All the writings of the New Testament are studied, in order to understand both the critical scholarly questions of date, authorship, purpose, and the impact of these writings and their authors on the emerging Christian community.
This course provides an introduction to the vocabulary, methods, and theoretical assumptions of the academic study of religion. By examining several diverse religious communities and traditions--including Lakota Sioux, Southern Pentecostal, Nation of Islam, and Zen Buddhist--we examine patterns, themes, and issues that scholars commonly encounter across world religions. We also examine how specific communities give voice to themes found within the larger world religion from which they emerge. In each case, particular attention is paid to the role of religion in social justice and salvation movements, and in the formation of individual and group identities.
In addition, this course provides a setting in which to practice and develop critical thinking skills through reading, writing, reflection, and discussion. Students should come away from the course with a greater understanding of critical issues facing religious communities historically and in the world today, with a greater appreciation of the diversity of world religions within the United States, and with a grounding in influential scholarly approaches to the study of religion.
The figure of Jesus has sparked theological debates, artistic expressions, government decrees, religious persecutions, pietistic revivals, and social and moral attitudes, affecting the lives of countless generations. This course addresses an over-arching question throughout the semester: How does an educated person in today's society evaluate such conflicting responses? The course draws on current historical and narrative approaches to understand the 'images' of Jesus in their respective literary, social, and historical contexts. It addresses some of the following questions. What did Jesus mean to the first interpreters? How did the early Christian communities view Jesus? What do the texts reveal about early Christian attitudes towards outsiders (government, different religious groups, social/moral attitudes)? How has Jesus been perceived in Christian tradition (art, literature, theology, ecclesiology) and in the development of western civilization (e.g., literature, the arts, politics, public schools)? The goal is not to give final and definitive answers. Rather, the course seeks 1) to encourage questions regarding the themes, purpose, and significance of the texts; 2) to provide methodological tools to aid such questions; 3) to place these questions and answers amidst the questions and answers of others; and 4) to understand the Jesus traditions both ancient and contemporary in light of their own social, cultural, and literary contexts.
This course surveys the major monotheistic traditions of the world - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - from their origins to the present day. The course fosters an appreciation of the distinctiveness and inner coherence of each of these traditions as well as to discern facets of unity among the three. Religious expression assumes many forms and is considered in traditional theological and philosophical texts as well as in political systems and the arts. The class is conducted as a combination of lecture and discussion.
This course introduces students to some important themes, histories, and ideas in the study of Judaism. It poses the question, "What does it mean to be Jewish?" And it provides multiple, contested answers. It begins with modern American Judaism. In the first weeks, we will study the forms of Jewish religiosity, culture, and art that arose in 20th century America. Then, we will take a giant leap back to study the Hebrew Bible, the Rabbinic traditions, and medieval Jewish philosophy and mysticism. We will pay special attention to themes of sexuality and gender, food, and ritual, particularly as they relate to identity formation.
We will study the relationships between Jews and religious others. As we move into the early modern and modern periods, we will focus on the lived experience of Jews in Europe. Then, we will study the rise of nineteenth and early twentieth century Zionism, anti-Semitism, Nazism, and the Shoah (Holocaust). Before we end, our penultimate stop will be texts on the creation of the State of Israel and theology in the wake of the Shoah. Finally, we will return to America, where we will study the histories and cultures of African American Jews.
This course investigates and attempts to distinguish, identify, and understand the different modes and aspects of the mind and self in yoga, meditation, psychedelics, psychology, neuroscience and philosophy in a variety of cultural contexts. The class examines the fundamental question of identity and the question, ?Who am I?? Primary texts include Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, Plato's Phaedo and Symposium, Freud?s metapsychological essays, Michael Pollan?s How to Change Your Mind, and David Presti on the mind/brain problem.
This course provides an introduction to Christianity, or rather, `Christianities.' To understand the diversity within Christianity, the course compares and contrasts various historical and contemporary traditions in Christianity: Gnosticism, the Eastern Orthodox Church, medieval Western Latin Christianity, Protestantism in the sixteenth century, African-American Christianities, Pentecostalism, liberation theology, and Christian fundamentalism in the United States. Students come to realize that there is no one single, monolithic `Christianity,' but instead a variety of Christianities which vary geographically, historically, and culturally. The course also examines the way in which gender, race, and class affect religious perspectives upon the human experience. It concludes by examining two social issues which Christians today debate, homosexuality and the ordination of women.
