Courses

Current and Upcoming Courses in Religious Studies

 

Spring 2020

African Religions

RELA 2750 | African Religions

Cynthia Hoehler-Fatton

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 3559 | New Course in African Religions: Introduction to Islam in Africa Through Art

Oludamini Ogunnaike

This course will survey the history of Islam and Muslim societies in Africa through their arts. Covering three periods (Pre-colonial, Colonial, and Post-colonial),  and four geographic regions (North, East, West, and Southern Africa), student will explore and produce original African Islamic works of art—from Qur’anic recitation and calligraphy, and illumination, to architecture, poetry, music, fashion, and the contemporary cinematic arts.

RELA 3559 | New Course in African Religions: Religion and Inequality in Africa

Julie Jenkins

This course uses ethnographic accounts to explore the dynamic relationship between religion and the experience of social and economic inequality in a number of different African contexts. Students will be introduced to a wide range of religious practices in the continent and how these influence and are shaped by inequality and marginalization in the context of colonialism, democratization, international development, and neo-liberalism. 

RELA 4085 | Missions in Contemporary Africa

Cynthia Hoehler-Fatton

 An examination of Christian missions in Africa in the 21st Century. Through a variety of disciplinary lenses and 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?

RELA 5559 | New Course in African Religions: Religion and Society in Nigeria

Oludamini Ogunnaike

Not only is Nigeria home to uniquely dynamic, diverse, and globally-influential religious traditions, but these traditions have also profoundly shaped the history, culture, and politics of the nation-state of Nigeria and its diaspora. This course examines the historical development of religious traditions in Nigeria and their interactions with ethnicity, cultures, politics, and economics in the pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial periods.

Buddhism

RELB 2100 | Introduction to Buddhism

Sonam Kachru

Theravada, Mahayana, and Tantrayana Buddhist developments in India.

RELB 5480 | Literary Tibetan VI

Steven Weinberger

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

RELB 5559 | New Course in Buddhism: Theravada Buddhism

Erik Braun

This courses explores Theravada Buddhism from its early history in South and Southeast Asia to its present-day global manifestations

RELB 5810 | Literary Tibetan VIII

Steven Weinberger

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

Christianity

RELC 1220 | Early Christianity and the New Testament

Gregory Given

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 2215 | Mormonism and American Culture

Kathleen Flake

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 3077 | Liberation Theology

Elizabeth Cable

"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 3115 | Evangelicalism

Daryn Henry

From the revivals of George Whitefield to the antebellum abolitionists to the unexpected rise of Donald Trump, Evangelicals have played a vital and contested role in American society. Evangelicalism has also burgeoned into a truly global faith tradition, with an estimated 600 million+ adherents around the world. This course presents a multidisciplinary and polyperspectival introduction to this religious movement in World Christianity.

RELC 3240 | Medieval Mysticism

    Introduces the major mystical traditions of the Middle Ages and the sources in which they are rooted.

RELC 3447 | History of Christian Ethics

Laura Hawthorne

Survey of development of Christian ethical thought and teaching from beginnings through Reformation era. Major ethical themes are traced through the centuries, as the church's scripture, evolving doctrine, and emerging tradition interact with secular society, politics, and philosophy. Readings will be taken mostly from primary texts, such as the Bible and the writings of selected Christian thinkers.

RELC 3465 | Religion, Reform, & Democracy

Heather Warren

This course examines the history of the interplay between theology, morality, social movements, and politics in America.  Topics covered include temperance and prohibition, abolition, labor, civil rights, anti-war and pacifism, and environmentalism.  Lecture, weekly readings (often a book), class presentations, short  papers, and original research.

RELC 3559 | New Course in Christianity: The Bible and the Environment

Ashley Tate

This course will examine both how biblical texts imagine the environment and the human relationship to it, as well as how the biblical texts have become a part of contemporary discourse about environmental issues. 

