Religion Department

Professor: Lawrence H. Mamiya (Chair); Associate Professors: Marc Michael Epsteina, E.H. Rick Jarow, Lynn R. LiDonniciabAssistant Professors: Jonathon Kahn, Michael Walsh; Senior Lecturer: Tova Weitzman; Visiting Instructor: Margaret Leemingb.

ab Absent on leave full year
a Absent on leave, first semester
b Absent on leave, second semester

The concentration in religion is intended to provide an understanding of major religious traditions, an exposure to a variety of approaches employed within the study of religion, and an opportunity for exploration of diverse problems that religions seek to address.

Requirements for the Concentration: 12 units, including Religion 200, 270, 271, three seminars at the 300-level, and a senior thesis or project. It is required that students take Religion 200 and 270 by the end of their junior year and highly recommended that they take these courses in their sophomore year. Students are expected to pursue a program of study marked by both breadth and depth. Of the 12 units required for the concentration, no more than two may be at the 100-level. No more than 1 unit of field work and/or independent study courses may count toward the concentration. After declaring a concentration in Religion, no courses taken under the Non-Recorded Option serve to fulfill the requirements.

Senior-year Requirements: Religion 271 and Religion 300 (Senior Thesis or Project). The thesis will be graded Distinction, Satisfactory, or Unsatisfactory. Petitions for exemption from these requirements, granted only in special circumstances, must be submitted to the chair in writing by the first day of classes in the A semester of the senior year.

Requirements for the Correlate Sequence: The Religion Department offers a correlate sequence in the study of religion which allows students to pursue study in an area of significant interest outside of their field of concentration. The sequence requires 6 units, 1 unit at the 100-level, 3 at the 200-level and two seminars at the 300-level. After declaring a correlate sequence in Religion, no courses taken under the Non-Recorded Option serve to fulfill the requirements.

Advisers: Mr. Epstein, Mr. Jarow, Mr. Kahn, Ms. Leeming, Ms. LiDonnici, Mr. Mamiya, and Mr. Walsh.

I. Introductory

[101a. The Religious Dimension] (1)

Is religion best described as a personal, inward experience or as a communal, social activity? This course explores the classical approaches to the study of Religion that have developed over the course of the twentieth century. Mr. Kahn.

Not offered in 2008/09.

105a. Issues in Africana Studies (1)

(Same as Africana Studies 105) Topic for 2008/09: Religion and the Civil Rights Movement. This course examines the ways in which religious belief, practices, and institutions helped to shape the modern Civil Rights Movement. Topics include, theologies of non-violent resistance, spirituals and freedom songs, religion and gender in the movement, critiques of religious motivated activism, and of non-violent resistance. Mr. Mamiya and Mr. Kahn.

150a and b. Western Religious Traditions (1)

(Same as Jewish Studies 150) An historical comparative study of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The course focuses on such themes as origins, development, sacred literature, ritual, legal, mystical, and philosophical traditions, and interactions between the three religions. Ms. Leeming; instructor to be announced.

Open to all students.

152a and b. Religions of Asia (1)

(Same as Asian Studies 152) This course is an introduction to the religions of Asia (Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Zen, Shinto, etc.) through a study of practices, sites, sensibilites, and doctrines. The focus is comparative as the course explores numerous themes, including creation (cosmology), myth, ritual, action, fate and destiny, human freedom, and ultimate values. Mr. Jarow, Mr. Walsh.

Open to all students except seniors.

180b. Religion, Media and American Popular Culture (1)

How does the mass media change religious values and behaviors?  How might we understand the relationship between American Christians and American culture?  Has sports, television or entertainment replaced religion?  Is popular culture hostile to faith-or is it religious in wholly new and unexpected ways?  In this course we explore these questions by looking in detail at American television, film, popular literature and the internet.  We also examine how specific religions and religious symbols are expressed in popular culture, what happens when traditional religions borrow pop cultural forms or ideals, and how the American media is abetting a trend towards religious eclecticism and hybridity. Mr. White.