This course surveys Muslim life and religious movements connected to Islam in North America, tracing the history of Islam on the continent from the Atlantic slave trade to the post-9/11 era. It investigates the many ways in which Islam, as both a religion and an idea, has appeared on the American horizon and in the American imagination. Through course exams, assignments, and papers, students are able to appreciate and reflect concretely in their writing on the cultural and socio-economic differences that have shaped American Muslim views on religion and identity. They do so by citing historic cases, autobiographical testimonies, and current observable practices. Through the briefs and presentations they produce, they also take part in a major semester-long group project in which issues of belonging and community are mapped out in real spaces.
This course takes historical and thematic approaches to studying the complex phenomenon (or phenomena) of Islam. Students in this course seek to understand the development of Islam over time--from the earliest communities in seventh century Arabia through the present day. The course will ask questions about the meaning of prophesy, scripture, and ritual. Additionally, the course will focus on the towering achievements of Islamic thought, including law, literature, and philosophy. Students will study all of these phenomena in their diverse lived contexts, from West Africa to Northwest China. The role of women and of gendered difference are not incidental to this course, or relegated to a specific unit, but are central to how we will think through Islamic history. The latter half of the course will ask how the dramatic events of colonialism altered (or did not alter) the meanings, perceptions, and practices of Islam. Beyond written texts, the course will explore some of the sights and sounds that comprise Muslim life worlds. Through these issues and materials, students will get a small but well-placed window onto the manifold meanings of Islam in the lives of its practitioners.
What has been the role of religion in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBQT) politics? This course challenges the dominant picture of entrenched opposition between queer lives and religious traditions, and it investigates the complexity and variety of queer and religious engagement during the twentieth- and twenty-first centuries. This course covers the historical emergence of sexual and gender identity communities in the United States and the attendant formations of established religious teachings as backdrop and critical context for both opposing and supportive religious involvement LGBT politics. The course examines anti-queer religious responses but also spends significant time covering queer-inclusive religious advocacy, including liberal religious involvement in gay liberation, the formation of queer inclusive churches and synagogues and new spiritual communities such as the Radical Faeries, and religious involvement in political causes from AIDS/HIV activism, hate crimes legislation, and same-sex marriage. Crosslisted as GQS/REL 215.
This course examines Korean religions and culture through anthropological, sociological, and historical analysis. It surveys major religious traditions of Korea (i.e. shamanism, Confucianism, Buddhism, and Christianity) and several new religious movements including Tonghak, Unification Church, and North Korea's Juche. The course examines impacts of Korean religions on social, political, and economic change in contemporary Korea society. The class explores a variety of religious elements that are deeply embedded in contemporary Korean culture through an examination of Korean film. Topics covered include Korean food and religion, evangelical Protestantism and gender, family ritual, geomancy, the democratic movement, Korean music, the Korean wave, traditional Korean medicine, Korean diaspora, and Korean religious views on afterlife. Course materials include Korean films, television shows, and other visual materials.
This course explores the major expressions of religion in Japanese culture and history, including both popular and elite forms of religious practice and thought. Because Japan is home to a range of religious traditions, the course explores the various forms that have appeared there not only of Buddhism and Shinto, but also of Taoism, Confucianism, and even Christianity. A primary goal of this course is to develop both an empathetic understanding of Japanese religion and a critical appraisal of its expression in particular historical and cultural contexts. Throughout the course ample time is devoted to the role of aesthetics in Japanese religion (in film, literature, art, and ritual) as well as to the various ways that religion and the Japanese state have interacted over time.
This course provides an introduction to the wide range of religious beliefs and practices that have emerged over the course of Chinese history. Topics covered include not only the classic traditions Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism, but also such broader examples of religious expression as oracle bone inscriptions, medieval ghost stories, and contemporary practices in longevity. Throughout the course students explore how those in China have understood the world religiously, and how scholars have interpreted the diverse world of Chinese religion. Some of the questions include: What has it meant to be a human in China? What other spirits, ghosts, and divinities inhabit the Chinese religious world? What is included and what is excluded when we use the term 'religion,' or even 'China'? How do cultural, historical, and political changes affect religious experience, or a person's understanding of 'ultimate reality'? A primary goal of the course is to develop a broad understanding both of Chinese religious history and of contemporary issues involving religion in China.
