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Course Descriptions

Courses primarily for:

Courses Primarily for Undergraduate Students

REL 101-6-20 – First-Year Seminar: Myth and Legend in Tolkien

In developing Middle-earth, Tolkien intentionally sought to create a mythology. In this course, we will read The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings as mythology. We will analyze theories of myth, examine how Tolkien's scholarship and understanding of mythology shaped his tales, and explore the mythic themes in these works. We will also consider the enduring appeal of these stories as modern myth. (Fall 2018, Professor Mark McClish)

REL 101-6-21 – First-Year Seminar: Utopias and Dystopias

Through reading utopian and dystopian fiction, viewing utopian and dystopian films, and learning about actual utopian communities (which may feel very dystopian to you), we'll try to describe the line between utopianism and dystopianism and learn about the role religion has played in both. (Fall 2018, Professor Cristina Traina)

REL 170-20 – Introduction to Religion

Why do we say "bless you" when someone sneezes? How did the design of Starbucks' holiday-themed cups lead to a consumer boycott? Why did the University of Ottawa cancel its yoga classes? And are celebrities the new gods? This course sets out to develop a deeper and broader understanding of religion as a human phenomenon, by focusing on three interrelated questions: What is religion, How to study religion, and Why study religion. (not offered in 2018-19 Academic Year)

REL 200-20 – Introduction to Hinduism

One of the largest and most ancient of all religions, 'Hinduism' is actually a family of related traditions. Over the last 4000 years or more, the Hindu traditions of South Asia have developed an astonishing diversity of rituals, beliefs, and spiritual practices and a pantheon of hundreds of gods and goddesses, from the elephant-headed Ganesa to the fierce goddess Kali. This course will examine the breadth of the Hindu traditions as they developed over time, highlighting the shared features that make them a family, such as ritual sacrifice, world renunciation, law, spiritual discipline, devotion, worship, and theology. (Fall 2018, Professor Mark McClish)

REL 210-20 – Introduction to Buddhism

This course provides an introduction to key aspects of the Buddhist religious traditions of multiple Asian countries and the United States. Through careful examination of a variety of literature produced by these traditions, we will consider the ways in which Buddhists have understood human suffering, life after death, karma, merit, the nature of the world and human's place within it, and the path to enlightenment. Our emphasis will be on attempting to understand the moral values, philosophical insights, ritual practices, and social concerns that have shaped Buddhism over centuries of dynamic change in diverse cultural contexts. We will examine not only the history of Buddhism and its three-fold division into Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana, but also facets of the contemporary practice of Buddhism with a focus on the place of mindfulness in America. In addition to textbook readings, course readings privilege primary source readings in order to introduce students directly to the narrative, doctrinal, liturgical, and biographical texts that inform our knowledge of what it has meant to live a Buddhist life over time and across cultures. (Winter 2019, Professor Sarah Jacoby)

REL 210-21 – Introduction to Buddhism

Having begun in India some 2500 years ago, Buddhism now exists in almost all parts of the world. The Buddhist religion has shaped the thought and culture of Asia and has also influenced Western thought and culture in significant ways. To comprehend this diverse religion, this course approaches it from several perspectives: the historical, cultural, philosophical and religious. In the short time that we have in this quarter, our primary emphasis will be on investigating the philosophical and religious systems in the teachings of the Buddha in India as well as the thought of the later Buddhists in other parts of Asia. In looking at both the history and the philosophy, we see Buddhism as a religion that established a system of values, an interpretation of existence and a pattern of cultural practices and rituals that the Buddhists have interpreted in various ways to find meaning in life. (Spring 2019, Professor George Bond)

REL 210-26 – Introduction to Buddhism

Having begun in India some 2500 years ago, Buddhism now exists in almost all parts of the world. The Buddhist religion has shaped the thought and culture of Asia and has also influenced Western thought and culture in significant ways. To comprehend this diverse religion, this course approaches it from several perspectives: the historical, cultural, philosophical and religious. In the short time that we have in this quarter, our primary emphasis will be on investigating the philosophical and religious systems in the teachings of the Buddha in India as well as the thought of the later Buddhists in other parts of Asia. In looking at both the history and the philosophy, we see Buddhism as a religion that established a system of values, an interpretation of existence and a pattern of cultural practices and rituals that the Buddhists have interpreted in various ways to and meaning in life. (Summer 2019, Professor Darcie Price-Wallace)

