Courses

Courses by semester

Courses for Spring 2022

Complete Cornell University course descriptions are in the Courses of Study .

Course ID Title Offered
RELST2204 Introduction to Quranic Arabic 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).

Full details for RELST 2204 - Introduction to Quranic Arabic

Spring.
RELST2208 The History of Religious Life in Imperial China In this course we will learn about the rich varieties of religious life in imperial China, focusing on major historical transformations between the tenth and sixteenth centuries. We will investigate the organization of pantheons and human relations with the divine, and consider how they might illuminate social relations. We will examine the ways in which religious rites and festivals helped to constitute social groupings such as families, communities, sects, and states. We will consider the roles of texts, theatrical performances, and clergy in transmitting and transforming understandings of the human, natural, and divine worlds. Finally, we will explore the spatial organization of the sacred in bodies, things, sites, and landscapes.

Full details for RELST 2208 - The History of Religious Life in Imperial China

Spring.
RELST2250 Introduction to Asian Religions 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.

Full details for RELST 2250 - Introduction to Asian Religions

Spring.
RELST2257 Vanishing World: Religious Reflections on the Climate Crisis, Mass Extinction and Ecosystem Collapse We are living in a period of mass extinctions of animals, insects, plants and mega-flora (trees) and widescale climate disruption. Our paradigms for making sense of what is being called "the great unraveling" are inadequate. In this course, we explore how various religious traditions have regarded the possible sentience of the non-human world and how discourses of apocalypse, cycles of dissolution and renewal, and stewardship, conservation and interdependence shape the ways religious people are responding to this emerging reality of unraveling ecosystems. We examine how protest movements have incorporated religious symbolism and actions. The goal of this course is to explore the ways that people relate to these realities at the level of what it means to be a human being in this moment. How are religious traditions responding to these emerging crises? How do traditions draw on existing paradigms and in what ways do religious communities address the dissonance when existing systems of understanding fail to account for the current realities? How do religious traditions offer moral imperatives for addressing these issues?

Full details for RELST 2257 - Vanishing World: Religious Reflections on the Climate Crisis, Mass Extinction and Ecosystem Collapse

Spring.
RELST2279 Chinese Mythology 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.

Full details for RELST 2279 - Chinese Mythology

Fall.
RELST2644 Introduction to Judaism This course is an introduction to Jewish identities, values, and practices from the ancient to modern era. Organized thematically, it examines Judaism as a religious phenomenon, with a particular emphasis on its cultural and textual diversity across three millennia. Themes covered include creation, Sabbath, prayer, Jerusalem, pious customs, magic, reincarnation, revelation, among others. Throughout the semester students perform close readings of a wide selection of Jewish texts from the Bible, Talmud, kabbalah (mysticism), philosophy, liturgy, and modern Jewish thought. In what ways are these various traditions of Judaism interrelated and/or in tension with one another? In the face of the Jewish history's tremendous diversity, what is it that has unified Judaism and the Jewish people over the centuries? By exploring these types of questions, this course examines the appropriateness of defining Judaism as a religion, an ethnicity, a civilization, and/or a culture. Readings include introductory-level textbooks and essays, as well as a range of primary source materials in translation.

Full details for RELST 2644 - Introduction to Judaism

Spring.
RELST2853 The Law in Jewish History Before Jewish politics, Jewish identity and Jewish philosophy, there was Jewish law. No other institution is more important to the history of Judaism and to the Jewish way of life. In this lecture course, we will explore the ways in which legal thought and legal discourse shaped Jewish experience and expression between the biblical age and the computer age. We will discover how the cultural meaning of law changed over time, how legal concepts shaped Jewish belief and Jewish behavior, and how the study of Jewish legal sources contributed to the emergence of modern constitutional thought in the Atlantic world.

Full details for RELST 2853 - The Law in Jewish History

Spring.
RELST3150 Medieval Philosophy A selective survey of Western philosophical thought from the fourth to the 14th century. Topics include the problem of universals, the theory of knowledge and truth, the nature of free choice and practical reasoning, and philosophical theology. Readings (in translation) include Augustine, Boethius, Anselm, Abelard, Aquinas, Scotus, and Ockham. Some attention will be given to the development of ideas across the period and the influence of non-Western traditions on the West.

Full details for RELST 3150 - Medieval Philosophy

Spring.
RELST3341 Mahayana Buddhism 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. 

Full details for RELST 3341 - Mahayana Buddhism

Spring.
RELST3344 Introduction to Indian Philosophy This course will survey the rich and sophisticated tradition of Indian philosophical thought from its beginnings in the speculations of Upanishads, surveying debates between Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and materialistic philosophers about the existence and nature of God and of the human soul, the nature of knowledge, and the theory of language.