This course provides students with tools of ethical analysis so that they can think critically about pressing contemporary moral issues through the lens of justice. The course focuses on ethical methods from world Christianity and western philosophy. The course introduces both ethical theories and justice theories, and examines multicultural perspectives of the long-standing religious, theological, and philosophical understanding of justice. It analyzes how social justice concepts have been applied in different cultural contexts, including nonwestern communities. Students examine different models of justice and their implications for contemporary moral issues (e.g. racism, healthcare, social welfare, capital punishment, human rights, immigration, refugees, property rights, and the environment). The class includes interactive lectures on justice theories and students actively participate in discussions on selected case studies. Course readings may include excerpts from Aristotle, Aquinas, Mill, Locke, Calvin, Kant, Rawls, Sandel, Nussbaum, Singer, Cone, Williams, Hauerwas, and Ahn.
Crosslisted as AFAM/REL 265.
How does social change happen? Religious groups were central to many instances of transformative social activism like the Civil Rights movement, Feminism and Occupy Wall Street. This course addresses how religious beliefs, identities, affiliations, and practices shape social activism and justice in the United States and the world. The class examines the multiple ways that religion intersects with power and resistance with particular attention to how religion acts as a resource and identity for enacting both reformative and radical social change. The course uses history, fiction, sociology and theory to examine religion in both conservative and progressive movements including Immigrant rights, Prison Abolition, the Civil Rights movement, white supremacy past and present, suffrage and voting rights, reproductive rights, #MeToo and Black Lives Matter. Students will have the opportunity to do oral histories of people involved in religious activism and study a movement or group in depth.
This course is an introduction to public health ethics in health policy and bioethics. It explores a broad spectrum of legal and public health contexts to demonstrate how religious and cultural factors affect health. Students analyze religion and culture as social determinants of health in various case studies. Case studies range from tobacco control laws to public health in religious communities. Course topics include vaccination, HIV/AIDS, sex education, racism and health, recreational use of marijuna, health of refugees, genetically modified organisms, drug pricing, gene patenting, PTSD, food policy, tobacco control, alternative medicine, and experiences with spirituality and healing. The class design utilizes a participatory, student-centered approach to classroom learning. Course materials include religious literature, legal cases, and public health literature. Crosslisted as REL/BIOE 272
This course is an examination of Western philosophical and religious understandings of moral issues brought on by advances in health care, science and technology. In this course, students will learn the "Principles approach" to bioethics, as well as other ethical approaches to the difficult moral issues raised by contemporary medical science and its clinical applications. To that end, case analysis will be used extensively in this course. The course is designed to help facilitate connections for students between medical/scientific advances, ethics, religious values, and American public policy about technology and health care. Each class session will alternate between theoretical and medical/scientific considerations, and the concreteness of bioethical case analyses. Cross-listed as BIOE/REL 292.
This course examines various religious, cultural, legal, feminist, and ethical issues surrounding reproduction and assisted reproductive technologies. It analyzes tensions related to curtailing or enhancing fertility in the United States. The course surveys how religious beliefs, cultural contexts, and laws have influenced patients' reproductive decisions, clinicians' medical decisions, and the reproductive healthcare system. Moral issues surveyed in this course include reproductive rights, contraception, abortion, prenatal diagnosis, assisted reproduction, surrogacy, genetic engineering in assisted reproduction, and the delivery of reproductive healthcare. Students actively participate in discussion, debate, and role-playing based on assigned readings. Readings include religious texts, bioethics literature, feminist literature, film, and legal cases.
