grasp of classical (biblical) Hebrew grammar and syntax. By the end of the spring semester, students will be able to read and translate narrative prose from the Hebrew Bible. Being able to read the Hebrew Bible in its original language provides a better window into the life and thought of the ancient Israelites, as well as a foundation for interpretation of the Jewish Bible and the Christian Old Testament. Students who successfully complete this course and its sequel will be able to continue study of classical Hebrew at the intermediate level.

RELJ 1410 | Elementary Classical Hebrew I

Studies the essentials of grammar, syntax, and vocabulary. Includes readings of narrative portions of the Hebrew Bible. Prerequisite: HEBR/RELJ 1410 or the equivalent.

RELJ 1420 | Elementary Classical Hebrew II

RELJ 2030 | Introduction to Judaism

This course introduces students to the academic study of Judaism.  We will use historical methods to observe change and development in Jewish beliefs and practices over time, we will analyze Jewish texts to learn about Jewish beliefs and practices, and we will observe contemporary Jews engaged in Jewish practice to gain insight into Judaism as lived religion.  Among the topics covered are:  sacred text study, prayer, rituals of daily life, holy day practices and life cycle passages.

RELJ 2410 | Intermed Classical Hebrew I

In this course, which continues and builds upon HEBR/RELJ 1420, students will develop facility in the reading, comprehension, and translation of biblical Hebrew. Students will review basic grammar, learn to analyze syntax, and build their working vocabulary. As a secondary objective of the course, students will learn to interpret biblical prose. By the end of the course, students will be able to read and translate from Hebrew to English moderately difficult prose passages

RELJ 2410 | Intermed Classical Hebrew I

Readings in the prose narratives of the Hebrew Bible. Emphasizes grammar, vocabulary, and syntax. Attention to issues of translation and interpretation. Prerequisite: HEBR/RELJ 1420 or the equivalent.

RELJ 3052 | Responses to the Holocaust

In this course, we will read a wide range of responses to the Holocaust—historical accounts, survivor testimonies, theological responses, and philosophical works—as we explore the following questions: What are the theological and philosophical implications of the Holocaust? After the Holocaust, how have understandings of human nature, religious belief and practice, good and evil, responsibility and ethical action changed? What responses to the Holocaust are possible, important, and/or necessary now?

RELJ 3052 | Responses to the Holocaust

Responses to the Holocaust

RELJ 3170 | Modern Jewish Thought

This course is a critical survey of the most significant Jewish responses to the experience of the modern era.  Beginning with Spinoza's political and hermeneutic thought, we will explore how Jewish thinkers met the social, cultural, and religious challenges of modernity and, in turn, influenced the transformation of modern Jewry.  Jewish Thought is understood in a broader sense to include philosophers, religious reformers, and political leaders.  Changing and conflicting perspectives on tradition, education, culture, and religion will be in the center of our interest. 

The following units will guide the course:

1)  Defining the Modern Period for Judaism
2)  Spinoza
3)  Origins of the Jewish Enlightenment
4)  Moses Mendelssohn
5)  Emancipation in Progress
6)  Religious Reform and Restoration
7)  Alternative Models of Reform and Religious Adjustment
8)  Nationalism and Dissimilation
9)  Reinventing Tradition
10)  Judaism as Philosophy
11)  After the Holocaust
12)  Contemporary Questions

RELJ 3170 | Modern Jewish Thought

This course introduces the medieval Jewish intellectual tradition (9th-13th centuries) in its cultural and historical context. We will explore key themes such as the nature of God, prophecy, exile, the status of Scripture, the history of religions, and the quest for spiritual perfection. Readings will be drawn from philosophical, theological, exegetical, pietistic and mystical texts, including works from Saadia Gaon, Judah Halevi, and Maimonides.

RELJ 3372 | German Jewish Culture and History

Gabriel Finder, Volker Kaiser

This course provides a wide-ranging exploration of the culture, history & thought of German Jewry from 1750 to 1939. It focuses on the Jewish response to modernity in Central Europe and the lasting transformations in Jewish life in Europe and later North America. Readings of such figures as: Moses Mendelssohn, Heinrich Heine, Rahel Varnhagen, Franz Kafka, Gershom Scholem, Martin Buber, Karl Marx, Rosa Luxembourg, Walter Benjamin, and Freud.