Full details for RELST 3344 - Introduction to Indian Philosophy

Spring.
RELST3416 Zen Buddhism: Ecology, Sustainability and Daily Life This course explores the Zen's central religious, historical and aesthetic developments. We read primary sources in translation and secondary sources. We examine the rise of the Ch'an tradition in China and the development of Northern and Southern Schools. In Japan, we examine the establishment of Zen in the Kamakura period, through the development of both Rinzai and Soto Zen, and early transmissions of Chinese texts and practices to Japan through Japanese emissaries. We study the lives and writings of Eisai and Dôgen, and explore how their works influenced later developments in Zen. Next we read works by Hakuin. Last, we study how Zen is implicated in Japanese fascism and later, postwar identity discourses. Finally, we look at Zen in an American context.

Full details for RELST 3416 - Zen Buddhism: Ecology, Sustainability and Daily Life

Spring.
RELST3720 Women in Biblical Israel This course focuses on how Biblical texts represent women in ancient Israel, and how the Bible's representations constitute both a fabrication and a manifestation of social life on the ground.  We will use biblical, archaeological, and ancient Near Eastern textual evidence to consider the complicated relationship between ancient society and the textual and material records from which we reconstruct it. In addition, this course will examine how women's roles in the Hebrew Bible have been understood and integrated in later Jewish and Christian thought, and how these discourses shape contemporary American attitudes towards women, sexuality, and gender.

Full details for RELST 3720 - Women in Biblical Israel

Spring.
RELST3738 Identity in the Ancient World Have you ever been asked 'who are you' or 'which group do you belong to'? You would have noted how the answer shifts according to who is asking, in which context, etc. While everyone is unique, the possible replies in any one situation are largely defined at the level of society. What is less often realized, however, is that identity shows in particular in ways of doing: what and how one eats; what one wears and when; how one moves in a space. Archaeology is in a unique position to investigate these questions, and the Greek and Roman worlds offer a fruitful test ground, both because of their varied evidence, and because of their peculiar echoing in the modern world and its manifold identities. This course will address current theories about identity and its formation, discuss the various facets of identity (e.g. gender, citizenship, ethnicity) in the Greek and Roman worlds, and introduce tools for studying identity in the past.

Full details for RELST 3738 - Identity in the Ancient World

Spring.
RELST3888 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?

Full details for RELST 3888 - Jews, Christians, and Others in Late Antiquity

Spring.
RELST4100 Latin Philosophical Texts Reading and translation of Latin philosophical texts.

Full details for RELST 4100 - Latin Philosophical Texts

Fall, Spring.
RELST4102 Topics in Biblical Hebrew Prose Seminar covering a topic in Biblical Hebrew prose.

Full details for RELST 4102 - Topics in Biblical Hebrew Prose

Spring.
RELST4351 Problems in Byzantine Art Topic Spring 22: Spiral Relief Columns. In this seminar, we will consider the Roman medium of the spiral relief column (beginning with the Columns of Trajan and Marcus Aurelius) and its reception in Constantinople (the Columns of Theodosius and Arcadius, and perhaps the Joshua Roll) and beyond (the Bernward Column in Hildesheim and the Vendôme Column in Paris, for example). Seminar topics rotate each semester. Previous topics include: Ravenna, Hagia Sophia, Byzantine Iconoclasm.

Full details for RELST 4351 - Problems in Byzantine Art

Spring.
RELST4742 Dying for God: Judaism, Christianity and the Meaning of Martyrdom Martyrdom is one of the most troubling legacies of monotheistic belief. The idea and the practice of martyrdom remain with us, despite the inroads of secularization into every other aspect of Judaism and Christianity. Thanks to the global reach of mass media, martyrs continually intrude upon our consciousness. The willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice inspires, enrages and terrifies us. Where did this controversial ideal originate and why has it gained such enormous cultural power? This course examines the beginnings of martyrdom in the ancient Mediterranean, the cradle of Christianity and rabbinic Judaism. Looking closely at the historical context - the intellectual, social and political developments — that gave rise to the iconic figure of the martyr in the world of late antiquity, we will explore how men and women came to embrace the opportunity of "dying for God," and why the cult of martyrdom became a public institution. Ancient people viewed the spectacle of martyrdom with an equal measure of admiration and alarm; looking closely at evidence of their ambivalence, we will gain some perspective on our own mixed feelings about this deeply disconcerting phenomenon.

Full details for RELST 4742 - Dying for God: Judaism, Christianity and the Meaning of Martyrdom

Spring.
RELST4767 Natural History of Religion How does nature and the environment shape religious traditions?   And what impacts do religious thought and practice have on the environment?   These two questions are at the heart of this seminar in which we will explore the many relationships between religion and the environment throughout history and in our present time.   Water, weather, trees, stones, fire, mountains, deserts, and animals are some of the ecological features we will discuss in connection with religious traditions across time and space.   Readings will include scriptural texts from world religions, archival sources like historical newspapers and documents, and ancient and modern poetry and fiction in dialogue with writings by eco-critics, environmental historians, and naturalists.   Material culture will also be important for our work together.

Full details for RELST 4767 - Natural History of Religion

Spring.
RELST4991 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.

Full details for RELST 4991 - Directed Study

Spring.
RELST4995 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.

Full details for RELST 4995 - Senior Honors Essay I

Multi-semester course: (Fall, Spring).
RELST4996 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.

