2020-2021 Course Descriptions
Courses primarily for:
Courses Primarily for Undergraduate Students
REL-101-6-20 – First-Year Seminar: Islamophobia
This course concerns the history, politics, culture and economy of how Islam and Muslims have been represented in the north Atlantic world (the ‘West’). It begins with a brief overview of Western representations of Muslims during the medieval era, then examines how colonialism shaped the modern history and politics of contemporary Islamophobia. The bulk of the course will focus in depth on aspects of Islamophobia in the United States, aiming to empower students to understand and navigate the contemporary context. We will also critically discuss the utility of the term 'Islamophobia'. The course gives particular attention to ways that Muslims have sought to challenge, complicate and subvert how they are represented. The course, finally, also serves as an introduction to the academic study of religion. We will explore several themes in Religious Studies throughout the course, particularly religion and race, religion and politics, religion and law, and religion and media. (Fall 2020, Professor Brannon Ingram)
REL 101-6-21 – First-Year Seminar: Paying Attention
What does it mean to “pay attention”? What is the history of attention as a concept, and what is at stake when we talk about paying attention? What are the ethical implications of attention and distraction? How have economic conditions, social norms, religious practices, and technological change helped shape ideas about attention and distraction that inform our lives today? In the age of the "attention economy"—when digital technology is blamed for giving rise to a culture of distraction, and collaborations between neuroscientists and Buddhist meditators are credited with heralding the attentional key to happiness—this seminar provides an opportunity to reflect on attention as a key term in history and contemporary life. (Fall 2020, Professor Kevin Buckelew)
REL 101-6-23 – First-Year Seminar: Religion and Land Ethics
In 1949, conservationist Aldo Leopold published an essay entitled, “The Land Ethic.” He argued that humans are in community with, and have moral obligations to, soil, water, plants and animals. His call for the development of “ecological consciousness” has since been taken up, expanded, and critiqued by environmentalists. More recently, indigenous peoples have fought for recognition that such ethics have long guided their communities, before and during European colonization and settlement. Around the world, indigenous communities have taken the lead in demanding changes to the ways in which modern societies relate to the land. This course explores the idea of a land ethic, what it must consider and how it might come to be successfully embedded within culture and consciousness. In particular, we will look at how the various cultural formations and personal experiences that are often named “religion” and “spirituality” can reflect and promote various land ethics, particularly inasmuch as the prerogatives of “religion” might provide a context for experiencing and valuing land outside and/or alongside its aesthetic, economic and political value. Over the term, students will select and connect with a particular piece of land, which will provide both an object of study as well as a context for learning and reflection. Spending time in the field, each student will explore the land’s natural and cultural history, recording its (mis)use and how it has been transformed thereby. Students will use all of this to articulate a land ethic, and the final project will be an effort to embed that ethic in some creative cultural form. (Spring 2021, Professor Mark McClish)
REL 170 – Introduction to Religion
Religion: we think we recognize it when we see it, and yet it is always changing. How does one study a moving target?
In the first weeks of the course, we look back in time to understand how the ideas about religion that are familiar to us today are rooted in history. The emergence of the concept of “religion” as an object of comparison and study grew out of early modern European sectarian violence and colonial overseas expansion.
We then turn to study some thinkers from the 19th and 20th centuries who developed theories about the best ways to study religion. These scholars developed and honed the fields of sociology, anthropology, and psychology by testing their methods on case studies about religion. To know this history is to know our present, as well as to understand the methodologies that shape the university curriculum.