REL 220-20 – Introduction to Hebrew Bible

There is no understating the significance of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament in Western Culture. The Bible is a text that has been repeatedly turned to for spiritual guidance, for explanations of mankind's origins and as the basis of both classical art and contemporary cinema. English idiom is peppered with phrases that originate in the Hebrew Bible and many a modern political clash can be understood as a conflict over what the Bible's messages and their implications. This course introduces students to the Hebrew Bible by reading sections of most of the Bible's books. But reading is itself a complicated enterprise. The Bible has been put to many different uses; even within the world of academic scholarship, the Bible is sometimes a source of history, sometimes a religious manual, sometimes a primitive legal code and sometimes a work of classical literature. This course will introduce students to the various challenges that present themselves within the study of the Hebrew Bible and the varied approaches scholars take when reading the Hebrew Bible. This course is a critical introduction to the Hebrew Bible. (Spring 2019, Professor Barry Wimpfheimer)

REL 221-20 – Introduction to New Testament

Today, the New Testament is widely known and accepted as Christians' authoritative and sacred collection of texts. But roughly two thousand years ago, there were no Christians, and there was no New Testament. Rather, there existed in the eastern part of the Roman Empire a small group of people who had begun worshiping a Jewish healer and teacher as divine. It is this historical moment to which we turn in this course. We will study the people, events, and texts of the first and second centuries that shaped a small Jewish movement into the religion now known as Christianity, using as our main evidence the letters and stories of the New Testament. (Winter 2019, Professor Laura Dingeldein)

REL 230-20 – Introduction to Judaism

This course attempts to answer the questions "What is Judaism?" and "Who is a Jew?" by surveying the broad arc of Jewish history, reviewing the practices and beliefs that have defined and continue to define Judaism as a religion, sampling the vast treasure of Jewish literatures, and analyzing the unique social conditions that have made the cultural experience of Jewishness so significant. The class will employ a historical structure to trace the evolutions of Jewish literature, religion, and culture through the ages. (Winter 2019, Professor Barry Wimpfheimer)

REL 250-20 – Introduction to Islam

This course introduces Islam, one of the major religious traditions of world history, developing a framework for understanding how Muslims in varying times and places have engaged with Islamic scripture and the prophetic message of the Prophet Muhammad through diverse sources: theological, philosophical, legal, political, mystical, literary and artistic. While we aim to grasp broad currents and narrative of Islamic history, we will especially concentrate on the origins and development of the religion in its formative period (the prophetic career of the Prophet Muhammad, the Qur'an, Islamic belief and ritual, Islamic law, and popular spirituality) and debates surrounding Islam in the contemporary world (the impact of European colonialism on the Muslim world, the rise of the modern Muslim state, and discourses on gender, politics and violence). (Spring 2019, Professor Brannon Ingram)

REL 264-20 (HISTORY 200-20) – American Religious History From 1865 To The Great Depression

This course examines major developments, movements, controversies, and figures in American religious history from the end of the Civil War, as the nation struggled to make sense of the carnage of war and to apportion responsibility, to the 1930s, when economic crisis strained social bonds and intimate relations and challenged Americans to rethink the nature of public responsibility. Topics include urban religion; religion and changing technologies; African American religion; religion and politics; and the religious practices of immigrants and migrants. (Fall 2018, Professor Robert Orsi)

REL 265-20 – American Religious History from WWII to Present (RLP)

This course examines major developments, movements, controversies and figures in American religious history from the 1920s, the era of excess and disillusionment, to the 1980s, which saw the revival of conservative Christianity in a nation becoming increasingly religiously diverse. Topics include the liberalism/fundamentalism controversy of the 1920s; the rise of Christian realism in the wake of the carnage of World War I; the making of the "tri-faith nation" (Protestant/Catholic/Jew); the supernatural Cold War; the Civil Rights Movement; the revolution in American Catholicism following the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and the rise of Catholic political radicalism in the 1960s; religion and the post-1965 immigration act; the religious politics of abortion; and the realignment of American religion and politics in the 1970s and 1980s. Counts towards Religion, Law and Politics (RLP) major concentration.
(Winter 2019, Professor Robert Orsi)

