Reed College Catalog


Kenneth E. Brashier

Chinese religions. On sabbatical and leave 2013–14.

Michael E. Foat

Christianity.

Kambiz GhaneaBassiri

Islam.

Stephan N. Kory

Chinese religions.

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 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 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 2013-14.

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.

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.

Not offered 2013-14.

Religion 159 - An Introduction to Chinese Religions

Full course for one semester. This course will chronologically survey major forms of religion in Chinese history, including classical Confucian teachings, religious Daoism, Chinese Buddhism, and state and local cults. By focusing on selected readings from primary texts in translation, we will seek to gain a better understanding of major tensions and trends in the historical development of Chinese religions. Lectures will provide background on the historical, political, and material contexts in which these traditions and their written records were conceived and expressed. Discussions will attempt to locate discrete religious traditions and practices within the broader fields of Chinese history, religion, and culture and will strive to identify common religious ideals and practices. Modern sinological scholarship, archaeological reports, and images will also be analyzed and compared to question notions of diffuse and institutional forms of religiosity in Chinese life. This course is intended to help develop interpretive strategies and a general overview of Chinese religions for more advanced studies on the subject. 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.

Not offered 2013-14.

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 256 - Islam in America

Full course for one semester. This course will examine the history of Islam in America from the colonial period to the aftermath of 9/11. Through examination of select primary sources the course will contextualize the phenomenon of American Islam at the cross section of both American religious history and modern Islamic history. It will inquire into how the history of American Islam could enrich conventional understandings of religious pluralism in the United States and the relationship between Islam and modernity. Topics to be discussed include the relationship between race, ethnicity, and religion in the U.S.; the influence of comparative theology and religious studies on American conceptions of religious diversity; the relationship between missions, colonialism, and industrialization in the late nineteenth century; the role of Islam in the civil rights movement in the U.S. and in nationalist movements in Muslim-majority societies; and the rise of militant Islam as a matter of global concern. Prerequisite: Religion 155 or 156, or consent of the instructor. Conference.

Religion 305 - History, Hermeneutics, and Religion

Full 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. Prerequisite: Humanities 110 and at least one 100-level religion course. 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.

Not offered 2013-14.

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 2013-14.

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 day trips 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.

Not offered 2013-14.

Religion 311 - Early Chinese Hagiography and Holy Persons

Full course for one semester. This course is devoted to the study of Han and medieval Chinese hagiographies or idealized biographical accounts of holy persons. We will begin with an overview of modern narrative theory, comparative hagiographic studies, and secondary scholarship on Chinese hagiographic traditions for perspectives on how this genre of religious writing is approached in modern academic work. Our readings will be predominantly drawn from primary Chinese texts in translation, including court-sponsored histories, zhiguai (accounts of anomalies) compilations, and Buddhist and Daoist hagiographic collections. The discursive formations of prominent personages like Laozi, Confucius, and the Buddha will be examined, as will the narrative construction of less prominent holy persons. We will pay particularly close attention to the aims of hagiographers, their intended audiences, and their colorful portrayals of holy persons. Prerequisites: Religion 157, 159, or 160, or instructor consent. 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 2013-14.

Religion 315 - The Roots of Branches of Religious Daoism

Full course for one semester. This course explores the birth and growth of Daoism in ancient and medieval China. Readings and discussions will focus on early Daoist scriptures in translation and secondary scholarship on the emergence and development of religious Daoist communities, lineages, and schools in Han and medieval times. Special attention will be devoted to traditions and practices that were incorporated into different manifestations of religious Daoism: traditions and practices like the Way of transcendence, the Way of the Buddha, state and local cults, alchemy, astrology, meditation, and divination. Recent archaeological finds, the process of canonization, and the place of women and the feminine in Daoist teachings will also be examined. Prerequisites: Religion 157, 159, or 160, or instructor consent. Conference.

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 2013-14.

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 2013-14.

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 2013-14.

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.

Not offered 2013-14.

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.

Not offered 2013-14.

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 2013-14.

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.

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 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.