Courses

FYS 152 Religion and Civil Rights

Traditionally, the civil rights movement has been viewed as a political and social reform movement initiated to secure the citizenship rights of African Americans. This seminar supplements this view by exploring how religion shaped the vision and experience of civil rights activists. Topics include such dimensions of the movement as the centrality of the black church, the prominence of religious leaders, the use of theological language, the ritualization of protest, and the prevalence of sacred music.

FYS 445 The Nature of Spirituality

What do people mean when they claim to be “spiritual but not religious”? Why do rivers and sunsets, trees and mountaintops so often come to be associated with spiritual power and connection to a greater reality? This course invites students to explore such questions and phenomena through shared reading of a variety of scriptures, naturalist writers, and mystics; through producing their own formal essays, reviews, and creative reflections; and through experiential learning in a more-than-human world.

FYS 543 Buddhist Pilgrimage and Tourism in Asia

What is “tourism”? What is “pilgrimage”? Where does one begin and the other end? How has colonialism changed the ways people interact with religious sites – especially in Asia – and what does this mean for religion and travel in the twenty-first century? How have people written about religious travel over time? This course explores the relationship between tourism, pilgrimage, and colonial histories through reading and writing about these topics in the context of modern Buddhist Asia. Students discuss three writing genres (ethnographic account, travel memoir, and academic article) and explore the components of each, while learning to write in these styles.

REL 100 Religion and Film

This course introduces students to cinematic representations of religion in feature and documentary films. Films about religion are cultural documents in and through which individual artists, religious and nonreligious groups, and nations symbolically construct their conceptions of themselves and the world. They are also the occasion for political, social, and cultural debates about ethnic and national identities. This course adopts a cultural studies approach to the study of films about religion and invites students to investigate the public debate and interdisciplinary questions and issues raised by the release of films such as Avatar, Schindler’s List, The Passion of the Christ, Daughters of the Dust, and The Hurt Locker.

REL 110 Death and Afterlife: Bodies and Souls in Comparative Perspective

An introduction to the comparative study of religion centering on the ways in which various traditions have addressed basic questions: What happens to humans when they die? How have concerns about the afterlife shaped human understanding about how we live our lives? Primary attention is given to at least three of the following religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Chinese and Japanese religions. Ways of studying these answers in their many dimensions (ritual, doctrinal, mythological, sociological, psychological) are introduced; topics such as notions of heaven and hell, reincarnation, relics, burial patterns, ghosts, visionary journeys to the other world, quests for immortality, near-death experiences, and resurrections are addressed.

REL 112 Introduction to Islam: Religion, Practice, and Culture

This course provides an introduction to Islam as a religion, a set of practices, and a community of diverse cultures. Who is the Prophet Muhammad and what is the Quran? Why do Muslims pray, fast for Ramadan, and perform the Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca? How do Muslims practice Islam in places like Europe? The course includes a study of the Prophet Muhammad’s life, an introduction to the Quran and Hadith, and aspects of Muslim ritual life, especially the Hajj. Students also explore aspects of Muslim life in places like New York, London, and the Middle East.

REL 120 Muslims, Christians, and Jews

This course explores the historical interactions among Islam, Eastern Christianity, and Middle Eastern Judaism (Sephardi, Maghribi, and Mizrahi Judaism) from Morocco to Egypt and Turkey. Students consider the development of the three religions’ traditions and customs, as well as their interaction during the rise of colonialism and modern nation-states.

REL 133 Religion, Violence, and Nonviolence

This course explores relationships between religion and violence and between religion and nonviolence in a variety of traditions and historical contexts. Among the topics considered are theories and practices of sacrifice and scapegoating, ordeal and retribution, crusade and jihad, religious pacifism, compassion, and nonviolent resistance movements. A community-engaged-learning component helps to ground the study throughout the course.

REL 155 Introduction to Asian Religions

An introduction to the major religious traditions of Asia, in both their classical and modern forms, with a focus on modern popular developments in Hindu, Buddhist, Tibetan, Chinese, and Japanese traditions, and the ways in which racism has influenced perceptions of these religious traditions in the United States and Canada. The course explores the foundational teachings of each tradition, examines their historical and social contexts, and seeks answers to questions such as: What is the nature of religious experience? What are the functions of myth and ritual? How have these religious traditions been adapted, adopted, and appropriated in “the West”?