RELC 3559 | New Course in Christianity: 20th Century Catholic Theology

Daryn Henry

 An engagement with some of the leading Roman Catholic thinkers and intellectual movements of the 20th century, particularly revolving around the formulation and reception of the Second Vatican Council. This course explores how a range of Catholics have interpreted Church doctrine in the context of modern and postmodern culture.

RELC 3559 | New Course in Christianity: Hell

Rebecca Falcasantos

This course explores the variety of ways people have imagined Hell from the ancient world to today, including literature, architecture, art, film, video games, and music. We will also discuss theories and images that help us analyze what depictions of the Underworld and punishment after death do, including monsters, disgust, imaginative cartography, and voyeurism.

RELC 3665 | Gender and the Bible

Ashley Tate

This course will interrogate the complex and diverse picture of gender and sexuality presented in the Bible. Students will read stories focusing on key biblical figures generating their own analysis on the dynamics of gender at play, while also considering ancient and modern interpretations and methodological approaches. Throughout, students will be exposed to the cultural and historical milieu that produced these texts.

RELC 5559 | New Course in Christianity: Christianity in Eddesa

Rebecca Falcasantos

Studies the early history of Syriac Christianity, focusing on the city of Edessa. Topics will include the pre-Christian history of the city, mythologies of the city’s conversion, and Edessa’s situation between Rome and Persia. Readings will be provided in English, but a reading group can be organized for students interested in reading in Syriac.

RELC 5559 | New Course in Christianity: Dante's Purgatory

Deborah Parker

  This course explores canto-by-canto Dante's second realm of the Afterlife. Particular attention will be paid to how various themes and motifs (the phenomenology of love, the relationship between church and state, status of classical antiquity in a Christian universe, Dante's representation of the saved), differ from those explored in the Inferno. Prerequisite: ITTR 2260 or permission of instructor.

General Religious Studies

RELG 1040 | Intro Eastern Religious Traditions

Michael Allen

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

RELG 2160 | Religion in America Since 1865

Heather Warren

Includes American religious pluralism, religious responses to social issues, and the character of contemporary American religious life.

RELG 2210 | Religion Ethics and Environment

Willis Jenkins

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, and examines the symbols and narratives that shape imaginations of nature.

RELG 2559 | New Course in Religious Studies: Religion & Culture in Oceania

Carolyn Howarter

Through ethnography of Oceania we explore indigenous religions, Christian missions, and the unique blends of old and new seen in contemporary Pacific culture. A focus of this course is discovering the interplay of religion and culture, how Christianity adapted to survive, and how religious heritage informs identity. We also trace how tattoos, hula and haka dancing, environmental stewardship, and language are ways in which native religion thrive. 

RELG 2559 | New Course in Religious Studies: Religion and Human Rights

Julie Jenkins

What influence do religious ideas have on how human rights are defined and experienced in specific cross-cultural contexts? What role do religions play in human rights violations and activism? Drawing on ethnographic accounts, this course introduces students to the multifaceted relationship between religion and human rights in a number of global contexts, paying particular attention the political dimensions of this relationship. 

RELG 2660 | Spirituality in America

Kevin Rose

This course asks: what does "spiritual but not religious" mean, and why has it become such a pervasive idea in modern America? We'll study everything from AA to yoga to Zen meditation, with stops in Christian rock, Beat poetry, Abstract Expressionist painting and more. In the end, we'll come to see spirituality in America as a complex intermingling of the great world religions, modern psychology, and a crassly commercialized culture industry.
 

RELG 3200 | Martin, Malcolm and America

Mark Hadley

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 3375 | Spiritual Writing

Ochs, Vanessa

 

This course in spiritual writing chronicles quests for meaning, purpose and direction. The reading and writing assignments explore encounters with the sacred, and consider such written wrestlings within faith communities, and other sources of wisdom. Over the semester, students will study examples of contemporary spiritual writing in diaries, memoir, and fiction. They will also write about "matters of the spirit" in various genres.

