Graduate Courses

Graduate Courses - Fall 2017

Graduate Courses

 

 

 

 

Required Courses

 

RELS 6101: Approaches to the Study of Religion

This course must be taken by all Graduate Students in the Religious Studies MA Program within the first three semesters. This course provides students with critical tools for research, analytical thinking, and writing in the academic study of religion. The topics and individuals this course covers represent several major currents of thought in the field of religious studies. 

RELS 6102: Teaching in Religious Studies and the Humanities

This course must be taken by all Graduate Students in the Religious Studies MA Program within the first three semesters. 

Spring 2015

RELS 5000: Topics in Religious Studies

  • Early Mythologies of Evil: A consideration of a number of influential myths within ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern religions about the genesis and proliferation of malicious entities and practices in human society. Was there a time when ‘evil’ did not exist? If so, who or what is responsible for its appearance? After some initial orientation, the bulk of the course will concentrate upon a close reading and analysis of a variety of literary remains, including (but not necessarily limited to) portions of Bible, the Dead Sea scrolls, apocryphal writings and apocalypses, reports from Christian church fathers, Qur’ān, and later Jewish, Christian, and Muslim esoterica. 
  • The Violence of Hope: It would seem that hope is the most basic desire. And, as a desire for a better, more just, more equitable future, it would seem that it is a commendable desire, or at the very least, a neutral one. The Christian tradition lists hope among the primary virtues; virtually all religious traditions seek to make plausible some form of longing for transformation, restoration, healing. In addition, it would seem that hope is a necessary resource for marginalized and oppressed groups struggling for recognition and respect. Yet hope--especially when linked to a desire for recognition and respect--often enables the order of things to stay in place; it all too often attaches us to narratives, arrangements, and identities that are funded by violence, exclusion and hierarchy. This course will examine this “underside" of hope, interrogating future-oriented longings and examining the desire for recognition and respect. It will also consider the ethical implications and possibilities that emerge when hope and futurity are troubled by categories like trauma, loss, intimacy, ecstasy, and desire. Authors to be read will likely include G.W.F. Hegel, Sigmund Freud, Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, Ernst Bloch, W.E.B. Du Bois, Judith Butler, Michel Foucault, Georges Bataille, Lee Edelman, José Esteban Muñoz, Tim Dean, and Leo Bersani. 
  • Religion and Social Change in Latin America: This course examines the role of religion in the changing social, political, and economic landscape of Latin America. By reading historical and ethnographic case studies we will look at the ways that Catholic, Pentecostal, mainline Protestant, and indigenous churches have sought to address material and spiritual development throughout the region in the wake of social and political instability. How have varying theological commitments shaped people’s engagement with the public sphere? In what ways have they supported or challenged revolutionary political movements or authoritarian regimes? How have economic changes impacted people’s religious lives? How has religion shaped experiences of migration, urbanization, and modernization? To what extent have indigenous revitalization and other identity-based social movements drawn on religion in configuring their agendas?
  • Ethnography of Religion: Long a foundational methodology for anthropologists, ethnography has become an increasingly important way for scholars to investigate the role of religion in the contemporary world. This course offers an introduction to the methodological, theoretical, and ethical issues involved in the ethnography of religion and ritual. We will evaluate ways in which data may be collected and analyzed, as well as what is involved in producing written and video ethnographic material. The course will engage several broad questions including: 1) What contributions to the study of religion do ethnographic methods offer? 2) What are the ethical and political implications of representing religious “others” in fieldwork studies? 3) How can ethnographic case studies be used to build larger theoretical insights? Students will read a variety of works highlighting different ethnographic techniques and approaches. Students will also have the opportunity to practice these methods by designing research questions, gathering data, and analyzing findings. 

RELS 6615: Seminar in Religions of Late Antiquity

  • Gnosticism: The topic this semester will be gnosticism and Jewish literature of late antiquity. Starting in the mid-nineteenth century and continuing to the present day, some scholars suggest that the phenomenon of gnostic religiosity exhibited in eastern Mediterranean religions of late antiquity and described by church fathers like Irenaeus, Hippolytus, and Epiphanius can be traced to ‘heterodox’ Jewish circles and conventicles in disaffected diaspora locales such as Roman Egypt and Syria. We will subject this proposal to a critical inquiry via a close reading (in English translation) of the primary sources which are pertinent to an evaluation of the possible interrelationship of classical gnosis and Jewish traditions. We will include among the latter category various ‘late’ esoteric texts featuring ascent to the supernal realm, dialogues with otherworldly revealer figures, and alphabet mysticism (e.g., 3 Enoch, Sefer Yetzirah) as well as testimonia from Jewish and Muslim writers about demiurgic angels, secret books, and esoteric forms of scriptural exegesis. We moreover need to glance briefly at the complicated issues surrounding what some scholars have termed the ‘Mandaean problem.’ Finally, we will unpack the critical category ‘gnosticism’ in the light of recent scholarship to assess whether it remains a useful taxonomic concept for the study of Near Eastern religions in late antiquity. 

