Topics in Study of Religion

An introduction to the study of religion through topics from a variety of traditions and perspectives, including Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism. Topics may be comparative or focused within a particular tradition and will allow students to understand the distinctive perspective the study of religion brings in both contemporary and historical contexts. Open to all classes. Dist: TMV or INT.

REL 1.01 What Matters
What does it mean to say that something matters and how can we know that it does? This is an introductory course to modern religious thought, examining the quest for meaning, value, and significance as captured in religious, ethical, and philosophical language in Western tradition. The intent is to provide students with a broad exposure to the various ways humans in modernity have attempted to make sense of their condition. What are some of the changes brought about by life in the modern world that prompt new questions about human life and purpose? What new answers have been provided to explain our place in the cosmos and reason for being? We explore questions of belief, value, significance, meaning, suffering, love, and justice. Open to all classes. Dist: TMV or INT.

REL 1.02 Contemporary Religion
This course is designed to give an impressionistic overview of contemporary religion. We’ll begin with readings designed to help you think about contemporary religion in general, and then we’ll begin a survey of some issues and places where religion is salient in the early 21st century. Open to all classes. Dist: TMV or INT.

REL 1.03 Patterns of Religious Experience
A comparative study of some of the basic patterns of religion. The course will focus upon such themes as religious experience, myths of creation, stories of religious founders and heroes, the origin and resolution of human suffering, and the structure and meaning of religious community and ritual. Source material for these themes will be taken from the literary and artistic resources of the following religious traditions: Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism. Open to all classes. Dist: TMV or INT.

REL 1.04 Beginnings and Ends of Time
This course examines the visions of the emergence, decline, and extinction of the world in several religious cultures: Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Daoism, and contemporary USA. After investigating different ideas of how the world came to exist and various views of the end of time, we will compare different notions of salvation by which various religious cultures tried to assuage fears of the end of the world. With expectations for messianic redemption or visions of power these catastrophic imaginings  and ideas of salvation served as the basis for missionary work and conversion as well as impetus for social and political transformations, rebellions, wars, imperial programs. Open to all classes. Dist: TMV or INT.

REL 1.05 Religion & Gender
Are all religions sexist? How can we know? This course is about approaches to the study of religions from the perspective of gender. We will read foundational works of religious history and feminist and queer theology that shed light on questions such as how normative masculinity, femininity, and sexuality are defined across religions, what is the difference between religion and culture in constructing gender and gender roles, and how are religious ideas gendered. In asking these questions we will focus on scholars’ interpretive methods in order to understand how variant they are and how important they are in creating meaning out of religious texts and practices about gender and gender roles. Specific topics will include the body, embodiment of religious rituals, purity, menstruation, religious authority, marriage and divorce, sexuality and sexual ethics, and motherhood. Open to all classes. Dist: INT or TMV.


Religion in the Modern World

Religion and modernity are considered by many to be inimical to each other. Yet Fundamentalists, New Agers, international Swamis, and religious nationalists are nothing if not modern. In this course we'll begin with a consideration of what constitutes modernity and the modern world. Then we'll discuss the roots of modern religion. The rest of the course will be case studies of modern religious movements. Assignments will include one case study for students to write up. Open to all classes. Dist: TMV or INT.


Modern Religious and Anti-Religious Thinkers

Critical examination of some of the most influential modern proponents and opponents of religious faith, with special emphasis on the question: what is involved in belief in God? Open to all classes. Dist: TMV; WCult: W.


Religion of Israel: The Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) (Identical to JWST 4)

An introduction to the religion of ancient Israel through an examination of a number of the books of the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible), including Genesis, Exodus, Joshua, Samuel, the Psalms, Job, and the prophets. Attention will also be given to the religion of Israel’s Phoenician and Mesopotamian neighbors. Open to all classes. Dist: TMV; WCult: W.


Early Christianity: The New Testament

An examination of primitive Christianity as witnessed by the writings of the New Testament. Emphasis will be given to the literary and historical analysis of the Gospels and Epistles and to an understanding of the pre-Christian and non-Christian religions of the Hellenistic world. Open to all classes. Dist: TMV; WCult: W.


Introduction to Judaism (Identical to JWST 6)

This course offers an introduction to Judaism by examining three of its central spiritual manifestations: (1) development, observance, and study of the Halaka (religious law); (2) philosophical contemplation; and (3) mystical experience and theosophical speculation. Ancient and modern challenges to the tradition will be studied in some detail, and an attempt will be made to determine what might constitute a unity of such a diverse tradition. Open to all classes. Dist: TMV; WCult: W.


First-Year Seminars in Religion

Consult special listings.


