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.



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.

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An introduction to China’s three major religions—Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism—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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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An introduction to Sufism, using primary texts, films, and recordings. The course will first trace the development of Sufism, including its Christian and Hindu heritage. Then, using a Sufi manual of instruction, students will work their way through one influential approach to Sufi metaphysics. Finally, using films and recordings, the class will consider the rituals, practices, and role of the Sufi orders of Islam in Islamic history. Desirable background: Religion 1, 8, or another College course on Islam or Islamicate culture, or permission of the instructor. Dist: TMV; WCult: NW.

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The Qur’an and the Prophet Muhammad are the source and center of Islam. In this course we will consider the form and content of the Qur’an and the form and content of various accounts of the Prophet’s life: the hadith or anecdotes of the Prophet’s life, the sirah, or biography of Muhammad, and the maghazi, or accounts of the Prophet’s battles and campaigns. Topics covered include the aural Qur’an, the dating of the Qur’an and the hadith, diverse images of the Prophet, and “what can we know about the life of Muhammad?” Desirable background: A College course on Islamic history, culture, or society, including Religion 8 and Religion 16. Dist: TMV; WCult: NW.

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This course will focus on a particular topic in Islamic studies, with an emphasis on the most recent research in that field. The topic will vary with each offering, so the course may be taken more than once. Sample topics include: “The Islam of Morocco,” “Shi’ism,” and “Problems in Popular Islam.” Desirable background: A previous course on Islamic Religion or Islamicate history and culture, or permission of the instructor. Dist: TMV; WCult: NW.

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This course will focus in some depth on a particular aspect of religion in India—for example, a particular religion, sect, time period, body of literature, type of religion, or religious movement. The topic will change with each offering, and students may take the course more than once. Sample topics include: “Gods, Demons, and Monkeys: The Ramayana Epic of India,” “Women In Indian Religions,” and “Modern Hinduism.” Open to all classes. Dist: TMV; WCult: NW.

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This course will focus in some depth on a particular body of Buddhist literature from a specific region of the Buddhist world, such as sacred scriptures, philosophical treatises, narrative texts, ritual texts, and sacred biographies. Special attention will be paid to a close and careful reading of the texts, as well as to placing them within their proper historical, social, and cultural contexts. The topic will change with each offering, and students may take the course more than once. Sample topics include: “Indian Buddhist Narratives,” “Mahayana Buddhist Texts,” “Chan/Zen Tradition,” and “Tantra in East Asia.” Open to all classes. Dist: TMV; WCult: NW.

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The Struggle for Liberation: Women, Monasticism, and Buddhism

This course will examine the relationship between women, monasticism, and Buddhism through an interdisciplinary and transnational perspective. We will begin in ancient India by examining the founding of the Order of Nuns; the monastic lives, spiritual poetry, and struggles of early Buddhist nuns; and the decline and death of the nuns’ order in India. Then we’ll move on to explore a wide range of topics from throughout the Buddhist world—such as the economic and political power of the nuns’ order in parts of East Asia; the death of the nuns’ order and the phenomenon of low-status “unofficial” nuns throughout much of Southeast Asia; the power of yoginis and other non-monastic spiritual roles for women in Tibet; the increasing phenomenon of Western nuns; and the feminist possibilities (or impossibilities) inherent in Buddhist doctrine. The term will conclude with a sustained look at the contemporary global movement to re-establish the valid ordination lineage for nuns throughout the world—a movement in which the voices arguing “for” and “against” are not always what one might presume them to be. Dist: INT; WCult: NW.

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Buddhist Theory of Meditation

The Buddhist theory of meditation was first articulated 2,500 years ago and has since been adapted to numerous cultural contexts in Asia and the West. This course offers a survey of the three traditional religious frameworks for meditation practice, but also pays some attention to the secularized applications of mindfulness techniques in modern society and to the current status of scientific studies on the effects of those techniques. The course primarily concerns theoretical questions and controversies surrounding Buddhist meditation, but students will get the chance to experiment with secular mindfulness techniques outside of class and to attend a field trip to a local Buddhist temple. Open to all. Dist: TMV; WCult: NW.

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This course will use both elite and popular Hindu religious texts in conjunction with contemporary sociological and anthropological accounts, scholarly analyses, visual art, and film to explore the diverse identities and roles of India’s many goddesses, both ancient and modern. Special emphasis will also be given to the relationship between goddesses and women. Open to all classes. Dist: TMV; WCult: NW.

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In this course we will explore the historical developments and transformations of Daoism from its ancient roots to present-day practices. We will begin by looking at early traditions of immortality seekers and self-cultivation and at the religious and philosophical ideas in the ancient Chinese texts of the Laozi, Zhuangzi, and Guanzi. We will also examine recent archaeological findings, imperial religious practices, and the complex interaction of Daoism with Buddhism. We will in addition look at contemporary Daoist practices in China and Taiwan. Along the way we will devote special attention to meditation and divination techniques; alchemy and sexual techniques for transcendence; the place of women and the feminine in Daoism. Open to all classes. Dist: TMV; WCult: NW.

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A study of the advent of Buddhism in China, its accommodating yet transforming response to Chinese traditions and values, the emergence of the authentically Chinese schools of T’ien-T’ai, Hua-yen, Ch’an, and Pure Land Buddhism, and the enduring Buddhist heritage of China. Open to all classes. Dist: TMV; WCult: NW.

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In this course we will explore how different traditions in China conceptualized the relationship between the human body and the universe, and how individuals can attain immortality and transcendence. After examining different conceptions of the human body in traditional China, we will focus on sexual practices advocated by the traditions of immortality seekers, Daoism, and esoteric Buddhism as ways to enlightenment and transcendence. In our explorations we will look at the earliest records of sexual practices found in tombs of the 3rd century B.C.E. and examine Daoist sexual initiation rites and secret rites practiced by emperors. We will consider how notions of cosmic powers and forces are expressed in sexual rituals and how society views such practices. We will also compare Chinese notions of the body and of sexual practices with those found in West. Open to all classes. Dist: TMV; WCult: NW.

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In this course students will read and discuss the latest research on one of the religions of East Asia, or a particular sect, movement, or time period in the history of East Asian religions. The topic will change with each offering. Thus, students may take this course more than once. Sample topics include: “Literature and Religion in China,” “Politics and Religion in China,” and “The Body in Japanese Religion.” Open to all classes. Dist: TMV; WCult: NW.

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The great civilization of ancient Egypt, which spanned a period of almost 3000 years, has left us a wealth of literary, artistic, architectural, and funerary religious remains. This course will focus on three major aspects of Egypt’s religious heritage: (1) the pantheon and the myths and stories about Egypt’s gods; (2) temple complexes; and (3) tombs, especially the tombs of royalty and other nobles. Open to all classes. Dist: TMV; WCult: NW.