II. Intermediate

200b. Regarding Religion (1)

The study of religion is a methodological process of self-discovery, through which both individuals and modern society become conscious of the underlying attitudes and predispositions involved in the phenomenon of religion itself, and in academic inquiry about it. In this course we study and critique the basic approaches to the unique problems presented by the study of religion, tracing the ways they continue to affect processes of thought and interpretation today. Mr. Kahn.

Required for all majors.

[205b. Religion and Its Critics] (1)

Some say it is impossible to be both a modern and a religious person. What are the assumptions behind this claim? The course explores how religion has been understood and challenged in the context of Western intellectual thought from the Enlightenment to the present. Kant, Hegel, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Freud, and Buber are some of the thinkers whom we study. Mr. Kahn.

Not offered in 2008/09.

207a. Christian Ethics and Modern Society (1)

This course is an introduction to Christian ideals of faith, conduct, character, and community, and to modern disputes over their interpretations and applications. Our emphasis is on how Christian thinkers have negotiated the emergence of modern values about authority, rights, equality, and freedom. In what ways have Christian beliefs and moral concepts been consonant with or antagonistic to democratic concerns about gender, race and pluralism? Some of the most prominent Christian ethicists claim a fundamental incompatibility with this democratic ethos. We examine these claims and devote special attention to how Christian thinkers have dealt with the ethics of war, sexuality and the environment. Mr. Kahn.

210b. Does the Secular Exist? (1)

Is there a distinct realm called the secular, which is free of and from the religious? As sons and daughters of the Enlightenment, we’ve come to think that there is. What sort of philosophical and historical moments have led to the public insistence on a non-religious space? What projects in ethics, politics, and identity have the insistence on the secular authorized? This class both analyzes and contests modern assumptions about secularism and the religious, and asks whether the ideals of secularism have materialized. Is it possible or even desirable to create realms scrubbed free of the religious, in our politics, in our public institutions, or in ourselves? Mr. Kahn.

[211a. Religions of the Oppressed and Third-World Liberation Movements] (1)

(Same as Africana Studies 211) A comparative socio-historical analysis of the dialectical relationship between religion and the conditions of oppressed people. The role of religion in both suppression and liberation is considered. Case studies include the cult of Jonestown (Guyana), the Iranian revolution, South Africa, slave religion, and aspects of feminist theology. Mr. Mamiya.

Not offered in 2008/09.

215b. Religion and the Arts (1)

An exploration of various aspects, spiritual and political, of the interdependence of art and religious culture from the dawn of human consciousness through postmodernity. May be taken more than once for credit when content changes. Mr. Epstein.

Prerequisite: 1 unit in religion or by permission of instructor.

[220. Text and Tradition] (1)

Study of selected oral and written text(s) and their place(s) in various religious traditions. May be taken more than once for credit when content changes.

Prerequisite: 1 unit in religion or by permission of instructor.

Not offered in 2008/09.

221b. Voices from Modern Israel (1)

(Same as Jewish Studies 221 and Hebrew 221) An examination of modern and postmodern Hebrew literature in English translation. The course focuses on Israeli voices of men, women, Jews, Arabs, Ashkenazim and Sephardim, to investigate such topics as memory, identity, alienation, the “other,” community, and exile. Authors may include Yizhar, Yehoshua, Oz, Grossman, Kanafani, Almog, Katzir, Liebrecht, Ravikovitch, Zelda, Zach, Amichai, Darish and el-Kassim. Ms. Weitzman.

225a. The Hebrew Bible (1)

(Same as Jewish Studies 225) The Bible is one of the most important foundational documents of Western civilization. This course surveys the literature of the Hebrew Bible (Christian ‘Old Testament’) within the historical, religious and literary context of ancient Israel and its neighbors. What social and religious forces created these books, and how did they shape the lives of the ancient Israelites, their descendants, and all those they influenced for three thousand years? All texts are read in English translation. Ms. VetoË�.