Fall 2014

RELS 5000: Topics in Religious Studies

  • The Other Cheek: From Christian Distain to the Organized Destruction of Europe's Jews: Jews as deicides, ritual murderers, agents of Satan, international conspirators, conniving Shylocks, financial manipulators, subhuman – is the western world’s collective mythology about Jews a deeply rooted cultural pathology? How does one distinguish prejudice, Jew-hatred, and anti-Semitism, and on what theoretical basis? Did anti-Semitism pre-date the emergence of Christianity? This course will address these questions (and more). In the process, students will assess – and perhaps co-create –theories about the nature of European anti-Semitism. 
  • Contextualizing the Qu'ran: Scholars have often used the appearance of Islam in the Mediterranean world of the seventh century as a marker of rupture signaling the violent demise of the classical societies of antiquity and the onset of what the West terms the ‘Dark Ages,’ an era when learning and ‘civilized life’ were supposedly supplanted by barbarism and fanaticism. We by contrast will study the emergence of Islam in the Near East in terms of its manifold ideological continuities with the monotheistic currents flowing through Roman, Iranian, Aksumite, and South Arabian religious communities in the sixth and seventh centuries of the Common Era. Early Islamic discourse and practice exemplifies the hegemony of what might be termed an ‘Abrahamic idiom’ of cultural expression; i.e., an articulation of one’s cultural identity in terms of an ethnic or religious association with the characters, locales, practices, and ideas found in and promoted by the various forms of Bible circulating within and beyond the Roman Empire during roughly the first half of the first millennium CE. Much of our work in this course will involve a close comparative exploration of the way Bible and Qur’ān render shared characters and narrative scenarios. We will juxtapose, isolate, and analyze their similarities and differences with a view toward unpacking their broader significance. Figures of prominent interest include but will not necessarily be limited to Adam, Satan/Iblīs, Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Elijah, Jesus, and Muḥammad. Careful attention will also be given to the cultural issues surrounding the generation and promulgation of competing character profiles within kindred scriptures, as well as to the development of textuality as a marker of authority.

RELS 5010: Major Figures in Religious Studies

  • Robertson, Smith, and Frazier: This course centers upon the close reading of two primary works authored by two influential Victorian era scholars of religion, Lectures on the Religion of the Semites and The Golden Bough. It also conducts a critical examination of the enormous impact of their thought upon subsequent students of religion (e.g., Freud) up to the present day. Ideas we will consider include (but are not limited to) influential themes like theorizing magic/religion, the myth of the divine king, dying and rising gods, notions of totem and taboo, and the ritual theory of myth.

RELS 6000: Topics in Religious Studies

  • Sanskrit: Readings in Sanskrit.

RELS 6641: Seminar in Asian Religion 

  • Love, Sex, Devotion, Kingship, and War: Reading India's Epic the Ramayana: The Ramayana is India’s epic story of betrayal, royal and social chaos, love, confusion, sexual violence, jealousies and competition among and between gods, goddesses and humans, and frames much of what classical Indian culture and religion established as foundations for Indian society that persists into the 21st century. 

Spring 2014

RELS 6000: Topics in Religious Studies

  • Sanskrit: Readings in Sanskrit

RELS 6612: Seminar in Christian Origins

  • Archaeology and Material Evidence Related to Early Chistianity: A close look at texts and archeological evidence that sheds light on and informs the scholar work surrounding early Christianity.

RELS 6622: Seminar in Religion and Modern Culture

  • Feminist Theory and Application: New directions in feminist theory: matrialism, neoliberalism, affect, sound. Feminist theory is entering its fourth or perhaps fifth wave, and as neoliberal patriarchy co-opts the earlier waves of white feminism (first-wave liberal feminism, second-wave gynocentrism, even and especially third-wave 'difference' feminism), feminist theorists have to develop new analyses and new tools to address shifting political, economic, epistemological, and even ontological paradigms. This course focuses on several such emerging trends in feminist theory/philosophy: feminist and queer theories of neoliberalism, "new" materials, affect, and sound studies. 

