Graduate Course Descriptions
RELI GU4105 Religion Lab. 4 points.
Discussion Section Required
In their research, scholars of religion employ a variety of methods to analyze "texts" ranging from historical documents to objects of visual culture. This course acquaints students with both the methods and the materials utilized in the field of religious studies. Through guided exercises, they acquire research skills for utilizing sources and become familiarized with dominant modes of scholarly discourse. The class is organized around a series of research "scavenger hunts" that are due at the start of each week's class and assigned during the discussion section (to be scheduled on the first day of class). Additional class meeting on Thursdays.
RELI GU4170 History of Christianity: Topics in Pre-Modern Papal History. 4 points.
Prerequisites: the instructor's permission.
An examination of a series of episodes that are of special consequence for papal history in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Readings in both primary and secondary sources in English translation.
RELI GU4202 Time, Modernity, Death. 4 points.
The notion of modernity in the West implies a distinctive interpretation of temporality and subjectivity, which grows out of theological and philosophical traditions. Lutheran Protestantism, as developed by Hegel, Kierkegaard, and Heidegger, created the conditions for both the construction and the deconstruction of modernism and its extension in postmodernism. The course will examine these two trajectories by considering their contrasting interpretations of the relationship of human selfhood to time and death. On the one hand, the death of God leads to a radical immanence in which human subjectivity either is absolutized as the will to power or mastery that dominates or negates all difference and otherness, or is repressed by universal structures and infrastructures for which individual subjects are unknowing and unwitting vehicles. On the other hand, human subjectivity appears to be finite because its irreducible singularity is always given by another that can be neither known nor controlled. The course will conclude by considering the alternative psychological, political, and ethical implications of these two contrasting positions.
RELI GU 4206. 4 points.
In Refashioning Futures, David Scott asks if the accurate reconstruction of the past of an identity is the crucial point of a theoretical intervention. He ponders, instead, if such a historicist analysis should be followed by an emphatic “But so what?” The importance of asking “so what” is that it allows us to begin to refuse, Scott writes, “history its subjectivity, its constancy, its eternity” and “interrupt its seemingly irrepressible succession, causality, its sovereign claim to determinacy” (105). The question “so what?” requires, in other words, we answer for history’s prominence and providence as well as consider other possible formations of community, temporality, and inheritance not anchored by the weight of ‘history’.
This seminar examines the overwhelming hold of “history” in the present by considering Scott’s poignant “But so what?” We will begin by examining the problem-space of ‘history’ itself and how ‘history’ emerged as the foundation to understanding and ordering religious life globally.
We will explore the wide-ranging effects of Enlightenment rationality and Orientalist knowledge production as well as consider the imbrication of history with theology and the secular. This section of the course will help develop a shared set of concepts and problematics, which we will continuously encircle throughout. We will then examine how scholars have troubled this historical conscription, reorienting our understandings of temporality, tradition, and the past. The last half of the course, therefore, considers a range of different methods and theories that undo the importance of ‘history’ while remaining attuned to questions of the past, time, and inheritance.
RELI GU4212 Modern Buddhism. 4 points.
What most Americans and Europeans call ‘Buddhism’ today is in fact a hybrid tradition dating back to the 19th century. It owes as much to European philosophy and esoteric thought as to Asian traditions themselves and appeared in the context of decolonization. This course will survey the history of this recent tradition, identifying cultural and political trends that contributed to its creation in various geographical areas. Readings include several primary texts by important proponents of Modern Buddhism. The texts should also be read in comparison with the appropriate scholarly works on the Asian traditions they supposedly draw on. One course on Buddhism or East Asian Religions is recommended, but not required, as background.
RELI GU4218 Heidegger and the Jews. 4 points.
