Courses - Fall 2020

RELST 2273 Religion and Ecological Sustainability

This course serves as both an introduction to the academic study of religion and a survey of major topics in the intersections of religious communities and environmentally sustainable practices. Using real cases of environmentally sustainable, religiously oriented communities, we explore how myth, ritual, symbols, doctrines, and ideologies of time and space are activated in practical living decisions. This class involves readings of both primary sources, poetry and literature, secondary sources, films and site visits.

Distribution: (KCM-AS, ETM-AS, GLC-AS)
Academic Career: UG Instructor: Jane-Marie Law (jml16)
Full details for RELST 2273 : Religion and Ecological Sustainability
RELST 2277 Meditation in Indian Culture

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.

Distribution: (CA-AS, ALC-AS, GLC-AS)
Academic Career: UG Instructor: Daniel Gold (drg4)
Full details for RELST 2277 : Meditation in Indian Culture
RELST 2299 Buddhism

This course will explore the Buddhist tradition from its origins in ancient India to its migrations throughout Asia and eventually to the West. The first part of the course will deal with Indian Buddhism: the Buddha, the principal teachings and practices of his early followers, and new developments in spiritual orientation. We will then turn to the transmission of Buddhism to Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia, where at least one of the early schools has been preserved. Next we will look at Mahayana Buddhism as it moves north and east, encompassing China, Japan, and Tibet. While much of the course will be devoted to developments in traditional times, we will also look at some of the ways Buddhist cultures have responded to modernity.

Distribution: (CA-AS, GLC-AS, HST-AS)
Academic Career: UG Instructor: Daniel Boucher (djb38)
Full details for RELST 2299 : Buddhism
RELST 2515 Anthropology of Iran

This course explores the major debates that define the study of contemporary Iran. Drawing from ethnographic works, literary criticism, intellectual histories and more, we will examine historical events and cultural developments from a diverse set of theoretical approaches. Topics include the Iranian revolution in comparative perspective, the Iran-Iraq war and its continued legacy, media forms and practice, contemporary film and literature, women's movements, youth culture, religious diversity, legal systems, techniques of governance, and more. Of particular interest will be the intersections of religion and secularism in Iranian society. Ultimately, it is the objective of the course to explore the diverse cultural, political, and material worlds that shape collective life and individual subjectivity in Iran today.

Distribution: (CA-AS, GLC-AS, SCD-AS)
Academic Career: UG Instructor: Seema Golestaneh (sg2327)
Full details for RELST 2515 : Anthropology of Iran
RELST 2620 Brazil to Brooklyn: Jewish Cultures of the Americas

Jewish cultures in the New World are far more diverse than most Americans realize. Some know the history of Ashkenazi (German and Eastern European) Jews, most of whom immigrated to the U.S. between 1880-1920. In addition to Ashkenazi cultures, our course introduces the Sephardi (Spanish/Portuguese), Mizrahi (Arab), Persian, and Ethiopian Jews who have immigrated to the Americas since the 16th century. Students will learn how Jews of all origins have built communities across the Americas, from Jamaica, Bolivia, and Brazil to Mexico, the U.S., and Canada. We will focus on the resources that diverse Jewish communities drew on to face challenges in creating new Jewish American cultures, such as how to navigate assimilation, religious observance, legal discrimination, and gender and sexual reform.

Distribution: (CA-AS, ALC-AS)
Academic Career: UG Instructor: Jonathan Branfman (jrb557)
Full details for RELST 2620 : Brazil to Brooklyn: Jewish Cultures of the Americas
RELST 2655 Introduction to Islamic Civilization

At the beginning of the 7th century, a new religion, Islam, appeared in Arabia and by the end of the century, Muslims had defeated the Byzantines and Persians and created an empire that stretched from Spain to India. For the next millennium, Islam glittered. Its caliphs, courts, and capitals were grander, more powerful, and more sophisticated than those of any medieval king, duke or prince. In this course, we will trace the emergence and development of Islamic civilization from the birth of Muhammad ca. 570 to the Mongol sack of Baghdad in 1258. We will read the Qur'an and listen to its recitation; examine the career of the Prophet Muhammad; follow the course of the Arab conquests; explore the nature of the conflict between Sunnis and Shi'is; learn about the five pillars of Islam, sharia law, theology, and Sufism; and assess the achievements of Muslim intellectuals in literature, art, architecture, science, and philosophy.