RELS 6671: Seminar in Theory and Methods

  • Ethnographic Approaches to Religion: Long a foundational methodology for anthropologists, ethnographic methods have increasingly become important for scholars working in other disciplines. This course offers an introduction to the methodological, theoretical, and ethical issues involved in ethnographic observation and writing about religion and ritual. We will evaluate ways in which data can be collected and analyzed, as well as what is involved in producing finished written and video ethnographic material. The course will engage several broad questions including: 1) What kinds of contributions to the study of religion do ethnographic approaches offer? 2) What are the ethical and political implications of representing religious “others” in fieldwork studies? 3) How can ethnographic case studies be used as the basis for building larger theoretical insights? Students will read a variety of works highlighting different ethnographic techniques and theoretical approaches. They will also have the opportunity to put some of these into practice. The class format will consist of seminar-style discussions, student reading presentations, weekly written responses, field descriptions and revisions, and a final essay. 

Fall 2013

RELS 5000: Topics in Religious Studies

  • Religion, Trauma, and Critical Theory: While it has become quite commonplace to accept Marx’s assumption that religion is merely a guise for power and domination, many 20th century authors who share some of Marx’s overall concerns have used “religious” categories to generate critiques of the general order of things and to imagine possibilities within and beyond this order. Categories like “the messianic,” redemption, the Infinite Other, the Sacred, and the Event (an idea inspired by the apostle Paul) have become increasingly significant within contemporary critical theory. In this course, we will ask and pursue questions like: What is the critical function of these categories? What makes these tropes distinctly religious? How do these concepts provoke us to think differently about the relationship between the religious and the political? How are these concepts employed to register trauma and loss as well as hope and possibility? Authors we will read in this course include: Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, Ernst Bloch, Emmanuel Levinas, Jacques Derrida, Amy Hollywood, Luce Irigaray, Alain Badiou, and Slavoj Zizek.
  • Foucault: From the early 1960s until his death in 1984, Michel Foucault was one of the most innovative and influential figures in French philosophy. Known most fundamentally for the thesis that our most basic categories of thought are inescapably the products of their social and institutional environments, Foucault wrote about such topics as the emergence of a clinical understanding of insanity, the change in punishment theory from the dungeon to intensive surveillance; the emergence of power as a force for fostering life and managing populations; the emergence of “sexuality” as a marker of identity; and the transformation of economic thought from classical, laissez faire liberalism to the intensely interventionist theory of today’s neoliberalism. Not surprisingly, given the range of his thought, Foucault’s influence today extends into such diverse fields as philosophy, sociology, criminal justice, literary theory, and queer and feminist theory. In this course, we will read a number of Foucault’s most important works, with attention to the kinds of questions they enable us to ask as well as some prominent criticisms of his work

RELS 6000: Topics in Religious Studies

  • Sanskrit: Readings in Sanskrit

RELS 6622: Seminar in Religion and Modern Culture

  • Religion and Social Change in Latin America: This course examines the roles that religion has played in the changing social, political, and economic landscape of Latin America since the twentieth century. By reading historical and ethnographic case studies we will look at the ways that Catholic, Pentecostal and mainline Protestant churches have sought to address material and spiritual development throughout the region in the wake of social and political instability. How have varying theological commitments led people individually and collectively to enter the political sphere? In what ways have they supported or challenged revolutionary political movements and authoritarian regimes? How have economic changes impacted people’s religious lives? How has religion shaped experiences of migration, urbanization, and modernization? To what extent have indigenous revitalization and other identity-based social movements drawn on religion in configuring their agendas? The class will be based around seminar-style discussions, student presentations, and critical writing assignments. The seminar should be of interest to students in religious studies, Latin American studies, anthropology, sociology, and history.  

RELS 6671: Seminar in Theory and Methods

  • Religion and Social Theory: From Marx to Weber to the Birmingham School & Bourdieu: From the mid-nineteenth century writings of Karl Marx to the contemporary theories of Pierre Bourdieu, one theoretical focus socially maps the relationships between religion, individual social locations and class positions, institutional structures, and human action and consciousness. In this course, we examine a selection of writers from sociology, anthropology, and cultural studies with a goal of building a theoretical repertoire of social theories for use in the academic study of religion. Topics may include religion and social class, late modernity and secularization theories, the social forces relating to conversion, and social constructionist and materialist theories of religion. The class format entails seminar-style discussions, graduate student reading presentations, and frequent writing assignments. 

