Graduate Courses

Spring 2016 / Fall 2015

Spring 2016

REL-R 511 RELIGIONS OF ANCIENT ISRAEL / TOPIC: Jews, Christians, Others

Instructor: Mokhtarian, J.
Course Duration: 1/11/16 - 5/6/16
Day & Time: 1:00p-2:15p MW
Credit Hours: 3

Above class meets with REL-A 316 and JSTU-J 316

This course explores the interactions between Jews, Christians, and other religious groups in antiquity, especially in Roman Palestine and Sasanian Persia circa the first through seventh centuries C.E. In this class we pay particular attention to the portrayals of Christians in ancient Jewish literature, but we also draw from early Christian and other sources. In this course students explore such questions as: How did Jews define themselves in relation to Christians, and vice versa? In what ways did Jews and Christians part ways with one another, as scholars often maintain? And, lastly, what role did other groups play, such as Zoroastrians, Gnostics, and Manichaeans, in this development? This course assumes no prior background in religious studies.

REL-R 531 STUDIES IN CHRISTIAN HISTORY / TOPIC: Right Belief: a History of Orthodox Christianity

Instructor: Michelson, P.
Course Duration: 1/11/16 - 5/6/16
Day & Time:/ 9:30a-10:45a TR
Credit Hours: 3

Above class meets with REL-A 355

This course offers an in-depth study of modern Orthodox Christianity, the second largest Christian denomination in the world. Students will explore the various experiences of Orthodox believers, and the ways they interprete those experiences, in the context of religious rivalry, war, revolution, and oppression. Here we will see a faith community confront Antichrist and atheists, heretics and heathens, radicals and revolutionaries, all in an effort to defeat the “synagogue of Satan” and realize the Kingdom of God.

REL-R 532 STUDIES OF RELIGION IN AMERICAN CULTURE / TOPIC: Evangelical America

Instructor: Brown, C.
Course Duration: 1/11/16 - 5/6/16
Day & Time: 11:15a-12:30p MW
Credit Hours: 3

Above class meets with REL-C 330

From eighteenth-century Great Awakening revivals to twenty-first-century presidential campaigns, evangelicals—and Pentecostal and Charismatic movements within evangelicalism—have played a vital role in shaping American cultural, social, and political institutions. Who are evangelicals? What do they believe, and how do they behave? Should non-evangelicals be worried about them? This course explores the causes, nature, and implications of evangelical influence through the lenses of history, literature, and religious studies—drawing upon fiction, poetry, autobiography, music, television, film, ethnography, and food.

REL-R 535 STUDIES IN GRECO-ROMAN RELIGIONS / TOPIC: The Age of Constantine

Instructor: Schott, J.
Course Duration: 1/11/16 - 5/6/16
Day & Time: 6:50p-7:40p MW
Credit Hours: 3

Above class meets with REL-A 420

A focused study of the textual and material sources for the study of religion, culture, and politics in the age of Diocletian and Constantine (roughly 280-340 CE), Readings will be in English translation, though students with background in Latin or Greek may elect to do some work in original languages. Throughout the course. the members of the class will collaborate in prod ucing an online resource, “Constantinian Texts and Documents,” a webpage that will collect key documentary and literary sources directly related to Constantine and his court (e.g. imperial letters, speeches, etc.). Students will help to produce scholarly notes and commentaries on these sources. Topics covered in the course will include: persecution and martyrdom, religion and Roman law, political philosophy/theology, and late-ancient historiography. Texts/authors covered in the course will include: Eusebius of Caesarea, Lactantius, Scriptores Historiae Augustae, and various documentary sources (letters, inscriptions, etc.). There are no prerequisites; however, it is recommended that students have taken previous coursework on any aspect of the ancient world, religious studies, or literature.

REL-R 551 RELIGIONS OF SOUTH ASIA / TOPIC: Exploring the Bhagavad-Gita

Instructor: Haberman, D.
Course Duration: 1/11/16 - 5/6/16
Day & Time: 2:30p-3:45p MW
Credit Hours: 3

Above class meets with REL-B 420

The Bhagavad Gita is sometimes referred to today as the “Bible” of Hinduism. This text has been favored by many Hindus (it was Gandhi’s favorite text), and even non-Hindus such as the New England Transcendentalists (Thoreau and Emerson). Almost every major Hindu thinker has written a commentary on the Bhagavad Gita. This text, however, was composed in a specific cultural context and expresses a very particular religious philosophy. This seminar involves a close reading and deep exploration of the Bhagavad Gita, examining it for both universal themes and distinctive cultural expressions. It also aims to teach students to generate and pursue textual questions, thereby empowering productive readings of religious texts.