REL 270-20 – Introduction to Theology

Theology is one of the oldest academic disciplines in the university, and possibly its most misunderstood. In this course we get to know theology’s unique way of making sense of human existence on the planet. Or more precisely, we learn how to ask theological questions that have preoccupied humans for centuries: What does it mean to be human? Why does evil exist? What does God do with the world? We will address these questions by considering theologians from past, such as Martin Luther, and present, namely Black theologian James Cone and feminist theologian Elizabeth Johnson. (Fall 2018, Professor Christine Helmer)

REL 275-20 – Mysticism & Spirituality (RHM)

If mysticism involves some kind of union with God, is that necessarily the same experience, involving the same deity, whether the mystics are Jews or Hindus, Christians or Muslims?  What does it mean when mystics use erotic imagery for their relationship with Christ, Krishna, or Allah?  What sorts of prayers or meditations do mystics promote, and what are they meant to accomplish?  If spirituality sometimes involves séances and healing crystals, does it also have areas of overlap with mysticism?  Which of the two, mysticism or spirituality, is more closely tied to mainstream religious traditions and institutions?  Why are mysticism and spirituality sometimes criticized and even attacked?  What basis is there to the claim that spirituality promotes health of the body or the mind?  This course will examine all these questions and others. Counts towards Religion, Health and Medicine (RHM) religious studies major concentration. (Winter 2019, Professor Richard Kieckhefer)

REL 314-20 (ASIAN_LC 390-23) – Buddhism in the Contemporary World (RHM)

Some say America is currently undergoing a process of "Buddhification," meaning that Buddhism is cropping up everywhere, even in places one would least expect. Tech industry billionaires tout Buddhist mindfulness techniques at the annual Wisdom 2.0 conference, and Google offers mindfulness training courses taught by a Zen abbot. Mindfulness is also being presented as a panacea for those suffering from physical and mental pain, readily available in American hospital settings and psychological counseling services. Buddha images too can be found far from Buddhist temples-at the hip restaurant Buddha-Bar located in many cities around the world one can sip cocktails and dine before a massive Buddha statue while listening to lounge music. And in the Chicago area, one encounters Buddha head sculptures positioned on the ground in parks, by roads, and even in public school playgrounds as part of the Ten Thousand Ripples art project. How, and why, did aspects of Buddhism enter all of these different social locations? Why does Buddhism receive a pass more often than other religions by the "spiritual but not religious" crowd? Can Buddhism be secular? In what ways is Buddhism compatible with science, and can Buddhist practices be proven effective using scientific methods? Can paying better attention by means of Buddhist meditation practices liberate us from suffering caused by digital distraction? In what ways can Buddhist articulations of interdependence, no self, and compassion be resources for addressing racial and structural injustice, even as sexual abuse, racism, and trans/homophobia continue to traumatize members of some Buddhist communities? These are some of the many questions we will consider through readings by some of the most creative Buddhist leaders, critics, and consumers of our time. Counts towards Religion, Health and Medicine (RHM) religious studies major concentration. (Spring 2019, Professor Sarah Jacoby)

REL 318-20 (ASIAN_LC 390-20) – Religion and the Body in China (RHM, RSG)

This seminar explores the place of the body in a variety of Chinese religious traditions, from the ancient period to the present day. We open with a question that animates the entire course: what is “the body,” and how do we know? In the first two weeks, we grapple with the dramatically different ways ancient Chinese and Greek medical traditions (respectively) viewed, touched, and diagnosed the body, seeking to understand how the body has been differently “constructed” as an object of knowledge in different parts of the world. Then we broaden our purview to examine how, over the course of Chinese history, the body was closely bound up with ethics; the aspiration to immortality; governance and cosmology; and human interactions with gods and demons (while also looping back to medicine several times). We conclude with two case studies of religion and the body in contemporary China. Counts towards Religion, Health and Medicine (RHM) and Religion, Sexuality and Gender (RSG)religious studies major concentrations. (Fall 2018, Professor Kevin Buckelew)