Spring 2013

RELS 5000: Topics in Religious Studies 

  • Social Theory and Black Religious Thought: W. E. B. Du Bois: W.E.B. Du Bois has been one of the most influential scholars giving voice to the African American experience. This course explores Du Bois’ arguments regarding race, religion, and black activism in America. A key component of this seminar addresses the influence of Karl Marx on Du Bois’ philosophy and scholarship. Using Du Bois as lens of analysis, this course interrogates such topics as lynching and racial violence, the Black Church and its relevance in the twenty-first century, and the problem of civil rights in a supposed “post-racial” society. 
  • Religion in the Contemporary U.S.
  • History of European Antisemitism: Jews as deicides, ritual murderers, agents of Satan, international conspirators, conniving Shylocks, financial manipulators, subhuman – is the western world’s collective mythology about Jews a deeply rooted cultural pathology? How does one distinguish prejudice, Jew-hatred, and anti-Semitism, and on what theoretical basis? Did anti-Semitism pre-date the emergence of Christianity? This course will address these questions (and more). In the process, students will assess – and perhaps co-create – scholarly theories about the nature of European anti-Semitism.
  • Race, Violence, and Memory: Toni Morrison's Novels: Toni Morrison is a contemporary Nobel-Prize winning novelist who has written on a variety of themes pertaining to America’s racial history. In this course, we will critically examine her novels paying close attention to themes like racial identity, memory, loss, trauma, and hope. We will ask questions such as: What is the relationship between fiction and history in Morrison’s novels? How do her writings deal with mundane, everyday forms of violence and suffering? How is this suffering mediated by race and gender? How do religious practices provide a space for memory and hope in her texts? Novels that will be read in this course include: The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon, Beloved, Jazz, and Paradise.
  • Sex and Gender in Early Christianity: This course explores the ways early Christians constructed and contested theories and practices of sex and gender. Topics will include: the gendering of power and authority, asceticism and monastic constructions of the body, controversies surrounding sexual practices, and feminist and queer theoretical readings of the New Testament, the lives of the saints, and other Early Christian literature. We will also pay significant attention to the ways in which contemporary theorizations of gender and sex can inform our study of the past, as well as how the study of historical constructions and theorizations can inform contemporary theory. 

RELS 5101: Religion and Modern Thought

  • Queer Theory: An examination of the ways the social order shapes our sense of gender and sexual identity, and imposes norms regarding gender behavior and sexual desire. This course will also think about how gender and sexuality inform our experience of subjectivity and the political costs that relate to conforming to or deviating from social norms. It will give close and careful attention to works by central authors in the field—for example, Gayle Rubin, Michel Foucault, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Judith Butler, Leo Bersani, Tim Dean, and Lee Edelman—as well as works that are important for understanding those central authors—for example, Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan and Georges Bataille. 

RELS 6000: Topics in Religious Studies

  • Sanskrit: Readings in Sanskrit

RELS 6612: Seminar in Christian Origins

  • Embedded Texts and Ur-Texts within Early Christianity: How does one identify and date ‘embedded texts’ in early Christianity? What are the methods and assumptions involved in positing strata of textual traditions within a finished work? Texts examined will be the so-called Q and L sources in the Gospel of Luke, Ur-sources in Acts, the ‘signs’ source in John, and a possible pre-Christian Jewish apocalypse in the book of Revelation. The focus of this course is on method – therefore it is targeted to a wider audience beyond those interested in specializing in early Christianity since the phenomenon of layered texts is ubiquitous in many religious traditions. 

RELS 6671: Seminar in Theory and Methods

  • Le Collège de sociologie: The Collège was a left-wing intellectual-political experiment in Paris from 1937-39, organized by avant-garde artists and Marxist social theorists Georges Bataille, Roger Caillois, and Michel Leiris. The organizers were trying to develop a response to the rise of fascism, Stalinist totalitarianism, capitalist alienation, and the failures of Marxist agitation. Inspired in large part by the investigation of Emile Durkheim and Marcel Mauss into ‘primitive’ religions, they hoped to critique and revivify contemporary culture by returning to the sacred—after the death of God. The experiment, although short-lived, has on-going relevance for questions about the cultural operation of religion, the relation between the individual and the social order, the appeal of authoritarian political structures, the intractability of violence, and the political significance of art. The seminar will give close and careful attention to the primary texts by the Collège’s organizers, works by their intellectual forebears, and secondary literature on this experiment. All texts will be read in English translation. The seminar should be of interest to students in religious studies, sociology, anthropology, history, literary studies, and art history.

