Graduate Course Descriptions
RELI GU4002 Curating Islam in New York City. 4 points.
This course focuses on the ways in which museums conceptualize, contextualize, curate and display Islamic art. In the process, it interrogates the degree to which the orientalist past and the secular present shapes our understanding of the Muslim world. Students will not just engage with material objects from Muslim societies but also consider the choices museums make about their display and presentation. These choices, in turn, speak to the role of museums in defining a specific understanding of the “sacred.” Finally, students will learn to thoughtfully and critically pose questions about the roles that museums as public institutions play in sharping public and private understandings of Islam. The course begins with a general discussion of material objects in the study of religion. This is followed by a broad survey of Islamic Art which both describes and critiques the category as it has been framed in the Academy. Students then visit a number of museums to learn about the style and content of their Islamic collections. The course concludes by engaging a different kind of curation, namely oral histories in the Brooklyn Museum.
RELI GU4015 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 GU4105 Religion Lab. 4 points.
In their research, scholars of religion employ a variety of methods to analyze texts ranging from historical documents to objects of visual culture.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 GU4120 Gender in Anc Christianity. 4 points.
This seminar considers the difference gender makes in interpreting ancient Christian texts, ideas, and practices. Topics will include gender hierarchy and homoeroticism, prophecy and authority, outsiders’ views of Christianity, bodily pieties such as martyrdom and asceticism, and gender politics in the establishment of church offices. Emphasis will be placed on close readings of primary sources and selected scholarly framings of these sources.
RELI GU4160 Gnosis. 4 points.
RELI GU4172 Confession. 4 points.
This seminar explores the idea and practice of “confession” in a range of manifestations (in legal and judicial contexts, in religious practice, in memoir/autobiography, in political and personal reckoning with the past, in art and popular culture, among others) and from a variety of disciplinary perspectives (media studies, history, theology, literature, psychoanalysis, art history, and journalism). As the sacramental practice of confession recedes from significance within traditional religious contexts, the social practice of confession expands into new arenas. This seminar is devoted to theorizing this shifting terrain through the critical examination of a variety of primary sources and scholarly interventions.
RELI GU4175 Queer Theory Meets Religion. 4 points.
Within religious traditions there are lively discourses of queering these traditions and while religious studies had to catch up, by now there are sizable bodies of queer studies in religion. But theological and religious studies queer discourses rarely reach queer theory in general. Moreover, when queerness and religion are studied together, we usually take queerness primarily as a quality of lives, bodies, and desires and then study how religious traditions and discourses succeed or fail in targeting or supporting queer lives or studies articulate how religious traditions can be recovered through queer readings. We will inquire into the shapes and logics animating queer theory’s religion trouble and wonder about what ways of thinking we preempt when queerness and religion are confined to pertaining to lived bodies and traditions respectively. What happens when we think with “queerness” and “religion” as dimensions irreducible to bodies or traditions? How is it that in the interdisciplinarity of queer theory, religion and religious studies remain largely unthought? To think through some of these questions, we will ask how religion and queerness might be understood as methodologies for examining how truth and affect converge and sediment in the sensibilities and infrastructures orienting how we experience the world around us. We will turn to both religious studies and queer theory to examine two interrelated sets of questions: 1) How are meaning-making and investments with value bound up with gender, race, sexual desires, ability, coloniality, class, age, climate and environmental factors? And 2) what potentials for knowing, acting, living differently are afforded by differing practices, rituals, architectures, and aesthetics of transmitting, refashioning, and institutionalizing knowledge systems?
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 infrastructuers 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 an other 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 GU4204 Religions of the Iranian World. 4 points.
This course is a seminar open to undergraduate and graduate students who wish to gain an understanding of the diverse religious traditions of the Iranian world from ancient to contemporary times. This subject has often been organized around the assumption that a continuous tradition of an Iranian national religious heritage can be identified and traced through from ancient, Zoroastrian to medieval Islamic traditions, and then ultimately to contemporary Shi’ite and minority Zoroastrian and Baha’i traditions. This perspective has presumed that such a legacy has been constitutive and determinative for Iranians’ sense of national identity and for their core religious word-view. From the outset, this course aims to problematize and ultimately overturn this approach, first of all, by historicizing the very idea of Iran and by challenging the assumption that an Iranian identity was even recognizable before the twentieth century, much less constitutive of some unbroken traditions of religious thought or practice. While there may be some persistent threads in language, mythic heritage, and religiosity that one can observe throughout the Iranian plateau and Central Asia across the centuries, it is more useful to examine these as part of a larger matrix of exchanges with adjacent cultural and religious systems. Students will examine a series of interrelated themes that are key to the studies of religion in the Iranian world. While the course does cover material that progresses roughly chronologically from the first millennium BCE to contemporary times, it is not a systematic historical survey. Each week will focus on a cluster of scholarly works and related primary sources on focused topics related to the successive religious traditions in Iran, the Mazdaen dualist traditions, Islam, and Baha’ism.