REL 319-20 – Chan/Seon/Zen Buddhism

The Chinese Chan (Japanese Zen, Korean Seon or Sŏn) tradition is one of the most famous branches of Buddhism in the world, but also one of the most widely misunderstood. This course explores the rich complexity of Chan/Seon/Zen Buddhism in East Asia by closely examining the tradition’s history, literature, philosophy, visual culture, and monastic practices. We begin by situating Chan’s origins among medieval Chinese meditation masters, and consider how the tradition’s rise to preeminence in the Song dynasty (960–1278) constituted a pivotal turning point in Chinese Buddhist history. By then, Chan had become much more than a school of meditation, and its rise gave birth to new genres of Buddhist literature written in semi-vernacular Chinese—such as “recorded sayings” and “public case” (Japanese kōan) collections—important examples of which we will closely read and analyze. Chan Buddhism was configured as a succession of “patriarchs,” but a small number of women also joined their ranks, and we will study their examples and the broader gendered dynamics of Chan. We then turn to the transmission of Chan to Japan through the study of two major figures in Japanese Zen, Dōgen and Hakuin. After delving into the history and present-day monastic practice of Korean Seon Buddhism, we conclude by investigating the reception of Chan, Seon, and Zen Buddhism in the modern and contemporary United States. (Winter 2019, Professor Kevin Buckelew)

REL 339-21 – Gender and Sexuality in Judaism

From its most traditional to its most liberal forms, contemporary Judaism has been deeply influenced by feminism and its call to pay attention to the way gender and sexuality shape and are shaped by religious experiences and ideas. In this course, we will use gender and sexuality as lenses for analyzing the sacred texts, rituals, and theology of Judaism. Along the way, we will also consider how attention to gender and sexuality sheds light on the lives of Jewish men and women of the past and present.

The course is divided into three sections, each organized around a central category of Jewish thought: Torah, Israel, and God. The first section, Torah, considers two stories from the biblical book of Genesis: first the creation of the world and then the sisters Leah and Rachel, both married to the patriarch Jacob. How does each story define what it is to be a man or a woman? Where is there room for more subversive readings that might question masculinity or femininity?

The second section, Israel, turns our focus to the rituals of Niddah, women’s monthly immersion in the mikveh, ritual bath, following menstruation, and brit milah, circumcision. We will consider the origins of these rituals, how they construct notions of gender and personhood, and contemporary views of the practices. How have these rituals been adapted for use by individuals who are transgender?

The third section, God, examines examples of feminist and queer Jewish theology and, in particular, the use of marriage as a metaphor for the relationship between God and the Jewish people in biblical, rabbinic, and contemporary contexts. (Winter 2019, Professor Claire Sufrin).

REL 346-20 (ART_HIST 329-20) – Church Architecture

This class will examine church architecture, its theological significance, and its liturgical uses. We will be looking at representative examples of church architecture from the third century to the twenty-first, and we will be reading commentaries on church design that tell us what churches meant to the people who built them and worshiped in them. (Spring 2019, Professor Richard Kieckhefer)

REL 349-20 – Why College?

Back by popular demand, Professor Helmer's seminar "Why College?" invites students to think about their college experience in light of new research about the "crisis" in higher education today. (Fall 2018, Professor Christine Helmer)

REL 349-21 – The Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles

This course will study in depth two key books of the New Testament, the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. As indicated in the prefaces to both works (Luke 1: 1-4; Acts 1: 1 ), the evangelist proposes these two texts as two volumes of the same overall account, linking the gospel account of Jesus' mission with that of the early apostolic church. Studying the two texts together enables one to see the full sweep of Luke's theological program, calling for universal salvation across cultural boundaries. The format of the class is lecture combined with discussion. Required readings will include close reading of the biblical texts plus two modern commentaries on these New Testament books (Robert Tannehill on Luke and Beverly Gaventa on Acts); other suggested readings will be presented during the course. Major accountability will be in the form of a final written take-home exam. (Spring 2019, Professor Donald Senior)

REL 351 (MENA 390-6 / HUM 370-5) – Islamic Law (RLP)

Islamic law – the sacred law of Islam grounded in the Qur’an, the practice of the Prophet Muhammad, and the writings of Muslim scholars and jurists – stretches back nearly 1400 years. This course offers, first, an overview of the origins and evolution of Islamic law from the life of Muhammad to end of the classical era. We then seek, secondly, to understand how colonialism and the modern nation-state affected the conceptualization and implementation of Islamic law in the modern period. To these ends, we look in-depth at two specific areas of law – marriage and divorce, and criminal law – in two specific regions: the Ottoman empire and contemporary Iran.