Fall 2012

RELS 5000: Topics in Religous Studies

  • Masters of Suspision: Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche: The late Paul Ricoeur referred to Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche as theorists of suspicion. These three authors argue in different ways that what we see is not always what we are getting. We are usually unaware of the forces and mechanisms that motivate our actions, judgments, bodily practices, and commitments. In this course we will trace the affinities and differences among these authors. We will also think about their respective contributions to the tradition of “critical theory” and examine how these contributions rely on various interpretations of religious practice.
  • Sex/Death/Religion: This seminar is organized around an observation and an intuition. The observation: various accounts of the sacred—and its dangerous otherness—bear a striking resemblance to Freud’s account of the death drive and contemporary articulations of the disruptive force of erotic desire. The intuition: something generative can be gained by thinking these seemingly disparate accounts of supposedly distinct phenomena together. If we conclude that religion, death and sexuality are fundamentally alike insofar as they are organized around alterity, transgression, rupture and negativity, then what do we know? What might we learn about subjectivity, sociality and power by thinking sex, death and religion together rather than independently? To explore the sacred, we will focus on work by Emile Durkheim, Roger Caillois, Mary Douglas, Julia Kristeva and Georges Bataille. To explore the death drive, we will consider work by Sigmund Freud, Leo Bersani and Tim Dean. To explore sexuality, we will attend to work by Bataille, Freud, and Bersani. In addition to a better understanding of the themes and questions of the seminar, students will become familiar with important texts from the fields of sociology, phenomenology, psychoanalysis and queer theory.

RELS 6000: Topics in Religious Studies

  • Sanskrit: Readings in Sanskrit
  • Teaching Religious Studies: This course will approach the academic study of religion through a pedagogical lens. We will explore the history of religious studies as a field of study and survey works in the current scholarship of teaching and learning. Students will have the opportunity to articulate their own visions of teaching and learning through developing syllabi and assignments. 

RELS 6671: Seminar in Theory and Methods

  • Intertextuality: One of the most commonly used (and abused) terms in contemporary critical vocabulary, the word intertextuality denotes less a stable idea than a 100-year-old conversation about how one might interrogate literary, artistic, and cultural production. This course will examine important moments in that conversation by closely reading selected texts by Ferdinand de Saussure, Mikhail Bakhtin, Julia Kristeva, and Gérard Genette. The course will ponder their congruent and competing ideas about what a text is and how it works. It will prove useful for students of history of religion(s), cultural anthropology, Biblical criticism, cultural criticism, and ritual.

Spring 2012

RELS 5000: Topics in Religious Studies

  • Biblical Hebrew II: This course is the second half of an introduction to biblical Hebrew which encompasses two consecutive semesters of study. Although we will continue to study grammar and build vocabulary, we will concentrate this spring on the reading and translation of some simple narrative and verse selections drawn from the Bible. The course will prepare students for further readings in Bible and Dead Sea Scrolls. Pre-requisite: successful completion of Biblical Hebrew I or its equivalent.
  • French Feminisms: This course will comprise close, careful readings of major texts by Julia Kristeva, Luce Irigaray, Hélène Cixous and Monique Wittig. It will examine their important, if contested, relation to contemporary feminist theory and politics, paying special attention to the significant role they assign to the sacred and religion. It will provide an opportunity to extend and deepen the work of Professor Kerr’s Feminist Philosophy of Religion course from Fall 2011.

RELS 6000: Topics in Religious Studies

  • Sanskrit: Readings in Sanskrit

RELS 6615: Seminar in Late Antiquity

  • Enoch: This course will examine the texts of the books of Enoch and their relation to Jewish history and religion.

RELS 6625: Seminar in American Religion

RELS 6641: Seminar in Asian Religion

  • Religious Art and Architecture in India: This course will explore the use and place of art and architecture throughout the various religions of India.

RELS 6671: Seminar in Theory and Methods

  • Georges Bataille: This seminar will focus on the major works of French theorist and novelist, Georges Bataille (1897-1962), with emphasis on his magnum opus, The Accursed Share (1949). Bataille’s work engages Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, surrealism and Christianity. It analyzes the relationship between religion, eroticism, and art to offer an explanation of and solution to the catastrophic violence that characterized the 20th century, and continues to plague the 21st. Although often unacknowledged in the Anglo-American academy, his ideas pervade post-structuralist theory. He profoundly influenced the work of Foucault, Derrida, Barthes, Kristeva, Baudrillard, Deleuze and Lacan. Class time will be devoted to close, careful reading of Bataille’s stylistically complex writing. Students will be responsible for reading additional key works outside of class. Students will also be required to write two short essays over the course of the semester, a major final paper, and a review of a major secondary resource on Bataille.