Current Courses

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RELST 1110 : Beginning Biblical Hebrew
Crosslisted as: HEBRW 1110, JWST 1110 Semester offered: Spring 2020 Instructor:
Lauren Monroe
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RELST 2204 : Introduction to Quranic Arabic
Crosslisted as: ARAB 2204, ASRC 2204 Semester offered: Spring 2020 Instructor:
Munther Younes
This course is designed for students who are interested in reading the language of the Qur'an with accuracy and understanding. The first week (4 classes) will be devoted to an introduction of the history of the Qur'an: the revelation, collection, variant readings, and establishment of an authoritative edition. The last week will be devoted to a general overview of "revisionist" literature on the Qur'an. In the remaining 12 weeks, we will cover all of Part 30 (Juz' 'Amma, suuras 78-114) and three suuras of varying length (36, 19, and 12).
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RELST 2250 : Introduction to Asian Religions
Crosslisted as: ASIAN 2250 Semester offered: Spring 2020 Instructor:
Daniel Boucher
This course will explore religious traditions in South Asia (Pakistan, India, and Sri Lanka) and East Asia (China, Japan, and Korea) including Hinduism, Buddhism (South Asian and East Asian), Sikhism, Confucianism, Daoism, and Shintō. We will also encounter a wide range of religious expressions, including myth, ritual, pilgrimage, mysticism, meditation, and other spiritual technologies.
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RELST 2277 : Meditation in Indian Culture
Crosslisted as: ASIAN 2277 Semester offered: Spring 2020 Instructor:
Daniel Gold
This course probes the truths behind traditional claims of the priority of internal practice in Indian traditions. We will examine both practices themselves - techniques of meditation and contemplation - religious ways of using intellect, forms of chant and ritual, and the dynamics through which these have left a wider mark on South Asian civilization. These dynamics include not only the evident reverberations of practice in philosophical reflection and socioreligious institutions, but also wide-ranging processes of stylization, elaboration, and popularization found throughout South Asian culture. In order to get a sense of the experiences treated in classical religious texts, students will be expected to experiment with some basic meditation practices. At least as important for the work of the course (and much more important for the grade) will be the ways in which students situate these practices within larger South Asian world views as suggested by doctrines, rituals, iconic forms, and literary texts. To keep the interaction between internal practice and broader world views central, we will examine both Hindu and Buddhist sources, consistently examining the ways in which similar practices are given distinct shapes by the two religious traditions.
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RELST 2279 : Chinese Mythology
Crosslisted as: ASIAN 2279 Semester offered: Spring 2020 Instructor:
Robin McNeal
Students will study Chinese myths from the earliest times. Focus will be on understanding how people have used myth to create and convey meaning, on examining the form Chinese myths take, and on considering how they are related to religion, literature, historical accounts, and intellectual trends.
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RELST 2575 : Myth and Religion in Mesopotamia
Crosslisted as: JWST 2575, NES 2575, NES 6575 Semester offered: Spring 2020 Instructor:
Jonathan Tenney
This course will survey the cultic practices and beliefs of ancient Babylonia and Assyria, the two major civilizations of Mesopotamia. We will examine the major myths of this region, e.g., Ishtar's Descent into the Netherworld, Etana, and Gilgamesh, in light of what they reveal about Mesopotamian religion, politics, and understanding of the afterlife. We will also examine the performance of magical rituals and incantations, methods of predicting the future, and the role of sacred marriage, prostitution, and slavery in the ancient temple.
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RELST 2629 : New Testament/Early Christian Literatures
Crosslisted as: CLASS 2613, JWST 2629, NES 2629 Semester offered: Spring 2020 Instructor:
Kim Haines-Eitzen
This course provides a literary and historical introduction to the earliest Christian writings, especially those that eventually came to be included in the New Testament.  Through the lens of the Gospel narratives and earliest Christian letters, especially those of Paul, we will explore the rich diversity of the early Christian movement from its Jewish roots in first-century Palestine through its development and spread to Asia Minor and beyond.   We will give careful consideration to the political, economic, social, cultural, and religious circumstances that gave rise to the Jesus movement, as well as those that facilitated the emergence of various manifestations of Christian belief and practice.   The course will address themes like identity and ethnicity, conversion and debate, race and slavery, gender and sexuality, and the connections between politics and religion.
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RELST 2630 : Religion and Reason
Crosslisted as: PHIL 2530 Semester offered: Spring 2020 Instructor:
Scott MacDonald
What must (or could) God be like, and what reasons do we have for thinking that a being of that sort actually exists? What difference would (or could) the existence of God make to our lives? Religion & Reason examines the idea, shared by several major world religions, that God must be an absolutely perfect being. What attributes must a perfect being have: must it have a mind, be a person, care for human beings? Is the concept of a perfect being coherent? Is the existence of a perfect being compatible with the presence of evil in the world, the existence of human freedom, the nature of the world as modern science understands it? Does what is morally right and wrong depend in any important way on the nature or will of a perfect being? Is a perfect being among the things that actually inhabit our universe? The course approaches these questions with the tools and methods of philosophical reason and through readings drawn from both classic texts and contemporary philosophical discussion.
