Courses

Current and Upcoming Courses in Religious Studies

 

Spring 2021

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 2850 | Afro-Creole Religions in the Americas

Kara Ellis Skora

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

RELA 3890 | Christianity in Africa

Cynthia Hoehler-Fatton

Historical and topical survey of Christianity in Africa from the second century c.e. to the present. Combined with and equivalent to RELC 3890. Prerequisite: A course in African religions or history, Christianity, or instructor permission.
 

RELA 4100 | Yoruba Religion

Oludamini Ogunnaike

Studies Yoruba traditional religion, ritual art, independent churches, and religious themes in contemporary literature in Africa and the Americas.

RELA 5094 | What is Love?: Reflections from the Islamic Tradition

Oludamini Ogunnaike

This seminar will examine some of the most profound and influential writings about love from the Islamic intellectual and poetic traditions. Perhaps more than any other civilization, the literary and philosophical traditions of Islamic civilization have been "love-centric." In this course we will closely read and discuss various philosophies and theories of love from the mundane to the mystical.

Buddhism

RELB 2054 | Tibetan Buddhism

Andrew Taylor

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 | Introduction to Buddhism

Erik Braun

Theravada, Mahayana, and Tantrayana Buddhist developments in India.

 

RELB 3655 | Buddhism in America

Erik Braun

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

RELB 4520 | Advanced Topics in Buddhism: Is Buddhism True?

Sonam Kachru

This course introduces students to the latest field-defining works on Buddhist philosophy which are shaping contemporary popular perception of Buddhism and contemporary debates in philosophy and cognitive science. This term, we shall study Robert Wright's Why Buddhism Is True; Evan Thompson's Why I am Not a Buddhist; and a forthcoming work commissioned by Princeton University Press as a response to Thompson, Jay Garfield's primer on not being a self.

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 | Buddhism and Animals

Natasha Heller

This seminar will look at the role that animals have played in Buddhist doctrine, literature and practice, bringing these materials into conversation with the growing field of animal studies. Topics will include karmic retribution and rebirth as an animal, arguments for vegetarianism, animals within Buddhist monasteries, contemporary practices of releasing captive animals for merit, and Buddhist approaches to animal rights.

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 | New Testament and Early Christianity

Janet Spittler

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 2850 | The Kingdom of God in America

Charles Marsh

This course examines the influence of theological ideas on social movements in twentieth- and twenty-first-century America and investigates how religious commitments shape everyday living, including racial perception and economic, political, and sexual organization. The course will examine the American Civil Rights Movement, late 1960s counter-cultural movements, and recent faith-based community-development movements and organizing initiatives.

RELC 3056 | In Defense of Sin

John Portmann

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 3077 | Theologies of Liberation

Paul Jones

"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

James 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 3215 | American Religious Innovation

Kathleen Flake

This course is about America's newer religious movements: Scientology, Nation of Islam and Mormonism. 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. We will ask also why these three movements have created such crisis for the American state and anxiety among its citizens.

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 | American Religion, Social Reform, and 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 3890 | Christianity in Africa

Cynthia Hoehler-Fatton

Historical and topical survey of Christianity in Africa from the second century c.e. to the present. Combined with and equivalent to RELA 3890. Prerequisite: A course in African religions or history, Christianity, or instructor permission.

General Religious Studies

RELG 1040 | Introduction to Eastern Religions

Michael Allen

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

RELG 1500 | What is Religion?

Elizabeth Alexander

What is religion?  Is it something that takes place in the private recesses of an individual’s heart and mind or is it something that happens in a communal context?  Does it consist of internal experiences or is it present in grand gestures and public ritual?  And who is most equipped to tell us what religion is?  Those who dedicate themselves to religious traditions or those who examine it with critical distance?  This course engages these questions and helps students understand what is at stake in the academic study of religion.

RELG 1559 | Religion and the Black Lives Matter Movement

Larycia Hawkins

RELG 2160 | Religion in American Life and Thought from 1865 to the Present

Heather Warren

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

RELG 2210 | Religion, Ethics and Global 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 2559-001 | New Course in Religion: Sacred Landscapes: Religion, Ecology, Politics

Luke Krieder

This course explores relationships between religion, ecology, and politics by studying examples of sacred landscapes---places deemed holy or special by a particular group or groups. How do places become sacred? How do landscapes affect religious/political movements? What happens when sacred landscapes come under ecological or political threat? Likely cases include landscapes in Israel-Palestine, Bhutan, the USA, and more.

RELG 2559-002 | Journeys of Purpose and Belonging

Anthony DeMauro

This course explores topics of purpose, belonging, and resilience in relationship to well-being. It helps students navigate their journeys toward a life that is meaningful and makes a positive impact on the world. The course also brings to light dominant cultural forces that shape the way students engage with life choices and relationships and challenges them to critically examine such narratives while envisioning alternatives for the future.

RELG 2630 | Business Ethics and Society

Charles Mathewes

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 2660 | "Spiritual But Not Religious": Spirituality in America

Matthew Hedstrom

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 2715 | Introduction to Chinese Religions

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.

RELG 3001 | Gods, Humans, Robots

Natasha Heller

The growing role of robots in society presents new challenges, but many of the ethical and philosophical issues raised by robots have long histories. This course will examine golems, automatons, robots, and cyborgs to consider what distinguishes humans, what it means to create other beings, what it means to be embodied, and what relationships we should have with the nonhuman.