REL-R 571 STUDIES IN RELIGIOUS ETHICS / TOPIC: Nietzsche in Religious Imagination

Instructor: Swan Tuite, J.
Course Duration: 1/11/16 - 5/6/16
Day & Time: 4:40p-7:00p R
Credit Hours: 3

Above class meets with REL-D 430

Since his death in 1900, Friedrich Nietzsche has rapidly become one of the most influential and controversial writers in western philosophical and religious thought. And, while most interpreters identify his continuing significance with his critique of the western religious and moral practice, there is little agreement on the substance and methods of his critique. The first part of this course examines the central themes and concepts in Nietzsche’s writings (e.g., genealogy, power, nihilism, perspectivism, eternal recurrence, ressentiment, bad conscience, and ascetic ideal) and how these inform his conceptions and critique of religious and moral practice. Primary readings are drawn from Nietzsche’s mature works including but not limited to Beyond Good and Evil, On the Genealogy of Morals, The AntiChrist and selections from his late notebooks. The second part of the course considers how Nietzsche’s writings bear on prominent themes in contemporary religious studies including religious imagination, affectivity and moral practice, subjectivity, social life, and critical inquiry.

REL-R 635 NORTH AMERICAN RELIGIOUS HISTORY / TOPIC: Evangelical and Charismatic Christianity in the Americas

Instructor: Brown, C.
Course Duration: 1/11/16 - 5/6/16
Day & Time: 9:00a-11:00a M
Credit Hours: 4

Above class meets with REL-R 735

From eighteenth-century Great Awakening revivals to twenty-first-century presidential campaigns, evangelicals—and in the last century Pentecostal and Charismatic movements (Protestant and Catholic)—have played a critical role in shaping North American, Latin American, and global cultural, social, and political institutions. Who are evangelicals, Pentecostals, and Charismatics? What do they believe, and how do they behave? Should non-evangelicals be worried about them? How has evangelicalism reflected and shaped larger patterns of globalization? This graduate seminar explores the causes, nature, and implications of evangelical influence. Discussions engage scholarly monographs that describe and interpret the historical emergence and dramatic recent growth of evangelical and pentecostal Christianity. Seminar participants will receive substantial feedback on a book review, multi-stage research paper, and mock conference presentation.

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Fall 2015

REL-R 531 STUDIES IN CHRISTIAN HISTORY / Topic: Fasting the Body, Feeding the Soul: Interpretations of Asceticism

Instructor:Michelson, P
Course Duration: 8/24/15 - 12/18/15
Day & Time: TR 9:30a-10:45a
Credit Hours: 3

Above class meets with REL-R 300

One of the most common features of religious practice around the world is asceticism, a way of life premised on abstinence from physical pleasure. But why do people do this, even if only on designated holy days? Why do they fast from food, refrain from sex, punish their bodies, and deny their biological impulses? Is it to draw closer to God? To prepare for the transition into death? To belong to a community that requires self-sacrifice? And what motivates this behavior? Is it a command from God? Is it a psychological response to our impending physical annihilation? Or is it a demand placed upon all of us by the needs of society and culture for uniformity? This course examines the ways in which modern scholars have tried to answer these questions through a close reading of texts that seek to understand the meaning of asceticism.

REL-R 532 STUDIES OF RELIGION IN AMERICAN CULTURE / Topic: Religion, Illness, and Healing

Instructor: Brown, C
Course Duration: 8/24/15 - 12/18/15
Day & Time: MW 11:15a-12:30p
Credit Hours: 3

Above class meets with REL-c 402 and AMST-G 620

Is illness good or evil? Can religion be good or bad for your health? How should healthcare providers and administrators respond to the religious beliefs of patients and their families? What ethical and legal questions arise when spiritual healing is integrated with (or replaces) conventional healthcare? Does inclusion of spiritual healing in public schools violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution? Does commercialization of spiritual healing make the practices less authentic—or less religious? This course will explore these and other questions surrounding religion, illness, and healing in America.

We will emphasize Christian beliefs and practices (e.g. valorization of suffering or prayer for divine healing) and forms of complementary and alternative medicine connected with religious traditions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, or Western metaphysical spirituality (e.g. yoga, martial arts, mindfulness meditation, acupuncture, chiropractic, homeopathy, Reiki, Therapeutic Touch, and anticancer diets).