What do the lamb of God and White Buffalo Woman have in common? For one thing, they illustrate the sometimes-blurry intersection of humans, animals, and the divine; for another, they illustrate the powerful role played by animals in the religious imagination. As the French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss once remarked, "animals are good to think." As others have pointed out, they're also good to eat, ride, look at, hunt, train for battle, make things out of, and keep as companions. In religion, animals have additionally served as sacrificial offerings, totems, signifiers of purity and pollution, and foreshadowers of the apocalypse. In this class students begin to trace the vast interplay between human and non-human animals in the history of religion. Drawing from the emerging field of Critical Animal Studies, Japanimals weaves together rigorous critical theoretical inquiry with case studies drawn broadly from the history of religions, with a particular focus on case studies from Japan. Students emerge from this course able to articulate how different religious traditions have viewed animals, how religions have influenced modern conceptions of animals, and how religious traditions may (or may not) provide resources for addressing contemporary challenges facing human and non-human animals.
"Know thyself" is a maxim central to the religious quest, but individuals who are intensely and urgently driven to know themselves often occupy the outskirts of ordinary society. Although these "outsiders" are a part of their culture and contribute to their culture, they no longer share the common values of their society. The course seeks to explore the role of outsiders (those who desire inner freedom and transformation) in the context of bourgeois society. The first half of the course draws on ancient materials ("Epic of Gilgamesh," "The Oresteia," and Plato's "Republic") in discussing ideas of ontology, psychology, consciousness, and transformation. The second half of the course relies on novels and novellas by Ouspensky, Hesse, and Mann for a discussion of bourgeois attitudes toward the outsider and toward the outsider's struggle to become an individual who confronts the habitual, unconscious, and mechanical patterns of existence.
This course provides an opportunity for students to examine the contours of an ethical framework of responsibility by exploring contemporary moral and religious narratives about the "other" from a multicultural perspective. Students learn to apply various ethical theories to particular issues and dilemmas, such as race-class-gender, violence, sexuality, and issues of "difference."
This course explores the intertwined histories of religion and sexuality in the twentieth- and twenty-first century United States, with attention to transnational contexts and global politics. These two categories--religion and sexuality--are often portrayed as oppositional forces, with sexual progress pitted against religious resistance. This course reappraises this relationship of opposition through a series of historical case studies, which highlight the plurality of religious investments in changing constructions and practices of sexuality.
The seminar focuses on the thought of Walter Benjamin, including a selection of texts commonly referred to as Benjamin's "messianic" or "theological" writings. Benjamin's life, work, and influence represent a remarkable nexus of aesthetic theory, cultural critique, Western Marxism, and Jewish mysticism. The course is especially aimed at laying bare the messianic structure of his thought as most clearly demonstrated in his early essays "Critique of Violence" and "The Task of the Translator," both published during his lifetime in 1921 and 1923. Themes include: a-theology, messianic time, utopia, apocalypse, redemption, political-theology, dialectical image, profane life, "bare life," nihilism, violence, transcendence, and the destructive character.
What is the relationship between the university and the prison? How does college in prison raise questions of authority, power and privilege? This is an experiential learning class that combines involvement in a college program at the Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW) and academic classes and readings. Students read texts on the history of prisons, theories of punishment, higher education in prison, and how the intersection of race, gender and sexuality impact the experience of incarceration and education in prison. Students also participate as research partners and study hall co-learners with students at the prison in collaboration with the Freedom Education Project Puget Sound (FEPPS), a signature initiative of the University of Puget Sound. Through collaboration with FEPPS students, students in this class will gain knowledge about the challenges and benefits of the liberal arts in prison.
Many of the distinctive features of the modern Western legal tradition can be traced to medieval Europe and itd religious beliefs and practices. International law, law on the European continent, and law in nations following the Anglo-American tradition have been deeply colored by the assumptions and arguments of medieval canon law, the law regulating the Latin Catholic Church. This courses discusses legal developments in Europe during the medieval period. Topics covered include sin and crime, natural law, and law governing marriage and sexual norms. The course examines how canonical norms and ideas influenced secular law in the Middle Ages and how they have continued to shape Western law and legal theory up to the present.
REL 204, 210, or 363 or HIST 102, 302, or 303 would be helpful preparation.
This course examines the religious and ethical justifications for non-violence as a tool of resistance and social change in the twentieth century through the study of the lives and writings of Leo Tolstoy, Mohandas Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr. Students study these activists within their historical context by reading their autobiographies and examining the religious foundations - Christian and Hindu - of their teachings. A Buddhist approach to nonviolent social change, in the work of Thich Nhat Hanh, is also examined. The course assesses the prospects for nonviolent change in the twenty-first century.