What do we do with this legacy? Are these methods adequate to understanding religion today? In the second half of this class, we critically evaluate these methods by putting them to work to analyze religion in the world, both past and present. We will focus on how religion moves people. People are rooted in space and place by their religious practices, while simultaneously being moved by religion. As will have become clear in the first half of the course, religion is a moving target because people themselves do not stay the same. Throughout the course, we track the tension between rootedness and mobility by examining three themes: “conversion,” “borderlands,” and “death/afterlives.” *Reserved for first-years, sophomores, and religious studies majors and minors. (Winter 2021, Professor Michelle Molina)
REL 170-26 ONLINE – Introduction to Religion
Religion: we think we recognize it when we see it, and yet it is always changing. How does one study a moving target? In the first weeks of the course, we look back in time to understand how the ideas about religion that are familiar to us today are rooted in history. The emergence of the concept of “religion” as an object of comparison and study grew out of early modern European sectarian violence and colonial overseas expansion. We then turn to study some thinkers from the 19th and 20th centuries who developed theories about the best ways to study religion. These scholars developed and honed the fields of sociology, anthropology, and psychology by testing their methods on case studies about religion. To know this history is to know our present, as well as to understand the methodologies that shape the university curriculum. What do we do with this legacy? Are these methods adequate to understanding religion today? In the second half of this class, we critically evaluate these methods by putting them to work to analyze religion in the world, both past and present. We will focus on how religion moves people. People are rooted in space and place by their religious practices, while simultaneously being moved by religion. As will have become clear in the first half of the course, religion is a moving target because people themselves do not stay the same. Throughout the course, we track the tension between rootedness and mobility by examining three themes: “conversion,” “borderlands,” and “death/afterlives. (Summer 2021, Professor Michelle Molina)
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 2020, Professor Mark McClish)
REL 210-20 – Introduction to Buddhism
This course offers an introduction to Buddhist history, culture, philosophy, and practice. We explore the major doctrinal varieties of Buddhism, from its inception through the rise of the Mahayana and Tantric or Vajrayana traditions. At the same time, we also investigate Buddhist visual, material, and ritual cultures—which offer windows onto aspects of Buddhism as a lived religion not always visible in scriptural sources. In the process we engage themes like the meaning of suffering, the cosmology of cyclical rebirth, the social role of monasticism and its intervention in traditional family structures, the place of women and gender in Buddhism, the relationship between religious ideals and everyday life, the question of self-reliance versus divine assistance, and the power of images and icons. (Winter 2021, Professor Kevin Buckelew)
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. (Fall 2020, Professor Barry Wimpfheimer)
REL 221-22 – Introduction to New TestamentThe New Testament is one of the most significant collections of texts to have ever existed. It forms one of the foundation stones for the identity of Christianity as a global religion, as well as providing a powerful cultural reservoir even for contemporary secular American society. It did not, however, burst into the world fully formed, but emerged as an authoritative collection only over several centuries. This course introduces you to the texts of the New Testament, the context in which those texts emerged, and the processes by which the collection became authoritative (“canonization”). (Winter 2021, Professor Matthew Chalmers)
REL 230-20 – Introduction to Judaism
Against the background of Jewish and world history, we will seek to understand the roots and evolution of Jewish rituals, literature, traditions, and beliefs in different places around the world. Our challenge will be to understand why Judaism changed in the ways that it did while also identifying the continuities that connect Jews across time and space. (Winter 2021, Dr. Claire Sufrin)
REL 230-26 ONLINE – 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. (Summer 2021, Professor Barry Wimpfheimer)
REL 240-20 – Introduction to ChristianityWhose Christianity matters? More often than not, an introduction to Christianity is in introduction to big words and great men. That’s all very well, but most Christians throughout history have gone nameless; most rituals have no author, and a lot of the best loved texts and traditions are hard to fix on any individual. What does a Christianity look like when viewed not from the view of traditional history, but from the ground up? This course introduces the history, culture, and practices of Christianity from antiquity to the present by means of anonymous texts, texts without a confirmed author. (Spring 2021, Professor Matthew Chalmers)
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). (Fall 2020, Professor Brannon Ingram)
REL 265-20 / HIS 200-22 – American Religious History from WWII to Present (RLP)