REL-R 532 STUDIES OF RELIGION IN AMERICAN CULTURE / Topic: Zora Neale Hurston

Instructor: Harriss, C
Course Duration: 8/24/15 - 12/18/15
Day & Time: MW 9:30a-10:45a
Credit Hours: 3

Above class meets with REL-C 401

This course considers the religious and literary legacies of the iconoclastic twentieth-century novelist, anthropologist, and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston. Following some biographical and contextual considerations we’ll read closely in her anthropological fieldwork and collections of folklore (including The Sanctified Church, Mules and Men, Tell My Horse) before turning to selected dramatic and literary work (including Jonah’s Gourd Vine, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and Moses, Man of the Mountain) and a concluding assessment of her complicated legacies. We’ll pay special attention to the religious dynamics of Hurston’s writing, including work on black churches and preaching, voodoo, Moses and conjure, and her influence on the origins of womanist theology and ethics in the Christian tradition.

REL-R 551 RELIGIONS OF SOUTH ASIA / TOPIC: Religion and Literature in Asia: Medieval Devotional Literature of India

Instructor: Manring, R
Course Duration: 8/24/15 - 12/18/15
Day & Time: TR 1:00p-2:15p
Credit Hours: 3

Above class meets with REL-D 375, INST-I 571

The devotional literatures of India have remained popular for centuries. Cutting across religious boundaries, from brief lyrical poems to longer allegories, the material presents us with a wide range of views of the Divine, and can help us to appreciate the richness and diversity of Indian civilization and culture. We’ll read works by such writers as Antal (South Indian woman poet); Kabir (from North India; his followers still can’t agree on whether he was Muslim or Hindu!); Mirabai (Rajasthani princess-devotee of Krishna); Jayadeva (whose composition on the love between Radha and Krishna scandalized some); and others, and look at contemporary treatments of these writers and of devotion. Students interested in a particular medieval devotional author (whether or not s/he is officially on the syllabus) will have the opportunity to pursue that interest. Other resources we’ll use include: recorded versions of many of these pieces, devotional films, contemporary Bollywood (Hindi popular cinema). As we study Indian esthetic theory and the various devotional traditions, students will participate in classroom discussions designed to assist them to complete a series of increasingly complex assignments, culminating in a final paper exploring some of the questions the devotional literature raises.

REL-R 552 STUDIES IN BUDDHISM / Topic: Embodying Nirvana

Instructor: Nance, R
Course Duration: 8/24/15 - 12/18/15
Day & Time: TR 4:00p-5:15p
Credit Hours: 3

Above class meets with REL-B 433

When beings become Buddhas, what happens? What does it mean to be a Buddha? What is lost in attaining awakening, and what is gained? How is nirvana embodied? The nature of the end point of the Buddhist path as attainable and attained by sentient beings has long been an object of controversy among Buddhists. Some representatives of the tradition hold that Buddhas are simply human beings who are no longer afflicted by lust, hatred, and delusion; others portray Buddhas in non-human (or super-human) terms, as beings who simultaneously possess multiple embodiments, are omniscient, can disappear and reappear at will, speak multiple languages at the same time, and emanate whole universes without breaking a sweat. This course addresses the divergent ways in which Buddhists have understood the figure of the Buddha and the nature of Buddhahood. We will read a number of primary texts in translation (together with several secondary studies), and will explore a number of interrelated topics: Buddhas as human and/or superhuman; Buddhas as moral exemplars and/or moral exceptions; the notion of a Buddha’s “skill in means” and its range of applicability; the vexed question of whether a Buddha can have thoughts and intentions; a Buddha’s multiple bodies and their characteristics; the controversy over “Buddha nature” as metaphysical and/or soteriological postulate; the occasionally divergent emphases of narrative and doctrinal texts; and the question of whether -- and what -- historical conclusions regarding Buddhist traditions might justifiably be drawn from the extant data. We’ll be concentrating principally (although not exclusively) on Indian Buddhist materials, though I will welcome course contributions that draw from other Buddhist traditions of reflection and practice.

REL-R 554 RELIGIONS OF EAST ASIA / Topic: Reading in Confucianism

Instructor: Ing, M
Course Duration: 8/24/15 - 12/18/15
Day & Time: MW 1:00p-2:15p
Credit Hours: 3

Above class meets with REL-B 460

This course will engage in a close reading of several early Chinese texts for the sake of thinking through questions such as: From the perspectives of these texts, what kinds of meaningful things are beyond our power to control? To what degree are we able to determine our own longevity, fortune, social status, and happiness? To what degree are these things susceptible to forces beyond our control? Who or what controls our life span and our contentment in life? Is it forces beyond the human realm; and if so, to what degree are these forces knowable, mutable, and moral? We will explore these questions and more from the perspectives of several Chinese texts including the Kongzi Jiayu, the Yantielun, and more. This course is discussion oriented. Previous coursework on Chinese philosophy, history, or religion is strongly recommended. All readings are in English, with the possibility of an extra session for those who read classical Chinese.