RELJ 3390 | Jewish Feminism

Individuals and groups have been agents of change in religious traditions. From ancient times to our own day, Jewish women have engaged with Jewish tradition, texts and practices by appropriating, resisting and transforming them.  We will study how Jewish feminists and feminist scholars of Judaism (primarily in American, and in Israel too) have defined and legitimized the study of Jewish women's experience by tracing the impact of Jewish feminism on Jewish ritual practice, text study, prayer and theology. We will study major works and issues in contemporary American Jewish feminism from the mid-1960's to the present, including work by 20-something Jewish feminists.    Finally, we will explore the consequences of  feminist critique, intended to spawn new understandings and practices in shaping a more inclusive Judaism.  This course will be of interest to all who study ethical challenges to ancient traditions.

RELJ 3475 | Science and Judaism

An introductory study of the place of science in Judaism, focusing of the example of creation.Topics include: The Genesis story in plain sense, historical scholarship, rabbinic commentary and Jewish philosophy; The Big Bang through the history of Jewish reasoning; Newton and Modern Jewish Humanism; Quantum Physics and the Logic of Scripture; Science in modern and contemporary Jewish thought and belief; Judaism and the environment.

RELJ 3490 | Jewish Weddings

What makes a wedding Jewish? Working from an interdisciplinary perspective,  and consulting a variety of resources including sacred texts, historical sources, artifacts, literary sources, music, dance and films, we will study the ritual of the Jewish wedding  from antiquity to modernity. In particular, we will look at challenges to the traditional Jewish wedding in contemporary times that are raised by interfaith couples,  Orthodox feminists, secular Jews, liberal Jews, same-sex-couples and the marriage laws of teh State of Israel. Students will work together in teams over the course of the semester to present elaborately staged and festive weddings for their classmates and invited guests. 

It does not matter what your starting point is, whether this is your first course in Judaism: you will be helped to chart your own trajectory for learning.  And should you ever attend a Jewish wedding; you will be able to explain everything that is going on—and its history—to the person sitting next to you. 

RELJ 3559 | 20th Century Jewish Art Music

Shelleg, Assaf

Jewish Identities in twentieth century art music offers students a study of modern Jewish histories "through" music. The seminar comprises of various case studies of Jews who under different historical circumstances and various aesthetic and ideological constrains identified as Jews through their compositions. Case studies include modern European Jewish art music, music written during the holocaust, modern American music (both film and art music), and music from Mandatory Palestine and Israel. Assignments include: midterm, final, short response papers, and a presentation.

RELJ 3559 | Modern Hebrew Lit and Music

Shelleg, Assaf

The seminar offers a study of the music behind the words and the words behind the music in novels, novellas, and compositions penned in the Jewish community of Palestine (the "yishuv') and Israel. Sessions include close and critical reading of mostly primary literary and musical sources that will be discussed against the backdrop of their historical and cultural contexts. Assignments include three writing assignments, research paper, and a presentation.

RELJ 3559 | Jews, Judaism and Visual Arts

Art and visual representation have had prominent, though at times contested, roles in Judaism. This course surveys the Jewish encounter with the visual arts especially in the modern and contemporary periods. Focusing on Europe, Israel, and the United States, we will think about both "Jewish art" and the Jewish participation in art. The course will cover some of the relevant theories of representation and rabbinic and modern responses to the visual. It will then explore individual artists representative of the history of Jewish art, the aesthetic dimensions of movements such as Zionism and Jewish Renaissance, Jewish memorial art, including museums and monuments, art after the Holocaust, ritual and religious art, and Jewish kitsch. Guest speakers will lecture on select topics. Students are required to write a research paper.