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RELST 2644 : Introduction to Judaism
Crosslisted as: JWST 2644, NES 2644 Semester offered: Spring 2020 Instructor:
Lauren Monroe
Jewish communities have been established, flourished and often struggled for millennia, throughout much of the world, and in vital contact with a vast range of other peoples and cultures. This course examines the constant and dynamic tension between that which unites Jews in all these different times and places, and that which makes every Jew a person of his or her own time and place. Our whirlwind tour will take us from ancient Israel, through Babylonia and the world of early Islam, into the medieval origins of Ashkenazi Jewry, down to Ottoman North Africa, and all the way across the Indian Ocean. We will learn how Jewish and other diaspora communities overcome challenges to maintain the distinctive identities, how to engage critically with the ways contemporary scholars engage with the records of these far-flung communities, and how to generate our own critical questions.
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RELST 2722 : Of Saints, Poets, and Revolutionaries: Medieval and Modern Iran and Central Asia
Crosslisted as: ASIAN 2294, MEDVL 2722, NES 2722 Semester offered: Spring 2020 Instructor:
Seema Golestaneh
From the poet-kings of medieval Persia to the trading networks of the famed "Silk Road" to the wandering mystics of Herat to the constitutional revolution of Iran to the colonial and post-colonial occupations of contemporary Afghanistan, this course offers a broad cultural and political history of Iranian and Turkic Central Asia.  In addition, we will explore the highly complex intellectual, artistic, and architectural trends and "cross-cultural" exchanges that formed the backbone of many disparate Iranian-Turkic cultures. 
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RELST 3281 : The Bible as Literature
Crosslisted as: ENGL 3280 Semester offered: Spring 2020 Instructor:
Samantha Zacher
A knowledge of the Bible's images, stories and themes is crucial to understanding not only the art and literature of many cultures, but also ancient and contemporary world politics. It is the world's most widely read book and a sacred text of three great religions: Judaism, Islam and Christianity. This course will offer students an introduction to the Bible's major historical, anthropological and literary contexts. Students will learn about the Bible's literary divisions and its main stories and characters as well as its ideas about faith, salvation, history and the end of time. We will use the New Oxford Annotated Bible for all course work. The class counts toward the pre-1800 requirement for English majors.
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RELST 3359 : Japanese Buddhism
Crosslisted as: ASIAN 3359 Semester offered: Spring 2020 Instructor:
Jane-Marie Law
This course explores central dynamics and challenges in Buddhism as it established itself in Japan. We focus on six major figures central to the history of Japanese Buddhism: Saichô (767-822), Kûkai (774-835), Hônen (1133-1212), Nichiren (1222-1282), Dôgen (1200-1253), and Hakuin (1686-1769). We study their lives, key writings, core practices and doctrines and central dynamics, especially the 1) establishment of Mahâyâna ordination, 2) grounding of esoteric practice in Japan and the accommodation to Japanese understandings of the natural world 3) popularization of Buddhist religious practice for commoners through nembutsu recitation and narrative traditions, 4) uses of Buddhism as a political, proto-nationalist ideology; and 5) the establishment of Zen meditation as an iconic "Japanese" form of Buddhism. Readings are primary sources in translation with secondary sources to provide context and supplement the lectures.
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RELST 3420 : Myth, Ritual, and Symbol
Crosslisted as: ANTHR 3420 Semester offered: Spring 2020 Instructor:
Andrew Willford
Examines how systems of thought, symbolic forms, and ritual practice are formulated and expressed in primarily non-Western societies. Focuses on anthropological interpretations of space, time, cosmology, myth, classificatory systems (e.g., color, totems, food, dress, kinship), taboos, sacrifice, witchcraft, sorcery, and rites of passage (birth, initiation, marriage, death). Examines both the roles of specialists (e.g., spirit mediums, curers, priests, ascetics) and nonspecialists in producing these cultural forms.
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RELST 3677 : The Search for the Historical Muhammad
Crosslisted as: HIST 3677, HIST 6677, MEDVL 3677, NES 3677, NES 6677 Semester offered: Spring 2020 Instructor:
David Powers
As the founder of Islam Muhammad is one of the most influential figures in world history. An important source for his life is the Sira of Ibn Ishaq (d. ca. 761), a biography that opens with Muhammad's birth ca. 570 and ends with his death in 632. If we take the narrative reports in this text at face-value, then Muhammad appears to have been born in the full light of history. But is the Sira a reliable source for the historical Muhammad? In this seminar, we will read this text in its entirely and analyze selected episodes from a critical historical perspective, with special attention to biblical and post-biblical models for the writing of sacred history.
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RELST 4100 : Latin Philosophical Texts
Crosslisted as: LATIN 7262, MEDVL 4002, MEDVL 6020, PHIL 4002, PHIL 6020, RELST 6020 Semester offered: Spring 2020 Instructor:
Scott MacDonald
Reading and translation of Latin philosophical texts.