RELG 3375 | Spiritual Writing

Vanessa Ochs

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 3416 | Sustainability and Ascetism

Michael Allen

To what extent does the pursuit of sustainability require restraining or retraining our desires? How can people be encouraged to consume less, or in less destructive ways, when cultures of consumption prove resistant to change? This seminar will explore these questions from the perspective of South Asian traditions (Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain). We will consider classical sources as well as contemporary debates about sustainable development. 

RELG 3559-001 | New Course in Religion: Race, Religion and Freedom in the Global South

Naveed Mansoori

This course examines the role of religion in contemporary Christian and Islamic freedom struggles against racial domination. It is centered on four examples from within the aftermath of the Second World War: Algeria, Egypt, Iran, and the United States. As we will see, during times of social and political crisis in these four contexts, political actors drew upon their faith to articulate critiques of racial states. 

RELG 3559-002 | New Course in Religion: Beauty and Ritual in Indigenous Religious Cultures

Kara Ellis Skora

This course explores how three different, localized religious peoples--the Asante, the Navaho, and the Maori--create, re-envision, and retrieve Meaning through the arts used in rituals. Each of these distinctive groups uses dance, music, visual art, and performance to create Sacred space, induce expanded consciousness, reenact orature in order to enable, manifest, instill, express, and engage the values, aesthetic, and experience of its Cosmos.

RELG 3820 | Global Ethics and Climate Change

Luke Krieder

This seminar takes up questions of responsibility and fairness posed by climate change as ways into a search for shared ground across moral traditions. It investigates the ethical dimensions of climate change as a way to consider broad frameworks for developing responsibilities across national, cultural, and religious borders.

RELG 4500 | Majors Seminar: Religion and Psychology

John Portmann

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 12-15-page paper.

RELG 4559 | The Religious Left in America

Isaac May

Considerable attention has been paid to the impact of the religious right on American politics, but its opposite, the American religious left, has been just as impactful. This course examines the history and theology of the religious left in the United States from the nineteenth century until the present. It charts how liberal religion shaped both electoral politics and activism around issues that include abolition, women’s suffrage, the peace movement, civil rights, the labor movement, and immigration. It also explores the impact of theology and religious modernism on the American left.

RELG 4810 | Poetry and Theology

Kevin Hart

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

RELG 5193 | Religion and the Power of Sound

Ashon Crawley

This course gives particular attention to music and sounds that are created or used by various religious communities, and we discuss the ways sounds are imagined and experienced by audiences, congregations, & gatherings. We also explore sound itself, instrumentation, and noise. We investigate uses of ambient sound and silence. We listen and respond to voices. We ask what does the production of sound mean for the practice of religious community?

RELG 5321 | Proseminar in Religion, Politics & Conflict

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 5821 | Proseminar in World Religions, World Literatures

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 8350 | Proseminar in Scripture Interpretation and Practice

Peter Ochs

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.

Hinduism

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.

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 2080 | Political Islam

Ahmed al-Rahim

Political Islam traces the development of political Islamic thought from Napoleons invasion of Egypt in 1798 to the Arab Spring in 2010 and its aftermath in the Middle East.

RELI 5094 | What is Love?: Reflections from the Islamic Tradition

Oludamini Ogunnaike

This seminar will examine some of the most profound and influential writings about love from the Islamic intellectual and poetic traditions. Perhaps more than any other civilization, the literary and philosophical traditions of Islamic civilization have been "love-centric." In this course we will closely read and discuss various philosophies and theories of love from the mundane to the mystical.

RELI 5415 | Introduction to Arabic and Islamic Studies

Ahmed al-Rahim

Introduction to Arabic and Islamic Studies provides a (nearly) comprehensive survey of the subjects and areas addressed in the field of Arabic and Islamic Studies, including qurʾānic and ḥadīth studies, biography (ṭabaqāt), history (taʾrīkh), and the rational and transmitted sciences (al-ʿulūm al-ʿaqlīya wa-n-naqlīya) of the medieval Islamic tradition. The seminar also serves to introduce students to the methods and techniques necessary to carryout scholarship in the field of Islamic Studies, inclusive of the question of Orientalism and critical literary theory as applied to Islamic texts and religious history. By the end of the seminar, students will have gained practical knowledge of and have become familiar with the use of Islamic primary and secondary sources for their research.

Judaism

RELJ 1420 | Elementary Biblical Hebrew I

Greg Goering

Second half of a year-long introduction to biblical Hebrew, using an innovative language-learning approach. Through communicative activities in an immersive environment, students acquire oral and aural capacities naturally, internalize the language, and efficiently develop the ability to read biblical Hebrew prose with immediate comprehension. Students complete Jonah by semester's end and master basic Hebrew grammar, syntax, and vocabulary.

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

Greg 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 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 3170 | Modern Jewish Thought

Asher Biemann

This course offers an introduction into the major themes of Modern Jewish Thought.

RELJ 3490 | Jewish Weddings

Vanessa Ochs

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 investigating the establishment of innovations in the contemporary Jewish weddings (traditional, liberal, same-sex and interfaith) in America and Israel.

RELJ 3708 | 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?" "Must a Jew believe anything?" "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.

RELJ 8717 | Tutorial on the Book of Job

Martien Halvorson-Taylor

An advanced tutorial on the book of Job and its related texts--ancient, medieval, and modern--which allow us to establish the literary and theological traditions out of which Job was composed and the literary and theological legacies that it has engendered, including thinking about divine justice, human piety, the limits of human knowledge, and the nature of the divine-human encounter.