The role of religious ideas and practices in shaping American life between 1945 and 2020, specifically instances of public religious expression, religious motivations for political decisions, and the complexity of religious tolerance as a foundation in American life. Topics include Cold War religious identities; the Civil Rights Movement; Vatican II Catholicism; religious immigration, women and gender in religious thought and practice; evangelical Christianity in politics and media; Islamophobia; interfaith initiatives; and contemporary religious demographics. Counts towards Religion, Law and Politics (RLP) major concentration. (Spring 2021, Dr. Stephanie Brehm)
REL 270 – Introduction to Theology
Theology is an academic discipline that, like philosophy, has to do with the big questions of life: What does God have to do with the world? How does body relate to soul? Why is evil so pernicious? What is special about theological thinking? We address the question “what is theology?” by asking theologians how they think, what topics fascinate them, and how they bring their experiences to their work. We discuss Christian theologians from the past, who have impressed their ideas on both the development of theology and culture in the west. We look to contemporary theologians to explain why some forms of theology perpetuate exclusions and how theology can be a tool for thinking about inclusive practices in church and world. (Spring 2021, Professor Christine Helmer)
REL 309-21 / ASIAN_LG 390-20 – Hindu Epics: Rāmāyaṇa (RLP)
The Rāmāyaṇa is an epic of ancient India that tells the story of a heroic prince, Rāma, and his beloved wife, Sītā. The epic tells the story of Rāma’s banishment from the kingdom, his wandering in exile, the abduction of Sītā by the demon king Rāvaṇa, and the war he leads to win Sītā back and vanquish Rāvaṇa. One of the best-loved stories in South and Southeast Asian history, the Rāmāyaṇa uniquely evokes the ideals of, and tensions within, traditional Hinduism. Our engagement with the text will focus on immersing ourselves in its story-world and thinking about narrative as a form of scripture. In this manner, we will address ourselves through this to the major themes of the text: love and duty; violence and law; order and chaos; and devotion and friendship. Finally, we will use the text as a windown onto the complex and dynamic world of traditional Hinduism. (Spring 2021, Professor Mark McClish)
REL 318-22 / ASIAN_LG 290-20 – Buddhism and Violence (RLP)Even a cursory reading of world history reminds us of the pervasive power religion possesses to incite violence, yet instances of violence incited in the name of Buddhism still tends to elicit surprise, given its associations with tranquility and nonviolence. In this course students will investigate the intersections between Buddhism and violence, with an eye toward considering their imbrication in specific cultural and historical contexts in Asia, including Myanmar, Sri Lanka, China, Tibet, Japan, and Thailand. In the first part of the course students will examine basic concepts and definitions of relevant categories including “religion,” “violence,” “sacrifice,” “ritual,” “martyrdom,” “nationalism,” and “terrorism.” The second part will focus on specific case studies in which Buddhism has played a significant role in inciting political violence, terrorism, and self-immolation in Asia. Some of the provocative questions that this course asks include: Do Buddhist texts condone violence in particular circumstances? Is there a Buddhist version of just war theory? How and why have Buddhist institutions aligned with state sanctioned forms of violence in certain contexts and resisted them in others? In what ways is there precedent in Buddhist cultural and textual history for self-immolation, and does this qualify as violence? There are no pre-requisites for this course aside from a curiosity to explore the relationship between religion and violence in Asia beyond the stereotype of Buddhism as the spiritual tradition of peace calm. Counts towards Religion, Law and Politics (RLP) major concentration. (Spring 2021, Professor Antonio Terrone)
REL 318-23 / ASIAN_LG 300-23 – Religion and politics in the People's Republic of China (RLP)This course will examine the role of religion in post-1980’s China and the political implications of the practice of religion in the People’s Republic of China. To place this field in context, students will read various forms of literature and policy documents to assess the extent to which Marxist theory is central to the interpretation of religion in Communist China. Primary sources will include Chinese constitutional articles, white papers, and editorials in English translation. Secondary sources will cover a wide range of interpretations and perspectives on the position of religious institutions and religious practices in the PRC. Topics that this course will investigate include the expression of religiosity under Communism in China; the rehabilitation of Confucian values; the constitutional protection of religion and religious belief in China; the relationship between ethnicity and religious policies; the Sinicization of religion; and the administration of the five officially accepted religious traditions in the People’s Republic of China (Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Daoism, and Islam). The second part of the course will be dedicated to a detailed exploration of the recent cases related to the Muslim Uyghurs of Xinjiang and the Tibetan Buddhists of Western China. The class will explore some of the most controversial issues related to these two ethnic minorities including terrorism, religious violence, nationalism, assimilation, foreign influence, and soft power. Counts towards Religion, Law and Politics (RLP) major concentration. (Winter 2021, Professor Antonio Terrone)