REL-R 571 STUDIES IN RELIGIOUS ETHICS / Topic: God Species

Instructor: Sideris, L
Course Duration: 8/24/15 - 12/18/15
Day & Time: T 1:25p-3:40p
Credit Hours: 3

Above class meets with REL-D 430

“We are as gods, and we’d better get good at it,” writes American environmentalist Stewart Brand. For many, this godlike portrait of humans captures the essence of the Anthropocene, or the Age of the Human. The term Anthropocene was first used by chemist Paul Crutzen in 2000 to suggest a new geological epoch in which humans have acquired geophysical agency to reshape the planet on an unprecedented scale. Proponents of the “good” Anthropocene are optimistic that human ingenuity, smart technology, and new forms of conservation will bring skillful management of nature and reduced human impacts. Others worry about the hubris and techno-optimism that attends these visions of the future. This course will examine arguments from religious thinkers, philosophers, scientists, environmentalists, and bioethicists about the way in which Anthropocene transformations impact our frameworks of meaning and value, and alter humans’ relationship with nature and with divinity. We will consider how acquiring god-like agency changes our understanding of ethical decision-making and our perception of human limits and moral boundaries. Anthropocene debates have great relevance for ethics and religion, and specifically for questions of human dominion or stewardship of other beings. Course topics will likely include Anthropocene perspectives on: climate change and geoengineering, “de-extinction” and “re-wilding” programs, social justice, wilderness preservation, animal studies, bioethics, and biopolitics. We will also consider the relationship of Anthropocene discourse to ethical and affective dispositions such as hope, restraint and prudence, and wonder and awe.

REL-R 571 STUDIES IN RELIGIOUS ETHICS / TOPIC: Religion, Virtue and the Good Life

Instructor: Swan Tuite, J
Course Duration: 8/24/15 - 12/18/15
Day & Time: MW 11:15a-12:30p
Credit Hours: 3

Above class meets with REL-D 430

What is the relevance of ancient discussions of character and the good life to contemporary ethical and political reflection? Starting with the publication of Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue, an influential movement in philosophical and religious ethics has developed that advocates making the study of character, virtue, culture, and tradition central in ethics, and arguably politics as well. While originally focused on “retrieving” pre-modern notions of virtue from ancient Western philosophy, later proponents of this movement have attended to similar concerns in Christian and Confucian traditions, modern Western figures such as Hume, Kant, Nietszche, and Dewey, democratic writers such as Walt Whitman, and contemporary versions of a feminist ethics of care. Part of what makes virtue ethics fascinating is the way its champions range across personal and historical narrative, philosophical argument, cultural criticism, religious polemic, and political debate. This course will partially survey this varied landscape, noting both high and low points. Main topics of debate will include: divergent assessments of the moral resources of the modern West; the relations of “human nature,” tradition, and ethics; whether or not there might be a single, universal list of the most important virtues and vices; advantages and disadvantages for ethics of focusing on character and virtue rather than rights, duties, and consequences; whether aristocratic and patriarchal accounts of the good life can be made congruent with modern commitments to democracy and the equal dignity of women and men. As a seminar the course will emphasize discussion. Writing assignments will range from short response papers to a longer final paper on a topic of each student’s choice.

REL-R 662 CROSS CULTURAL STUDIES OF RELIGION / TOPIC: Death

Instructor: Ing, M
Course Duration: 8/24/15 - 12/18/15
Day & Time: M 3:35p-5:35p
Credit Hours: 3

Above class open to graduate students only

This course will explore various disciplinary approaches to thinking about death (one’s own death and the death of other people). We will read and discuss scholarship about Jonestown (by David Chidester), the death of Captain Cook (by Gannath Obeyesekere), Japanese shrines to unborn children (by Bardwell Smith), 19th century Mormon attitudes toward death (by Samuel Brown), death understood as an analytic philosopher (by Shelly Kagan), life and death in post-apocolyptic America (by Cormac McCarthy), and other topics. This will allow us to think through the study of death by scholars of literature, anthropology, history, philosophy, and religious studies.

REL-R 665 INTERPRETATIONS OF RELIGION

Instructor: Sullivan, W
Course Duration: 8/24/15 - 12/18/15
Day & Time: W 4:00p-6:00p
Credit Hours: 4

Above class open to graduate students only

What is religion? What does it mean to interpret religion? Broadly conceived, this is a conversation that stretches over time and space. This class is not a survey or a methods course: the goal is not to introduce you comprehensively to the study of religion or equip you with a toolkit of ideas and methods. Nor is it intended to enable you to identify the “best” theory of religion or to learn the decisive reasons for rejecting most of the ambitious theories from the past. It is instead an invitation to think deeply about what we mean by religion through thoughtful encounters with some contemporary theorists of religion with particular attention to the legal and political structuring of religion.

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