From zombies to climate change to the rapture, apocalyptic narratives of how the world ends and what comes after have stimulated literary and religious imaginations for over 2000 years. Often, apocalyptic stories tell us more about the conditions, social fears, and anxieties in which they are produced than about any anticipated future. This course explores religious, literary, pop cultural, technological, environmental, and catastrophic narratives and beliefs about the apocalypse. The course addresses why apocalyptic narratives are so enduring in American culture, and why apocalyptic movements so often employ violence to usher in the end. It will also pay close attention to how gender, race, sexuality, and fears about reproduction are often central to apocalyptic ideas--whether religious, environmental, or political.
This course acquaints students with major Jewish thinkers in the modern and contemporary periods. The course begins by asking what makes a thinker Jewish? What makes a Jewish thinker modern? After a brief overview of major themes in Jewish ethics, students begin their exploration with a study of Baruch Spinoza's rationalist challenge to Judaism that results in the quintessential modern question, who is a Jew? Students then turn to Jewish responses to the Enlightenment, emancipation, nationalism, and new forms of antisemitism. These responses include a variety of Zionists, socialist Jews, existentialists such as Martin Buber, and mystics and social activists such as Abraham Joshua Heschel. The course then studies post-Holocaust Jewish ethicists, Jewish feminists, and contending views on Jewish liberation.
Notwithstanding the many attempts around the world to separate them, the spheres of law and religion repeatedly overlap in their histories and will continue to intersect into the foreseeable future. Both spheres reflect the deepest of humanistic concerns; both serve as arenas for contesting and projecting the authority of individuals, institutions, and texts within all human contexts. Law and religion chart the contours of our personal, social, and civilizational identities along with the relationships between these identities and their relation to the other, both in its sentient and non-sentient forms. This seminar examines the intersection of law and religion within a broad sampling of historical and contemporary contexts. It does so with the goal of identifying the questions and debates that account for these intersections. The first half of the course surveys the most influential legal systems that are grounded in what is known conventionally as a religious tradition. The second part of the course turns its attention to what is known conventionally as secular models of law to discern how such models define religion and locate themselves in relation to it.
This course approaches the subject of sexuality in the Christian tradition by focusing on three broad periods ' early Christianity, the Middle Ages, and today. Within each era, students investigate questions of virginity, chastity, marriage, and non-normative sexualities (such as homosexuality). Students enlist a diverse selection of primary and secondary sources ' theoretical and historical. Through this fascinating exploration of Christianity and sexuality, students witness a dizzying variety of ways that sexualities have been lived, accepted, utilized, and interpreted. Furthermore, students develop a richer understanding of what sexuality has meant to Christianity over the ages and why it matters so much.
This course examines multiple configurations of and debates about gender and sexuality in Muslim societies. Topics covered include gender in the Qur'an, sex in Sufi poetry, Islamic laws on sexuality and gendered difference, masculinity, non-binary genders, and queerness in disparate Muslim contexts. The course will also explore links between some feminisms and imperialism, the ways that colonialism has shaped gendered discourses, and the ties between Islamophobia, homophobia, and foreign interventionism. Students will be immersed in art, ethnographic accounts, legal literature, theology, and film about these topics.
What makes a religious movement new? Why do we use this designation for some movements and not others? This course will examine a series of new religious movements that have emerged within the last 150 years: The Native American Church, Scientology, the Nation of Islam, the Raelians, Neo-Pagan Witchcraft, Scientology, Rajneesh, the Branch Davidians, Falun Gong, Jonestown, UFO movements, and Heaven's Gate. In the process, we will examine the relationship between NRMs and consumer society and new technologies. We will also focus on how gender, sexuality and race shape the beliefs and practices within NRMs. In the course of our discussion, we will ask: why is it that religion has not in fact waned as a global force but instead become even more powerful? Why do some religious movements become linked to political violence and terrorism? As we will see, however, the so-called "New" is perhaps not so very new after all, but in many ways simply the latest expression of a long tradition of religious belief in the United States.