REL 319-22 / ASIAN_LG 390-22 – Chan/Zen Buddhism
The Chinese Chan (Japanese Zen) Buddhist 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 history, literature, philosophy, visual culture, and monastic practices of Chan/Zen Buddhism in East Asia. We pay special attention to the ways Chan/Zen innovated within the Buddhist tradition to establish a uniquely East Asian school of Buddhism. Along the way we consider the changing place of meditation in Chan/Zen practice, closely read Chan/Zen sermons and koans, analyze the role of women and gender in Chan and Zen, and conclude by considering the modern reception of Zen in the West. (Fall 2020, Professor Kevin Buckelew)
REL 319-23 / ASIAN_LG 390-23 – East Asian Classics
This course explores some of the most influential texts of the major East Asian religious and philosophical traditions including Confucianism, Daoism, Chan/Zen Buddhism, and Tibetan Buddhism still prominent in China, Japan, Tibet, and several other Asian societies today. The goal is to understand the significance and the place that they have in East Asian cultures. This course will probe the following questions: What are the preoccupations these texts address? How can humans achieve contentment in the world? What are the moral values these texts instill? Beyond this historical focus, this course will also reflect on ways that these literary and religious texts have been appropriated and adapted in the modern context. Each period dedicated to a specific text will be preceded by an introduction to the tradition it represents offering an historical background together with biographical and/or content outlines. (Fall 2020, Professor Antonio Terrone)
REL 345-20 – Sainthood
The phenomenon of sainthood opens a range of issues: a saint is an exemplar of heroic virtue, and ideas of sainthood reflect the ethical norms of a particular Christian society; a saint is the focus of veneration, and the ways people behave toward saints (going on pilgrimage to venerate their relics, showing reverence to their images, etc.) tells a great deal about official and unofficial Christian piety; a saint is a figurehead for some interest group such as a religious order or a city, and in churches that have a process of canonization this becomes a mirror of ecclesiastical politics. (Winter 2021, Professor Richard Kieckhefer)
REL 349-21 – Christianity and the Fall of RomeOver the first six centuries CE, an assortment of texts from the eastern Mediterranean – eventually known as the New Testament – were written, composed, collected and became authoritative for communicating a religious identity: Christian. In this course we will explore some of our earliest and richest opportunities for understanding how Christianity became global phenomena. We focus on vibrant local and trans-local narratives: martyrs, magic, the Holy Land, law, magicians, and heretics. We travel not only the traditional hunting grounds of this period (Italy, Gaul, and what became northern Europe) but also late Roman Syria, Egypt, Palestine, and Ethiopia. How were the important events in the period relived and rewritten by those who followed, including Iraqi clerics and the first women playwright of the Middle Ages? And what can we learn by rethinking the big questions we ask of this period – of decline, fall, rise, conquest, and religious competition? (Fall 2020, Professor Matthew Chalmers)
REL 349-22 – How Thin is a Demon? Bodies and Ancient Christianity (RHM)Bodies matter. Perhaps now more than ever before, it is becoming widely obvious to us that it really matters what type of body you are and what sorts of assumptions people make about you. The origins of Christianity have a lot to do with bodies as well. After all, the story of Jesus is the story of a suffering, dying, and rising Jewish body. Narratives about the earliest Christians are shot through with violence, blood, love, and power. They are also a history of gender, sex, ethnicity, bodily discipline, and embodied excess. But people are not the only bodies in antiquity. The ancient Mediterranean and its heavens seethed with angels, demons, animals, and monsters. This course critically examines embodiment in the early Christian world, both human and non-human. *Counts towards Religion, Health and Medicine (RHM) major concentration. (Winter 2021, Professor Matthew Chalmers)
REL 349-23 – Topics in Christianity: Ancient Books and their Power
This course dives headfirst into ancient and modern views on the power of religious books. Books, sacred and otherwise, could communicate, symbolize, and inspire – but they could also threaten, destabilize, and teach sorcery or violence. As well as their meanings for the past, we explore the discovery of ancient books in the present, the technologies by which they become readable, and their consequences for understanding ancient religion. Throughout, we’ll encounter and ask questions of our modern fantasies and fears about books; censorship, book-burning, secrecy, suppression, and the social power of the written word. (Spring 2021, Professor Matthew Chalmers)
REL 369-20 / ENV_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. (Fall 2020, Professor Sarah Taylor).