REL 201 Women’s Movements and Religion across East Asia

What are the key challenges faced by women’s movements across East Asia? What roles do religious ethics and cultural norms play in creating either obstacles or opportunities for women activists who seek to counter gender disparity in the pursuit of economic development? Do religious traditions offer challenges or resources for socioeconomic reform? From Islam among Malay and Hui Chinese communities to Confucian-influenced Christianity among South Korean communities, this course provides an opportunity to explore how women’s movements in East Asia engage with religious and cultural traditions in their struggles for human rights and civil liberties, as well as equal access to education, labor markets, affordable childcare, and other development opportunities. Recommended background: one course in anthropology, economics, history, sociology, or politics. Cross-listed in Asian studies, gender and sexuality studies, and religious studies.

REL 207 Eve, Adam, and the Serpent

This course examines the historical formation of Genesis 1-4 against the background of its literary, cultural, and historical context and its subsequent interpretation and use in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions. Special attention is given to the ways in which the biblical texts have been interpreted and used to imagine, promote, and justify social orders – both hierarchical and egalitarian – as well as how the construction of gender relations links to the ways in which other social institutions are articulated and justified. Topics include the creation of the cosmos, characterizations of the Creator, the origins and perfection of humanity, the origins of evil, and the nature of the garden.

REL 216 American Religious History, 1550-1840

This course introduces students to the major themes and movements in American religious history from the colonial period to the end of Jacksonian reform. Among the topics discussed are Reformation “churches” and “sects,” Puritanism and secularism in seventeenth-century America, ethnic diversity and religious pluralism in the Middle Colonies, slavery and slave religion, revivalism, religion and the American Revolution, and social reform.

REL 217 American Religious History, 1840-Present

The course seeks to understand the importance of religion in the evolution of a sense of national identity and of national destiny for the United States. Consideration is given to the importance of religious traditions both in the development and sanctioning of national mythologies, and in the critique or criticism of these mythologies. The historical background of such considerations begins with Native American religions. The course concludes with a study of “religious freedom” in a multicultural nation again uncertain of its grounds for unity.

REL 218 Greek and Roman Myths

Did the Greeks and Romans believe their myths about winged horses, goddesses, and golden apples? How are myths related to the religious, political, and social world of Greece and Rome? This course examines Greek and Roman myths from a variety of theoretical perspectives in order to understand their meaning in the ancient world and their enduring influence in Western literature and art.

REL 221 Venice to Tokyo: Religion and Trade along the Spice and Silk Routes

This course examines the intersection of religion and trade along the silk and spice routes that linked Venice and Istanbul with Isfahan, Malacca, Nanjing, and Tokyo in the medieval and early modern periods (800-1800 C.E.). Adherents of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism, and other spiritual traditions traversed these trade routes as merchants, diplomats, and pilgrims. As cultural brokers connecting Europe, the Middle East, and East Asia, these merchants transmitted objects as diverse as silk textiles, relics, and texts on philosophy and ethics. This course follows the transfer of culture and commerce along these trade routes, focusing on a key thematic question: How are urban economies impacted by religion and culture?

REL 225 Rituals, Sentiments, and Gods: Religion in Ancient Greece

An anthropological approach to ancient Greek religion in which archeological, literary, and art-historical sources are examined to gain an understanding of religion in ancient Greek society. Topics explored include cosmology, polytheism, mystery cults, civic religion, ecstasy, sacrifice, pollution, dreams, and funerary customs.

REL 233 Literary Representations of the Africana Religions

Using the literatures of African and African-descended peoples, this course examines the religions-traditional/indigenous, Christian, Islamic, and so-called “syncretic”-from the continent and the diaspora. The selected works may represent the religious traditions, rituals, and practices of the Yoruba, Shona, Asante, Tswana, as well as African Independent Churches, Rastafari, and followers of Vodun, Santería, Candomblé, and related religions. Students approach texts-novels, short stories, dramas, films and poems-as literary productions and not just media to convey information about the religions they represent. This course is also attentive to contexts; students examine the sacred symbol systems represented as well as the historical era depicted and the literary traditions and cultures that produce them. Recommended background: course work in Africana or religious studies.

REL 235 Introduction to the Hebrew Bible

What is the Hebrew Bible (Christianity’s Old Testament and Judaism’s Tanakh)? This course centers perspectives of BIPOC biblical scholars who employ a range of scholarly tools and methods for exploring the content and genres of major books of the Hebrew Bible – including Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings-with brief forays into selected Prophets and Wisdom literature. Topics include theories about the composition and sociopolitical contexts of the writings, the events and ideas they narrate, and the use of scripture in sustaining and contesting modern social practices, especially those related to colonization, cultural violence, and race/gender disparities.