Distribution: (HA-AS, ALC-AS, HST-AS)
Academic Career: UG Instructor: David Powers (dsp4)
Full details for RELST 2655 : Introduction to Islamic Civilization
RELST 2852 Judaism and the Origins of Christianity

Most people think of Christianity as the "daughter religion" of Judaism. In this course, we will see that what we now know as Judaism and Christianity both claimed ownership of the same textual tradition and emerged together from the same set of historical circumstances, shaped by political crisis, a radical transformation of the social order and the challenge of Graeco-Roman culture. Through close reading of the principal sources of Christian literature, such as Paul's letters to the first communities of gentile "believers" and the accounts of the life and death of the messiah, known collectively as the gospels, we will explore how and why the followers of Jesus first came to think of themselves as the "New Israel" and how a polemical engagement with their controversial interpretation of Hebrew prophecy shaped the development of the rabbinic movement in Roman Palestine.

Distribution: (HA-AS, HST-AS)
Academic Career: UG Instructor: Olga Litvak (ol76)
Full details for RELST 2852 : Judaism and the Origins of Christianity
RELST 3309 Temple in the World: Buddhism in Contemporary South and Southeast Asia

How do Buddhists live out their philosophies and ethics? What are the spaces of ritual, devotion, meditation, education, and politics? How do Buddhist practices and affiliations satisfy aesthetic and emotional needs and build social networks? This course explores the unfolding of Buddhist life in contemporary South and Southeast Asia, in locations such as Burma/Myanmar, Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Cambodia. 

Distribution: (CA-AS, GLC-AS)
Academic Career: UG Instructor: Anne Blackburn (amb242)
Full details for RELST 3309 : Temple in the World: Buddhism in Contemporary South and Southeast Asia
RELST 3311 Performing Islam in Southeast Asia

What role does Islam take in the politics, history, arts and rituals of Southeast Asia? Structured as a seminar, this course takes you on a journey through Southeast Asia, home to almost a quarter of the global Muslim population, to explore how centuries of cultural mixing and layering have shaped the regions' religious outlook. How are local traditions and universal Islamic precepts reconciled? How is this manifested in the performative arts and rituals? How does Islam play out in governance and the law? How is Islam deployed in the transnational sphere? Previous knowledge of Islam is an advantage, but not a requisite to succeed in this course. Students will be introduced to the fundamentals of Islam as a religious system as well as a historical phenomenon throughout the course.

Distribution: (CA-AS, ALC-AS, GLC-AS)
Academic Career: UG Instructor: Chiara Formichi (cf398)
Full details for RELST 3311 : Performing Islam in Southeast Asia
RELST 3888 Jews, Christians, and Others in Late Antiquity

This course explores the interactions between Jews, Christians, and other religious groups in late antiquity, especially in Sasanian Persia circa the first through seventh century C.E. Students pay particular attention to the portrayals of Christians in Jewish rabbinic literature, including Midrash and Talmud, but also draw from early Christian, Zoroastrian, Manichaean, and other sources. There will be an emphasis on the reading of primary texts in translation in their appropriate historical contexts, and in comparison with one another. Students engage such questions as: How did Jews define themselves in relation to Christians, and vice versa? In what ways did Jews and Christians part ways with one another, as scholars often maintain, and what were the factors at play in their separation? And, lastly, what role did other religious and political groups, such as Gnostics, Zoroastrians, Romans, Mandaeans, Manichaeans, and early Muslims play in these developments?

Distribution: (CA-AS, ALC-AS, HST-AS)
Academic Career: UG Instructor: Jason Mokhtarian (jsm467)
Full details for RELST 3888 : Jews, Christians, and Others in Late Antiquity
RELST 4100 Latin Philosophical Texts

Reading and translation of Latin philosophical texts.

Academic Career: UG Instructor: Charles Brittain (cfb9)
Full details for RELST 4100 : Latin Philosophical Texts
RELST 4449 History, Theory, and Methods in the Academic Study of Religion

This seminar will explore the development of and variety in the academic discipline of Religious Studies. We will consider the emergence of secular approaches to the study of religion arising out of the European Enlightenment, and more particularly, the methods in the academic study of religion based upon different theoretical approaches. We will be particularly concerned to reflect upon the category of religious experience in modern discourses from historical, social, hermeneutical, neurobiological points of view. 