The conundrum of Martin Heidegger and the Jews continues. The recent publications of Heidegger’s Black-Notebooks reignited the debate over his ties to the National Socialist party and his personal anti-Semitism. These notebooks reveal that Heidegger establishes a philosophical case for his prejudices against Jews, one which arguably cuts to the very heart of his thinking. And yet, many of his closest and most brilliant students were Jewish, and it is becoming increasingly clear that his philosophy has left an indelible mark on twentieth century Jewish thought. This course is divided into two units: In the first unit we will become familiar with some central themes of Heidegger’s thought and explore the question of the philosophical grounding of his political failing. In the second unit we will examine a variety of responses to Heidegger by Jewish thinkers who, in different ways and for different purposes, both profited greatly from his philosophical innovations and levelled profound criticism of his thought and actions. The animating question the course will attempt to answer is: Is it possible, as one student of Heidegger’s had suggested, to think with and against Heidegger?
RELI GU4219 Colonialism and religion in South Asia. 4 points.
This course examines the conceptual trouble wrought by colonial rule in relation to boundaries, both of tradition and identity. We will begin by examining the category of ‘religion’ and how it emerged as an object of inquiry to understand and order life in the South Asian subcontinent. By exploring the wide-ranging effects of Orientalist knowledge production premised on secular historicity, this section of the course will help develop a shared set of concepts, which we will continuously encircle throughout. We will then question the role of this knowledge/power nexus in creating and reifying both notions of ‘fluid’ and ‘communal’ boundaries by studying the internal coherence and colonial inflection of several religious traditions in the subcontinent (Hinduism, Sikhism, Islam, and Buddhism). In concluding, we will consider how colonialism shifted the parameters of selfhood, creating new grounds, as well as reifying old ones, from which subjects came to contest the parameters of a given tradition.
RELI GU4220 Political Theology. 4 points.
Prerequisites: Prior coursework in Religion, MESAAS, political theory, or related field is advised.
This reading-intensive course will engage the notion of “political theology,” a phrase that emerges within the Western tradition (Varro, Augustine) and has become instrumental in thinking and institutionalizing the distinction between religion and politics over the course of the twentieth century. We will take as our point of departure the key texts that have revived this notion (Schmitt, Kantorowicz), and engage their interpretation of the Bible and of Augustine and medieval followers. We will then examine the role of Spinoza and Moses Mendelsohn, the extension of the notion of religion to “the East” (Said, Grosrichard, Asad), and conclude with some of the current debates over secularization in the colonizing and colonized world.
The main part of the course will be dedicated to the question of religion as it informs our thinking of disciplinary divisions. Is religion a sphere than can be isolated? How did it become so? What are the effects of this isolation?
RELI GU4228 South Asia and the Secular. 4 points.
This seminar explores different contestations and inflections of the secular in South Asia.We will begin by tracing a genealogy of the secular, which gave rise to a particular discursive grammar. Grounding ourselves in this formative space of the secular, we will study the constitutive nature of imperialism within the secular by examining the disciplining and conscripting role of Orientalism and the colonial state. Though noting these changes produced by colonial rule, this course also explores the arguments scholars of South Asia have made distinguishing between “secularisms” and the production of a tolerant and cosmopolitan South Asian orientation. In conjunction and against these possibilities, rather than consider the religious retrograde or communal, we will consider the continual striving toward political autonomy through disputation in the parameters of a given tradition—which resist incorporation into a broader pluralist or syncretic Indic model.
RELI GU4304 Krishna. 4 points.
CC/GS/SEAS: Partial Fulfillment of Global Core Requirement
Study of a single deity in the Hindu pantheon as illuminated in art, music, dance, drama, theological treatises, patterns of ritual, and texts both classic and modern. Special attention to Krishna's consort Radha, to Krishna's reception in the West, and to his portrayal on Indian television.
RELI GU4305 Secular and Spiritual America. 4 points.
Prerequisites: Majors and concentrators receive first priority.
Are Americans becoming more secular or more spiritual (not religious), or both? What are the connections between secularism and what is typically called non-organized religion or the spiritual in the United States? We will address these questions by looking at some of the historical trajectories that shape contemporary debates and designations (differences) between spiritual, secular and religious.
RELI GU4307 Interactions of Buddhism and Daoism in China. 4 points.
Prerequisites: one course on Buddhism or Chinese religious traditions is recommended, but not required, as background.