RELG 3559 | New Course in Religion: Scriptural Reasoning in the Abrahamic Religions

Ben Maton

RELG 3559 | New Course in Religious Studies: God in the White House

Spencer Wells

This course will use case studies of select American presidents from George Washington through Donald Trump to examine the ways the executive branch has involved itself in issues surrounding first amendment rights, religious policy, and the politics of religion in America. It will also ask how the personal faith of said presidents influenced their time in office. Finally, the course will ask how the executive branch has impacted American religious practice and belief more generally, in conjunction with race, gender and sexuality, and socio-econmic status in America

RELG 3600 | Religion and Modern Theatre

Larry Bouchard

Examines the works of several playwrights, some of whom dramatize explicitly religious themes or subjects, and others who are predominantly concerned with secular situations and contexts that imply religious questions and issues.

RELG 3605 | Religion, Violence and Strategy: How to Stop Killing in the Name of God

Jerry White

This course will teach students to evaluate critically the leadership and strategies of social impact campaigns, and the ways in which governments, religious actors and civil society have tried to reduce violent conflict. Students will be organized into small integrated teams to research the root causes and triggers for religion-related violence across the Middle East and North Africa.

RELG 4500 | Majors Seminar: Faith & Doubt

Charles Marsh

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 world. Requirements include two exams and a research paper. 

RELG 5321 | Religion, Politics and Conflict Proseminar

Peter Ochs

The Proseminar for MA students in Religion, Politics & Conflict meets monthly each semester to discuss student research, to integrate methods and themes in the field, to facilitate professional development, and to deepen relationships with colleagues.

RELG 5559 | New Course in Religious Studies: Religion and Sound

Ashon Crawley

The purpose of this course is to think about the relationship of sound – both organized in forms like music and speech as well as voice, noise and silence – is utilized in sacred/religious literature and cultural production as a means to enliven and quicken. Ours is an “ocularcentric” world, a world that utilizes the sense of sight as a primary marker for producing knowledge. Sound will help us cut and augment this to understand religion anew

RELG 5805 | Hegel, Materialism, and Theology

Paul Jones

A study of key texts by G. W. F. Hegel and their impact on philosophical, theological, ethical, and religious thought in the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries. Topics considered include philosophical method, the relationship between philosophy and theology, the meaning of Spirit, dialectical materialism, critical theory, and key topics in Christian theology (God, Christology, pneumatology, etc.).

RELG 5821 | Proseminar World Religions and World Literature

Peter Ochs

This monthly seminar explores methods and issues vital to the combined study of literatures and religions. It brings all MA students together, under faculty guidance, to attend to the broad range of individual projects and to foster a rich conversation that traverses the emergent field of study.

RELG 7360 | Theories and Methods in the Study of Religion

Willis Jenkins

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

Larry Bouchard

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.

Hinduism

RELH 3440 | Religion and Violence in Modern India

Patton Burchett

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.

RELH 3559 | New Course in Hinduism: Hindu Tantra

Naomi Worth

This course will examine the esoteric traditions in Hinduism, including Goddess traditions, esoteric traditions centered on the god Śiva, and the Viṣṇu-oriented traditions of Tantric formation.  Primary sources in translation and relevant secondary sources will be read, and a basic grounding in Indian religions is recommended for students wishing to take this course.

RELH 3740 | Hinduism Through Its Narrative Literature

John Nemec

Examines a major genre of Hindu religious narrative. Genre varies but may include the epics; the mythology of the Puranas; the 'didactic' Kathasaritsagara and Pancatantra; the hagiographies of the great Hindu saints; and the modern novel. Prerequisite: RELG 1040, RELH 2090, RELH 2110, or instructor permission

RELH 5173 | The History of Yoga

Michael Allen

As yoga has risen to global prominence, the scholarly study of yoga has flourished. This course offers an introduction to this scholarship, as well as an overview of the theory and practice of yoga from its ancient past to the present day. The course will focus primarily on historically Hindu traditions, though some attention will devoted to parallel traditions from Buddhism and Jainism.