[227b. The Kingdom of God and the Empire of Rome] (1)

This course examines the conflicts, social movements, theologies, texts and individuals that shaped early Christianity during its formative period, from the first through the fifth centuries CE. How did the ecstatic mysticism of a small, obscure minority group become the official religion of the Roman Empire? How did this ‘success’ affect the way Christianity developed afterward, and its attitude toward difference, heresy, and authority? Ms. LiDonnici.

Not offered in 2008/09.

230b. Creole Religions of the Caribbean (1)

(Same as Africana Studies 230) The Africa-derived religions of the Caribbean region—Haitian Voodoo, Cuban Santeria, Jamaican Obeah, Rastafarianism, and others—are foundational elements in the cultural development of the islands of the region. This course examines their histories, systems of belief, liturgical practices, and pantheons of spirits, as well as their impact on the history, literature, and music of the region. Ms. Paravisini-Gebert.

[231a. Hindu Traditions] (1)

(Same as Asian Studies 231) An introduction to the history, practices, myths, ideas and core values that inform Hindu traditions. Beginning with the pre-Vedic period, the course traces major religious practices and developments up to and including the contemporary period. Among topics examined are yoga and upanishadic mysticism, the spiritual paths (marga) of action (karma) knowledge (jnana) and love (bhakti), the worship of (and ideologies surrounding) gods and goddesses, and issues of gender, caste, and ethnicity in both pre- and postmodern times. Mr. Jarow.

Prerequisite: Religion 152 or by permission of instructor.

Not offered in 2008/09.

233b. Buddhist Cultures (1)

(Same as Asian Studies 233) An introduction to Buddhist traditions, beginning with the major themes that emerged in the first centuries after the historical Buddha and tracing the development of Buddhist thought and practice throughout Asia. The course examines how Buddhist sensibilities have expressed themselves through culturally diverse societies, and how specific Buddhist ideas about human attainment have been (and continue to be) expressed through meditation, the arts, political engagement, and social relations. Various schools of Buddhist thought and practice are examined including Theravada, Mahayana, Tantra, Tibetan, East Asian, and Zen. Mr. Walsh.

Prerequisite: Religion 152 or by permission of instructor.

235a. Religion and State in China (1)

(Same as Asian Studies 235) The category of ‘religion’ in the study of China, as deployed and used by most scholars, is a nineteenth-century creation. Consequently, in this course, as we explore intertwined aspects of Chinese culture categorized as religion, we struggle to ascertain the complex relationships between colonial essentialization, ahistoricization, and between the myriad historical examples of human activity in China. Chinese religiosity can never mean the same thing at the same time and place. We therefore negotiate the thorny avenues of state and religion, center and periphery, cultural specificity and generality, all the while acknowledging the binary trap of these categories, as well as paying close attention to reified terms such as Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism, and so forth. To explore all of the above we spend time with primary and secondary texts critical to China’s imagination. Some of the questions we try to answer include the following: how was the universe imagined in traditional and modern China? What did it mean to be human in China? What do we mean by ‘Chinese religions’? How might Chinese culture be represented? Mr. Walsh.

243a. Islamic Traditions (1)

An exploration of Islamic history, with special attention to issues of prophecy, religious leadership, mythology and sacred scriptures. Among the topics examined are Islamic law, theology and philosophy, as well as the varied expressions of Islamic religious values and ritual, especially Shi’ism, Sufism, and orthodox Sunnism. Particular attention is given to women in Islam and to Islamic architecture. Ms. Leeming.

Prerequisite: Religion 150, 152, or by permission of instructor.

250a and b. Across Religious Boundaries: Understanding Differences (1)

The study of a selected topic or theme in religious studies that cuts across the boundaries of particular religions, allowing opportunities for comparison as well as contrast of religious traditions, beliefs, values and practices. May be taken more than once for credit when the content changes.