REL 371-20 / RTVF 398-20 – 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. (Spring 2021, Professor Michelle Molina)
REL 379-20 / POLI_SCI 382-20 – Politics of Religious Diversity (RLP)
REL 379-21 – Religion and Magic (RHM)
Contrary to what many assume, magic and religion are not binary opposites. Rather, magic often draws upon the belief systems, the rituals, even the structures of authority provided by religion. Frequently it meets disapproval from others in the religious tradition, but not always. If magic in many of its forms is integrally linked to religion, however, we still have to examine how the two are connected, how a particular form of magic relates to a specific religious tradition, how it challenges what people believe, how it can both subvert and be coopted by authority, and how it serves people's perceived needs differently from other religious practices. Counts towards Religion, Health and Medicine (RHM) major concentration. (Spring 2021, Professor Richard Kieckhefer)
REL 379-21 / SLAVIC 210-3 – Spiritual Autobiography & Russian Literature (RHM)
In this course, Spiritual Autobiography and Russian Literature, we will read classic works of Russian literature that explore the challenges of achieving spiritual growth in an individual life, with focus on moments of heightened experience and consciousness. Students will have the (optional) opportunity to write a spiritual autobiography. Works by Tolstoy, Chekhov, Turgenev, and Bunin. (Spring 2021, Professor Susan McReynolds)
REL 379-23 – Science Fiction and Social Justice (RLP, 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 attend to how religious myths and imagery are sampled and remixed by science fiction authors to plot an alternative course for history. *Counts towards Religion, Law and Politics (RLP) and Religion, Sexuality and Gender (RSG) major concentrations. (Winter 2021, Ashley King)
REL 379-26 ONLINE – Religion and Land Ethics
In 1949, conservationist Aldo Leopold published an essay entitled, “The Land Ethic.” He argued that humans are in community with, and have moral obligations to, soil, water, plants and animals. His call for the development of “ecological consciousness” has since been taken up, expanded, and critiqued by environmentalists. More recently, indigenous peoples have fought for recognition that such ethics have long guided their communities, before and during European colonization and settlement. Around the world, indigenous communities have taken the lead in demanding changes to the ways in which modern societies relate to the land. This course explores the idea of a land ethic, what it must consider and how it can come to be successfully embedded within culture and consciousness. In particular, we will look at how the various cultural formations and personal experiences that are often named “religion” and “spirituality” can reflect and promote various land ethics, particularly inasmuch as the prerogatives of “religion” might provide a context for experiencing and valuing land outside or alongside its aesthetic, economic and political value. Over the term, students will select and connect with a particular piece of land, which will provide both an object of study as well as a context for learning and reflection. Spending time in the field, each student will explore the land’s natural and cultural history, recording its (mis)use and how it has been transformed thereby. Students will use all of this to articulate a land ethic, and the final project will be an effort to embed that ethic in some creative cultural form. (Summer 2021, Professor Mark McClish)
REL 386-20 / HIS 300-30 – Religion & Race in Latin America (RLP)
Sin, Salvation, and Racialization in Latin America
The vibrant culture of an Indigenous people, the import of African slaves with their varied traditions, and the domination of a European Christian settler class: these are all factors shared by Latin America and the United States. Despite these common factors, racializing practices and the emergence of “race” are quite different in the two regions. Focusing primarily on Mexico, we see how religion and race are intertwined, beginning with the formative colonial period. To understand the complicated permutations of race in Latin America, we study three realms: Spanish law, the institutional Catholic church, and, the devotional lives of historical actors, from the colonial period through the twentieth century.