Distribution: (KCM-AS, GLC-AS, HST-AS)
Academic Career: UG Instructor: Daniel Boucher (djb38)
Full details for RELST 4449 : History, Theory, and Methods in the Academic Study of Religion
RELST 4537 Shi'ism: Poetics and Politics

This course offers a broad survey of contemporary Shi'i beliefs, practices, and politics with a focus on Twelver or Imami Shi'ism. Through a close examination of ethnographies, intellectual and political histories, theological writings, and more we will investigate the themes which define the politics and cultural practices of contemporary Shi'ism. In particular, we will highlight the ways in which Shi'is utilize their theological beliefs to negotiate and respond to the socio-political context of the times in which they live. The course begins by examining the early days of what would later be called "Shi'ism." We then examine the key theological concepts which distinguish Shi'ism from Sunnism, including themes of adalat (divine justice), shahadat (martyrdom), the Karbala paradigm, and the role of the imamate and clerical class. The rest of course is devoted to investigating the ways that Shi'ism informs and interacts with the social realm and vice versa, ranging from negotiations of the everyday to responding to moments of great civil and society unrest and to that which is called "sectarianism". Travelling from South Asia to the Middle East, from Africa to America, we will ultimately examine how Shi'i beliefs and identity act as a dynamic force for shaping the worlds in which they live today.

Distribution: (CA-AS, HST-AS, SCD-AS)
Academic Career: UG Instructor: Seema Golestaneh (sg2327)
Full details for RELST 4537 : Shi'ism: Poetics and Politics
RELST 4626 Reinventing Biblical Narrative

Narratives, particularly sacred narratives, are not static or fixed but rather infinitely flexible and malleable.   Subject to multiple retellings—elaborations, modifications, and deletions—stories take on lives of their own even after they come to be written down. What happens to sacred stories when they are heard and read by different communities of interpreters? This is the broad question at the heart of this course, which will explore the diverse interpretations of biblical narratives (e.g., stories of Adam and Eve, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and his disciples, Joseph and Mary) found in Jewish and Christian literature from the second century BCE through the 6th century and beyond.  Writers like the Hellenistic Jewish philosopher Philo and the Jewish historian Josephus, Jewish and Christian pseudepigrapha and apocrypha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the New Testament, gnostic literature, early rabbinic literature, and Christian patristic writers—these are some of the sources that we will study in this class.    At the conclusion of the seminar, we will explore briefly the retellings of biblical stories and use of biblical characters in the early Islamic materials, especially the Qur'an.    Throughout the semester, we will consider the historical contexts of biblical interpretation and the production, transmission, and use of texts in antiquity, including questions about literacy and orality, education, and the physical forms of ancient books.

Distribution: (LA-AS, ALC-AS, HST-AS)
Academic Career: UG Instructor: Kim Haines-Eitzen (kjh10)
Full details for RELST 4626 : Reinventing Biblical Narrative
RELST 4652 Building Religion

This experimental seminar examines religious artisans and designers as central contributors to the religious worlds they help create. Reading across religious traditions and time periods, we will learn how devout people forming things with their hands simultaneously informs ethical systems, aesthetic regimes, and ways of accessing the divine. Members of this seminar will also explore artmaking as a mode of academic inquiry though a series of integrated artmaking workshops on the fundamentals of drawing and composition. Developing new hand-based skills while learning about religious makers will provide new insights into the world of material religion as lived phenomenon. For additional information visit the Society for the Humanities website.

Distribution: (LA-AS, ALC-AS)
Academic Career: UG Instructor: Anthony Irwin (ali23)
Full details for RELST 4652 : Building Religion
RELST 4931 Vitality and Power in China

Chinese discourses have long linked the circulation of cosmic energies, political power, and bodily vitalities. In these models political order, spiritual cultivation, and health are achieved and enhanced through harmonizing these flows across the levels of Heaven-and-Earth, state, and humankind. It is when these movements are blocked or out of synchrony that we find disordered climates, societies, and illness. In this course, we will examine the historical emergence and development of these models of politically resonant persons and bodily centered polities, reading across primary texts in translation from these otherwise often separated fields. For alternate frameworks of analysis as well as for comparative perspectives, we will also examine theories of power and embodiment from other cultures, including recent scholarship in anthropology and critical theory.

Distribution: (HA-AS, HST-AS, SCD-AS)
Academic Career: UG Instructor: Tj Hinrichs (th289)
Full details for RELST 4931 : Vitality and Power in China
RELST 4990 Directed Study

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.

Academic Career: UG Instructor: Kim Haines-Eitzen (kjh10)
Full details for RELST 4990 : Directed Study
RELST 4995 Senior Honors Essay I

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.

Academic Career: UG Full details for RELST 4995 : Senior Honors Essay I
RELST 4996 Senior Honors Essay II

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.