Topic for 2008/09a: Devotional Practices and Religious Experiences in the United States. This course is an introduction to ways of understanding and interpreting other people's religious experiences.  The course organizes religious experiences into four types and analyzes them in order.  The first type we will examine includes experiences or spiritual practices in which the body plays a crucial role.  Here we will look in detail at embodied ritual practices.  In the second unit of the course we will examine conversion and mystical experiences in which the "heart" or emotions are central.  In the third unit of the course we examine religious experiences in which will-power and spiritualized action are crucial.  And fourth and finally we will look at "metaphysical" practices in which believers find the divine through particular modes of perception or thought. When we use the body in ceremonies or other practices aren't we just engaging in empty rituals?  When we have religious feelings can we be sure that resulting visions, trances or insights are not born of our own imaginations?  Are feelings more reliable than the intellect as ways of perceiving reality or understanding truth? Mr. Christopher White

Prerequisite: one unit in religion.

Topic for 2008/09 b: New and Alternative Religious Movements in the United States:  All religions, new and old, have a beginning, and all religions change over time.  Even the most established and popular religions today, like Islam and Christianity, began as small, marginalized sects.  In this class, we think carefully about how religions develop and change by examining closely religious movements in one of the most vibrant religious nations in world history, modern America.  We study radical prophets, doomsday preachers, modern messiahs, social reformers and new spiritual gurus and we talk about how their new religious movements developed and interacted with more mainstream religious currents in nineteenth- and twentieth-century America.  This course proceeds in a roughly chronological fashion, beginning with new and alternative religions in the nineteenth century and moving on to more recent groups.  Some of the questions we consider are: Why do new religions begin?  Why do people join them?  How do they both challenge and conform to wider American norms and values?  How should the American legal system respond to them?  How do more mainstream believers respond to them?  Mr. White.

255a. Western Mystical Traditions (1)

Textual, phenomenological and theological studies in the religious mysticism of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. May be taken more than once for credit when content changes.

Topic for 2008/09a: Sufism. Through a selection of medieval and modern primary sources in translation, fiction that uses Sufism as its subject matter and also secondary source studies this class introduces the subject of Sufism or Islamic Mysticism. The course begins with a brief introduction to Islam. In conjunction with the study of material from early, medieval and modern Sufis the course examines foundational concepts in Islam that have shaped and continue to shape the ideas, beliefs and practices of Sufism. Some of the major themes weencounter in the class are monotheism, creation, God, love, cooking, drunkenness, poetry, ritual, and ecstasy. Ms. Leeming.

Prerequisite: one 100-level course or by permission of instructor.

266a. Religion in America (1)

An historical introduction to the study of religion in America, focusing on religious innovation and change, especially the introduction and creation of new religions and religious movements and redefinition of boundaries of margins and mainstream in American religious life. Topics include the role of religion in politics, culture, ethnic group life, and the social construction of gender. Instructor to be announced.

Prerequisite: 1 unit in religion, or by permission of instructor.

[267a. Religion, Culture and Society] (1)

(Same as Sociology 267) An examination of the interaction between religion, society, and culture in the work of classical theorists such as Freud, Marx, Durkheim and Weber, and in the writings of modern theorists like Berger, Luckman, Bellah, and Geertz. Students learn to apply theoretical concepts to the data of new religious movements in American society. Mr. Mamiya.

Prerequisite: 1 unit at the 100-level in religion, 1 unit at the 100-level in anthropology or sociology, or by permission of instructor.

Not offered in 2008/09.

[268b. Sociology of Black Religion] (1)

(Same as Africana Studies 268 and Sociology 268) Mr. Mamiya.

Not offered in 2008/09.

270b. Departmental Colloquium (1/2)

Joint exploration for majors of methods in the study of religion. The department, Mr. Mamiya.

Permission required.

One weekly two-hour period during the first half of the semester.

271a. Advanced Methods in the Study of Religion (1/2)

A continued exploration of methods in the study of religion and their application to research questions. Ms. Leeming.

Senior Religion majors only. Permission required.

One two-hour period bi-monthly.

