Reed College Catalog
Modern Western religious thought.
Steven M. Wasserstrom
The academic study of religion is an integral part of the liberal arts. The aims of the curriculum are two: to introduce students to the various religious traditions of the world—Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, for example—and to acquaint students with a variety of recognized methodologies employed in the study of religion—philosophical, social scientific, and historical. The department’s courses serve both to develop in students the capacity for critical assessment of religious thought and action, and to provide an adequate grounding for independent, analytic inquiry into the history of religious traditions.
The curriculum of the department reflects the staff’s commitment to a diversity of approaches in religious studies. Majors in religion are expected to be familiar with this methodological and theoretical spectrum, and to concentrate upon particular approaches in their research.
While the study of religion is an independent academic field, the department encourages the pursuit of interdisciplinary work in philosophy, classics, literature, history, anthropology, sociology, psychology, and other fields.
Besides providing the foundation for a liberal education, a major in religion can prepare students for advanced study in the field, for the ministry, or for other vocations.
Requirements for the Major
- One 100-level introduction in religion.
- Religion 201 (theories and methods).
- At least five additional units in religion, three of which must be at the 300 level or above.
- Religion 399 (junior seminar).
- Religion 470 (senior thesis and religion symposium).
- Completion of two units in a foreign language of at least the second-year level or demonstration, by means acceptable to the department, of equivalent proficiency. To satisfy this requirement a student must do one of the following: pass a second-year language course at Reed, pass a second-year language course that has been approved by the department at another accredited college or university, or pass a language placement examination at the second-year or higher level. A number of placement examinations are offered at Reed every year during orientation. Students desiring to meet the language requirement by any means other than second-year coursework at Reed should consult with their adviser in advance. The department recommends students study the sacred language of a religion in which they are especially interested.
Recommended but not required: Humanities 210, 220, or 230.
Requirements for the Interdisciplinary Major
- One 100-level introduction in religion.
- Religion 201 (theories and methods).
- Four other units in religion.
- Course requirements as specified by the related discipline.
- Completion of two units in a foreign language of at least the second-year level or demonstration, by means acceptable to the department, of equivalent proficiency. To satisfy this requirement a student must do one of the following: pass a second-year language course at Reed, pass a second-year language course that has been approved by the department at another accredited college or university, or pass a language placement examination at the second-year or higher level. A number of placement examinations are offered at Reed every year during orientation. Students desiring to meet the language requirement by any means other than second-year coursework at Reed should consult with their adviser in advance.
- Religion 399 (junior seminar).
- Religion 470 (senior thesis and religion symposium).
Religion 152 - Introduction to JudaismFull 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 155 - The Rise and Formation of IslamFull course for one semester. This course is an introduction to the rise and formation of Islam as a prophetic religious tradition. Focused thematically on revelation, empire, ritual, and tradition, it examines the emergence of Islam in Late Antiquity and studies the development of Muslim intellectual traditions and sociopolitical institutions through the 11th century. Lecture/Conference.
Religion 156 - Islam in the Modern WorldFull course for one semester. This course introduces students to how Muslim institutions and conceptions of authority changed in the modern era in relation to such historical developments as industrialization, scientific progress, European colonialism, the rise of nation-states, and feminism. Readings include literary works and autobiographies of Muslims from different cultural backgrounds as well as ethnographies and historical studies of social groups and institutions. Conference. Not offered 2010-11.
Religion 157 - The Idea Systems of Chinese ReligionsFull 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 the 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 160 - Religion and Philosophy in Preimperial ChinaFull 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, the 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.
Religion 163 - Introduction to Post-Reformation ChristianitiesFull 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. The course will explore many instances of thought responding to the stimulus of changing historical conditions. The 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. The 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 164 - Introduction to Christian OriginsFull course for one semester. This course introduces themes and problems in the historical reconstruction of Christianity from the early “Jesus Movement” to circa 250 CE. These include ritual practices, art and architecture, social organization, literary production, and early canon formation, as well as issues relating to gnosis and Hellenistic philosophy. It requires extensive reading of the Greek, Latin, and Syriac 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. Not offered 2010-11.
Religion 165 - An Introduction to Imperial OrthodoxyFull course for one semester. An introduction to the history, theology, and religious practices associated with the establishment of Catholic Orthodoxy in the Roman Empire during the fourth and fifth centuries CE. The course investigates the variety of ways in which Christians framed their identities and their experiences of empire in ritual, ascetic practices, theology, art and architecture. Special attention will be paid to the network of social relations that undergirded a Christianizing empire. Primary sources originally written in Greek, Latin, Coptic, and Syriac will be read in translation. Lecture-conference. Not offered 2010-11.