Full details for RELST 4996 - Senior Honors Essay II

Multi-semester course: (Fall, Spring).
RELST6020 Latin Philosophical Texts Reading and translation of Latin philosophical texts.

Full details for RELST 6020 - Latin Philosophical Texts

Fall, Spring.
RELST6210 Topics in Medieval Philosophy Graduate seminar covering a topic in medieval philosophy.

Full details for RELST 6210 - Topics in Medieval Philosophy

Fall.
RELST6351 Problems in Byzantine Art Seminar topics rotate each semester.

Full details for RELST 6351 - Problems in Byzantine Art

Spring.
RELST6425 Mysticism in Medieval Europe This course begins with a word - mysticism - that doesn't work, and for good reason: for the authors variously associated with the mythical traditions of medieval Christianity, words are necessary failures.  They snap at the point where they endure the greatest tension.  We'll witness together the limits of language in some of the most provocative so-called mystics of the medieval West, including Bonaventure of Bagnoregio, Catherine of Siena, Marguerite Porete, Meister Eckhart, and Thomas Aquinas, and the roots of their extraordinary speech in earlier thinkers such as Augustine, Pseudo-Dionysius, and Bernard of Clairvaux.  Along the way, we'll ask what language has to do with love, and what each of these might have to do with God, whose name (for these writers) is never one.

Full details for RELST 6425 - Mysticism in Medieval Europe

Spring.
RELST6616 Zen Buddhism: Ecology, Sustainability and Daily Life This course explores the Zen's central religious, historical and aesthetic developments. We read primary sources in translation and secondary sources. We examine the rise of the Ch'an tradition in China and the development of Northern and Southern Schools. In Japan, we examine the establishment of Zen in the Kamakura period, through the development of both Rinzai and Soto Zen, and early transmissions of Chinese texts and practices to Japan through Japanese emissaries. We study the lives and writings of Eisai and Dôgen, and explore how their works influenced later developments in Zen. Next we read works by Hakuin. Last, we study how Zen is implicated in Japanese fascism and later, postwar identity discourses. Finally, we look at Zen in an American context. This course is being taught both as an integrated arts in the curriculum course in collaboration with the Johnson Art Museum and is also part of a "Internationalizing the Cornell Curriculum."  An optional 10-day trip to Japan to spend time in Zen temples and a monastery will be offered to students.  Furthermore, students studying Japanese  language can sign up for an optional 1-credit language course exploring Zen practice and arts vocabulary (JAPAN 2216).

Full details for RELST 6616 - Zen Buddhism: Ecology, Sustainability and Daily Life

Spring.
RELST6720 Women in Biblical Israel This course focuses on how Biblical texts represent women in ancient Israel, and how the Bible's representations constitute both a fabrication and a manifestation of social life on the ground.  We will use biblical, archaeological, and ancient Near Eastern textual evidence to consider the complicated relationship between ancient society and the textual and material records from which we reconstruct it. In addition, this course will examine how women's roles in the Hebrew Bible have been understood and integrated in later Jewish and Christian thought, and how these discourses shape contemporary American attitudes towards women, sexuality, and gender. 

Full details for RELST 6720 - Women in Biblical Israel

RELST6742 Dying for God: Judaism, Christianity and the Meaning of Martyrdom Martyrdom is one of the most troubling legacies of monotheistic belief. The idea and the practice of martyrdom remain with us, despite the inroads of secularization into every other aspect of Judaism and Christianity. Thanks to the global reach of mass media, martyrs continually intrude upon our consciousness. The willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice inspires, enrages and terrifies us. Where did this controversial ideal originate and why has it gained such enormous cultural power? This course examines the beginnings of martyrdom in the ancient Mediterranean, the cradle of Christianity and rabbinic Judaism. Looking closely at the historical context - the intellectual, social and political developments — that gave rise to the iconic figure of the martyr in the world of late antiquity, we will explore how men and women came to embrace the opportunity of "dying for God," and why the cult of martyrdom became a public institution. Ancient people viewed the spectacle of martyrdom with an equal measure of admiration and alarm; looking closely at evidence of their ambivalence, we will gain some perspective on our own mixed feelings about this deeply disconcerting phenomenon.

Full details for RELST 6742 - Dying for God: Judaism, Christianity and the Meaning of Martyrdom

Spring.
RELST6767 Natural History of Religion How does nature and the environment shape religious traditions?   And what impacts do religious thought and practice have on the environment?   These two questions are at the heart of this seminar in which we will explore the many relationships between religion and the environment throughout history and in our present time.   Water, weather, trees, stones, fire, mountains, deserts, and animals are some of the ecological features we will discuss in connection with religious traditions across time and space.   Readings will include scriptural texts from world religions, archival sources like historical newspapers and documents, and ancient and modern poetry and fiction in dialogue with writings by eco-critics, environmental historians, and naturalists.   Material culture will also be important for our work together.

Full details for RELST 6767 - Natural History of Religion

Spring.
RELST6888 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?

Full details for RELST 6888 - Jews, Christians, and Others in Late Antiquity

Spring.
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