RELJ 3559 | Political Theology and Israel

Weinman, Michael

This course investigates the tradition of Political Theology. The course will focus centrally on Spinoza'the Theological-Political Treatise, and will cover precursors-“precursors” to Spinoza, including 1st and 2nd Samuel, Talmudic selections (read with commentary from Levinas), e medieval texts (Rambam/Ibn Sina/Ibn Roschd), “responses” to Spinoza, including Hegel, Schmitt, Benjamin, and Derrida as well as Arendt, Agamben, Butler and Levinas.

RELJ 3559 | Jewish Weddings 

As we study the ritual of the Jewish wedding ceremony, from antiquity to the present day, we will see how notions about marriage, gender relations, and the normative family are displayed and challenged. In particular, we will be looking at innovations in the contemporary Jewish weddings of traditional, liberal, and same-sex-couples.

RELJ 3559 | Jewish Bible Commentaries

The Jewish Bible commentary—a verse-by-verse explication of a biblical book, prefaced by a programmatic introduction—is an innovation from the medieval world that remains familiar to readers today. In this seminar, we will trace the development of the Jewish commentary genre from its origins in the ninth-century Islamic East (Geonic and Karaite exegesis) through its twelfth-century manifestations in the Christian West (the Spanish and French schools of exegesis). We will focus on the exegetical techniques of the commentaries as well as their cultural significance. We will approach the commentaries as serious treatments of the biblical text, as responses to rabbinic literature and institutions, and as engagements with parallel trends in Muslim and Christian intellectual history. Core course readings will come from the commentaries, which were originally written in Arabic or Hebrew and are available in English translation. Our aim will be to appreciate the craft of Jewish commentary writing and to discover what is distinctive about the interpretive project in varied historical circumstances.

RELJ 3559 | Intro to Modern Jewish Thought

This course is a critical survey of the most significant Jewish responses to the experience of the modern era.  Beginning with Spinoza's political and hermeneutic thought, we will explore how Jewish thinkers met the social, cultural, and religious challenges of modernity and, in turn, influenced the transformation of modern Jewry.  Jewish Thought is understood in a broader sense to include philosophers, religious reformers, and political leaders.  Changing and conflicting perspectives on tradition, education, culture, and religion will be in the center of our interest.  

RELJ 3559 | Judaism and Science

An introductory study of the place of science in Judaism, focusing on the example of creation. Topics include: The Genesis story and Evolution; Myth, Science, and Religion; Newton, Quantum Physics, and Judaism; The Big Bang through the history of Jewish reasoning.

RELJ 3559 | Israeli Cultural History, 1920-1970

Shelleg, Assaf

This class is an attempt to teach Israeli history through the way it has been recorded in literature, film, music, and visual art. Focusing on the fifty-year period between the emergence of the Jewish community of Palestine and the post Six Day War era, we will try to determine the validity of culture in relation to the region’s contested narratives. Assignments include a research paper (to be submitted at the end of the semester) and a midterm.

RELJ 3559 | Jewish Identities in Western Art Music 1600-2000

Shelleg, Assaf

The class explores the historical contexts of compositions written by Jews, for Jews, and about Jews—from the seventeenth century until the turn of the twenty-first century. "Jewish identities in Western Art Music" class offers a study of Jewish history through music, unfolding the dilemmas involved in Jewish assimilation and composers' grappling with stereotypes of themselves. Using case studies from late renaissance Italy to twentieth-century American and Israeli music the course illustrates the way music has recorded Jewish history, as well the constrains of its composers. Music reading is NOT a prerequisite for this course.
Assignments include a research paper (to be submitted at the end of the semester) and a midterm.

RELJ 3559 | Joseph, Esther, Daniel, Tobit

We will conduct a close critical reading of some of the finest narratives in ancient Judaism: The story of Joseph, the biblical Books of Esther and Daniel, and the Book of Tobit. Each tells of an ancient Jewish hero living outside the land, in exile, who works, against all odds, to deliver her or his people. In tandem with these works, we will also consider several related biblical and extra-biblical texts (including Nehemiah, Ruth, Joseph and Asenath, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, and Judith). We will attend to the literary, historical, and theological significance of these works and to themes they have in common, such as the refiguring of exile and restoration, the role of women in ancient Israel, the function of coincidence and coincidental reversals, the role of human activity in the face of a seemingly remote deity, the temptations of assimilation, and the vindication of the underdog and trickster.

