Reed College Catalog

Kenneth E. Brashier

Chinese religions.

Michael E. Foat

Christianity.

Kambiz GhaneaBassiri

Islam. On sabbatical and leave 2012–13.

Mari Jyväsjärvi

South Asian religions.

Jonathan Schofer

Rabbinics and comparative religious ethics.

Steven M. Wasserstrom

Judaism.

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

  1. One 100-level introduction in religion.
  2. Religion 201 (theories and methods).
  3. At least five additional units in religion, three of which must be at the 300 level or above.
  4. Religion 399 (junior seminar).
  5. Religion 470 (senior thesis and religion symposium).
  6. 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

  1. One 100-level introduction in religion.
  2. Religion 201 (theories and methods).
  3. Four other units in religion.
  4. Course requirements as specified by the related discipline.
  5. 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.
  6. Religion 399 (junior seminar).
  7. Religion 470 (senior thesis and religion symposium).

Religion 131 - To Live a Good Life: An Introduction to Comparative Religious Ethics

Full course for one semester. What does it mean to be a good person and live a good life? This course approaches such questions comparatively as well as analytically. We will begin and end our inquiry with recent writings by intellectuals within the United States today, some working within and some working outside of colleges and universities. The path of the course will move from the present day, to classical Greek sources, to classical Chinese sources, to classical Jewish sources, and return to the present day. Lecture-conference.

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 - 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 154 - Introduction to South Asian Religions

Full course for one semester. This course is a historical introduction to the religious traditions of South Asia: Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. We examine these three traditions’ distinct understandings of the human predicament and their responses to it, paying particular attention to the ways in which they have been shaped by their interaction and debate with each other. The readings and discussions will focus on important sacred texts in translation, such as the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and Buddhist and Jain sūtras. The course has a strong visual component to it: besides texts, we study the images through which the Hindu gods and goddesses have been envisioned and embodied, as well as Buddhist and Jain visual representations of the cosmos and enlightened beings. Lecture-conference.

Not offered 2012-13.

Religion 155 - The Rise and Formation of Islam

Full 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 eleventh century. Lecture-conference.

Not offered 2012-13.

Religion 156 - Islam in the Modern World

Full 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 2012-13.

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 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 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, 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 166 - An Introduction to Eastern Orthodox Christianity

Full 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 nineteenth- and twentieth-century Eastern Orthodoxy with special attention to the diaspora experience. Lecture-conference.

Not offered 2012-13.

Religion 171 - The Hindu Traditions of India

Full course for one semester. This course explores the Hindu religious tradition in its historical and contemporary dimensions. From Vedic cosmology and ritual and the philosophy of the Upanishads, we move on to classical Hindu mythology with its many gods and heroes. We examine the multiple ways in which “Hindu dharma” has been articulated by devotional, ascetic, philosophical, scholarly and narrative traditions. The last part of the course turns to Hinduism in the modern world, seeking to understand how the legacy of colonialism, globalization, Indian nationalism, and social justice movements have shaped, and continue to shape, what Hinduism means to those who practice it. Lecture-conference.

Religion 174 - Space, Time, and Religion

Full course for one semester. This course will examine space, time, and religion in a comparative perspective. We will begin by examining experiences of space and time in modernity and postmodernity. Then, we will study specific religious/cultural groups and their ways of setting out sacred and ordinary space and time--our cases will include the modern Kodi of Indonesia, modern and ancient Mayans, and ancient and modern Jews. Finally, we will return to "our" senses of space and time, looking at added complexities and alternative visions. Lecture-conference.

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 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. 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 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. 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 2012-13.

Religion 310 - Death and Remembrance in Chinese History

Full course for one semester. Using Reed’s study collection of Chinese hell scrolls as a springboard, this course explores texts and images that trace out the cycles of death and rebirth in literary genres. We follow the monk Mulian as he looks for his mother in hell, and we witness Emperor Taizong as he faces judgment before the underworld magistrates. We study Chinese sutras as well as the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and we unpack the 400-page travelogue of Taiwanese monks who in the 1970s undertook scores of daytrips to hell via spiritual mediums. Throughout we will consider which theoretical lenses in religious studies are most useful in increasing our understanding of Chinese retributive hell. Prerequisite: Religion 157 or 160, and Religion 201 or 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, 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 2012-13.

Religion 321 - Islamic Thought in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

Full course for one semester. A chronological survey of Islamic thought during the nineteenth and twentieth 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.

Not offered 2012-13.

Religion 325 - The Mosque in Islamic History

Full 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.

Not offered 2012-13.

Religion 331 - Reading Rabbinic Texts: Miracles, Mysticism, Myth, and More

Full course for one semester. This course examines the texts of classical late ancient Rabbinic Judaism. Our readings focus on elaborate and well-crafted literary units within forms of rabbinic expression known as Midrash and Talmud. The themes of these units will show some of the most creative and dynamic elements of rabbinic religiosity, including holy men, miracles, magic, mysticism, myth, martyrdom, and dream interpretation. Prerequisite: Religion 201. 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 2012-13.

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

Full 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 or consent of the instructor. Conference.

Religion 343 - Early Syriac Christianity

Full course for one semester. Although marginal from the perspective of histories that focus on the development of institutional Christianity in the Greek and Latin speaking world, the regions east of Antioch, where many people spoke Syriac, were home to distinctive and durative forms of Christianity. This course provides an introduction to the historical evolution, social practices, religious imagination, and transconfessional exchanges of Syriac Christianity from its origins to its initial encounter with Islam. Prerequisite: Religion 153 or consent of the instructor. Conference.

Religion 371 - Ecology and Ethics in South Asian Religions

Full course for one semester. In discussions of the interrelationship of religion and ecology, the South Asian religious traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism are often celebrated for their advocacy of nonviolence, recognition of the interdependence of all beings, and deep reverence for the natural world. At the same time, they have also been criticized for downgrading the material world, thus fostering indifference to environmental crises. In this class, we seek to understand how members of these religious communities have conceptualized the relationship between humans, the divine, and the natural world. We will examine the symbols, images, and doctrines through which this relationship is articulated in ancient texts, and the ways in which they are evoked by contemporary South Asian environmental justice movements addressing issues such as pollution, overpopulation, deforestation, river dam projects, and the effects of climate change. Prerequisite: Religion 201. Conference.

Religion 372 - The Body, Religion, and Ethics

Full course for one semester. This course addresses the ways that ethical theory and practice comes to terms with human embodiment. We will attend to human vulnerability, fragility, gender, and race. Through considering contemporary perspectives, influential twentieth century writings, and ancient thinkers from multiple cultures, we aim to gaina strong basis for both comparative and constructive thinking about the body, the psyche, and the ethical life. Conference.

Religion 373 - Special Topics in Jewish History

Full course for one semester. This course is a research seminar devoted to the investigation of a particular topic in Jewish history. Prerequisite: Religion 201. Conference.

Religion 375 - Special Topics in Jewish History: Jews in the Americas

See English 303 American Studies Seminar: Jews in the Americas for description.

Not offered 2012-13.

Religion 381 - Special Topics in Islamic Studies:

Full course for one semester. This course is a research seminar devoted to the investigation of a particular topic in the contemporary study of Islam. Prerequisite: Religion 155 or 156 and Religion 201 or consent of the instructor. Conference.

Not offered 2012-13.

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.

Not offered 2012-13.

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 and Religion Symposium

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.