RELI GU4205 Love, Translated: Hindu Bhakti. 4 points.
Hindu poetry of radical religious participation-bhakti-in translation, both Sanskrit (the Bhagavad Gita) and vernacular. How does such poetry/song translate across linguistic divisions within India and into English? Knowledge of Indian languages is welcome but not required. Multiple translations of a single text or poet bring to light the choices translators have made.
RELI GU4206 History, Time, and Tradition. 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 GU4207 Religion and the Afro-Native Experience. 4 points.
African Americans and Native Americans have a shared history of racial oppression in America. However, the prevailing lenses through which scholars understand settler colonialism, religion, and black and indigenous histories focus overwhelmingly on the dynamics between Europeans and these respective groups. How might our understanding of these subjects change when viewed from a different point of departure, if we center the history of entanglements between black and native lives? How does religion structure the overlapping experiences of Afro-Native peoples in North America? From political movements in Minneapolis, Oakland, and New York City to enslavement from the Cotton Belt to the Rio Grande, this class will explore how Africans, Native Americans, and their descendants adapted to shifting contexts of race and religion in America. The course will proceed thematically by examining experiences of war, dislocation, survival, and diaspora.
RELI GU4209 Religion, Politics and Culture in Contemporary Black America. 4 points.
This course examines the period commonly referred to as the "post-Civil Rights era"—that is, from the 1960s up through the current moment: a span of time also theorized through the related rhetorics of "postmodern," "postcolonial" and "post-Soul. We will explore the inner-workings of religion, politics and culture (as they converge and diverge) in contemporary black life. Attention will be given to formal religious traditions (i.e. Christianity, Islam, African-derived traditions), but also to a range of ideas about religion and/or spirituality are as they are revealed in the artistic expression, politics and activism, and popular culture and media. Taking analytical cues from critical race theory, questions of agency, power and difference will be fore-grounded, as witnessed in how religious discourses and practices negotiate such categories as race, class, gender and sexuality. Ultimately, bringing together developments within the interdisciplinary fields of black studies and the study of religion, ultimately this class will examine the ways in which various ideas about “religion” shape and circulate across various forms of black political organizing and cultural expression in our current moment. This seminar is open undergraduates and graduate students. While there are no require prerequisites, students are expected have some prior background in religious studies and/or African American Studies.
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 GU4213 Islam and the Secular: Rethinking Concepts of Religion in North-Western Africa and the Middle East. 4 points.
The class offers a critical discussion of the conceptual apparatus of the anthropology of Islam and secularism and of the ways in which it shapes recent interventions in history and theory but also in Islamic studies with a particular focus on North-Western Africa and the Middle East. The questions that will be examined during the class read as follows: 1. What is Islam: a religion or a cultural formation, a discursive tradition or a way of life? How is one to construct a definition of Islam beyond orientalist legacies? Can one define Islam anthropologically outside the tradition itself? 2. How did French and British Empires transform or destroyed Islamic institutions while governing Muslims in the Middle East and North-West Africa? Are these colonial technologies Christian or secular and is there a significant difference between Christian slavery and secular colonialism? To what extent is secularism reducible to an imperial ideology or to Christianity itself? 3. How did Muslims respond to the challenge of modernity and to European imperial hegemony? How can one think philosophically within the Islamic tradition after the hegemony of Europe and colonialism?
RELI GU4214 African and North African Philosophy: An Introduction. 3 points.
What is African philosophy? 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 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 modernity, religion and secularism, culturalism and Marxism.
RELI GU4215 Hinduism Here. 4 points.
Historical, theological, social and ritual dimensions of "lived Hinduism" in the greater New York area. Sites selected for in-depth study include worshipping communities, retreat centers, and national organizations with significant local influence. Significant fieldwork component.