In this course we will read English scholarship that probes the complex relationships between Buddhism and Daoism in the past two millennia. Students are required not only to be aware of the complementarity and tensions between them, but to be alert to the nature of claims to religious distinction or mixing and the ways those claims were put forward under specific religio-historical circumstances. The course is designed for advanced undergraduate and graduate students in East Asian religion, literature, history, art history and anthropology.
RELI GU4308 Jewish Philosophy and Kabbalah. 4 points.
The purpose of this seminar is to study the interactions between two major intellectual trends in Jewish History, the philosophical and the mystical ones. From the medieval period to the twenty-first century, we will discuss their interactions, polemics and influences. We will compare Philosophy and Kabbalah in light of their understanding of divine representation and in light of their respective Theology and conception of God.
RELI GU4311 Fanon: Religion, Race, Philosophy in Africa and Beyond. 4 points.
This class will examine the work of Fanon through its sources, its context and its contemporary interpretations.
RELI GU4315 Sufis and the Qur'an. 4 points.
This course is a seminar for advanced undergraduates and graduate students who wish to gain an understanding of the complexity and richness of the Sufi exegetical tradition. The Qur'an has been the main source of inspiration and contemplation for Sufis for centuries....
RELI GU4318 Interpreting Buddhist Yoga: Hermeneutics East West Quantum. 4 points.
A seminar exploring the meanings of Buddhist Tantra and being, time, space, gender, technology, and mysticism through traditional religious, modern, post-modern, digital, quantum, and Buddhist "hermeneutics," the science and art of interpretation. We will read ancient and modern classics on hermeneutics, by Schleiermacher, Gadamer, Heidegger, Barthes, and Ricouer; Indian and Tibetan works on their systems of interpretation, at least as sophisticated as anything from Europe; and contemporary works on how digital technology brings us into a world of new meaning for everything, including Buddhist yoga.
RELI GU4322 Exploring the Sharia: Topics in Islamic Law. 4 points.
CC/GS/SEAS: Partial Fulfillment of Global Core Requirement
The platform of every modern Islamist political party calls for the implementation of the sharia. This term is invariably (and incorrectly) interpreted as an unchanging legal code dating back to 7th century Arabia. In reality, Islamic law is an organic and constantly evolving human project aimed at ascertaining God's will in a given historical and cultural context. This course offers a detailed and nuanced look at the Islamic legal methodology and its evolution over the last 1400 years. The first part of the semester is dedicated to classical Islamic jurisprudence, concentrating on the manner in which jurists used the Qur'an, the Sunna (the model of the Prophet), and rationality to articulate a coherent legal system. The second part of the course focuses on those areas of the law that engender passionate debate and controversy in the contemporary world. Specifically, we examine the discourse surrounding Islamic family (medical ethics, marriage, divorce, women's rights) and criminal (capital punishment, apostasy, suicide/martyrdom) law. The course concludes by discussing the legal implications of Muslims living as minorities in non-Islamic countries and the effects of modernity on the foundations of Islamic jurisprudence.
RELI GU4325 Sufism. 4 points.
Prerequisites: Permission of instructor.
This is a seminar for advanced undergraduate and graduate students who wish to gain an understanding of the richness of Sufism (Islamic mysticism). We will examine the historical origins, development and institutionalization of Sufism, including long-standing debates over its place within the wider Islamic tradition. By way of a close reading of a wide range of primary and secondary sources, we will examine Sufi attitudes toward the body, Sufi understandings of lineage, power and religious authority, as well as the continued importance of Sufism in the modern world
RELI GU4326 Sufism in South Asia. 4 points.
Sufism has been described as the mystical side of Islam. This seminar for advanced undergraduates and graduate students will examine Sufism in South Asia as a spiritual, ethical and self-forming activity that has been profoundly affected by the historical, sociocultural, political, and everyday environments in which is it experienced and practiced.
RELI GU4355 The African American Prophetic Political Tradition from David Walker to Barack Obama. 4 points.