Introduction to Islam (Identical to AMES 8)

This course will provide students with useful tools for reading about, thinking about, or otherwise engaging with Islam and Muslims. It is first a survey of important topics in the study of the religion of Islam, including the Qur’an and the Prophet, the role of Islamic mysticism, Islam and the state, Islamic law, and Islamic theories of family and person. We also discuss Orientalism and the western study of Islam, so that we can understand ourselves as students of the Islamic tradition. Open to all classes. Dist: TMV; WCult: NW.


Hinduism (Identical to AMES 9)

An introductory survey of the Hindu religious tradition of South Asia from 1500 B.C.E. down to the present day. Emphasis will be given to the historical development of elite, Sanskritic Hinduism and its constant interaction with popular and local traditions. Open to all classes. Dist: TMV; WCult: NW.

REL 10

The Religions of China (Identical to AMES 10)

An introduction to China’s three major religions—Confucianism, Daoism, and Bud-dhism—through the reading of classic texts. Also, a look at important elements in Chinese folk religion: ancestor worship, temples, heavens and hells, and forms of divination. Special attention will be paid to the importance of government in Chinese religious thought and to continuity and change in the history of Chinese religion.Open to all classes. Dist: TMV; WCult: NW.

REL 11

Religion and Morality

How can we claim that something is good, evil, right, wrong, just, or unjust? What is our basis for evaluation and judgment, and how can we hope to persuade others who hold different perspectives? This course explores the challenges of making moral judgments and offering ethical codes of conduct. We consider problems raised in Western philosophical and religious traditions primarily. Topics covered include foundationalism and post-foundational ethics, narrative and virtue ethics, and traditional vs. postmodern approaches. Issues explored may include: poverty and injustice, just war theory, race/class/gender concerns, biomedical ethics, business ethics, post-humanism, and environmental and animal rights. Open to all classes. Dist: TMV.

REL 11.01 (formerly REL 19.15)

God and Money

This course introduces students to the problems and concerns of the study of religion by examining the interaction between economic and religious discourse and practice. Money has long been an object of reflection in philosophical, ethical, and religious traditions. We will explore money as a social phenomenon, a way human communities construct meaning and relationships, deal with power and obligation, and communicate what matters to them. We seek to understand what money is, how it interacts with moral categories like guilt and human value, and how it shapes areas of life such as identity, friendship, love, and sex. We also examine perspectives emerging from religious and ethical traditions concerning the presence of money in modern life. In so doing, we grapple with issues of individual and communal meaning, identity, and value judgment, as well as the challenge of defining what counts as religion—concerns that are integral to the discipline of religious studies and central to humanistic inquiry more broadly. Formerly known as REL 19.15. Open to all classes. Dist: TMV.

REL 11.02

Modern Religious and Anti-Religious Thinkers

Critical examination of some of the most influential modern proponents and opponents of religious faith, with special emphasis on the question: what is involved in belief in God? Open to all classes. Dist: TMV.

REL 12

Religion in North America

A survey of religion in North America, from colonization to the present, with attention to the ways that religion has shaped American history, culture, politics, and more.  We'll examine the interplay of church and state, faith and skepticism, assimilation and particularity, as well as the role of religion in various wars and social movements, such as abolitionism, feminism, and civil rights. Open to all classes. Dist: TMV; WCult: W.

REL 13

Sports, Ethics & Religion

A survey of the origins and development of the culture of athletic competition in America, with roots in the "Muscular Christianity" movement of nineteenth-century England. We'll examine the peculiar (religious?) passion that Americans invest in sports as well as the role that sports has played as an engine for social change. We look, finally, at some of the ethical issues surrounding organized sports. Open to all classes. Dist: TMV; WCult: W. (Formerly REL 65)

REL 14

Introduction to African Religions (Identical to AAAS 18)

This course examines the diversity 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 impact of globalization on Indigenous African Religions. Open to all classes. Dist: TMV; WCult: NW.

REL 15

The Christian Tradition

An introduction to the variety of Christian beliefs, institutions, and practices from the first century to the end of the sixteenth century. Attention will be focused on understanding how Christian communities adapted and developed religious beliefs and practices in the face of changing historical circumstances. Open to all classes. Dist: TMV; WCult: W.

REL 16

Modern Islam (Identical to AMES 15)

In all the attention focused on Islam at present, a newspaper reader could be forgiven for supposing that between Muhammad and Usamah bin Laden, there has been no change in Islam. This course surveys developments in Islamic religious history, thought, and practice since 1800, with special emphasis on topics of current controversy, including the status of women, the nature of government, and the place of Islamic law. Readings will be mostly from primary texts written by contemporary Muslims, both modernists and Islamists. Open to all classes. Dist: TMV; WCult: NW.