Prerequisite: 250 or consent of instructor. Counts towards (RLP) Religion, Law and Politics. (Fall 2018, Professor Brannon Ingram)

REL 359-20 (POLI-SCI 390-24) (RLP) – Reporting Islam (RLP)

This course will bring together Medill and Weinberg students with an interest in the politics and practices of reporting on Islam and Muslims in the United States and in U.S. foreign policy. Through a combination of readings, site visits, individual and group projects, and critical writing assignments, the goals of this course are, first, to empower students to recognize the pitfalls of how Islam and Muslims are reported and represented in U.S. print media and other formats, and second, to innovate new ways of writing about Islam and Muslims that do not replicate the Islamophobic or Islamophilic tropes that dominate much of this reporting. To these ends, the course will include a 'master class' on reporting religion led by by Manya Brachear, religion reporter for the Chicago Tribune. The course is part of the "Talking 'Religion': Publics, Politics and the Media" project which is co-directed by the instructors, and students will have an opportunity to participate in project related activities including lectures and a spring 2019 workshop. Counts towards Religion, Law and Politics (RLP) religious studies major concentration. (Fall 2018, Professor Brannon Ingram and Professor Elizabeth Hurd)

REL 364-20 – American Teenage Rites of Passage (RSG)

Drawing from anthropological and sociological case studies, we will examine various rites of passage experienced by teens in the U.S. In analyzing these rites, students will become conversant with theories of ritual, contemporary surveys of teen demographics and cultural trends, gender studies and cultural studies literature dealing with teen popular media and consumption, as well as historical literature on the rise and development of the American teenager as a cultural phenomenon.. Counts towards Religion, Sexuality and Gender (RSG) religious studies major concentration. (Spring 2019, Prof. Sarah Taylor)

REL 369-20 (ASIAN_AM 350) – Asian American Religions

Usually, Asian American religions are confused with Asian religions in the United States. This situation sometimes produces confusion about how to talk about the everyday religious practices of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders themselves, including those of Asian Americans  and Pacific Islanders who claim to be nonreligious. I have assigned some texts that might be able to help us to parse what Asian American and Pacific Islander religions are. The crux of this course will be student projects conducted over the quarter on one practice in one community of their choice exploring the question of what Asian American and/or Pacific Islander religion might be. We will begin by exploring how the confusion between Asian American religions and Asian religions came to be. We will then look more closely at the lived religious practices of Asian Americans and their communities. We will conclude by sharing our projects. (Winter 2019, Professor Justin Tse)

REL 369-21 (ENVR_POL 390-24) – Media, Earth, & Making a Difference

The central question of this course is: What Makes a Difference? Analyzing a variety of works of media addressing environmental themes, including works drawn from advertising and marketing, we will consider different types of environmental messaging and attempts to mobilize public moral engagement. (Spring 2019, Professor Sarah Taylor).

REL 371-20 (RTVF 398-23) – Existentialism and Film

In the aftermath of the World War I, many artists and filmmakers asked new questions about the relationship between realism and religion. Could one reconcile concrete reality (or realism) with faith in the other-worldly? Many of the artists under discussion in the course drew upon themes that had already been raised by Kierkegaard in the 19th century. What was the relationship between religion and modernity, faith and ethics, reality and the supernatural, observable phenomena and invisible causes? How did one make sense of death in a meaningless universe? Was the universe meaningless? Could meaning be found in realism itself? Through engagement with films by directors ranging from Robert Bresson, Luis Buñuel, Pier Paolo Pasolini, and Ingmar Bergman, to Woody Allen and Harold Ramis, we will study mid-to-late 20th century films whose common theme is the quest to understand the meaning of life, either actively through taking up religious life, or because the protagonists consider themselves inhabiting a godless and meaningless universe. Class will be discussion-based, with a few short lectures to set up pertinent themes. Our discussions will likely range broadly, but important themes will be realism, existentialism, atheism, and the quest for philosophical truth to be found in filmic portrayals of everyday life. Class readings will include Kierkegaard, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, among others. (Winter 2019, Professor Michelle Molina)

REL 373-20 (GLB_HLTH 390-23) – Religion and Bioethics (RHM)

Religion intersects with medicine at many levels: patients, practitioners, institutional providers, law, and even international relations. We will look at religion and the ethics of medicine in two ways.