Through a wide range of readings and classroom discussions, this course will introduce students to the crucial role that the unique African-American appropriation of the Judeo-Christian prophetic biblical tradition has played -- and continues to play -- in the lives of black people in America.
RELI GU4365 Revolutionary Women and Political Islam. 4 points.
Muslim female reformers and revolutionaries were at the forefront of many of the 20th and early 21st centuries’ historic socio-political and religious movements across the Global South. Members of diverse classes, families, and ethnic communities, many worked within the tenets of Islam in multiple ways to construct religious identity and work towards achieving and demanding civil and political rights. Yet the myriad theoretical and popular discourses underpinning emergent and longstanding women’s movements within revolutionary contexts are frequently overlooked. Moreover, representations of Muslim women too often rely on essentialist, ahistorical, static, victim-centered, and Orientalist descriptions and analyses. As a result, shades of difference in interpretation, ideology, practice, and culture are minimized. This course situates Muslim women as complex, multidimensional actors engaged in knowledge production and political and feminist struggles. We will read key texts and analyses from scholars and activists writing on religion, gender, sexuality, family planning, and women’s status in the contemporary Global South. The following questions will emerge in our discussions: “When is a hejab just a hejab?,” “Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving?,” and “What is an ‘Islamic Feminist’ and Should We Care?” Readings include memoirs, editorials, ethnographies, and political treatises, as well as historical scholarship from North Africa, the Gulf, the Levant, and Southeast Asia.
RELI GU4411 Religion, Mind, and Science Fiction. 4 points.
While not yet fully recognized as a literary or philosophical genre, science fiction, through the “dislocation” it operates, raises (or amplifies) questions that have long been the preserve of religion, metaphysics, or philosophy, and it has brought some of these questions into the realm of popular culture. Science fiction is often perceived as hostile to religion, yet it often blurs the boundaries between science and religion. Recent SF, unlike the traditional “space opera,” revolves around the relations between the human mind and Artificial Intelligence — a challenge that our fast-evolving technoscientific society is confronting with a new sense of urgency. This course examines overlapping issues and questions shared by religion and SF.
RELI GU4416 Empire and Secularization in Africa: Reform, Mission, Islam. 4 points.
This course examines how Empires paved the way to a new form of domination in Africa. Secularizing processes will be analyzed in relation to imperial histories in Africa. From the Expedition in Egypt to the Berlin Conference, Empires in Africa were both secular and religious. We will examine the multiple ways in which Empires colonized Africa by encountering, regulating or transforming African religious traditions. The class will compare historical geographies of ‘‘North Western’’ and ‘‘North Eastern’’ Africa by focusing on the Maghreb and West Africa but also on Egypt and Sudan. We will examine the relations of Empires with Islam and Christian missions in Africa. We will also examine how African uprisings challenge and challenged Imperial and State powers both before and during the Panafrican movement. We will eventually look at both Imperial and Anti-Imperial legacies in Africa today.
RELI GU4418 On African Theory: Religion, Philosophy, Anthropology. 4 points.
CC/GS/SEAS: Partial Fulfillment of Global Core Requirement
What is African Theory? Is a theory African simply because it is rooted in the political present of the continent? Is it African because it corresponds to an African cultural singularity or simply because his authors and inventors come from or live in Africa? This class will examine some central aspects of both African and Africana philosophy. We will study a) how religious traditions shape African theory b) how the influence of colonial anthropology on concepts of African culture and tradition can be challenged c) how African theory relates to African politics of decolonization, in North and "subsaharan" Africa. The major dialectical problem we will examine during the class is the ongoing contradiction between claims of authenticity and demands of liberation, traditionalism and modernism, religion and secularism, culturalism and Marxism.
RELI GU4509 Crime and Punishment in Jewish Culture. 4 points.
Explores ethical, cultural, and political dimensions of Jewish criminal punishment from the Bible through modernity, with focus on death penalty and running reference to Foucault's Discipline and Punish. Topics include: interaction between law and narrative; Jewish power to punish; Sanhedrin trial of Jesus; ritualization of execution; prison; torture; martyrdom.
