This course will examine the ways different religious beliefs and practices are represented in a variety of print, film, television, and other media in our culture and the ways in which those representations may function to influence opinions, actions, and policy. Analysis of media content will accompany an introduction to the study of religions presented and misrepresented in popular culture.
What is a “good” life? Is there a single way of being “good” or “moral?” How and on what basis are moral choices made? How is the moral self constituted? This course introduces students to the dynamic and complex nature of ethical deliberation and practice in the everyday with a focus on the moral traditions of South Asia. We will examine diverse conceptions of the moral self and the good life through a study of how morality is understood, lived, and experienced within the framework of the Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, and Islamic traditions. In particular, we will explore the role of elements like time, age, tradition, emotions, agency, the “other,” and oral and textual narratives in ethical practice and thinking, and critically examine the assumptions of secular liberal ethics. We will also consider responses from within the Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain traditions to violence. No previous study of religion, ethics, or South Asia is necessary.
Does modernity mark the end of religion? Does religion become irrelevant in the modern world? What is the place of religion in modernity? What form does it take? Does modernity shape religion or does religion shape modernity? In this course, we will consider the complex relationship between religion and modernity through an examination of the interactions between religion and core historical processes constitutive of modernity including colonialism, the rise of the modern nation-state, secularization, capitalism and consumerism. We will begin by examining the categories of religion and modernity, and critically examine the supposed dichotomy between them as well as between tradition and modernity, religion and the secular, and religion and the nation as we proceed through the semester. The course will focus primarily on case studies that examine specific interactions between modernity and some of the world’s largest religious traditions including Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam in different geographical contexts across the world including India, Egypt, Great Britain, the United States and Thailand.
From the biblical world to modern America, asserting the power to speak with the divine has provided people the ability to enact social change, critique the powerful, and legitimate new religious beliefs. In this course, we will explore three different, but ultimatelyrelated ways that people have claimed to converse with the divine world: divination, shamanism, and prophecy. We will place particular emphasis on understanding the social significance and political function that these practices have played in the past, and continue to play today. More generally, we will also explore questions ofreligious belief and experience. The course will conclude with a reexamination of traditions of divine communication within Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in light of cross-cultural comparisons with otherreligious traditions.
In this course, students explore the methodological and theoretical frameworks that define the academic study of religion. Coverage includes analysis of multiple disciplinary perspectives including sociology, anthropology, history, phenomenology, and psychology. Additionally, students will put the theoretical into practice by using the methods studied in class to analyze the beliefs and practices of various religious traditions.
From its origins in India to its development throughout East and Southeast Asia and beyond, Buddhism has prospered in a wide variety of cultures and environments. This course will introduce students to the origins, evolution, and manifestations of Buddhism in scripture, practice, and artistic expression.
This course will survey the beliefs, practices, and history of Islam, focusing on how Islam has evolved over time and culminating in a close examination of the forms Islam takes today and the place of Islam in current events. Special consideration will be given to what it means to consider Islam as a religion rather than a cultural or political entity. Attention will also be given to Islam’s relationship with other monotheistic traditions and to American Islam.
Judaism has ancient roots and encompasses a multifaceted array of rituals, laws, holidays, and life-cycle events. Using “Time” and “Space” as the dual focal points of our course, we will examine the development of diverse Jewish communities from antiquity to the modern era in order to better understand the origins and practices of the spectrum of Jewish groups encountered today. Consequently, this course will emphasize the heterogeneity of Judaism as a religious system throughout history, while also examining what makes this diverse group of traditions and texts “Jewish.”
This course examines the practices of death and desire in the unique traditions of Tibetan tantra, a form of Himalayan Buddhism. Tibetan tantra involves practices of wrathful deities, sexual yogas, and subtle body technologies to produce a unique understanding of mind and body and their potential for transformation in both sexual union and in death. We will look at the foundational Tibetan Book of the Dead cycle of texts, as well as explore their evolving meanings in contemporary, non-Buddhist contexts like American Hospice. How have Tibetan Buddhists associated desire, power, and knowing? How might investigations of Tibetan practices of death and desire inform our own?
This MILA course explores the connections between religion, communities, and sociopolitical change in South Africa. From conceptualizations of time based on the lunar cycle and its linkages to labor negotiations to the use of religion as a basis for Afrikaner nationalism and manhood, this course examines the power of belief as people engage with the world around them and fight for themselves and their communities. In the course we will give careful attention to the role of religion in social movements and political uprisings in South Africa. By incorporating historical and contemporary monographs, newspaper articles, memoirs, photography, and performances, this course will encourage students to think broadly and critically about not only the place of religion and belief, but also global processes, tradition, modernity, continuity, change, conservatism, radicalism, power, and revolutions.
Meets general academic requirement HU, DE, and IL.
This course will explore secular Jewish experiences in the modern west. We will examine how traditional Jewish society has been transformed by new ideas and new social realities by exploring the many and multifaceted ways that Jews have constructed modern, secular identities in the wake of those transformations. Using a variety of primary and secondary sources, as well as film and literature, this course will consider the ways in which Jewish identity has been defined and redefined in the modern period across Europe and the United States. Particular attention will be paid to questions of gender and the ways that men and women each experienced processes of modernization and secularization.
Jews have long served as a foil for western, and particularly western Christian identities, in ways that continue to resonate in the modern world and in contemporary contexts. This course will consider the role that anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism have played in western culture from the ancient period to the present day. It will pay particular attention to representation of Jews in the West, to both shifting and long-lasting fears and suspicions about Jews, and to the impact of anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism on conceptions of race and difference in western society.