First, we will discuss some of the central questions of bioethics: suffering and death; transplant; assisted reproduction; vaccination; the opioid crisis; global health issues; ecology; gene editing; children’s freedom to make decisions; and others.

At the same time, we will discuss religions’ intersection with the practice and ethics of medicine: how religions have influenced the goals of medicine, including end of life care and relief of suffering; how they have shaped the fundamental principles of bioethics; the ethical and religious impact of religiously affiliated hospitals’ ethical and religious directives; the challenges of accommodating patients’ and practitioners’ diverse religious beliefs in a medical system that is not religiously neutral; the impact of religious convictions on global health initiatives; religions’ role in converting social crises to medical crises.

Counts towards Religion, Health and Medicine (RHM) religious studies major concentration. (Spring 2019, Professor Cristina Traina)

REL 374-20 – Religion and Literature

This course addresses the intersection of religion and literature in Judaism and Christianity from several perspectives. We will begin with the biblical story of the Binding of Isaac (Genesis 22) and its role in the thinking of Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. We will then read the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15) and consider its treatment in the novel Home by Marilynne Robinson. Finally, the third part of the course examines the work of Cynthia Ozick, who uses fiction to address the question of idolatry in modern culture. These examinations will also allow us to interrogate other key terms in the study of religion such as faith, orthodoxy, heresy, martyrdom, and holiness. (Spring 2019, Professor Claire Sufrin)

REL 379-20 (POLI-SCI 382-20) – Politics of Religious Diversity (RLP)

This course examines the entanglements of religion with human life, law, politics, and public culture in the US and beyond. Beginning with legal controversies over yoga, the public display of crèches in the United States, and the religious history of the United States, we then turn to the question of who is a Jew legally in the United Kingdom, before moving further afield to reflect on a series of dilemmas involving the intersections of law, religion, and politics around the world. The course traverses disciplinary, geographic, and secular-religious boundaries, drawing on readings from politics, socio-legal studies, religious studies, indigenous studies, anthropology, history, and popular culture. Students also will consider their own experiences of living with religious diversity, as we explore tools and strategies to think in new ways about the place of religion in the contemporary world. Students are encouraged to attend scholarly lectures sponsored by the Buffett Global Politics & Religion Faculty Research Group. Counts towards Religion, Law and Politics (RLP) religious studies major concentration. (Fall 2018, Professor Brannon Ingram and Elizabeth Shakman Hurd)

REL 379-21 – Science Fiction and Social Justice (RHM, RSG)

This course will examine major utopian and dystopian texts and films in relation to social justice issues in the twentieth century and beyond, while following the stories of artists, organizers, and communities that have used speculative world-building to imagine livable, sustainable futures. We will focus on how feminist, anarchist, LGBTQ, and Afrofuturist art and activism have contributed to a substantial critical discourse on the intersections of science, technology, ecology, war, race, gender, sexuality, health, and ability.

This course will further examine how artists and activists have understood religion as both impediment and partner to social justice work, while alternatively embracing, subverting, and defying religious authority. We will also attend to how religious myths and imagery are sampled and remixed by science fiction authors to plot an alternative course for world history. Counts towards Religion, Health and Medicine (RHM) and Religion, Sexuality and Gender (RSG) religious studies major concentrations. (Winter 2019, Ashley King)

REL 379-22 – History of the Devil

Has the importance of the devil decreased over time? Or, do ideas of the devil and demonic power persist in shaping how people interpret and act in the modern world? In this course, we will utilize the academic perspectives of religious studies and history to understand how people have imagined the devil as a character, a lived presence, and a political-spiritual threat. Readings will focus primarily on the modern era in the Americas, and, in particular, the United States’ distinctive emphasis on the demonic.