This course examines relationships between religious traditions, the "state," and nationalism in Japanese history. Through careful study of primary and secondary sources, the course explores early symbiosis between religious rites and governance; the role of Shinto and Buddhism in legitimating systems of government centered on the emperor or warrior elites; religious components in modern Japanese imperialism; challenges to the separation of religion and the state in post-war Japan; civil religion; and cultural nationalism.
Should American religious history be told as story of increasing diversity and freedom? This course surveys the changing meanings of religious freedom in the United States from the early nation to the present day. Students consider key primary sources--founding documents, court cases, political cartoons, accusations, and apologetics--and weigh these alongside the arguments of scholars in religious studies. These include historian William Hutchinson, who argues that pluralism in the United States is an ongoing legacy of the nation's founders, as well as law professor Winifred Fallers Sullivan, who contends that the structures intended to protect religious expression have made religious freedom a practical impossibility. Students develop their own arguments in this debate through a research project that analyzes a historical or contemporary controversy over religious freedom.
A study of the origin and development of Buddhism. Special emphasis is given to the history of Buddhist thought, the evolution of the primary schools of Buddhism, and the question of cultural influence on Buddhist expansion. Sources for study are drawn from Indian, Tibetan, Chinese, and Japanese texts in translation.
This course explores the roles of Asian women in regard to issues of equivalence, status, and goals in Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, and indigenous Asian religions, such as Shinto and Bon. For each religion the course highlights some of the dominant roles and assesses if certain roles change through centuries. This exploration leads to an examination of the function of gender in religious traditional symbols, institutional roles, and personal searches in a comparative light. A variety of sources, which include primary sources, scholarly articles, biographies, and newspaper reports are used for this exploration.
This course examines the origin and development of religion in South Asian antiquity. Study focuses on the mythology and symbology of the Vedic textual corpus, the rise of ritual ideologies, and the meaning and influence of the yogic vision. In addition to Vedic texts, the course may include study of mythic epics (Mahabharata and Ramayana) and non-Vedic myths that appear in the Puranas.
A study of the various systems of myth, ritual, symbol, and thought that have significantly contributed to the development of Hinduism after the Vedic period. The approach of the course is primarily textual, examining a wide range of scriptural sources from the Hindu traditions.
This course is an introduction to the study of tantric and alchemical traditions in South and East Asia. Primarily focused on the rise and development of tantric teachings in Buddhism, the course examines the goals and practices of tantric adepts and virtuosi as expressed in the literature of tantric schools and systems. Topics considered include: advanced contemplative practices, antinomianism and transgressive dimensions of religious experience, subtle physiology, non-dual consciousness, and esotericism.
Tibetan Buddhism uniquely claims to have inherited the entire corpus of Buddhism which no other Buddhist group has. But, for some critics, Tibetan Buddhism is not considered to be Buddhist because of its incorporated beliefs from the indigenous Tibetan religion, Bon. This course examines the religious and philosophical theories of Tibetan Buddhism, its structures and its institutions, and its "incorporation" of Bonpo elements.
This course examines and engages influential theories and approaches to the study of religion developed by scholars with diverse intellectual views. Through theoretical readings and case studies, students receive a broad grounding in classical and contemporary theories of religion, including comparative psychoanalytic, anthropological, feminist, and postmodern approaches. In addition to locating religious studies within wider intellectual movements, the course is designed to help students articulate the values and assumptions they bring to their own studies of religion.
Traces of mystical Islam, or Sufism, fill the poetry shelves of chain bookstores. Quotes attributed to the Sufi poets Rumi and Hafiz grace tea bags, calendars, and any number of tchotchkes available at big box stores around the country. The US government has identified Sufism as the ?tolerant? face of Islam and funneled millions into its promotion. But how much does any of this really say about the complex set of people, practices, and ideas called Sufism? Students in this course encounter Sufism from its earliest instantiation to today. They learn about how Sufis sought to understand and experience God. They meet Sufis who were put to death for ideas deemed to be heretical and others who led anti-colonial military struggles. They come to understand how Sufism has been central to Muslim history; and they see how it continues to be deeply resonant in the lives of devotees from India to West Africa to the contemporary United States.