RELI GU4513 Buddhism and Neuroscience. 4 points.
With the Dalai Lama's marked interest in recent advances in neuroscience, the question of the compatibility between Buddhist psychology and neuroscience has been raised in a number of conferences and studies. This course will examine the state of the question, look at claims made on both sides, and discuss whether or not there is a convergence between Buddhist discourse about the mind and scientific discourse about the brain.
RELI GU4514 Defining Marriage. 4 points.
This seminar examines the changing purpose and meaning of marriage in the history of the United States from European colonization through contemporary debates over gay marriage. Topics include religious views of marriage, interracial marriage, and the political uses of the institution.
RELI GU4515 Reincarnation and Technology. 4 points.
A seminar exploring reincarnation, resurrection, and their contemporary cyber-relatives, uploading and simulation. We'll explore Abrahamic, Amerind, Chinese, Greek, and Indian accounts, the Tibetan Buddhist reincarnation tradition and methodology in detail, and contemporary research on reincarnation, near-death, and out-of-body experiences. We will then turn to contemporary developments in science, religion, and philosophy concerning uploading consciousness to computer media and the probability that we are living a simulation. We will investigate whether religious traditions are consistent with or expressive of simulated reality, and the application of karma to all of the above.
RELI GU4516 The Politics of Freud in the Postcolony. 4 points.
This seminar examines the legacies of psychoanalysis through a critical exploration of how its concepts, practices and institutes have operated in colonial and postcolonial contexts. Weekly discussions will look at how practicing therapists, activists, anthropologists and others have extended, subverted and displaced psychoanalytic thought within non-European histories and imaginaries. Topics include challenges to the universality of the Oedipus emerging from early 20th century anthropologist’s studies of kinship in Papua New Guinea, legacies of a self-made South Asian psychoanalyst’s challenges to Freudian orthodoxies, and the study of a psychoanalysis of racism forged out of a Martinican psychiatrist’s encounters with colonial neuroses in Algeria. We will also explore how psychoanalytic concepts have been deployed in debates about repression and sexuality in daily life during the Cultural Revolution and the psychic legacies of Maoism in contemporary China. In addition to reading the work of Freud and his critics, we will encounter primary materials—religious texts, movies, novels—that have been subjected to psychoanalytically-inflected interpretations. While attending to the cultural, racial and political assumptions suffusing psychoanalysis, our seminar will also show how variously situated authors have given this tradition new applications and meanings.
RELI GU4526 Food and Sex in Premodern Chinese Buddhism. 4 points.
This course is an upper-level seminar on appetite and its management, designed for advanced undergraduates and graduate students. Our focus will be on the appetites of food hunger and sexual desire, and how Chinese Buddhist teachings propose to manage these. Food and sex are separate domains of experience, but as the primary objects of bodily appetites, they are analogous. Eating and sex both involve a direct and substantive interaction with the material world that is driven by powerful desires. In Buddhist teachings, these desires are said to bind us to the cycle of rebirth (saṃsāra) and to shape the actions (karma), both mental and corporeal, that constitute our moral engagement with the phenomenal world. Hence it is important to know how a Buddhist on the path out of suffering is to manage these activities. What do monastic codes stipulate? What disciplines did lay Buddhists undertake? How are transgressions identified and handled? How do ancient Chinese and Daoist ideas inform the development of Chinese Buddhist attitudes toward sex and diet? How did Chinese Buddhist monastics come to adopt a meatless diet? How do religions use food and sex as tools for determining one's ritual purity (i.e., moral worth)? We will explore these and related topics. Despite the common perception of Buddhism as a world-denying religion focused on transcending bodily needs, Chinese Buddhists (and their Indian or Central Asian counterparts) engaged in numerous body practices with worldly benefit, while at the same time mitigating the dangers of desire through various doctrinal and practical means. This course is an exploration of those means.
RELI GU4535 Buddhist Contemplative Sciences. 4 points.