Together, we will ask how ideas about the devil, the demonic, and hell have shaped modern politics. A careful consideration of the devil as simultaneously a religious and a secular idea offers new ways to critically analyze the emergence of modern nationalism, forms of racial supremacy, and ideas about sexuality, masculinity, and femininity.

REL 379-23 (LEGAL_ST 376-23) – Native American Religious Freedom (RLP)

This course examines Native American religious freedom in U.S. history. We will examine treaty rights, federal Indian policies, court cases, and acts meant to protect American Indian religions. The course will attend to the definitions of "religion" and "religious freedom" and consider historical and contemporary case studies related to the regulation of Indigenous cultures and ceremonies. Counts towards Religion, Law and Politics (RLP) major concentration. (Professor Sarah Dees, Spring 2019)

REL 379-24 – Refugees/Migration/Exile: A Research Seminar (RLP)

In this course, students will be asked to begin with a case study among the many refugee and migration crises that have dominated the news cycle in recent years.  In developing individual research projects, we will foreground different methodological approaches:  1) To move beyond journalism, we will conduct primary and secondary historical research to understand the complex historical roots of the particular case study). 2) We will analyze and practice forms of ethnographic writing to help students better situate and describe the lived experience of migration and exile, both past and present.  3) We will also pay attention to various forms of media, whether print culture, sound, or visual media, to interrogate but also experiment with contemporary modes of narrating and conveying human experience in the digital age. 

Students are required to petition for permission to enroll in the class.  Your brief statement should include: Your name, your major(s), one short paragraph on the reason why you have an interest in honing your research skills, and second short paragraph on a current topic about migration and exile that motivates your desire to do further research on the topic. Attach a recent news item (article or video) about the topic that drives your interests.  This will help me organize our first sessions in Winter Quarter.

Our work in class will be collaborative, thus a key prerequisite is that you are mature and self-motivated.  You do not need to have prior research experience, but you need to demonstrate a desire to dig into your topic and hone your ability to write deeply informed, rigorous, and nuanced arguments.   

Counts towards Religion, Law & Politics (RLP) religion major concentration. (Winter 2019, Professor Michelle Molina)

REL 379-25 (PHIL 314) – Kant’s Philosophy of Religion

In this course we will study the philosophy of religion of Enlightenment philosopher, Immanuel Kant. We will discuss Kant's stance towards the subject matters of traditional religious belief: that we cannot know anything about such matters, but nonetheless ought to hold some beliefs on moral grounds. In exploring Kant's position, we will discuss questions such as: Can one prove God's existence? In what way is belief in God's existence, the immortality of the soul, etc. necessary for morality? Is belief in the possibility of grace necessary for a consistent moral life, or does it undermine moral responsibility? What, if anything, is the moral significance of religious ritual or organized religious institutions? Does Kant's view allow for specific and different religious traditions or must all religious belief coalesce in a "universal religion"?
See CAESAR for additional details. (Spring 2019, Professor Kenneth Seeskin & Professor Rachel Zuckert)

REL 395-20 – Theories of Religion

What is "theory"? What does it mean to have a theory about something? How are theories helpful? What do theories do? What is "religion"? How do things get excluded or included in this category? What counts as "religious" and why? Who gets to decide? This course is an introduction to foundational theories of religion and to the history of the construction of the category of "religion" over time. Throughout the term, you will be working on formulating your own theory of religion, which you will articulate and defend in your final seminar paper. In this course, you will gain (as ritual theorist Catherine Bell says) "the skills and tools to make sure that very complicated situations and ideas can be put into words, thereby making it possible to have discussions about issues that can only be discussed if there is language for reflexivity, nuance, counter-evidence, and doubt." In the process, you will be asked to make theory translatable to your peers by actively engaging theoretical concepts in creative ways. (Fall 2018, Professor Sarah Taylor)

Graduate-level Courses Available to Undergraduates

REL 339-20 – Kabbalah

Kabbalah, or Jewish mysticism, is an esoteric (secret) tradition of deliberating about and experiencing the mysteries of those spaces that are inaccessible to the five senses. Though for much of its history Jewish mysticism has been the province of a select few devotees, at times Kabbalah has flourished as a popular religious movement. Recent years have seen a rise in the popularity of Kabbalah as various celebrities (including Madonna and Kanye West) have become affiliated with The Kabbalah Center. This course will introduce the discourse of Kabbalah, think about mysticism as both an experiential and an intellectual tradition and consider why Kabbalah has become so popular today. (Winter 2019, Professor Barry Wimpfheimer)