280b. Religion and Sexuality (1)


Religion and sexuality are often seen as antithetical, a perception reinforced by images of abstemious monks and chaste martyrs who renounced earthly pleasure in pursuit of higher matters of the spirit. But even traditions that have strict prohibitions regarding sexual practice often celebrate a spiritual life suffused with erotic metaphors.  This course takes up the following questions: What places do bodies and their desires have within the practice and piety of a religious community? In what ways do sexual proscriptions and restrictions inform central expressions of devotion and ritual? What aspects of religion emerge when approached from the special vantage point of sexuality?  We approach these themes in historical and contemporary contexts, with a dominant focus on religious and spiritual traditions in the United States.  This coverage will include Victorian Christian fears of the "secret vice," alternative kinship structures in 19th century new religious movements such as the Oneida Community and the Shakers, mainstream religious debates over sexuality education and homosexuality, and contemporary queer spiritual communities such as the Radical Faeries and Gay Paganism. Ms. White.

290a or b. Field Work (1/2 or 1)

Supervised field work in the community in cooperation with the field work office. The department.

By permission, with any unit in religion as prerequisite and work in other social sciences recommended.

298a or b. Independent Work (1/2 or 1)

The department.

Prerequisite: One semester of appropriate intermediate work in the field of study proposed. Permission of instructor required.

III. Advanced

Prerequisite for all 300-level courses unless otherwise specified: 1 unit at the 200-level or permission of instructor.

300b. Senior Thesis or Project (1)

An essay or other project in religion written under the supervision of a member of the department. Normally taken in the second semester, and in the first only under special circumstances.

Permission required.

310b. Politics and Religion: Tradition and Modernization in the Third World (1)

(Same as Africana Studies 310b) An examination of the central problem facing all Third-World and developing countries, the confrontation between the process of modernization and religious tradition and custom. Along with social, economic, and political aspects, the course focuses on the problems of cultural identity and crises of meaning raised by the modernization process. Selected case studies are drawn from Africa and Asia. Mr. Mamiya.

Prerequisite: Sociology/Religion 261 or Africana Studies 268, or 2 units in Religion or Africana Studies at the 200-level, or by permission of instructor.

315a. Religion and American Culture. (1)

Advanced study in selected aspects of the history of religions in the United States. May be taken more than once for credit when the content changes.

Topic for 2008/09a: Spiritual Seekers in American History and Culture 1880-2008. This seminar will examine the last 120 years of spiritual seeking in America.  It will look in particular at the rise of unchurched religious believers in the U.S., how these believers have relocated "the religious" to different aspects of culture (such as art), what it means to be "spiritual but not religious" today, and the different ways Americans borrow from or embrace religions such as Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism.  The course will look in detail at Americans traveling to foreign cultures to find new forms of religious wisdom, comfort or truth. Mr. Christopher White.

[320a. Studies in Sacred Texts] (1)

Examination of selected themes and texts in sacred literature. May be taken more than once when content changes.

Prerequisites: I unit at the 200 level or permission by the instructor.

Not offered in 2008/09.

330a. Religion, Critical Thought and Politics (1)

Advanced study in selected aspects of religion and contemporary philosophical and political theory. May be taken more than once for credit when content changes.

Topic for 2008/09a: Religion, Race, and Democracy in American Pragmatism. How can religion be salvaged when we can no longer rely on supernatural certainty? In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries a group of American thinkers, the Pragmatists, were seized by this crisis of religious uncertainty, a dilemma with which a set of African American thinkers also grapple. Their answers, classical and contemporary, give rise to a variety of frameworks for thinking about the morals of both democratic participation and of race. This class asks how Pragmatism’s discourse on religion makes it especially good terrain for articulating these concerns, and how pragmatic conceptions of religion influence the identity labels we use to create political community. Readings include William James, John Dewey, W. E. B. Du Bois, Zora Neale Hurston, and Cornel West. Mr. Kahn.