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 2020, Professor Sarah Taylor)
ART_HIST 340-1 – Baroque Art: Italy and Spain, 1600 to 1750
This course surveys painting and sculpture, plus some architecture and urbanism, of the Baroque era (ca. 1580 to 1750) in Italy and Spain. Examining works of art in their social and cultural contexts, the course touches upon major themes of the historical period including the impact of religious reform on the visual arts; the notion of classicism as an aesthetic ideal; the intersection of art and science; and cultural exchange between Italian and Spanish places. Artistic centers such as Rome, Naples, Madrid, and Seville feature prominently, but the course will also consider artistic developments in cities such as Bologna, Milan, Valencia, Mexico City, and Cuzco. Along the way, we will study works by a range of artists including Gianlorenzo Bernini, Caravaggio, Annibale Carracci, Artemisia Gentileschi, Peter Paul Rubens, Jusepe Ribera, Luisa Roldán, Diego Velázquez, and Cristóbal de Villalpando.
The course will be taught remotely and synchronously. Pending developments, one class meeting will take place at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Graduate-level Courses Available to Undergraduates
REL 316-21 / ASIAN_LG 300-21 – Religion and the Body in China (RHM, RSG)
This seminar explores the place of the body in Chinese religion, from the ancient period to the present day. In the course of this exploration, we seek to challenge our presuppositions about a seemingly simple question: what is “the body,” and how do we know? We open by considering themes of dying and the afterlife, food and drink, health and medicine, gender and family. We then turn to Daoist traditions of visual culture that envision the human body as intimately connected with the cosmos and picture the body’s interior as a miniature landscape populated by a pantheon of gods. We read ghost stories and analyze the complex history of footbinding. Finally, we conclude with two case studies of religion and the body in contemporary China, one situated on the southwestern periphery, the other in the capital city of Beijing. Throughout the quarter, we investigate how the body has mediated relationships between Buddhist, Daoist, and popular religious traditions. By the course’s end, students will gain key resources for understanding historical and contemporary Chinese culture, and new perspectives on what it means to be religious and embodied. *Counts towards Religion, Health and Medicine (RHM) and Religion, Sexuality and Gender (RSG) major concentrations. (Winter 2021, Professor Kevin Buckelew)
Courses Primarily for Graduate Students
REL 468-20 / GERMAN 408 – Graduate Seminar: Critical Theory and Religion
This course explores the central place the concept of “religion” hasoccupied in the development of critical theory and, in turn, the rolecritical theory has played in reframing “religion” in modernity and in thecontemporary geopolitical moment. We take up the question, “Is critiquesecular,” as we consider the contributions, potential and actual, of“religion” to social transformation. (Winter 2021, Professor Christine Helmer)
REL 471-20 / GNDR_ST 490-20 / HIS 492-20 – Graduate Seminar: 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? (Winter 2021, Professor Michelle Molina)
REL 471-21 / POLI_SCI 490-24 – Graduate Seminar: Religion, Race and Global 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 inform scholarship, shape national and international legal and governmental practice, and contribute to the establishment and maintenance of various social hierarchies and inequalities. Cross-cutting themes include religion and the rise of the nation-state; the politics of religious establishment, law, and freedom; race and the formation of the disciplines of religious studies, international relations and the social sciences more broadly; the formation of modern vocabularies of religious and racial exclusion; and race, indigeneity, and slavery in U.S. American history. Readings are drawn from international politics, religious studies, political theory, law, anthropology, and history. With the support of a curricular linkage program, the International Classroom Partnering Grant, we will be in conversation about the politics of religion and race in transnational perspective with colleagues at Sciences Po (Paris) and The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (Geneva). With our global partners we will discuss course themes as well as possibilities and practices for building effective transdisciplinary international research projects and networks. (Winter 2021, Professor Elizabeth Shakman Hurd)