Courses Primarily for Graduate Students

REL 460-20 – Medieval Liturgy: A Multimedia Experience

The Christian liturgy, the most formative cultural practice of literate men and women in the Middle Ages, is also the least understood by many medievalists today. Liturgy is performative and cannot be learned from books alone, any more than one can understand Shakespeare without ever seeing a play. This course aims to provide a concise but intensive introduction to liturgy, including the structure and a brief history of Mass and Office; immersion in some of the central Latin texts of each; the liturgical year; liturgical commentaries; and the theology and practice of the sacraments. We will also provide as much exposure as we can to the manifold objects and works of art created for liturgical use: altar vessels, reliquaries, vestments, altarpieces, choral manuscripts, books of hours, architecture, drama. One session will meet at the Art Institute, another in Special Collections. There will be some practical experience with plainchant, and we may include field trips to compare contemporary high-church liturgy with medieval practice. (Spring 2019, Professor Richard Kieckhefer and Professor Barbara Newman)

REL 462-20 (HISTORY 492-26) – Religion, Race, and Class in 20th Century US History

Religion, Race, and Class in 20th Century US History: The intersection of race, religion, and class-as a generative convergence, as well as tragedy and outrage-is at once everywhere and nowhere in US religious history. Historians of American industrial cities, for example, have largely managed to overlook the role of religion in shaping urban topography, soundscapes, and political movements; the fact that the religions of the Great Migration, such as Pentecostalism, the Nation of Islam, and Black Catholicism, were all working-class creations exists just below the surface of historical consciousness. Class/race/religion hides in plain sight in US history. This course considers the strange fate of this convergence through a careful consideration of recent work that aims to recover particular pieces its history. Topics to include Jews and Catholics in the urban crisis in Detroit; the Christian contribution to the making and unmaking of the New Deal; the prosperity gospel and millennial capitalism; the religious origins of the hard right; Black gospel music; and conservative evangelicalism and the service economy. (Fall 2018, Professor Robert Orsi)

REL 471-20 (HISTORY 405-24, GNDR_ST 490-25) – Embodiment/Materiality/Affect

This seminar explores theoretical approaches to the problems of embodiment/materiality/affect. One aim of the course is to examine various methodological approaches to embodiment, materiality and affect, making use of sociology and philosophy (Pierre Bourdieu, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Spinoza, Massumi). The second and closely related aim is to situate bodies in time and place, that is, in history. Here we look to the particular circumstances that shaped the manner in which historical actors experienced their bodies in the Christian west (Peter Brown, Caroline Bynum, Mary Carruthers, Michel de Certeau, Michel Foucault). Ultimately, we will be examining theoretical tools while we put them to work. The goal: how to use these thinkers to write more dynamic, creative, interesting scholarship? (Fall 2018, Professor Michelle Molina)

REL 471-21 (POLI_SCI 490-26) – Religion, Race and Politics

This seminar is an experiment in studying the intersections of religion, race, and global politics. We discuss how particular understandings of ‘religion’ and ‘race’ have informed contemporary scholarship and also shaped national and international legal and governmental practice. These questions are examined in contexts ranging from anti-superstition laws in Haiti, to religious aspects of the colonial encounter in the Dutch East Indies, to the celebration of “moderate” religion at the US State Department, to the politics of secularism, magic and spirituality in India and China, and beyond. Cross-cutting themes include religion and the rise of the nation-state; the politics of religious establishment and religious freedom; the role of race in the formation of the disciplines of religious studies and international relations; the formation of modern vocabularies of religious and racial exclusion; the role of race and secularism in American history at home and abroad, and the international politics of religion and race in colonial and postcolonial contexts. Readings are comprised of books and articles, including new and not yet published work, which draw on international politics, religion, political theory, law, anthropology and history. (Winter 2019, Professor Elizabeth Shakman Hurd)

REL 473-20 – Studies in the History of Religions: Tibetan Language Seminar

Coming Soon

REL 473-21 – Studies in the History of Religions: Tibetan language seminar

Coming Soon

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