Religion 166 - An Introduction to Eastern Orthodox ChristianityFull course for one semester. An introduction to Eastern Orthodox Christianity as an incarnational religious tradition, this course investigates the various ways that Eastern Orthodox Christians have understood and recapitulated the person and work of Jesus Christ. Historical and phenomenological analyses of Eastern Orthodox art and architecture, ritual practices, and a wide array of liturgical, theological, canonical, and historical texts will provide interpretive strategies for further exploration of the tradition and bases for comparative understanding. The course focuses on 19th- and 20th-century Eastern Orthodoxy with special attention to the diaspora experience. Lecture-conference. Not offered 2010-11.
Religion 201 - Introduction to Theories and Methods in Religious Studies
Full course for one semester. An introduction to various interpretive frameworks and methodological issues that inform religion as a critical, reflexive, academic discipline. Texts pertaining to the definition and scope of the inquiry and methods of investigation will be critically engaged and their applicability tested with an eye toward their utility for understanding religion and religious phenomena. Prerequisites: Humanities 110 and at least one 100-level course in religion. Lecture-conference.
Religion 305 - History, Hermeneutics, and ReligionFull course for one semester. This course frames a series of critical inquiries into the varieties of rules and practices that affect the historical understanding of religions. It is best understood as motivated by one question: what might it mean to say that one is doing history of religions? It presumes that work in the history of religions requires reflection on the relationships among the human experience of time, the interpretive practices of the historian, and religions construed as an object of social-historical inquiry. The course is open to nonmajors who have met the prerequisites. Prerequisites: at least one 100-level course in religion and Religion 201. Conference. Not offered 2010-11.
Religion 307 - Early Chinese Cosmology and Its Ritual ResponseFull 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. The 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 or 160, and Religion 201. Conference.
Religion 308 - Chinese Religious TextsFull 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. The 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 2010-11.
Religion 310 - Death and Remembrance in Chinese History
Religion 313 - Chinese Mahayana TextsFull 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, the course will focus upon close reading of sutras in translation from four major schools of Chinese Buddhism. These sutras will include the Flower ornament sutra from Huayan Buddhism, the Pure land sutra from Jingtu Buddhism, and the Diamond and Lankavatara 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 2010-11.
Religion 314 - The History of Chinese ReligionsFull 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, the 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 2010-11.
Religion 321 - Islamic Thought in the 19th and 20th CenturiesFull 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‘la Mawdudi, Jamal ad-Din Afghani, Muhammad ‘Abduh, Sayyid Qutb, ‘Ali Shari‘ati, and Ruhallah Khomeini. Prerequisite: Religion 155 or 156. Conference.
Religion 325 - The Mosque in Islamic HistoryFull course for one semester. The mosque is perhaps the most central institution of Islam. Through careful examination of a number of case studies, this course will explore the role of the mosque in the historical development of varying aspects of Islamic life, including ritual practice, education, community formation, politics, material culture, and aesthetics. Prerequisites: Religion 155 or 156. Conference.
Religion 332 - Semantics of Love in SufismFull 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 2010-11.
Religion 341 - Christian Asceticism: The Regulation of the Christian BodyFull course for one semester. By investigating ancient literatures of askesis, this 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 2010-11.
Religion 359 - Heterodoxy in Modern Western Religious ThoughtFull course for one semester. One of the paradoxes of religious discourse is that the more religious authorities pursue orthodoxy, the more species of heterodoxy they generate. Inspired by the Index auctorum et librorum prohibitorum compiled under the direction of Pope Paul IV in 1559 (updated forty-two times until 1966), this course will examine how, instead of humankind’s sinful nature spontaneously producing these deviant works, it is instead textual regulation and formal censorship that generate heterodoxies. While examining pivotal moments in the last half-millennium of western religious thought, this course will focus on texts and authors who sought to counter or at least revise received, orthodox notions of the human relation to and conception of the divine. In addition to authors such as Erasmus, Montaigne, and Hume who wrote from within a Christocentric worldview, we will also compare these with authors such as Spinoza, Heine, and Levinas who wrote in relation to the Jewish tradition.
Prerequisite: Religion 201. Conference.