Mysticism describes a variety of ways in which humans endeavor to encounter the divine directly. The Christian tradition has a long history of mystical encounters, which are founded in the Hebrew Scriptures and in Paul's experience on the road to Damascus. As a text-based religion, Christianity has a complicated relationship with mysticism, since mysticism tends to focus on the directly experiential rather than the textual. And, even as they claimed that such experiences transcended language and expression, mystics often sought to express their experiences. This course examines the ways in which a mystical tradition developed in Christianity, and in which particular metaphors and images came to hold sway. In doing so, it pays attention to the wider social and political context in which the authors wrote and lived, and asks whether these mystics, particularly women, were able to acquire authority and charisma outside of the Church hierarchy. The course thus examines the ways in which mystics occupied an ambivalent space in Western Christianity. The clerical hierarchy has historically sought to limit charisma and prophecy. Mystics thus both threatened the official hierarchy, which sought to limit charisma, but also, sometimes, reinforced the status quo. Questions about power, the body, textuality, charisma, social structures, and authority will be central to our investigation of the Christian mystical tradition.
This course surveys the major developments in Christian history from its origins up to the current day. In the first half of the course, the focus is on patterns of Christian thought including institutional changes and social context up to 1500 CE. Although this is largely a story of the clerical hierarchy in the Latin West, wherever possible the course emphasizes the role of lay persons, women and Eastern Christianity. In the second half of the course, the focus is on the challenges to Christianity posed by modernity including the Protestant movement, the Enlightenment, the New World, and the liberation movement among women, minorities, and third world peoples. Readings are from both primary and secondary sources.
An in-depth study of feminist theory, theology, and ethics, and the role such theories have played in western social and religious thought. Among the issues explored are justice, violence, the body, sexuality, knowledge, power. Prior work in religion, gender studies, comparative sociology, philosophy, or feminist political theory is helpful, as well as a facility with writing.
Do religions originate in myths of violence, and then re-enact them, as in the Eucharist? How do sacred texts enshrine and commemorate violence? How do religions motivate, justify or reinforce violence? What role does ritual play in re-enacting violence? What roles do eschatological expectations play in violence? How has the postcolonial world grappled with the questions of religious violence? This class explores historical case studies in the relationship between religion and violence, such as the Christian doctrine of just war and the Crusades, the history and practice of Islamic ideas of jihad, or Hindu nationalistic violence. We also consider the question of self-inflicted violence and suffering, as performed in religious rituals. Students read theoretical works and examine case studies; students are encouraged to elaborate their own understanding of the nature of religion and violence.
How are living and dying understood in contemporary critical theory and religious studies? In what ways are the lives and deaths of humans and nonhumans governed by economic logics? Whose lives are privileged over others and with what consequences? How are certain bodies made killable and others grievable? How are precarity and vulnerability related to fear and violence? How do we live and die well, and who has this privilege? This seminar interrogates these and other questions with attention to race, gender, species, ability, and other sites of perceived difference. This course asks students to theorize real-world moments of living and dying -- of 'making live' and 'letting die' -- to understand the deeply political nature of life and death as differential moments on a continuum of being. Students can expect to explore pressing contemporary issues such as mass incarceration, solitary confinement and 'civil death;' slavery and commodifying life; end-of-life care and euthanasia; and the role of the visual in torture at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib.
While the field of religious studies frequently focuses on belief and the intellectual development of religious traditions, this course shifts its focus to the body and its importance for the study of religion. The class examines the role of the body as a vehicle through which individuals experience "the sacred," and as a site upon which communities inscribe, assert, and contest religious values. Taking a comparative approach toward cases drawn from Buddhism, Christianity, and indigenous traditions, the class explores such themes as the perfectible body, the body in pain, bodily relics, the body in ritual, and transcending the body altogether. Finally, by drawing on classical and contemporary theorists, students work to develop their own frameworks through which to understand and interpret the crucial role of the body in the history of religions.
This course explores the relationships between conceptions of humanity, non-human nature, and religion from the vantage point of our era of climate change and environmental destruction. Proceeding from the insight that this era troubles easy notions of human separateness and superiority, students in the course ask how communities of religious practitioners and theorists understand this moment and seek to reorient human life amongst the earthlings.