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RELST 4441 : Mahayana Buddhism
Crosslisted as: ASIAN 4441 Semester offered: Spring 2020 Instructor:
Daniel Boucher
This course will explore the origins and early developments of a movement in Indian Buddhism known as the Great Vehicle. We will intensively examine a small slice of this movement's voluminous literature so as to better understand its call for a new spiritual orientation within Buddhism. Topics of discussion will include the career of the bodhisattva, the lay/monk distinction, attitudes of Mahayanists toward women and other Buddhists, and the development of Buddhist utopias and transcendent buddhas. 
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RELST 4540 : Moses Maimonides
Crosslisted as: JWST 4540, MEDVL 4540, MEDVL 6540, NES 4540, NES 6540, SPAN 4540 Semester offered: Spring 2020 Instructor:
Ross Brann
Moses Maimonides who was born in Cordoba (1138), moved to Fez as a youth and died in Cairo (1204) is regarded by Jewish, Islamic, and Christian tradition alike as the most important Jewish religious intellectual of the classical age of Islam/the High Middle Ages. This seminar will examine Maimonides as the product of his time and place including his complex relationship with Arabo-Islamic culture and, because of his stature as a communal figure, rabbinic scholar, court physician and philosopher, his role as a catalyst for cultural developments. For comparative purposes we also consider Maimonides' Andalusi contemporary, Ibn Rushd, the philosopher, Muslim jurist, physician and scholar of Islamic law.
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RELST 4545 : Sound, Silence, and the Sacred
Crosslisted as: CLASS 4644, JWST 4545, MUSIC 4345, NES 4545, NES 7545 Semester offered: Spring 2020 Instructor:
Kim Haines-Eitzen
From the ringing of Tibetan singing bowls to the quiet of desert monasticism, religious imagination and ritual is replete with sound and silence.  Cityscapes resound with church bells and calls from the minarets.   Music, chanting, recitations, incantations, mantras, gongs—the world of religion is intimately tied to ritualistic uses of sound.   But sound goes even beyond ritual to the realm of the imaginary, which frequently contrasts the music of the gods with the noise of the demons.   Sound and silence in such contexts are inherently tied to desire, temptation, and even salvation.  In addition, environmental sounds—the sounds of thunder, water, wind, animals, and so forth—are important for religious history and literature and contemporary practices.    This course will draw upon a wide array of sources—from texts to recordings, videos, and performances—to address the function and meaning of sound (and silence) within diverse religious traditions.   Our goal will be to read selections from the field of sound studies, listen and read closely in texts and music coming from diverse religious traditions, and to make some of our own recordings for a Cornell (and beyond) religious soundscape. 
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RELST 4991 : Directed Study
Semester offered: Spring 2020 Instructor:
Kim Haines-Eitzen
Daniel Boucher
Ross Brann
Jane-Marie Law
For undergraduates who wish to obtain research experience or do extensive reading on a special topic. Students select a topic in consultation with the faculty member who has agreed to supervise the course.
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RELST 4995 : Senior Honors Essay I
Semester offered: Spring 2020
RELST 4995 is the first course in the Honors two-part sequence. The Honors Program is open to Religious Studies majors who have done superior work and who wish to devote a substantial part of their senior year to advanced, specialized, independent research and writing of a thesis. Successfully completing an honors thesis will require sustained interest, exceptional ability, diligence, and enthusiasm. While admissions to the Honors Program and completion of a thesis do not guarantee that students will be awarded honors in Religious Studies, most students find the experience as intellectually rewarding as it is rigorous.
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RELST 4996 : Senior Honors Essay II
Semester offered: Spring 2020
RELST 4996 is the second course in the Honors two-part sequence. The Honors Program is open to Religious Studies majors who have done superior work and who wish to devote a substantial part of their senior year to advanced, specialized, independent research and writing of a thesis. Successfully completing an honors thesis will require sustained interest, exceptional ability, diligence, and enthusiasm. While admissions to the Honors Program and completion of a thesis do not guarantee that students will be awarded honors in Religious Studies, most students find the experience as intellectually rewarding as it is rigorous.
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RELST 6020 : Latin Philosophical Texts
Crosslisted as: LATIN 7262, MEDVL 4002, MEDVL 6020, PHIL 4002, PHIL 6020, RELST 4100 Semester offered: Spring 2020 Instructor:
Scott MacDonald
Reading and translation of Latin philosophical texts.
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RELST 7758 : Archaeology of Greek Religion: Theory, Methods, and Practice
Crosslisted as: ANTHR 7758, ARKEO 7758, CLASS 7758, NES 7758 Semester offered: Spring 2020 Instructor:
Caitlin Barrett
What is "religion," and how can we use material culture to investigate ancient beliefs and rituals? This course (1) explores major themes and problems in the archaeology of ancient Greek religion, and (2) compares and critiques selected theoretical and methodological approaches to the "archaeology of cult" more generally. Students will consider and analyze ritual artifacts, cult sites, and other aspects of religious material culture, as well as primary textual sources (in translation). 
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