Theory

REL 20.01

Foundational Figures in the Study of Religion

In this course we will read the works of a number of the “greats”—Tylor, Durkheim, Freud, Weber, among others—who shaped the modern, scholarly study of religion. We will also read critical literature on their work. The course is designed to give students a grounding in the methods and approaches taken for granted in the field of the study of religion. Open to sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Dist: TMV.

REL 20.02

Magic, Science, and Religion

Can significant distinctions be drawn between religious and magical ritual? Do magic and religion thrive in opposition to the science of their time or in congruence with it? The course addresses such theoretical questions in the study of religion from perspectives of history, philosophy of science, anthropology, and cognitive science. The course will suggest a general theory of conditions under which religion tends to be or tends not to be magical. Students will be invited to challenge that theory. Open to sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Dist: SOC.

REL 20.03

Reason and Religious Belief

A study of the principal religious and philosophical arguments for and against religious belief. The first part of the course will consider the question of the justifiability of religious belief through an appeal to religious experience and mysticism, to rational theistic arguments, and to faith, showing the difficulties in each case. The second part of the course will cover alternatives to classical theism and the contemporary challenge of conceptual relativism and religious pluralism. Open to sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Dist: TMV.

REL 20.04

Theoretical Approaches to the Study of Myth: Interpreting Ancient Near Eastern Mythology

This course examines various theoretical approaches to the study of mythology that have been developed by scholars in the past century by considering the ways in which these theoretical models have been used in the interpretation of mythologies of two of the great cultures of the ancient Near East, Mesopotamia and Canaan. Readings will include all the major myths of Mesopotamian and Canaanite tradition; major articles by theoreticians of myth such as Bronislaw Malinowski, Clyde Kluckhohn, and Claude Levi-Strauss; and various essays that attempt to apply these theoretical studies to the ancient Near Eastern mythological materials.Open to sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Dist: TMV; WCult: NW.

REL 20.05

What is Religion?

This course examines basic theoretical and methodological questions about the study of religion. We begin with several definitions and approaches to religion emerging from Sociology, Anthropology, Psychology and Cognitive science, to Comparative Religion. Next we explore the formation of World Religions, the emergence of New Religious Movements, and the problematic definitions of Asian religions.  We also explore theoretical issues regarding ritual, mythology, sacred time and scared space, the body and the cosmos. DIST: TMV or INT; WCult: NW.