Religion Course Descriptions

Religion 152 - Introduction to Judaism

Full course for one semester. This course is an introduction to the self-definition of Judaism. The course will analyze Judaism’s understanding of itself by examining such central concepts as God, Torah, and Israel. This central self-definition will then be tested by close readings of selected representative texts and investigation of the varieties of Jewish history, as manifested in such phenomena as mysticism, sectarianism, and messianism. Lecture-conference.

Religion 153 - Introduction to the Worlds of Ancient Christianity

Full course for one semester. This course is a chronological survey of the varieties of Christianity from their origins to the sixth century. It requires extensive reading of the Greek, Latin, Syriac, and Coptic sources in English translation. Intended to provide both an introduction to the materials and a narrative context in which to pursue more advanced studies, the course is open to first-year students. Lecture-conference.

Religion 155 - An Introduction to Islam

Full course for one semester. This course offers an introduction to Islam as a prophetic religious tradition. It explores the different ways in which Muslims have interpreted and put into practice the prophetic message of Muhammad through historical and phenomenological analyses of varying theological, philosophical, legal, political, mystical, and literary writings. These analyses aim for course participants to develop a framework for explaining the sources and symbols through which historically specific experiences and understandings have been signified as Islamic. The course focuses in particular on the early and modern periods of Islamic history. Lecture-conference.

Religion 157 - The Idea Systems of Chinese Religions

Full course for one semester. This course is a survey of the idea systems in the development of China's three main institutional faiths: Daoism, Buddhism, and Classicist lineage ritual. Known as the “Three Teachings,” these faiths flowered in the second and third centuries and gradually permeated every aspect of Chinese life, from family structure to foreign trade, from cosmological speculation to court politics, from liturgy to landscape painting. We will examine how the three teachings borrowed from one another and yet still delineated their own identities. Lectures will place these religions within a historical and political context and will draw upon surviving religious art to provide a visual component to this course. Conference discussions and readings will focus on translations of sacred texts such as Buddhism’s famous Vimalakirti Sutra and Daoism's Scripture of the inner explanation of the three heavens. Lecture-conference.

Religion 159 - African American Religion

Full course for one semester. This course is a historical survey of African American religious beliefs and practices. In The Souls of Black Folk (1903), W.E.B. Du Bois remarked, “All in all, we black men seem the sole oasis of simple faith and reverence in a dusty desert of dollars and smartness.” While the caricature of the spiritual African American has dominated American political and popular culture, it is necessary to historicize and complicate Du Bois’s description. In this course, we will analyze the history of the African American religious experience from the colonial era to the present using primary documents and select critical essays. Included in our survey will be the study of slave religions, African American masonry, Catholicism in Haiti, the theology of the civil rights movement, and black Pentecostalism. Among the many figures we will encounter will be Sojourner Truth, Prince Hall, Anna Julia Cooper, Elijah Muhammad, Zora Neale Hurston, and T.D. Jakes. The course includes individual site visits to a local congregation. Conference. Not offered 2008-09.

Religion 160 - Religion and Philosophy in Preimperial China

Full course for one semester. This course is a study of religion and philosophy in preimperial China (i.e., before 221 BCE) alongside their literary and artistic manifestations. While a billion people can today claim an intellectual inheritance from Greece, more than two billion recognize ancient China as their foundation. Beginning with the oracle bones and sacrificial bronze vessels, this course will progress to the Confucian classics and the blossoming of Chinese philosophy. Analyses will include bronze-age material culture (including the new discoveries of Sanxingdui), The book of songs from the Confucian tradition, The Zhuangzi from the Daoist tradition and the preimperial narrative histories of the Zuo commentary. Conference. Not offered 2008-09.

Religion 163 - Introduction to Post-Reformation Christianities

Full course for one semester. This course is an introduction to the most influential figures and texts in the history of modern Christianity. It will demonstrate how one cannot understand such figures and texts in isolation, for each must be situated as a creative but conditioned response to a specific historical context. This course will explore many instances of thought responding to the stimulus of changing historical conditions. This course tracks the contentious fragmentation of the medieval catholic church in the post-reformation era. From the unity symbolized by the reign of Charlemagne, when one could plausibly speak of Christendom as a single entity, and thus as one religion, this course will track the way that prominent Christians slowly created and embraced a religiously plural world. It is as if by an internal dynamic, through great tension and distress, the primary irritant propelling Christians through this process was the repeated confrontation with the religious otherness of their own neighbors, friends, and family. This course will examine the way that people make history: with obstructed vision and limited resources, driven by motivations of which they are only dimly aware, leading to consequences that rarely match their intentions. Lecture-conference. 