"Anthropocene" is a term that refers to the geological epoch marked by human domination of Earth. The term has been critiqued from a variety of scientific and non-scientific perspectives. Some have pointed out that the generic notion of "humanity" conceals the fact that not all people are equally responsible for the current crisis. Others have suggested that the term perpetuates the notion that humans are all powerful, even god-like, in their control of the environment. This course takes up these critiques, first, from the perspective of pre-modern religious texts that already destabilized the separation between humans and non-human nature. Then, it looks to how some modern theories of politics rested on theological notions of human dominion over the earth. Finally, students analyze how knowledges about environmental degradation have led people to reengage their traditions and practices towards new forms of survival and becoming.
The modern human is fully immersed in a seemingly immanent technological world. Although the instrumentalization of technology in forms of state and non-state violence in the modern era -- including war, colonialization, concentration camps, detention centers, IEDs, and so on -- cannot be denied or underestimated, the psychic violence and ontological deformation of the human through the technology of the quotidian remains undertheorized. The event, results and veiled contradictions of this quotidian technological capture remain largely mystified, unseen, and unexamined. The seminar will investigate aspects of advanced technology's impact on the modern and post-modern human, including the tendency toward the neutralization and depoliticization of society predicted and theorized by the political philosopher Carl Schmitt in the early twentieth century. Our investigation concludes with the question of possible modes of the ontotheological redemption of the human in a world of total technological instrumentalization. Key authors in our study include Carl Schmitt, Theodore Adorno, Walter Benjamin, Hannah Arendt, Frantz Fanon, Giorgio Agamben, Achille Mbembe, and Byung-Chul Han.
This advanced seminar investigates the roles of emotion in morality and religion. Students begin with a study of the neuroscience of emotion and proceed to examine the moral stance toward emotions urged by thinkers such as the Stoics, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Jonathan Edwards, and David Hume. Are emotions essential to a virtuous life or to religious expression? Should religious ritual aim at emotional catharsis? Are negative emotions to be extinguished, regulated, or discharged? Students examine how these positions inform contemporary ethical debates, such as the morality of anger, disgust as a basis for anti-gay legislation, lust within a pursuit of rational sex,shame within the criminal justice system, and neo-Humean defenses of blame. Two inquiries are sustained throughout the seminar: how emotions can be used to sustain exploitative institutions and become linked to oppression and the relation of physical release of emotion to well-being.
This advanced seminar for Religion majors takes up the question of what place (if any) religious and social ethics has in postmodern culture. In other words, what characterizes postmodernity and what has been its effects on the discipline of ethics? Are there any prospects for a common morality given the realities of post-structuralist deconstruction? How will one determine the appropriateness of an ethic for postmodern culture?
This advanced seminar theorizes the intersections of religion and technology as a critical site for exploring broad topics in religious studies. The course will take various approaches to relations among religion, technique, and knowledge production: we examine rhetorical constructions of the religious and the technological; explore religious influences on invention and scientific progress; analyze spiritual ideals and contemporary machines; and theorize ways that religious practices and traditions operate as techniques and specialized knowledges. Course topics will include steam-propelled engines and electromagnetism, physical regimens and body modification, cartography and cyberspace, confession and self-help. With attention to interdisciplinary method, students will also work on a specific project throughout the semester that proceeds through topic selection, question formulation, research, analysis, and argumentation to produce a final research paper.
This course examines migrations and lived religion in the era of globalization from multiple disciplinary perspectives (e.g. sociological, anthropological, ethical, historical, and theological) in both local and global locations (e.g. Seattle, Asia, Latin America). It explores lived experiences of religious beliefs and practices in the context of migrations (including immigration, internal migration, rural-urban migration). This course focuses on the "hybrid" religious forms in the postcolonial world in the interactions between religion and ethnicity, race, class, and gender. Students will analyze various religious practices in terms of the role of material culture, the engagement of community, lived ethics, and the embodied religious experience. The course materials include a range of case studies that show lived experiences of immigrant communities and indigenous communities in non-Western religious traditions. In the first half of the semester, students will learn theories and case studies. In the second half of the semester, students will apply theory, conduct their own research, analyze a case, and make an argument in speaking and writing.
This seminar is organized around themes and topics that are of special interest to the study of religion. The seminar is offered on an occasional basis and the topic is determined in advance by the instructor.