Courses - Fall 2021

RELST 2248 Buddhists in the Indian Ocean Arena: Past and Present

For millennia, Buddhist monks, merchants, pilgrims, diplomats, and adventurers have moved around the Indian Ocean arena circulating Buddhist teachings and powerful objects.  In doing so they helped create Buddhist communities in the places we now refer to as southern China, India, Sri Lanka, and Southeast Asia.  The course explores these circulatory histories by focusing on case studies in each of four historical periods: premodern (esp. early second millennium A.D.); the era of 19th-century colonial projects; mid-20th-century nation-state formation in South and Southeast Asia; and contemporary (early 21st century) times.  Drawing together materials from Indian Ocean studies, Buddhist studies, and critical studies of colonialism, modernity, and nation-state formation, this course attends to the ways in which changing trans-regional conditions shape local Buddhisms, how Buddhist collectives around the Indian Ocean arena shape one another, and how trade, religion, and politics interact.

Distribution: (HA-AS, HST-AS)
Academic Career: UG Instructor: Anne Blackburn (amb242)
Full details for RELST 2248 : Buddhists in the Indian Ocean Arena: Past and Present
RELST 2276 Sensational Religion

This course explores the relationships between the senses (seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, and tasting), emotions (fear, happiness, sadness, etc.), and religion, especially religious practices and experience in history and our contemporary world. We begin by investigating how religious rituals engage the senses, asking questions like how and why is incense (and other smells) used in a variety of religious traditions? Why is sound/music such an important part of religious rituals throughout history? What does it mean to touch or taste a relic? We will consider how "feeling" and "experience" are produced by religious ritual and practice. We will also discuss controversial aspects of religious sensationalism: why does our contemporary media gravitate towards stories that "sensationalize" religion? Stories of violent fundamentalism and secretive religious societies grip our modern media and, it can be argued, also fueled much ancient discord and controversy about religious thought and practice. Our goal will be to look expansively across time periods and cultures as well as to focus more deeply on several case studies.

Distribution: (CA-AS, ALC-AS)
Academic Career: UG Instructor: Kim Haines-Eitzen (kjh10)
Full details for RELST 2276 : Sensational Religion
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 2599 Medicine, Magic and Science in the Ancient Near East

This course explores the history of medicine and other sciences in the ancient Near East, broadly defined. In addition to medicine, the other scientific disciplines covered in this course include mathematics, astrology, astronomy, alchemy, zoology, among others. Geographically, the course traces the transmission of scientific knowledge in ancient Babylonia, Iran, Egypt, Israel, Turkey, and beyond. As such, the course offers students a tour of different ancient civilizations and corpora. Students read selections from cuneiform Akkadian tablets, Egyptian Christian Coptic spellbooks, rabbinic sources such as the Talmud, among many other works. At the same time, students will be required to critically engage recent scholarship in the history of science and medicine as a way to help frame their analyses of the ancient materials. The course interrogates how ancient civilizations transmitted and received scientific knowledge, as well as the relationship between what we today tend to call science, medicine, magic, and religion. This course is intended not only for students in the Humanities and Social Sciences, but also for those majoring in science or medicine.

Distribution: (HA-AS, HST-AS)
Academic Career: UG Instructor: Jason Mokhtarian (jsm467)
Full details for RELST 2599 : Medicine, Magic and Science in the Ancient Near East
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 2724 Introduction to the Hebrew Bible

The Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) is a repository of ancient Israelite religious, political, social, historical, and literary traditions. For the modern reader these ancient traditions are often obscured by a focus on the text as revelation. The purpose of this course is to introduce students to the biblical world by reading the Hebrew Bible in translation, on its own terms, as a body of literature that evolved in an ancient Near Eastern context. The Bible itself will be the primary text for the course, but students will also be exposed to the rich and diverse textual traditions of the ancient Near East, including Mesopotamia, Egypt, Moab, and Ugarit. In addition, this course will explore the impact of early biblical interpretation on shaping the monotheistic traditions inherited in the West. As participants in a secular course on the Bible, students will be challenged to question certain cultural assumptions about the composition and authorship of the Bible, and will be expected to differentiate between a text's content and its presumed meaning.