RELJ 3559 | German Jewish Thinkers

Finder, Gabriel

Contact instructor directly 

RELJ 3559 | The Judaic Political Tradition

Doneson, Daniel

Contact instructor directly 

RELJ 3559 | Rabbinic Texts as Sources

Contact instructor directly 

RELJ 3559 | An Introduction to Maimonides and his Predecessors

Doneson, Daniel

Contact instructor directly

RELJ 3559 | Prophecy in Islam and Judaism

Prophecy provides the theme for our comparative inquiry into two sacred scriptures (the Qurʾan and the Hebrew Bible) alongside the rich traditions of Muslim and Jewish interpretive literature. We will consider narratives about specific prophets, medieval debates between and within Muslim and Jewish communities about the status and function of prophecy within their traditions, and modern theoretical approaches to prophecy.

RELJ 3559 | Contemporary Jewish Fiction

Contemporary Jewish Fiction

RELJ 3559 | Continental Philosophy Israel

Weinman, Michael

This course investigates three senses of “Israel”: Eretz Israel, the land or the nation of Israel; Am Israel, the people of Israel whether in “diaspora,” “exile” or resident in Eretz Israel; and Israel(-Palestine), the modern nation-state that is in a tortured relation to the Palestinian Territories. We will see how Judaism and the Jewish state reflect deeper tensions inherent in the very idea, and surely in the practice, of secular modernity.

RELJ 3590 | Music in the Holocaust 

Shelleg, Assaf

Designed for both music and non-music majors, this course deals with the embedment of Jewish musical markers and stereotypes in the European imagination, in particular Germany´s. Studying nineteenth and twentieth century "Jewish music libels” we will attempt to understand the German perceptions of nationalism and its cultural repercussions. Having established this background, the second part of this course will discuss the evolvement of Nazi cultural policies in the 1930s and their effect on musical activities in the Third Reich, including music in the ghettos. The last segment of the class will deal with commemoration music and the aesthetics of memory postmodern works.

RELJ 3615 | Biblical Novels

Laugelli, Ben

We will conduct a close critical reading of some of the finest narratives in ancient Judaism:  The story of Joseph, the biblical books of Esther and Daniel, and the books of Tobit and Judith.  Each tells of an ancient Jewish hero living outside the land, in exile, who works, against all odds, to deliver her or his people.  In tandem with these works, we will also consider several related biblical and extra-biblical texts (including Joseph and Aseneth, Ezra and Nehemiah, Ruth, Susanna, Bel and the Serpent, and the Gospel of Mark).  We will attend to the literary, historical, and theological significance of these works and to themes they have in common, such as the refiguring of exile and restoration, the role of women in ancient Israel, the function of coincidence and coincidental reversals, the role of human activity in the face of a seemingly remote deity, the temptations of assimilation, and the vindication of the underdog and trickster.

RELJ 3830 | Talmud

Description from spring 2006: This course introduces students to the talmudic corpus, which in conjunction with the Hebrew Bible, plays a fundamental role in shaping Judaism as we know it today. Indeed, the Hebrew Bible and the Talmud are the two major sacred texts on which Jewish practice and belief are based. Ostensibly an interpretation of the Hebrew Bible, the Talmud creates something exciting and new through its empowered approach to interpretation. In this course we will examine the various strategies of interpretation used by the Talmud and the new trajectories of thought, belief and practice that result from the Talmud's creative interpretations. We will pay special attention to the talmudic reshaping of the biblical myths of creation and revelation. We will also explore the culture of "holy" debate and argumentation that talmudic texts encourage. Finally, we will gain competence and mastery in reading the three main genres of the talmudic corpus (biblical interpretation, legal codes, and legal argumentation) so that students can put forward their own interpretations of these foundational texts.

RELJ 4559 | The Bar Kokhba Revolt (132-135 C.E.)