REL 236 Introduction to the New Testament

Readings in the New Testament and related early Jewish and Christian literature. Topics include first-century Jews and Judaism; Jesus’ life, death, and teaching in the context of the Roman Mediterranean; the shaping of Jesus traditions in the early Church; the diversity of ideas about salvation; and women in the Jesus movement and the early Church. Attention is given, throughout the course, to ways in which the New Testament has been used to sustain and contest modern social practices, especially those related to colonization, cultural violence, and race/gender disparities.

REL 238 Jews and Judaism in Antiquity

The millennium between 500 B.C.E. and 500 C.E. saw the gradual invention of a culture that has come to be known as Judaism. This course introduces the significant historical events and texts that were part of this cultural process, as well as the daily practices, institutions, ideologies, and movements associated with it. The approach is both historical and thematic with close reading of archaeological and written sources including texts from the Dead Sea Scrolls, New Testament (substantially authored by Jews), later Hebrew Bible and Apocrypha, Philo, Josephus, and the early rabbinic corpus. Topics include biblical interpretation; creation, adaptation, and transmission of traditions; identity and self-definition; accommodation and resistance; sectarianism and the invention of Jewish and Christian orthodoxies; theories about messiahs, afterlife, and a world-to-come.

REL 247 City upon the Hill

From John Winthrop to Ronald Reagan, Americans imagined themselves as a chosen people, a righteous empire, and a city upon a hill. The course examines this religious view of America and its role in shaping American ideas regarding politics, education, work, women, ethnic groups, and other countries. Readings include works by Edmund Morgan, Sacvan Bercovitch, David Howard-Pitney, and Bruce Lincoln. Prerequisite(s): one course in religion.

REL 249 The Hindu Tradition

This course examines Hindu rituals, practices, and doctrine with some consideration of their relation to Jainism and Indian Buddhism. Special attention is paid to the Vedas, Upanishads, and Bhagavad-Gita, as well as to the classical myths of Hinduism embodied in the Puranas, and to ritual and devotional practices. Students make use of primary and secondary texts as well as film and music.

REL 250 The Buddhist Tradition

The course focuses on the doctrinal and social developments of a range of Buddhist communities, from early Buddhism in India and the rise of various Buddhist schools of thought up to modern Buddhist traditions as practiced in North America; Mahayana philosophies; and rituals, meditation, and other forms of religious expression across the Buddhist world.

REL 251 Religions of Tibet

Tibetan religions contain a complex mixture of Indian, Chinese, and indigenous elements. This course focuses on the history, doctrines, practices, literatures, major personalities, and communities of the different religious traditions that are expressions of this mixture, including monastic and tantric forms of Buddhism and pre-Buddhist religions practices. The relationships between religious and other social influence ethics also are explored.

REL 255 African American Religious Traditions

This course examines the origins, historical development, and diversity of African American religious traditions from the colonial era to the present. Throughout American history, African Americans have used religion not only as a means of expressing complex views of themselves and their world, but also as a form of cultural critique, social reform, economic independence, and political activism. Among the movements and topics discussed are African and Caribbean religious influences, slave religion, the rise of African American denominations, the Nation of Islam, the importance of spirituals and gospel music, Afrocentricity, and the civil rights movement. Given the complex nature of African American religious experience, this course adopts an interdisciplinary approach and draws upon scholarship on religion in sociology, politics, history, art, literature, and music. Prerequisite: any 100-level religious studies course.

REL 260 Philosophy of Religion

A consideration of major issues that arise in philosophical reflection upon religion. Particular issues are selected from among such topics as the nature of faith, the possibility of justifying religious beliefs, the nature and validity of religious experience, the relation of religion and science, and the problem of evil.

REL 264 Islamic Civilization: Politics, History, Arts

This course explores the medieval and modern history of Islam from Spain and Morocco to Russia and China. Topics include the music of Morocco, art of the Quran, Sunni and Shi’i cultural practices in Iran, women’s mosques in China, and postcolonial debates in Egyptian politics. What does Islam mean to different Muslim communities around the world? What has made Islam one of the most influential religious traditions in the history of Europe, Africa, and Asia?

REL 270 Religion and American Visual Culture

A study of the constitutive role of visual culture in the formation of American religious traditions and the influence of religious experience on American art and mass culture. Moving from the colonial period to the present, this course examines the symbiotic relationship between American visual culture and religion in painting, photography, illustrated media, mass-produced objects, memorials, architecture, and decorative items.

REL 272 Islam in the Americas

This course traces the history andsociology of Islam in North and South America, from West Africantraditions in Brazil and Syrian immigration via Ellis Island and BuenosAires, to the story of Malcolm X during the civil rights era, to the 2000s and the rise of millennial pop culture. Students explore the stories of Muslims in the Americas as a lens for understanding larger research questions in American cultural studies, political science, sociology, and comparative law.