This course will explore key Buddhist contemplative sciences, including: stabilizing meditation; analytic insight meditation; the four immeasurables; form and formless trances; mind training; and the subtle body-mind states activated and transformed through advanced Tantric yoga techniques. These will be explored both within their traditional interdisciplinary frameworks, as well as in dialog with related contemporary arts and sciences.
RELI GU4562 Wittgenstein and Religion. 4 points.
Ludwig Wittgenstein is one of the most important philosophers of the twentieth century, and probably one of the most widely read by non-philosophers. His influence on a number of intellectual disciplines (philosophy, politics, theology, social science, history, etc.) has been considerable. This course will focus on Wittgenstein’s own writings and their reception, with a focus on the study of religion and anthropology.
RELI GU4611 The Lotus Sutra in East Asian Buddhism. 4 points.
Prerequisites: open to students who have taken one previous course in either Buddhism, Chinese religions, or a history course on China or East Asian.
The course examines some central Mahayana Buddhist beliefs and practices through an in-depth study of the Lotus sutra. Schools (Tiantai/Tendai, Nichiren) and cultic practices such as sutra-chanting, meditation, confessional rites, and Guanyin worship based on the scripture. East Asian art and literature inspired by it.
RELI GU4613 Silence. 4 points.
We live in a world of noise where incessant buzz and endless chatter are used as strategies of distraction deployed for political and economic purposes. Increasingly invasive technologies leave little time for quiet reflection and thoughtful deliberation. As the volume rises, silence becomes either a tactic for repression or a means of resistance.
This course will consider the question of silence from the perspectives of theology, philosophy, literature, politics, and art. Special attention will be paid to the role silence plays in different religious traditions. An effort will be made to create a dialogue among philosophical, theological literary, artistic, and film treatments of silence.
Questions to be considered include: How does the importance of silence change with time and place? What are the theological and metaphysical presuppositions of different interpretations of silence? What is the relation of changing technologies to the cultivation of, or resistance to silence? What are the psychological dimensions of different kinds of silence? What is the pedagogical value of silence? How can silence be expressed in music, the visual arts, and architecture? How does the importance of silence change in different social, political, and economic circumstances? Do we need more or less silence today?
RELI GU4615 Media and Religion. 4 points.
Typewriters, trains, electricity, telephones, telegraph, stock tickers, plate glass, shop windows, radio, television, computers, Internet, World Wide Web, cell phones, tablets, search engines, big data, social networks, GPS, virtual reality, Google glass. The technologies turn back on their creators to transform them into their own image. This course will consider the relationship between mechanical, electronic, and digital technologies and different forms of twentieth-century capitalism. The regimes of industrial, consumer, and financial shape the conditions of cultural production and reproduction in different ways. The exploration of different theoretical perspectives will provide alternative interpretations of the interplay of media, technology, and religion that make it possible to chart the trajectory from modernity to postmodernity and beyond.
RELI GU4616 Technology, Religion, Future. 4 points.
This seminar will examine the history of the impact of technology and media on religion and vice versa before bringing into focus the main event: religion today and in the future. We'll read the classics as well as review current writing, video and other media, bringing thinkers such as Eliade, McLuhan, Mumford and Weber into dialogue with the current writing of Kurzweil, Lanier and Taylor, and look at, among other things: ethics in a Virtual World; the relationship between Burning Man, a potential new religion, and technology; the relevance of God and The Rapture in Kurzweil's Singularity; and what will become of karma when carbon-based persons merge with silicon-based entities and other advanced technologies.
RELI GU4617 Image Theories in Chinese Religions. 4 points.
What does “image” mean in Chinese intellectual traditions? How did proponents of different religious persuasions construe the relationship between images and their referents differently and how did such construal change over time? Why did the practice of fashioning images often give rise to controversies in Chinese history? What makes images the object of adoration as well as destruction? Throughout the course, we will tackle these questions from diverse perspectives. The first half of the course examines a variety of accounts from Chinese indigenous classics and treatises. The second half looks at how discourses of the image further diversified after the arrival of Buddhism in China.
RELI GU4626 Reading (In Theory). 4 points.