Religion 201 - Theories and Methods in Religious Studies

Full course for one semester. In its attempt to explain “religion,” academia looks at religion through lenses supplied by several disciplines, from anthropology to sociology, from psychology to linguistics. Each lens gives students of religion different tools to define religion, to understand its mechanics, and to scrutinize its role in society. This course thus analyzes 20th-century approaches to the critical study of religious traditions. Texts to be studied include Max Weber, The Sociology of Religion; Rudolf Otto, The Idea of the Holy; Emile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life; Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion; William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience; Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures; Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane; and Roy Rappaport, Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity. Prerequisites: Humanities 110 and at least one 100-level course in religion. Lecture-conference.

Religion 257 - Biblical Narrative: Genesis and After

See English 357 for description.
English 357 Description

Religion 307 - Early Chinese Cosmology and Its Ritual Response

Full course for one semester. This course is an examination of the diverse cosmological traditions that underpin later institutional faiths, and will explore early Chinese attempts to locate the human being within a larger natural order. Early Chinese scholars wrestled with ideas of a pervasive yin and yang as well as other forms of correlative interaction, and in their application of these ideas they formulated systems that explained everything from the inner workings of the body to the greater astronomical order. This course examines their broader concepts such as time and space as well as specific topics such as astronomy, alchemy, and afterlife. It also considers the ritual response to this cosmology—that is, the means whereby humans accessed the larger natural order. Rituals mimicked cosmological hierarchies, and they also interacted with that cosmology through sacrifice, divination, shamanism, and seasonal festivals. Students will explore the archeological evidence, and their readings will focus upon primary texts in translation. Prerequisite: Religion 157. Conference. Not offered 2008-09.

Religion 308 - Chinese Religious Texts

Full course for one semester. This course is an introduction to the syntax and particles of classical Chinese with an emphasis on translating early religious prose. This course will assist the student in learning classical Chinese by sampling religious texts that are often cited throughout Chinese history. These texts will derive from the three institutional faiths of Daoism, Buddhism, and Confucian lineage ritual. The introduction of classical Chinese will help the student gain direct access to a vast realm of texts, religious and otherwise. Prerequisites: Chinese 110 and Religion 157 or 160, or consent of the instructor. Conference. Not offered 2008-09.

Religion 310 - Death and Remembrance in Chinese History

Full course for one semester. This course is a historical survey of Chinese attitudes toward dying, death, and the nonempirical realm. From Buddhist hells to Daoist immortals, Chinese religions are preoccupied with rationalizing and resisting human extinction. This course will examine death through the lenses of literature, art, medicine, and philosophy, beginning with the earliest forms of the Shang Dynasty ancestral cult to the medieval period. Prerequisites: Religion 157 or 160 and either Religion 201, Humanities 230, or consent of the instructor. Conference.

Religion 313 - Chinese Mahayana Texts

Full course for one semester. This course provides a structured familiarization with the doctrinal foundations of Mahayana Buddhism. After examining the transmission process of texts from India to China, this course will focus upon close reading of sutras in translation from four major schools of Chinese Buddhism. These sutras will include the Lotus sutra from Tiantai Buddhism, the Flower ornament sutra from Huayan Buddhism, the Pure land sutra from Jingtu Buddhism, and the Diamond, Vimalakirti, Lankavatara, and Platform sutras from Chan (Zen) Buddhism. Students will then read early interpretations of these sutras in medieval literature, intellectual discourse, and art. Prerequisites: Religion 157 or 160, and 201 or consent of the instructor. Conference. Not offered 2008-09.

Religion 314 - The History of Chinese Religions

Full course for one semester. This course is a survey of the history of Daoism, Buddhism, the ancestral cult, and popular religions in China from its beginnings through the Tang Dynasty. Using a combination of recent secondary scholarship and representative primary sources, this course will trace the development of religion against the background of Chinese cultural growth. It will pay special attention to how religious doctrine and art influenced, and was influenced by, secular history, including economics, politics, and foreign relations. Prerequisites: Religion 157 or 160, and 201 or consent of the instructor. Conference. Not offered 2008-09.