REL 473-20 – Graduate Seminar: Tibetan Buddhist Tantra
Not a how-to course, this class will explore the significance of tantra in Tibetan history, doxography, and scholarship. The course will pay particular attention to placing tantra within its broader religious and social context(s) in Tibet, as well as to a range of issues pertaining to the ethics and politics of translating tantric texts into non-Tibetan cultural and linguistic spaces, such as varying understandings of secrecy, initiation, the guru-disciple relationship, the roles and representations of women, the body as a site of spiritual realization, consort practices, and interpretations of antinomian rhetoric. (Fall 2020, Professor Sarah Jacoby)
REL 473-22 / ASIAN_LG 492-22 – Graduate Seminar: Studies in Modern Buddhism
This graduate seminar will probe the notion of modernity and modernism in the field of Buddhist studies. Through weekly readings of some of the most recent monographs on the subject, students will consider the meanings and implications of modern Buddhism as it is understood in relation to different contexts including Myanmar, China, Mongolia, Tibet, and the U.S. Questions we will explore include: What are the distinguishing features of modern Buddhism (and Buddhist modernism), and how are recent scholars invoking these categories? Who are the agents of Buddhist modernity, and how do they relate to forms of secularism, colonialism, and nationalism? What socio-political and intellectual forces are mobilizing innovation and rationalization of Buddhism on a global scale? Is modernism about homogenization? Is dis-indigenization and the re-emphasis on canonical scriptures aimed at appealing to Euro-American societies? Is mindfulness the new yoga? These questions and more that are tailored to the research interests of students in the course will fuel our classroom conversations. (Spring 2021, Professor Antonio Terrone)
REL 481-2-20 – Graduate Seminar: Theories of Religion
This course explores key works on religion from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries with a view to understanding the historical foundations of the academic study of religion. We will read works from "canonical" theorists of religion, such as Marx, Durkheim, Weber, and Otto, as well as from contemporaries whose work on religion engaged subjects such as race, indigeneity, and gender. Taking a historical-critical perspective, we will explore the significance of these thinkers in their own time as well as the afterlife of their theories, methods, and frameworks. (Fall 2020, Professor Mark McClish)
REL 482-20 – Graduate Seminar: Religion and NarrativeNarratives are centrally important to religions. From foundational myths that create the space within which religion happens to discrete episodes that ground specific rituals, narratives are the very stuff of religion. The purpose of this course is to consider narratives as a special site for the production of religious meaning; the course will draw heavily from both religion theory and literary theory. Issues we will cover include: whether textual meaning is located in the author, text or reader; how the religious context of a narrative affects its possible interpretations; how myths and rituals comprise different modes of narrative; the relationship between narrative time and religious time; the challenge to authority inherent to much religious narrative; the variety of ways through which religious figures mobilize narrative to further their authority.
This course will utilize Jewish narratives from the Bible, Rabbinic Literature and the Jewish folk tradition as primary texts. Students will be expected to build on materials covered in the course by applying narrative theory to the study of religious narratives either Jewish or otherwise.
Some of the works to be used are: Paul Ricouer, Figuring the Sacred; Roland Barthes, Mythologies; Hayden White, “The Value of Narrativity in the Representation of Reality;” Robert Segal, ed., The Myth and Ritual Theory; Jerome Bruner, The Making of Stories; Mikhail Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics; Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures; Stanley Fish, Is There a Text in This Class?
(Spring 2021, Professor Barry Wimpfheimer) Back to top