Distribution: (LA-AS)
Academic Career: UG Instructor: Lauren Monroe (lm283)
Full details for RELST 2724 : Introduction to the Hebrew Bible
RELST 2910 Jewish Modernity

In the past two centuries, Jewish men and women have adapted remarkably well to the modern condition, embracing the opportunities associated with higher education, city life, industrial capitalism and democratic politics.  Jewish artists, writers, scientists and philosophers can be found on every list of luminaries associated with the modern age; it is enough to mention Marx, Freud and Einstein to conjure up the celebrated image of Jewish participation in the modern project.  No less remarkable than these names is the resurgence of Jewish tradition, despite the inroads of secularization and the dissolution of communal self-government. This course explores the tensions implicit in the Jewish experience of modernity, marked by intense longing for personal and collective emancipation from religious obligation and social discipline, on the one hand, and by a powerful countervailing impulse to strengthen ethnic loyalties, to invigorate Jewish practice and to keep Jewish values intact. Drawing on various forms of Jewish expression, from the eighteenth century to the twentieth, we will address the contradictions implicit in the strange hybrid of "Jewish modernity."

Distribution: (HA-AS, HST-AS)
Academic Career: UG Instructor: Olga Litvak (ol76)
Full details for RELST 2910 : Jewish Modernity
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 3530 A Mediterranean Society and Its Culture

This course examines the cultural and historical interaction of Muslims and Jews from the emergence of Islam in the seventh century through the classical age of Islam down to the turn of the thirteenth century.   The intersection of the two cultures (scriptural, spiritual, intellectual, literary, communal, and interpersonal) and members of their respective religious communities will be studied through readings of primary texts (in translation).  The course will conclude with some brief reflections on historical memory and the modern and contemporary significance of the two religious communities' interactions during the classical age of Islam.

Distribution: (HA-AS, HST-AS)
Academic Career: UG Instructor: Ross Brann (rb23)
Full details for RELST 3530 : A Mediterranean Society and Its Culture
RELST 3535 Moses to Modernity

This course is an introduction to Jewish philosophy – from Biblical texts to 20th century work. Our inquiries will span metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, philosophy of religion, and political philosophy. We will reflect on questions such as the relation between philosophy or reason on the one hand, and religion and ethics on the other, on the possibility of knowledge of God, the ethics of human relations, the nature of suffering, and finally the nature of a tolerant and just society. We will read works by Maimonides, Spinoza, Mendelssohn, Marx, Buber, Rosenzweig, Cohen, Arendt, Levinas, and Butler, among others.

Distribution: (KCM-AS, ETM-AS)
Academic Career: UG Instructor: Karolina Hubner (kh753)
Full details for RELST 3535 : Moses to Modernity
RELST 3540 On Paying Attention

In the age of smartphones and Facebook, the competing claims made on our attention only seem to be multiplying. This course is an opportunity to think about and to enact certain practices of attentiveness and concentration, drawing largely from religious, literary, artistic, philosophical and anthropological sources. We'll be trying various kinds of exercises - from reading poems and looking at paintings to eating more slowly - as we read about the ways in which our seneses reach out to the world, and as we think together about how technology may be used in ways that are not, strictly speaking, technological. This course is for students at all levels, from all backgrounds, graduate and undergraduate, with the understanding that we all need an excuse to slow down and observe the world - and ourselves - a little more carefully.

Distribution: (LA-AS, ETM-AS)
Academic Career: UG Instructor: Cary Howie (csh34)
Full details for RELST 3540 : On Paying Attention
RELST 3677 The Search for the Historical Muhammad

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.

Distribution: (HA-AS, ALC-AS, HST-AS)
Academic Career: UG Instructor: David Powers (dsp4)
Full details for RELST 3677 : The Search for the Historical Muhammad
RELST 4100 Latin Philosophical Texts

Reading and translation of Latin philosophical texts.