Religion 321 - Islamic Thought in the 19th and 20th Centuries

Full course for one semester. A chronological survey of Islamic thought during the 19th and 20th centuries. Focusing on conceptions of God and of the ideal human relationship with God in selected Muslim religious writings, the course will analyze the interrelation between sociohistorical and theological developments in the Islamic tradition during this period. The geographical focus of the course will be primarily on the Middle East and South Asia. Among the authors whose theologies we will examine in depth are: Sayyid Ahmad Khan, Muhammad Iqbal, Abu'l-A'a Mawdudi, Jamal ad-Din Afghani, Muhammad 'Abduh, Sayyid Qutb, 'Ali Shari'ati, and Ruhallah Khomeini. Prerequisite: Religion 155 or Anthropology 361. Conference.

Religion 332 - Semantics of Love in Sufism

Full course for one semester. Sufism broadly refers to a complex of devotional, literary, ethical, theological, and mystical traditions within Islam. More specifically, it refers to the activities associated with institutionalized master-disciple relationships, which define the paths (turuq) through which Muslims have sought experiential knowledge of God. In both the broad and narrow sense of Sufism, love has been a prominent means of Sufi self-representation. In this course we will explore the ideas and practices semantically associated with love in the Sufi tradition and analyze the ways in which these ideas and practices have both shaped and been shaped by individual lives, religious institutions, and sociocultural contexts. Prerequisite: Religion 155. Conference. Not offered 2008-09.

Religion 341 - Christian Asceticism: The Regulation of the Christian Body

Full course for one semester. By investigating ancient literatures of askesis, the course will explore early Christian conceptions of the body and its regulation. Readings will include material drawn from among the apocryphal acts, sermons, monastic regulations, Biblical commentaries, homilies, and encomia. Prerequisite: Religion 153. Conference. Not offered 2008-09.

Religion 344 - Discourses and Bodies

Full course for one semester. Full course for one semester. In many religions the body is a contested site where such phenomena as natural appetites, demonic influence, and divine condescension converge. While such a concern for the body is widespread, the dogma of bodily resurrection distinguishes Christian notions of the body from most other religions. Whether as a corrective to or a consequence of this tradition, recent trends in the study of Christianity have attempted to “recover the body” from its discursive purgatory. Course material will address discursive and corporeal issues in the history of Christianity, such as the relation between gender and the divine, medieval and Protestant notions of the Eucharist, the confessional interrogation of the flesh, Luther’s body, demonic possessions at Loudun, and miraculous healings at Lourdes. Prerequisite: Religion 201 or consent of the instructor. Conference.

Religion 348 - Christian Philosophers, Poets, Historians, Magicians, and Burners of Books, 200-380 CE

Full course for one semester. A survey of ancient Christian literature from 200 to 380 CE. Primary sources will be read in the original Greek. Prerequisite: Greek 210 or consent of the instructor. Conference. Cross-listed as Greek 248.
Greek 248 Description

Religion 349 - Late Antique and Byzantine Theological Texts

Full course for one semester. This course will investigate Hellenic and Christian philosophical theology in late antiquity and Byzantium. Primary focus will be upon the theological works of the philosopher Proclus, Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite, St. Maximus the Confessor, and St. Gregory Palamas. Secondary studies will include works by Armstrong, Losski, Gersh, Siorvanes, Meyendorff, and Louth. Primary texts will be examined in the original Greek and in translation. Prerequisite: Greek 110. Greek 210 is recommended. Lecture-conference. Cross-listed as Greek 249. Not offered 2008-09.
Greek 249 Description

Religion 373 - Special Topics in Jewish History: Mysticism

Full course for one semester. This course is a research seminar devoted to the investigation of a particular topic in Jewish history. Conference.

Religion 383 - Reading Pseudo-Dionysius

Full course for one semester. This course provides an introduction to a major writer in the Christian mystical tradition. The course situates the thought of the Pseudo-Dionysius within the social-historical environment and the main intellectual currents of the Mediterranean world of the fifth century of the Common Era. Prerequisites: Religion 153 and 201, or consent of the instructor. Conference.

Religion 384 - Special Topics in the History of Christianity

Full course for one semester. A research seminar devoted to the investigation of a particular topic in the history of Christianity. Prerequisite: Religion 153. Conference. Not offered 2008-09.

Religion 399 - Junior Seminar

Full course for one semester. This course offers intensive study of a particular topic, drawing on various methodologies in the study of religion. Members of the religion faculty will attend and participate. While the course is intended to prepare department majors for the senior program, it is open to all qualified students. Prerequisites: junior standing, Religion 201, and three other religion courses. This course may be repeated with departmental approval. Conference.

Religion 470 - Thesis

Full course for one year.

Religion 481 - Individual Work in Special Fields

One-half or full course for one semester. Prerequisite: approval of instructor and division.




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