This reading-intensive course will engage, over time with essential texts of the current critical canon. Offered over a series of semesters, it is aimed at developing a practice of reading: close or distant, and always attentive. Let us say: slow reading. What does it mean to read? Where and when does reading start? Where does it founder? What does reading this author (Freud, for example) or that author (say, Foucault) do to the practice of reading? Can we read without misreading? Can we read for content or information without missing the essential? Is there such a thing as essential reading? Favoring a demanding and strenuous exposure to the text at hand, this course promises just that: a demanding and strenuous exposure to reading. The course can be repeated for credit.
RELI GU4630 Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Philosophy. 4 points.
Examination of topics in the religious philosophy of Tibet.
RELI GU4637 Talmudic Narrative. 4 points.
This course examines the rich world of Talmudic narrative and the way it mediates between conflicting perspectives on a range of topics: life and death; love and sexuality; beauty and superficiality; politics and legal theory; religion and society; community and non-conformity; decision-making and the nature of certainty. While we examine each text closely, we will consider different scholars’ answers – and our own answers – to the questions, how are we to view Talmudic narrative generally, both as literature and as cultural artifact?
RELI GR6112 Thesis Research and Writing Seminar. 4 points.
Course description: This seminar is intended for masters students in Religion who are writing and completing a thesis or other paper of similar length and scope. Enrolled students will work with the instructor, their advisor or second faculty reader, and seminar participants to develop, research, and write a thesis.
Preparation and prerequisites: Instructor’s permission is required to enroll. Students are strongly encouraged to discuss the feasibility of potential thesis topics with a faculty member in Religion (preferably their advisor or other suitable faculty member), and if relevant also strive to identify key primary texts or sources, in advance of the semester.
Course structure: The seminar will meet weekly. The first part of the term will focus on thesis development including scholarly scope, “fit” between theory and methodological approach, and the organization of a literature review and bibliography. The second part of the term will focus on workshopping drafts and sections in development, and ultimately full drafts.
RELI GR6211 The Bhakti Movement. 3 points.
The idea of "the bhakti movement" provides one of the most familiar and important narratives concerning the religious history of Hindu India. This course attempts to trace the genealogy of this concept, to assess its adequacy, and to understand the extent to which it has become constitutive of Hinduism itself.
RELI GR6215 Economic Theology. 4 points.
While the notion of ‘political theology’ has become instrumental in thinking and institutionalizing of politics over the course of the twentieth century it was only until very recently that its counterpart, ‘economic theology,’ has begun to gain currency.
We will take as our point of departure the key texts that have revived this notion (Agamben, Leshem) and engage in their interpretation of the Christian concept of oikonomia, economic theology and political theology. We will then examine the role of the reformation, the scientific revolution, liberalism, and neoliberalism in secularizing the economy and conclude with a discussion of a postliberal economic theology.
The main question we will try to answer by narrating such a long history of “economic theology” is whether Carl Schmitt’s famous maxim that “All significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts not only because of their historical development…but also because of their systematic structure” applies also to all the significant concepts the modern theories of the market economy.
RELI GR6213 Topics in Modern South Asia: Penn-Columbia Seminar. 4 points.
This seminar is intended for graduate students of any relevant department at the MA or PhD level who are interested in the study of religion in modern South Asia. Specific topics include: colonial encounters with religion, Islamic history and interpretation, the post-colonial politics of music and dance, Dalit lifeways, and religion upended by the Anthropocene. The course will be co-taught by Professors Davesh Soneji of the University of Pennsylvania, and Professors Rachel McDermott and Jack Hawley of Columbia University, and will alternate between campuses.
Since Penn and Columbia are both heavily invested in the graduate training of students in the various sub-disciplines of South Asia Studies, faculty at both institutions feel that a joint seminar will afford students an opportunity to meet each other and to benefit from the expertise of faculty outside their primary institutional base.
RELI GR6313 Queer Rituals of Capitalism. 4 points.