REL 303 Seminar in Biblical Criticism

Each time it is taught, this seminar focuses on a particular biblical book (e.g., Song of Songs), story cycle (e.g., the Joseph stories), or theme (e.g., apocalypse). It employs a variety of ancient and modern techniques of reading and analysis to explore its subject from a broad range of scholarly perspectives.

REL 306 Seminar on American Religious Thought and History

The seminar focuses on a different figure, movement, or issue of significance for the development of American religious thought and history. Recommended background: a course in American studies or philosophy.

REL 306B Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays

Benjamin Elijah Mays, Class of 1920, is remembered for his eulogy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., his presidency of Morehouse College, and his famous declaration, “Bates College did not emancipate me; it did the far greater service of making it possible for me to emancipate myself.” Seldom mentioned are his multiple roles as a minister, educator, social activist, journalist, advisor to three American presidents, leader in international organizations, and scholar of American religion. This course examines the life, career, and writings of Dr. Mays as lenses through which to view American religious thought and history. Prerequisite(s): FYS 152 or one course in religious studies.

REL 306C The Religious Life of John Brown

Hero or traitor? Freedom fighter or terrorist? Few historical figures are more polarizing than John Brown (1800-1859). A white radical abolitionist, Brown dedicated most of his adult life to the abolition of slavery by any means, including the 1859 plot to seize over 100,000 weapons from the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia). This course contextualizes Brown’s life, legacy, and abolitionist principles in its proper nineteenth-century cultural, religious, theological, and political milieu. As an evangelical Calvinist Christian, Brown’s faith guided his values and gave him strength in the abolitionist cause, and his piety fertilized his deeply held call to destroy the institution of slavery.

REL 310 Gender, Race, and Judaism

In this course, students explore aspects of Jewish culture and images of Jews and Judaism through intersectional lenses, with a particular focus on gender, sexuality, and race. They examine ideologies, images, and practices related to gender, sexuality, and race with an eye to the ways these are constructed, maintained, contested, transformed, and queered in Jewish contexts. Feminist/womanist scholars and practitioners of Judaism serve as sources for insight and critique as well as a constructive resource for religious reflection, ritual, and visions of Judaism’s future.

REL 311 Buddhism and Gender

This course examines the role of gender in Buddhist communities from the inception of the religious tradition to the modern day. How has gender identity influenced the development of this tradition? Where do we see gender in Buddhist literature, doctrine, and art? How do modern ideas of what “Buddhism” is affect change in the North American context, and how is this different from the Buddhist past? The course draws on a variety of sources, including literary, cinematic, and visual materials, to answer these questions. Special attention is given to how gender is presented in doctrinal texts, and the (dis)connection between these documents and the lived experiences of Buddhist people, as presented in interviews and autobiographies by Buddhist practitioners from a variety of moments and communities.

REL 312 Psychology of Religion

This course examines religion from a social-psychological perspective, focusing on current psychological science to understand why some humans find religion compelling and the implications of religious faith (or lack thereof). Topics include the psychological benefits of religious faith, negative outcomes of religious faith, the role of religion in inter-group conflict, how thoughts of the divine affect perceptions of physical space, and how mental systems make sense of information about religion. Prerequisite(s): PSYC 218.

REL 313 Human Suffering: Job, Genesis, and Revelation

This course explores questions about suffering through the lens of the biblical books of Job and Revelation, with subsidiary attention to the first three chapters of Genesis. Students consider issues of justice, belief, morality, and meaning in response to human suffering and bring together personal knowledge and reflections, community-based learning, and close, reading of texts in wrestling with these issues. In addition to the biblical books and scholarship on them, readings include works by Archibald MacLeish, Bill McKibben, Stephen Mitchell, and Catherine Keller. Prerequisite(s): one course in religious studies..

REL 314 The Spanish Inquisition

Were witches and heretics really tortured in the Spanish Inquisition’s infamous jails? This course examines both the institution of the Spanish Inquisition and the lives of those who came before it. The sins that concerned the Inquisition depended on the time and place, and the crimes prosecuted in sixteenth-century Spain or eighteenth-century New Spain reveal a great deal about early modern (ca. 1500-1800) culture and society. Students read and analyze original Inquisition cases from Spain and New Spain as well as consider the ways historians have used cases to investigate topics such as sexuality and marriage, witchcraft, and the persecution of Jews and Muslims.