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RELJ 4950 | Senior Seminar in Jewish Studies

Finder, Gabriel

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RELJ 5048 | Philo of Alexandria and Hellenistic Judaism

Gamble, Harry

This seminar will explore the works and thought of Philo Judaeus (ca. 20 BCE-50 CE), the most prolific Jewish thinker and writer of antiquity.  In addition to extensive reading of Philo’s work, the seminar will have a view to the socio-political, intellectual and religious context to which he belonged, namely Hellenistic Judaism, particularly in Egypt, to the relation of Philo to other forms of Judaism in the ancient world, and to the significance of Philo for early Christian thought.

RELJ 5065 | History, Counter-History, Meta-History  

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RELJ 5100 | Ethics and Theology of the  Rabbis

Though the rabbis do not have a distinct genre in which they discuss ethical and theological questions, we will use these rubrics to deepen our understanding of the rabbinic religious outlook.  In the domain of theology, we will tease out the rabbinic response to questions such as:  What is the nature of divinity?  How is personhood conceived? What is the relationship between God and humanity, and specifically to the people Israel?  How are we to understand evil?  What are the limits of knowledge?  We will also explore the question of why rabbinic literature does not address theological questions in a straightforward manner.  In the area of ethics, we will explore central themes such as obligations to the poor, behavioral norms and cultivation of an ideal self (virtue ethics).  In drawing a rabbinic ethic out of the literature, we will consider the respective value of narrative vs. legal materials.  Throughout the course, we will focus on close readings of primary texts.  The goal of the course is to shed light on theological and ethical matters with the aid of reading strategies attentive to the distinctive character of rabbinic discourse.

RELJ 5105 | Religion and Culture of the Rabbis

An examination of religion and culture of the rabbinic movement (c. 70-600 CE) in the social and cultural contexts of Greco-Roman antiquity.  Among the issues to be examined: 1) rituals and institutions of the rabbis, 2) social organization within the rabbinic movement and 3) rabbinic engagement with other sectors of Jewish and non-Jewish society.

RELJ 5105 | Religion and Culture of the Rabbis 

An examination of religion and culture of the rabbinic movement (c. 70-600 CE) in the social and cultural contexts of Greco-Roman antiquity.  Among the issues to be examined: 1) rituals and institutions of the rabbis, 2) social organization within the rabbinic movement and 3) rabbinic engagement with other sectors of Jewish and non-Jewish society.

RELJ 5165 | Scripture and Philosophy in Judaism and Beyond

What happened when classical Jewish traditions of study and learning encountered the Hellenic traditions of philosophy? This course examines instances of encounter between philosophy and Jewish text learning throughout Jewish history, from the days of Philo to today, focusing on contexts of history, text-reading and hermeneutics. The second half of the course will explore implications for studies in Christianity and Islam.

RELJ 5210 | Mishnah Seminar  

This course trains students to read Mishnah in the original language. Primary emphasis will be on giving students tools to decode the text and set the text in its appropriate historical and cultural contexts. Special attention will be paid to literary and legal aspects of the text. The Mishnah will also compared with parallels from contemporary compositions (the Tosephta and midrash halakhah). Secondary readings will expose students to the range of theoretical concerns raised in the interpretation of the Mishnah. We will address the following kinds of questions: What is the purpose of the Mishnah? Was the Mishnah written down or orally transmitted? How should a literary reading of the Mishnah proceed? What is the function of dispute in the Mishnah? How can we best use the Mishnah as a historical source in the reconstruction of early rabbinic Judaism?

RELJ 5291 | Genesis

A seminar of the book of Genesis, its formation, and its subsequent interpretation. We will examine the literary artistry of the book—the dramatic and tangled narrative that opens the Hebrew Bible—by considering its plot, characterization, and compositional history. Using methods of modern biblical scholarship, we will further consider the book in its historical and religious context. And, finally, we will examine the early history of how the book was interpreted. Readings will include not only biblical texts, but other ancient Near Eastern compositions that shed light on Genesis, early biblical interpretation, and secondary scholarship on the history, literature and religion of Ancient Israel. 

This course is open to graduate students; undergraduate students (who have completed RELC/RELJ 1210) may contact the instructor to discuss permission to enroll. 

