Fall 2016 Courses

African Religions

RELA 2850 Afro Creole Religions
Schmidt, Jalane
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.”


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
Kachru, Sonam
Theravada, Mahayana, and Tantrayana Buddhist developments in India.

RELB 2135 Chinese Buddhism
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 2252 Buddhism in Film 
Schaeffer, Kurtis
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 2715 Chinese Religions
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 3408 Tibetan Buddhist Philosophy
Campbell, John
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 5390 Tibetan Buddhist Tantra Dzokchen
Germano, David

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 5800 Literary Tibetan VII
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 8230 Adv Literary & Spoken Tibetan
Schaeffer, Kurtis
Examines selected topics and techniques of Tibetan education.


RELC 1220 Early Christianity & New Testament
Spittler, Janet
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
Shuve, Karl Evan
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 2215 Mormonism and American Culture
Flake, Kathleen
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 2850 Kingdom of God
Marsh Jr., Charles
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 3056 In Defense of Sin
Portmann, John Edward
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 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 3470 Christianity and Science
Portmann, John
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 5559 Liturgy in Late Antiquity
Shuve, Karl
Liturgy and Self-Fashioning in Late Antiquity”, the description is as follows: 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 Contemporary Catholic Theology
Flores, Nichole
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 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. Topics covered will include: transcendental and absolute idealism, phenomenology, fundamental ontology, phil

RELC 7515 Themes & Topics Christian Thought :Through the Middle Ages
Mathewes, Charles
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.

General Religious Studies

RELG 1010 Intro Western Religious Traditions
Warren, Heather
Studies the major religious traditions of the Western world; Judaism, Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, and Islam.

RELG 2559 Jerusalem
Andruss,  Jessica
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 2650 Theological Bioethics
Flores, Nichole
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/AAS 3200 Martin, Malcolm, and America
Hadley, Mark
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 3360 Conquests and Religions
Schmidt, Jalane
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 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 / RELG 5320 Research Seminar in Religion, Conflict, and Peace 
Ochs, Peter
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 3630 Idolatry
Biemann, Asher
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 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
Warren,  Heather A
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 4500 Majors Seminar :Modern American Marriage
Flake, Kathleen
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
Mathewes, Charles
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 4800 Research Methods in RS
Hoehler-Fatton, Cynthia 
   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.

Prerequisite: 3.4 min GPA.

RELG 5070 Interpretation Theory
Bouchard, Larry
   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 / RELG 3559 Research Seminar in Religion, Conflict, and Peace 
Ochs, Peter
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 7130 American Spirituality
Hedstrom, Matthew
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
Spittler, Janet
Kachru, Sonam

RELG 7559 Aristotle,  Plato and  Scripture: Medieval Theo-Philosophical commentary on the Bible and Qur’an.
Ochs, Peter W
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 8350 Proseminar in SIP
Ochs, Peter


RELH 2090 Hinduism
Allen, Michael
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 5450 Hindu-Buddhist Debates
Allen, Michael
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.


RELI 2070 Classical Islam
Nair, Shankar
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 5540 Seminar in Islamic Studies: Special Topics in Islamic Thought
Nair, Shankar

RELI 5540 Seminar in Islamic Studies: Introduction, Islamic Studies
al-Rahim, Ahmed


RELJ 1410 Elementary Classical Hebrew I
Goering, Gregory
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 2410 Intermed Classical Hebrew I
Goering, Gregory
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 3052 Responses to the Holocaust
Geddes, Jennifer

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 3170 Modern Jewish Thought
Biemann, Asher
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 3490 Jewish Weddings
Ochs, Vanessa
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 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 5559 Jewish Bible Commentaries
Andruss,  Jessica
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.