REL 320 Religion and Government in the Middle East: Colonialism to the Arab Spring

This seminar examines the place of religion in Middle Eastern politics between the rise of European colonialism and the start of the Arab Spring. Religion in the early modern Middle East encompasses not only the communal values of the region’s local Muslims, Christians, and Jews, but also the complex relationship between religious ethics and notions of government. Students read a range of texts highlighting the history of governments throughout the Middle East, from Algeria and Egypt to Iraq and Iran, focusing on ways religious ethics and identities intersect with political theory between the nineteenth and the twenty-first centuries. Prerequisite(s): one course on European colonialism, nationalism, Islam, or Middle Eastern history.

REL 322 Gender, Race, and Power in Christianity

This course explores relationships among constructions of gender, sexuality, race, and religious power in Christian cultures from antiquity through modernity. Recommended background: at least one course in gender and sexuality studies or religious studies.

REL 348 Epics of Asia: Myth and Religion

This course considers the intersection of religion and society in Asia through the lens of popular Asian myths. Students examine how religious doctrine, ideals, and art have influenced the creation and interpretation of this unique narrative form, while also learning about specific Asian traditions. Close study of several tales, including narratives from India, Thailand, China, Tibet, and Japan, include reading texts in translation as well as viewing cinematic and theatrical representations of myths intended for popular audiences. Students explore the dialogic process of myth by creating their own modern versions of one text.

REL 351 Religion and International Development across South Asia

How do politicians and communities balance commitments to religious traditions with diverse conceptions of modernization? How will the participation of women-whose lives and liberties are often defined by religious and cultural norms-change in the world of business and technology over the next fifty years? What kinds of cultural literacy do international organizations like the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme need to work effectively together with local communities? This course offers an introduction to the sociology of religion as a component of international development across South Asia (Pakistan, India, Nepal, and Bangladesh) since the 1980s with an emphasis on these often-overlooked but vital issues and questions. Recommended background: one course on Islam or Asian religions or one introductory course in economics, politics, or sociology.

REL 360 Independent Study

REL 365 Special Topics

REL 365B W. E. B. Du Bois and American Culture

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (1868-1963) is one of the twentieth century’s leading American educators, political activists, scholars, and cultural critics. Du Bois was the first African American to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard, a founder of the NAACP, author of the first major sociological study of an African American community, a crucial precursor of the American civil rights movement, a spokesperson for Pan-Africanism, and a supporter and eventually a citizen of the African state of Ghana. He witnessed and, in many instances, played a role in shaping contemporary perspectives on the major historical, political, and social events of American society. This course offers a chronicle and critical examination of Du Bois’s life, career, and role in the formation of American culture. Prerequisite(s): REL 100 or AFR 100.

REL 450 Senior Research Seminar

A course designed to give senior majors a common core experience in research in religion. Through writing, presenting, and discussing several papers, students explore topics of their own choosing from different theoretical and comparative perspectives. Required of all majors. Enrollment is limited to junior and senior majors and, by written permission of instructor, to interdisciplinary majors.

REL 457 Senior Thesis

Research for and writing of the senior thesis, under the direction of a member of the department. Majors writing a regular thesis register for REL 457 in the fall semester or REL 458 in the winter semester. Majors writing an honors thesis register for both REL 457 in the fall semester and 458 in the winter semester.

REL 458 Senior Thesis

Research for and writing of the senior thesis, under the direction of a member of the department. Majors writing a regular thesis register for REL 457 in the fall semester or REL 458 in the winter semester. Majors writing an honors thesis register for both REL 457 in the fall semester and 458 in the winter semester.

REL S21 Representations of Jesus in Film

This course considers representations of Jesus through select feature films of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Questions and insights brought to bear on these films derive from New Testament and historical Jesus studies, religion and film studies, and other cultural-studies disciplines. Students gain a broad introduction to the Jesus film genre, critical film-viewing skills, and an enhanced understanding of the possibilities and challenges of representing Jesus in the modern era.

REL S28 From Shangri-la to Radical Dharma: Buddhism in North America

How did Buddhism first come to North America? How has it changed since its arrival? This course examines the development of Buddhism in the Americas since the nineteenth century. Students discuss different paths of Buddhist traditions from Asia to North America, and the ways that newly arrived Buddhists, and adopters of the tradition, have changed the face of what it means to be “Buddhist” in the “West.” They consider shifting self-identification with the tradition, both among convert groups and in historically Buddhist communities, and the role of race and gender in the religion’s development in the twenty-first century. The course includes brief trips to Dharma centers in New England as well as a “digital religion” component and several film screenings. Prerequisite(s): one of the following: REL 110, GS/RE 311, AS/RE 208, 248, 249, 250, 251, 308, or s26.

REL S50 Independent Study