Hebrew is not a prerequisite for the course, but advanced students in classical Hebrew may elect to take a translation component.

RELJ 5292 | Book of Job

This seminar focuses on the book of Job and its related texts—ancient, medieval, and modern—which allow us to establish the literary, theological and philosophical traditions in which Job was composed and the literary, theological, and philosophical legacy that it has engendered. Our study will begin with a grounding in ancient compositions from Mesopotamia and biblical Wisdom Literature; proceed through the book of Job itself (with accompanying critical scholarship); and then finally turn to interpretations of the book. (These interpretations may include, for example, early Jewish and Christian retellings of Job, Kierkegaard, Kafka’s The Trial, J.B. by MacLeish, the writings of later liberation and Jewish theologians, or the etchings of William Blake; students will select and present on these materials based on their research interests.) We will pay particular attention to the ways in which interpretations of Job play off one another in literary form and expression and in their treatment of such themes as divine justice, human piety, the limits of human knowledge, and the nature of the divine-human encounter.

Undergraduates who wish to take this course should have taken RELC/RELJ Introduction to the Hebrew Bible and should confer with the instructor first (maht@virginia.edu).

RELJ 5385 | The Song of Songs

This graduate research seminar is a close reading of the Song of Songs, with attention to its literary artistry, ancient context, canonization, and reception.

Readings will include not only the Song itself, but a range of other biblical (and ancient Near Eastern) texts that shed light on the diverse and often surprising views on sex, love, and gender that were held in the ancient world. Other topics include biblical poetry as a genre; metaphor and its function; and the intersection of sexuality and power relationships. We will also read a variety of secondary sources to provide historical and theoretical (literary, feminist, etc.) frameworks for understanding the Song of Songs and its interpretation.

Requirements: Shorter oral reports throughout the semester, one longer presentation on your research, and a 12–15-page final paper suitable for a conference. Graduate students are encouraged to discuss their particular research interests at the outset of the semester so that these can be accommodated in the course design.

Prerequisites: (1) This course assumes that biblical literature arose from specific historical contexts and reflects the political, economic, religious ideologies of its authors. For this reason, a course on critical scholarship of the Hebrew Bible (1210 or the equivalent) is required. If you still feel that you still have an insufficient background in these approaches, please consult with me at the outset and I will provide you with background reading. We will approach the Bible approached historically, as an ancient Near Eastern text that reflects the values of its many authors, and with attention to its literary artistry. (2) A knowledge of Hebrew and/or Greek is preferred, but not required. (3) Undergraduates who are interested in taking the course should contact the instructor at maht@virginia.edu before enrolling.

RELJ 5559 | Kafka, Benjamin, Arendt  

This course will explore the works of three key figures in modern Jewish thought: Franz Kafka, Walter Benjamin, and Hannah Arendt. Although extremely diverse in style, these three European Jewish intellectuals, who wrote during the first half and middle of the twentieth century, shaped the ways in which we understand modernity and our experience and the meanings of our contemporary world.

RELJ 5559 | The Song of Songs

This research seminar considers the Song of Songs in its ancient context, with attention to the history of the Song’s canonization and reception.

Readings will include ancient Near Eastern texts and portions of the Hebrew Bible—not only the Song itself, but a range of other biblical texts that shed light on poetry as a genre, metaphor and its function, constructions of gender and sexuality in the ancient world, the intersection of sexuality and power relationships, and the forging of ethnic, political, and religious identities in ancient Israel and early Judaism. We will also read a variety of secondary sources to provide historical and theoretical (literary, feminist, etc.) frameworks for understanding the Song of Songs and its interpretation.

Requirements: Shorter oral reports throughout the semester, one longer presentation on your research, and a 12-15 page final paper. Graduate students are encouraged to discuss their particular research interests at the outset of the semester so that these can be accommodated in the course design. 

Prerequisites: (1) A course on critical scholarship of the Hebrew Bible (1210 or the equivalent) is required. (2) A knowledge of Hebrew and/or Greek is preferred, but not required.