REL 17

African Religions of the Americas (Identical to AAAS 83.5)

This class introduces the history and practices of African-derived religious traditions as they have developed in the Caribbean, Latin America, and Black American communities in the United States. These religious systems will be discussed with reference to their mainstream representation (as ‘voodoo’) and analyzed according to the more complex realities of their practitioners’ everyday lives. Three themes to be explored in each tradition include 1) gender identity; 2) racial identity and resistance; and 3) aesthetics. Open to all classes. Dist: INT, TMV; WCult: CI.

REL 18

Indian Buddhism

An introductory survey of the Buddhism of South Asia from its beginnings in the 6th century B.C.E. to its eventual demise in the 12th century C.E. Emphasis will be given to the major beliefs, practices, and institutions characteristic of Indian Buddhism, the development of its different varieties (Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana), and its impact upon South Asian civilization at large. Open to all classes. Dist: TMV; WCult: NW.

REL 19

Special Topics in Religion—Introductory Level

The contents of this course will vary, please consult individual topics within this rubric. Open to all classes. Dist: TMV (except when otherwise noted). WCult: Varies.

REL 19.03

Rethinking the Divine (Identical to CLST 10)

Whether any gods exist; whether there is a divine power that created the world and/or controls what happens in it; whether a human being has a soul that is somehow connected to the divine: these were questions that puzzled intelligent people in ancient Greece and Rome just as they they puzzle people today. In this course, we study the efforts of a range of ancient authors to think through these problems in a way that seemed intellectually satisfying. We look also at what these same thinkers had to say about the origin of religious beliefs in human cultures and about how a thinking person will want to interact with the beliefs and practices of his/her own culture. Open to all classes. Dist: TMV; WCult: W.

REL 19.06

Modern Hinduism (Identical to AMES 42.06)

The names "Hinduism," a religion, and "India," a nation, come from the same word. What's at stake in mapping one onto the other? We will begin by looking at a basic set of Hindu teachings. We then move on to trace their consolidation as a modern religion in historical context. Working from the period of British colonial rule to the present, we'll examine the writings of such thinkers as Mahatma Gandhi, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, and Swami Vivekananda; consider contemporary case studies; and watch several Bollywood films. Dist: TMV; WCult: NW.

REL 19.14

Cosmos, Justice, and Evil

Religious notions such as afterlife, resurrection of the dead, end-time, karma, and providence can all be categorized as claims that the universe must somehow be just.  The course will analyze several modalities of this claim, in popular and in philosophical forms, seeking to trace and to assess their source either to the demands of theodicy or to an intuition that life in an unjust universe is morally intolerable. Open to all classes. Dist: TMV.

REL 19.19

Religion & Technology

This class explores the conceptual and ethical challenges raised by the relationship between religion and technology. In what ways is technology a response to the difficulties of labor and work, the biological limitations of bodies and lifespans, or the unpredictable forces of nature, for instance? What do Western religious and philosophical traditions have to say about such forms of augmentation of life capacities and processes? What promises and perils arise from technological progress? Why is the problem of technology seemingly central to the question of modernity, and how does religion fit in, if at all? We explore a variety of themes, which may include: bodily enhancements, biomedical procedures, humans vs. machines, robotics and AI, as well as digital and virtual worlds, asking what hopes and concerns certain religious and philosophical traditions in the West bring to such developments, and why it matters to think deeply about such issues. Open to all classes. Dist: TMV.

REL 19.21

Tibetan Buddhism

An introductory survey of Buddhism in Tibet from its inception in the 8th century until the present day.  Emphasis will be given to the central doctrines, practices, and institutions characteristic of Tibetan Buddhism, its development of various popular and elite religious ideals (householder, nun, monk, scholar, solitary hermit, crazy yogi, and female dakini), its historic impact on neighboring Asian countries, and its evolving identity in the West. Open to all classes. WCult: NW.


REL 19.23

Ecology, Ethics, and Religion

The biosphere has evolved a level of biodiversity unprecedented in earth history in a period (the last ten thousand years) known as the Holocene in which humans evolved from hunter-gatherers to agrarians and industrialists. Agriculture enabled the development of complex civilizations which had a tendency to press ecological support systems to the point of collapse. The latest of these – industrial capitalism – is now a global civilization and is putting pressure on the planet as a whole to the extent that the evolving and reparative capacities of life on earth are at risk. Despite a groundswell of environmental protest, and regulatory changes, mainstream conservation and climate science has not yet changed the direction of civilization in a more sustainable direction. Some in the conservation movement have joined forces with religious leaders such as Patriarch Bartholomew, and Pope Francis who penned an ‘environmental encyclical’ in 2015, in recognition of the enduring cultural power of religion and of its potential to promote pro-environmental beliefs and behaviors. In this course we will study the book which inspired the formation of the EPA in the United States, a survey of environmental ethics by the ‘founding father’ of the field, a history of ideas perspective on the cultural origins of the environmental crisis and possible faith-based repairs.