345a. Violent Frontiers: Colonialism and Religion in the Nineteenth Century (1)

(Same as Asian Studies 345) What is the relationship between religion and colonialism and how has this relationship shaped the contemporary world? During the nineteenth century the concept of religion was imagined and applied in different ways around the globe. When colonialists undertook to ‘civilize’ a people, specific understandings of religion were at the core of their violent undertakings. By the mid-nineteenth century, Europe’s territorial energy was focused on Asia and Africa, two vast regions where religious and colonial practices collided and often colluded in fascinating ways. This seminar explores some of the ways religion was construed in the nineteenth century—and how this impacted the way in which we think with and use the term today,as well as looking at specific case studies of religious-colonial interactions in China and Southern Africa. Themes for discussion include among others various nineteenth-century interpretations of religion, the relationship between economic and capitalist ideologies, the notion of frontier religion, and the imagination and production of society. Mr. Walsh.

[346b. Studies in Jewish Thought and History] (1)

(Same as Jewish Studies 346) Advanced study in selected aspects of Jewish thought and history. May be taken more than once for credit when the content changes.

Prerequisites: 1 unit at the 200 level or permission of instructor.

Not offered in 2008/09.

350b. Comparative Studies in Religion (1)

An examination of selected themes, issues, or approaches used in illuminating the religious dimensions and dynamics within particular cultures and societies, with attention to the benefits and limits of the comparative method. Past seminars have focused on such topics as myth, ritual, mysticism, and iconography. May be taken more than once for credit when content changes.

Topic for 2008/09b: Dreams, Myths, and Visions in the Religious Imagination. This seminar focuses on the understanding and utilization of dreams and myths in Eastern and Western religious traditions. It explores dream and visionary passages in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic works as well as traditional interpretations of dreams, and their attendant myths in India and Tibet. In addition to working with traditional commentaries and interpretations, the course considers contemporary theoretical approaches from structuralist and post-structuralist sources, depth psychology, and cognitive science. Readings include passages from the Hebrew Scriptures, the Book of Revelation, the Qur’an, the Bhagvata-Purana, and the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Critical materials include the works of Tsong Kha Pa, Freud, Jung, Laberge, and others. Mr. Jarow.

355b. The Politics of Sacred Space (1)

This course examines the relationship between notions of spatial and temporal orientation and connects these to the fundamental importance of sacrality in human action and existence. We explore how space is produced, maintained, and made sacred. We begin with two assumptions: first, that expressions of religiosity are principally concerned with an attempt to be a human being, that is, to produce and cultivate a meaningful existence; and, second, that the study of religion is a critical way of thinking about society, the social imagination, and the action of agents within that social. To this end, we may want to understand ‘religion’ as a scholarly construct. Both these assumptions necessitate a language of the Center that in turn must tend toward a meaningful production of a space within which to live. Some of our questions include: what is sacred space? What is a sacred center? How are places made sacred through human action? To what extent is sacrality a matter of emplacement? What role does sacred space play in local and global environments? Mr. Walsh.

[385b. Asian Healing Traditions] (1)

(Same as Asian Studies 385) This seminar offers a comprehensive view of the traditional medical systems and healing modalities of India and China and examines the cultural values they participate in and propound. It also includes a “laboratory” in which hands-on disciplines (such as yoga and qi-gong) are practiced and understood within their traditional contexts. From a study of classical Ayur Vedic texts, Daoist alchemical manuals, shamanic processes and their diverse structural systems, the seminar explores the relationship between healing systems, religious teachings, and social realities. It looks at ways in which the value and practices of traditional medical and healing systems continue in Asia and the West. Mr. Jarow.

Prerequisites: Religion 231 or permission of instructor.

Not offered in 2008/09.

388b. The Spiritual Gifts of Modern India (1)

(Same as Asian Studies 388) Since Swami Vivekananda brought the message of “raja yoga” to the Parliament of World Religions on the shores of Lake Michigan in 1893, a number of spiritual teachers from India have achieved notoriety on the world stage and have had a major impact in the formulation of a world and secular “spirituality” in our time. Through phenomenological and historical studies, as well as through close reading and study of primary texts, this course considers the works of these major figures, including Sri Aurobindo, Ramana Maharshi, Ananda Mayi Ma, and Bhagavan Sri Osho Rajneesh. Mr. Jarow

Prerequisites: Religion 152 and/or 231, or permission of instructor.