Islam

RELI 2024 | Jewish Muslim Relations

Jessica Andruss

Jewish and Muslim communities share a complex history of interaction, spanning from seventh-century Arabia to the present day, and including instances of collaboration as well as moments of violence. Our course examines this dynamic relationship through documentary and literary sources. We focus on points of contact between Muslims and Jews in contexts ranging from battlefields to universities, from religious discourse to international politics.

RELI 2085 | Modern Islam: From the Age of Empires to the Present

Shankar Nair

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 3559 | New Course in Islam: Islam and Gender

Elisabeth Becker-Topkara

RELI 3559 | New Course in Islam: Introduction to Islam in Africa Through Art

Oludamini Ogunnaike

This course will survey the history of Islam and Muslim societies in Africa through their arts. Covering three periods (Pre-colonial, Colonial, and Post-colonial),  and four geographic regions (North, East, West, and Southern Africa), student will explore and produce original African Islamic works of art—from Qur’anic recitation and calligraphy, and illumination, to architecture, poetry, music, fashion, and the contemporary cinematic arts.

Judaism

RELJ 1420 | Elementary Classical Hebrew II

Gregory Goering

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 2024 | Jewish-Muslim Relations

Jessica Andruss

Jewish and Muslim communities share a complex history of interaction, spanning from seventh-century Arabia to the present day, and including instances of collaboration as well as moments of violence. Our course examines this dynamic relationship through documentary and literary sources. We focus on points of contact between Muslims and Jews in contexts ranging from battlefields to universities, from religious discourse to international politics.

RELJ 2030 | Judaism, Roots and Rebellion

Elizabeth Alexander

What does it mean to construct one's identity in dialogue with ancient texts and traditions? Can the gap between ancient and contemporary be bridged? Or must texts and traditions born of a remote time and place remain hopelessly irrelevant to contemporary life? This course explores these questions by examining the myriad ways that contemporary Jews balance the complexities of modern life with the demands of an ancient heritage.

RELJ 2420 | Intermediate Biblical Hebrew II

Gregory Goering

Readings in the prose narratives and poetry of the Hebrew Bible. Emphasizes grammar, vocabulary, and syntax. Attention to issues of translation and interpretation. Prerequisite: HEBR/RELJ 2410 or the equivalent.

RELJ 3085 | The Passover Haggadah: A Service Learning Course

Vanessa Ochs

The Haggadah has been transformed over the years and now addresses contemporary issues.We study how the Haggadah came about, and how it now does the work of tikkun olam, repairing the world.  As part of our class, students will reflect on their world-repairing volunteer work (at UVA or in the community);  After studying the template of the Haggadah to educate and create awareness, students  design a Haggadah based on their volunteer service work. 

RELJ 3100 | Medieval Jewish Thought

Jessica Andruss

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 3559 | New Course in Judaism: Enduring Questions in Modern Judaism

Asher Biemann

This course is built around the "big" questions Jews in the modern period have faced--such as "Who is a Jew?," "Are there divine commandments?," "What is a Jewish State?," "Can there be God after Auschwitz?." Each unit will approach a different question from a variety of perspectives and sources--secular and religious--offering tools to understand complexities, acknowledge context, and ask new questions. Requirements: Presentation and term paper. 

RELJ 3665 | Gender and the Bible

Ashley Tate

This course will interrogate the complex and diverse picture of gender and sexuality presented in the Bible. Students will read stories focusing on key biblical figures generating their own analysis on the dynamics of gender at play, while also considering ancient and modern interpretations and methodological approaches. Throughout, students will be exposed to the cultural and historical milieu that produced these texts.

RELJ 5365 | Hermann Cohen and Modern Religious Thought

Asher Biemann

The Jewish philosopher Hermann Cohen was one of the most influential thinkers of 20th-century religious thought. The seminar traces Cohen's neo-Kantian 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 5385 | Song of Songs

Martien Halvorson-Taylor

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.