Academic Career: UG Full details for RELST 4996 : Senior Honors Essay II
RELST 6020 Latin Philosophical Texts

Reading and translation of Latin philosophical texts.

Academic Career: GR Instructor: Charles Brittain (cfb9)
Full details for RELST 6020 : Latin Philosophical Texts
RELST 6537 Shi'ism: Poetics and Politics

This course offers a broad survey of contemporary Shi'i beliefs, practices, and politics with a focus on Twelver or Imami Shi'ism. Through a close examination of ethnographies, intellectual and political histories, theological writings, and more we will investigate the themes which define the politics and cultural practices of contemporary Shi'ism. In particular, we will highlight the ways in which Shi'is utilize their theological beliefs to negotiate and respond to the socio-political context of the times in which they live. The course begins by examining the early days of what would later be called "Shi'ism." We then examine the key theological concepts which distinguish Shi'ism from Sunnism, including themes of adalat (divine justice), shahadat (martyrdom), the Karbala paradigm, and the role of the imamate and clerical class. The rest of course is devoted to investigating the ways that Shi'ism informs and interacts with the social realm and vice versa, ranging from negotiations of the everyday to responding to moments of great civil and society unrest and to that which is called "sectarianism". Travelling from South Asia to the Middle East, from Africa to America, we will ultimately examine how Shi'i beliefs and identity act as a dynamic force for shaping the worlds in which they live today.

Academic Career: GR Instructor: Seema Golestaneh (sg2327)
Full details for RELST 6537 : Shi'ism: Poetics and Politics
RELST 6626 Reinventing Biblical Narrative

Narratives, particularly sacred narratives, are not static or fixed but rather infinitely flexible and malleable.   Subject to multiple retellings—elaborations, modifications, and deletions—stories take on lives of their own even after they come to be written down. What happens to sacred stories when they are heard and read by different communities of interpreters? This is the broad question at the heart of this course, which will explore the diverse interpretations of biblical narratives (e.g., stories of Adam and Eve, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and his disciples, Joseph and Mary) found in Jewish and Christian literature from the second century BCE through the 6th century and beyond.  Writers like the Hellenistic Jewish philosopher Philo and the Jewish historian Josephus, Jewish and Christian pseudepigrapha and apocrypha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the New Testament, gnostic literature, early rabbinic literature, and Christian patristic writers—these are some of the sources that we will study in this class.    At the conclusion of the seminar, we will explore briefly the retellings of biblical stories and use of biblical characters in the early Islamic materials, especially the Qur'an.    Throughout the semester, we will consider the historical contexts of biblical interpretation and the production, transmission, and use of texts in antiquity, including questions about literacy and orality, education, and the physical forms of ancient books.

Academic Career: GR Instructor: Kim Haines-Eitzen (kjh10)
Full details for RELST 6626 : Reinventing Biblical Narrative
RELST 6652 Building Religion

This experimental seminar examines religious artisans and designers as central contributors to the religious worlds they help create. Reading across religious traditions and time periods, we will learn how devout people forming things with their hands simultaneously informs ethical systems, aesthetic regimes, and ways of accessing the divine. Members of this seminar will also explore artmaking as a mode of academic inquiry though a series of integrated artmaking workshops on the fundamentals of drawing and composition. Developing new hand-based skills while learning about religious makers will provide new insights into the world of material religion as lived phenomenon. For additional information visit the Society for the Humanities website.

Academic Career: GR Instructor: Anthony Irwin (ali23)
Full details for RELST 6652 : Building Religion
RELST 6888 Jews, Christians, and Others in Late Antiquity

This course explores the interactions between Jews, Christians, and other religious groups in late antiquity, especially in Sasanian Persia circa the first through seventh century C.E. Students pay particular attention to the portrayals of Christians in Jewish rabbinic literature, including Midrash and Talmud, but also draw from early Christian, Zoroastrian, Manichaean, and other sources. There will be an emphasis on the reading of primary texts in translation in their appropriate historical contexts, and in comparison with one another. Students engage such questions as: How did Jews define themselves in relation to Christians, and vice versa? In what ways did Jews and Christians part ways with one another, as scholars often maintain, and what were the factors at play in their separation? And, lastly, what role did other religious and political groups, such as Gnostics, Zoroastrians, Romans, Mandaeans, Manichaeans, and early Muslims play in these developments?

Academic Career: GR Instructor: Jason Mokhtarian (jsm467)
Full details for RELST 6888 : Jews, Christians, and Others in Late Antiquity