Focus on Race

The following upcoming courses include a substantial focus on issues of race and the intersection of race and religion.

2021 Fall Term Courses

REL 54 African American Religion and Culture in Jim Crow America (Identical to AAAS 22.10)

Jim Crow segregation in the United States compelled many African American men and women to use their bodies—their hands, feet, and voices—to create sacred scenes, sounds, and spaces to articulate their existence in America. This seminar focuses on religious production to explore African American culture in the post-Civil War era. Students will analyze a variety of sources, including music, visual art, film, religious architecture, sermons, food, theater, photography, and news media. Not open to students who have received credit for AAAS 80.08.

2022 Winter Term Courses

REL 14 Introduction to African Religions (Identical to AAAS 18.03)

This course introduces the study of Indigenous African Religions, their cosmologies, histories, ritual structures, and their relationships to other aspects of African cultures.  Of particular importance will be ideas of gendered spiritual power, the spread of African-inspired religions to the Americas, and the nature of orally transmitted religious traditions.  Conversion to Islam and Christianity and reconversion from these religions will also be studied.  Finally, we examine the role of African religions in post-colonial African societies and the impact of globalization. Open to all.

 

REL 61 Religion and the Civil Rights Movement (Identical to AAAS 22)

This course presents the religious dimensions of civil rights activism in twentieth-century United States history. Students will explore the theologies of African American Protestants, liberal religious thinkers, and adherents to Gandhian philosophy as they waged nonviolent struggle against Jim Crow oppression in the United States. In-class discussions and exercises will examine the religious rhetoric and creative protest strategies of movement activists. Open to all.

 

REL 74.17 Islam in Africa (Identical to HIST 69 and AAAS 53)

This course aims to introduce students to the formation of Islam in the Maghrib, Saharan Africa, and Africa south of the desert. Assignments will address continuities with and differences from the practices of Muslims in other parts of the world while emphasizing the central role the religion has played in the unfolding of history in various parts of Africa. Topics covered will include conversion, popular religion and mysticism, cultural formations, and social organization. Open to all classes.

 

REL 80.11 Modern Black Spiritualities (Identical to AAAS 90.10)

This advanced seminar places contemporary black religions at the center of the study of African-descended peoples. Through recent books in the ethnography of Africana religions, spiritual communities in Africa, the Caribbean, and North America that have established communities in the United States will constitute the focus of our course readings and anchor our weekly discussions. As an advanced seminar, our meetings will allow participants to interrogate the authors of these ethnographies. We will assess how these accounts have conceptualized the African diaspora and the vantages ("insiders" and "outsiders") from which they describe religious beliefs, practices, and institutions. Beyond considering the commonalities and distinctions in form and practice that characterize various African diasporic religious practices, participants will also work to understand the constructions of race and belonging, ethnic identity, gender, sexuality, class, and geographic location that affect the lives of black religious adherents.

2022 Spring Term Courses

REL 66 Women, Religion, and Social Change in Africa (Identical to AAAS 42 and WGSS 44.03)

This introductory, multidisciplinary course examines women's religions ideas, beliefs, concerns, actions, rituals and socio-cultural experiences in African societies and cultures from a comparative, historical and gender perspective. We will look at women's experiences of social change in African religions, the encounter with Islam, slavery, Christianity, and colonialism. We will analyze the articulations of economic and political power or lack of power in religious ideas as we ask questions such as: What are the different antecedents and circumstances in which women exercise or are denied agency, leadership, power and happiness in their communities? Texts will include nonfiction, fiction, and film narratives. Open to all students.

2022 Fall Term Courses

REL 1.06 Getting Religion

This introductory course invites students to "get religion" as a historical and lived reality in the modern world by engaging religious belief, belonging, and behavior in the unfolding spiritual landscape of the Atlantic world, from the beginning of colonial encounters to the present era.  Exploring how individuals, families, and groups of people "get religion" under free, un-free, and secretive conditions, students will examine key historical episodes of modern religious encounter, embrace, and exchange.

2023 Winter Term Courses

REL 7.09 Living with the Dead: Religion and Spirituality in American History

This First-Year Seminar introduces students to American religious history and spirituality by focusing on how humans deal with death and the dead. Encounters with immaterial human subjects in North American history are somewhat distinct from communing and communicating with deities in a religion's pantheon. They involve religious subjects performing ritual engagement with human beings across time and space—those who have "passed on"—for familial, social, and even political purposes.  Religious uses of the language of ancestors, "mystical persons," and concepts of martyrdom and "mortuary politics" invite reflection on the material impacts of spiritual subjects in this world for various groups.  This course will familiarize students with various "Spiritual" traditions in North American religious history, paying attention to the complex categories and identities of race and gender in living religious subjects as well as the deceased subjects they engage—the dead who "talk back."

As a First-Year Seminar, this course will prepare students to analyze American religion as thoughtful writers. For each evening meeting of the course, we will gather to focus on historical or ethnographic monographs, spanning the period of colonial encounters in America to the present.  A variety of course media, including documentaries, interviews, films, podcasts, websites, and material/visual archives will supplement our learning experience. To develop analysis as writers over the term, students will produce 5 (five) 1-page response papers to religious documentaries and films, one short essay on an extended poem about communicating with the dead, and one culminating research paper.  Dist: TMV.

 

REL 61 Religion and the Civil Rights Movement (Identical to AAAS 22)

This course presents the religious dimensions of civil rights activism in twentieth-century United States history. Students will explore the theologies of African American Protestants, liberal religious thinkers, and adherents to Gandhian philosophy as they waged nonviolent struggle against Jim Crow oppression in the United States. In-class discussions and exercises will examine the religious rhetoric and creative protest strategies of movement activists. Open to all.