Academic Career: UG Instructor: Scott MacDonald (scm8)
Full details for RELST 4100 : Latin Philosophical Texts
RELST 4451 Gender and Sexuality in Southeast Asian Cinema

Examines the new cinemas of Southeast Asia and their engagement with contemporary discourses of gender and sexuality. It pays special attention to the ways in which sexuality and gendered embodiment are at present linked to citizenship and other forms of belonging and to how the films draw on Buddhist and Islamic traditions of representation and belief. Focusing on globally circulating Southeast Asian films of the past 15 years, the course draws on current writings in feminism, Buddhist studies, affect theory, queer studies, postcolonial theory, and film studies to ask what new understandings of subjectivity might emerge from these cinemas and their political contexts. Films are drawn from both mainstream and independent cinema and will include the work of directors such as Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Danny and Oxide Pang, Yau Ching, Thunska Pansittivorakul, Garin Nugroho, and Jean-Jacques Annaud.

Distribution: (LA-AS, ALC-AS, SCD-AS)
Academic Career: UG Instructor: Arnika Fuhrmann (aif32)
Full details for RELST 4451 : Gender and Sexuality in Southeast Asian Cinema
RELST 4485 Secularism and the Minority Question

There is a vexed relationship between secular governance and the lived struggles of religious minorities. While proponents claim that secular reason is a solution to religious strife, recent scholarship has shown how modern secular governance has actually exacerbated religious tensions and hardened boundaries in liberal democracies. To understand this problem space, this seminar will begin with overviews of the anthropology of secularism, followed by genealogies of the religious minority form as a category of governance, and then shift to reading  ethnographies that focus on religious minorities in contemporary liberal democracies cross-culturally. Concluding with an intensive focus on South Asia, we will analyze the possibilities and limits of state forms of recognition that enumerate religion, as it intersects with other axes of difference, in the context of majority-minority relations and people's everyday identifications.

Distribution: (SBA-AS, SSC-AS)
Academic Career: UG Instructor: Natasha Raheja (nr446)
Full details for RELST 4485 : Secularism and the Minority Question
RELST 4665 Augustine

Topic: Augustine's philosophy of mind in De Trinitate

Distribution: (LA-AS, ETM-AS)
Academic Career: UG Instructor: Charles Brittain (cfb9)
Scott MacDonald (scm8)
Full details for RELST 4665 : Augustine
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: Scott MacDonald (scm8)
Full details for RELST 6020 : Latin Philosophical Texts
RELST 6210 Topics in Medieval Philosophy

Graduate seminar covering a topic in medieval philosophy.

Academic Career: GR Instructor: Charles Brittain (cfb9)
Scott MacDonald (scm8)
Full details for RELST 6210 : Topics in Medieval Philosophy
RELST 6330 A Mediterranean Society and Its Culture

This course examines the cultural and historical interaction of Muslims and Jews from the emergence of Islam in the seventh century through the classical age of Islam down to the turn of the thirteenth century.   The intersection of the two cultures (scriptural, spiritual, intellectual, literary, communal, and interpersonal) and members of their respective religious communities will be studied through readings of primary texts (in translation).  The course will conclude with some brief reflections on historical memory and the modern and contemporary significance of the two religious communities' interactions during the classical age of Islam.

Academic Career: GR Instructor: Ross Brann (rb23)
Full details for RELST 6330 : A Mediterranean Society and Its Culture
RELST 7485 Secularism and the Minority Question

There is a vexed relationship between secular governance and the lived struggles of religious minorities. While proponents claim that secular reason is a solution to religious strife, recent scholarship has shown how modern secular governance has actually exacerbated religious tensions and hardened boundaries in liberal democracies. To understand this problem space, this seminar will begin with overviews of the anthropology of secularism, followed by genealogies of the religious minority form as a category of governance, and then shift to reading  ethnographies that focus on religious minorities in contemporary liberal democracies cross-culturally. Concluding with an intensive focus on South Asia, we will analyze the possibilities and limits of state forms of recognition that enumerate religion, as it intersects with other axes of difference, in the context of majority-minority relations and people's everyday identifications.

Academic Career: GR Instructor: Natasha Raheja (nr446)
Full details for RELST 7485 : Secularism and the Minority Question