RELJ 5559 | Jewish History, Meta-History

The course discusses models of history, meta-history,  counter history, and anti-history in modern Jewish thought. Readings from Heinrich Graetz, Hermann Cohen, Franz Rosenzweig, Martin Buber, Walter Benjamin, A.J. Heschel, Leo Strauss, and others.

RELJ 5559 | Martin Buber

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RELJ 5559 | Text and Interpretation

This year’s seminar focuses on the book of Job and its related texts—ancient, medieval, and modern—which allow us to establish the literary, theological and philosophical traditions in which Job was composed and the literary, theological, and philosophical legacy it has engendered. Our study will begin with a grounding in ancient compositions from Mesopotamia and biblical Wisdom Literature; proceed through the book of Job itself (with accompanying critical scholarship); and then finally turn to interpretations of the book. (These interpretations may include, for example, early Jewish and Christian retellings of Job, Kafka’s The Trial, J.B. by MacLeish, the writings of liberation theologian Gustavo Gutierrez, or the etchings of William Blake; students will select and present on these materials based on their research interests.) We will pay particular attention to the ways in which interpretations of Job play off one another in literary form and expression and in their treatment of such themes as divine justice, human piety, the limits of human knowledge, and the nature of the divine-human encounter.

**RelC/J 1210 Introduction to the Hebrew Bible or its equivalent is a required pre-requisite; one year of either classical Hebrew or Greek is preferred.**

RELJ 5559 | Hermann Cohen

The  Jewish philosopher Hermann Cohen was one of the most influential thinkers of 20th-century religious thought. The seminar traces Cohen's neo-Kanian legacy in Europe and the United States. Apart from Cohen's work, we will cover select topics in Franz Rosenzweig, Martin Buber, Ernst Cassirer, Ernst Bloch, Leo Strauss, Mordecai Kaplan, and Steven Schwarzschild.

RELJ 5559 | Jewish Bible Commentaries

The Jewish Bible commentary—a verse-by-verse explication of a biblical book, prefaced by a programmatic introduction—is an innovation from the medieval world that remains familiar to readers today. In this seminar, we will trace the development of the Jewish commentary genre from its origins in the ninth-century Islamic East (Geonic and Karaite exegesis) through its twelfth-century manifestations in the Christian West (the Spanish and French schools of exegesis). We will focus on the exegetical techniques of the commentaries as well as their cultural significance. We will approach the commentaries as serious treatments of the biblical text, as responses to rabbinic literature and institutions, and as engagements with parallel trends in Muslim and Christian intellectual history. Core course readings will come from the commentaries, which were originally written in Arabic or Hebrew and are available in English translation. Our aim will be to appreciate the craft of Jewish commentary writing and to discover what is distinctive about the interpretive project in varied historical circumstances.

RELJ 5559 | Germans and Jews

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RELJ 5559 | Benjamin, Adorno, and Arendt

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RELJ 5559 | History Methods Jewish Studies

This seminar introduces graduate students of any discipline and department to the history and methods of Jewish Studies as an interdisciplinary field. Students will be exposed to seminal texts, key concepts, and contemporary debates preparing them to work independently on areas related to the study of Judaism. Participation, presentation, and a research paper on a topic of choice are required.

RELJ 5950 | Midrashic Imagination

This course introduces students to midrashic literature in the original Hebrew.  It gives students the interpretive skills to make sense of the texts and provides an overview of the scholarly issues pertinent to the study of midrash.  At the heart of our study will be the question of what generates midrashic interpretations of the biblical text?  Are the interpretations a genuine “reading” of the biblical text?  If so, what kind of reading do they represent?  Or do the midrashic interpretations simply transmit traditional meanings of the text?  Or they are an outgrowth of historical conditions at the time at which they were composed?  Each of these viewpoints has merits and we will give them equal attention.  We will survey three different midrashic texts in an effort to chart out different ways in which the midrashic endeavor is carried out in different collections. 

RELJ 8559 | Song of Songs (Canticles)

An intensive research seminar on the Song of Songs (Canticles). Fluency in Classical Hebrew and Greek and instructor permission are required.