The end of capitalism, like religion, has been predicted and anticipated many times over. But, like religion, capitalism seems strangely undead, resilient, and shape-shifting. Queerness has at various points been cast as both capitalism’s and religion’s kryptonite. In this course we will explore how theoretical resources from both religious studies and queer theory might aid us in examining the practices, institutions, and social norms upholding contemporary capitalism. In this sense, we will think about religious studies as a conceptual framework beyond readily recognizable religious traditions and communities and about queer theory as a conceptual framework beyond readily recognizable gender identities, sexual practices, and erotic desires of individual bodies.
Specifically, we will examine how identifications, desires, norms, and institutions become ritualized and affectively invested and how the rituals as rituals recedes from view becoming instead the taken-for-granted infrastructures of our lives. We will be especially interested in how the distinctions made in such dispersions of rituals are less between sacred and profane zones than between contexts of transgressive practices and ways of being that are sanctioned only as long as they are inhabited within these condoned contexts and their limits. Among the aspects that we will inquire are dynamics of sacralization, territorialization of exceptionality, gender and religion in the genealogies of capitalism, neoliberalization and financialization, fungibility, coloniality, creolization, racialization, sexualization, and the eroticization of exploitation.
RELI GR6340 Topics in Chinese Buddhist Studies. 3 points.
Reading on recent scholarship in English on the studies of Chinese Buddhism.
RELI GR6610 Markets, Media, Music: Readings in American Religious History. 4 points.
This course is designed to immerse graduate students in recent scholarship on the history of religion in North America, with a particular focus on questions related to the role of music, media and the marketplace in shaping of religious ideas and practices. Previous background in American history and/or religious studies is preferable.
RELI GR6615 Religion and Media. 4 points.
This is a course designed for graduate students who are interested in media and their connections to religious traditions and practices. This includes a consideration of specific mediums, including books and other printed texts, photography, radio, television, film, and the internet. But there is also an important manner in which media technologies have to be understood not only as these cultural artifacts (radio, film) but also the more elementary senses they express (hearing, sight, etc). We therefore investigate media both as a broad conceptual category and as specific technologies of communication.
Course texts will include a combination of theoretical works as well as case studies drawn from major religious traditions. The learning goals of the course are: (1) to introduce seminal interpretive and methodological issues in the contemporary study of media/mediation; (2) to study some theoretical classics in the field, to provide a foundation for further reading; (3) to introduce new writing in the field; and (4) to encourage students to think of ways in which the issues and authors surveyed might provide models for their own ongoing research work.
RELI GR8303 Seminar in Law and Medieval Christianity. 3 points.
Prerequisites: the instructor's permission.
Gratian's Decretum and the Decretals of Pope Gregory IX: Parts 1 & 2 of the Corpus Iuris Canonici.
RELI GR9300 Readings in Japanese Religion. 0 points.
May be repeated for credit.
This course is designed for advanced graduate students in need of introduction to non-Buddhist as well as Buddhist sources for the study of pre-modern Japanese religion. The following represents a sample syllabus centering upon the themes of astrology and divination in early Japanese religion.
RELI GR9330 Theories of Transmission and Community Formation. 4 points.
Intended as the foundation course for graduate students in Religion who are focusing on the Transmission zone of inquiry. Graduate students in the other departments are also welcome.
Prerequisites: the instructor's permission.
An introduction to the issue of community formation, lineage, genealogy, transmission, and translation, both theoretically and within specific religious traditions.
RELI GR9333 Mahayana Buddhist Scripture. 3 points.
Prerequisites: knowledge of Chinese/Japanese and the instructor's permission.
Advanced seminar in reading and translating major scriptures of East Asian Buddhism. Key doctrinal concepts, figurative strategies and hermeneutical theories underlying canonical texts.
RELI GR9355 Readings in Chinese Religion. 3 points.
Prerequisites: Knowledge of Chinese or Japanese.
This course is designed for advanced graduate students in need of introduction to non-Buddhist as well as Buddhist sources for the study of pre-modern Chinese religion. The course may be repeated for credit.
RELI GR9902 Research in Religion II. 1-6 points.
Prerequisites: the instructor's permission.
Guided individual research.