RELI GU4216 Religion and Capitalism: Faith and the American Market. 4 points.
Is the market a religious system? Can we consider "capitalism" to be a key arena in which the relationship between the religious and the secular is both negotiated and performed? In this course, students will explore the complicated relationship between faith and the market, the religious and the secular, and the evolution of vice and virtue as they relate to economic thriving in the United States. While no hard and fast rules for thinking about the relationship between right conduct and material interests cut across all religious and philosophical traditions, human agents invest real faith into currency, into markets, and into the reigning economic order to bring about increased opportunities, wealth, and freedom to people across the globe. Throughout this semester, we will chart both the long shadows and the future trajectories of these beliefs from our American perspective.
RELI GU4217 American Religions in extremis. 4 points.
This seminar focuses on historical, sociological, and first-hand accounts of a diverse set of American non-conformist religious and spiritual groups (including MOVE, the Branch Davidians at Waco, Father Divine's International Peace Mission, the Oneida Perfectionists, and Occupy and others). Diverse in their historical origins, their activities, and their ends, each of the groups sought or seeks to offer radically news ways of living, subverting American gender, sexuality, racial, or economic norms. The title of this seminar highlights the ways that these groups explain their reasons for existing (to themselves or others) not as a choice but as a response to a system or society out of whack, at odds with the plans of the divine, or at odds with nature and survival. Likewise, it considers the numerous ways that these same groups have often found themselves the targets of state surveillance and violence.
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 leveled 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.
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 that can be isolated? How did it become so? What are the effects of this isolation?
RELI GU4222 Heidegger and Derrida. 4 points.
This seminar will explore the relationship between Heidegger and Derrida through a close reading of texts in which they consider common questions and issues. Works from both early and late Heidegger will be considered. An examination of Derrida’s writings on Heidegger reveals how he simultaneously appropriates and criticizes Heidegger in developing his critique of the western philosophical and theological tradition. Special attention will be paid to their contrasting interpretations of time and their alternative accounts of the work of art. This course is a sequel to Hegel and Kierkegaard, though the previous course is not a prerequisite for this seminar.
RELI GU4223 Dreams. 4 points.
This seminar for advanced undergraduates and graduate students is an interdisciplinary investigation of how dreams are viewed and understood across a range of the historical, sociocultural, political, and scholarly environments in which they are experienced and interpreted. Eclectic in approach, we will focus on close readings of a selection of dream texts, beginning with Freud’s “The Dream of Irma’s Injection.” We will aim to open out the text over several weeks. To facilitate this process, the syllabus will include an array of suggested readings linked to each week’s focus of inquiry. Students are expected to make a selection from these readings (or other readings that you find relevant) in order to prepare your own close reading of the dream text to discuss in class. We will then turn to other dreamers who draw on different aspects of the Islamic tradition to understand their own dreams, with supplementary readings drawn form history, anthropology, and religious studies to provide contexts for interpreting these dreams.
RELI GU4224 Dialectics: Theology and Philosophy between Europe and Africa. 4 points.
What is dialectical reason? Is it still a mode of theological reasoning, as many critiques have argued, or a revolutionary form of secular critique? To what degree did it shape the language of revolutionary Marxism both in Europe and Africa, as the work of Fanon notably testifies? How does it still define the horizon of contemporary philosophy, French theory and postcolonial thinking? The class will address this question. Beginning with Hegel, it will trace the becoming of his legacy in Marx, Fanon, Sartre and contemporary issues in French theory and African philosophy.
RELI GU4227 Empire and Decolonization in North Africa: Race, Religion, Climate. 4 points.
The course examines crucial debates in colonial and decolonial studies from a North African point of view, with a particular focus on Algeria. What does it mean to rethink conceptually and globally about empire and decoloniality from the point of view of North Africa ; a region which is often marginalized in both postcolonial and decolonial theory? The questions that will guide us throughout the class read as follows: 1) How is one to rethink the Maghreb without either reducing it to the history of French colonialism or downplaying the impact of colonialism on North Africa? How can binaries of direct rule and indirect rule, settler colonialism in Algeria and protectorates in Morocco and Tunisia be challenged in order to understand the postcolonial Maghreb as a unit? 2) Can one think about the historicity of the Maghreb without taking the destruction of Al-Andalus and its influence on the birth of race as a point of departure? Does the Christian racialization of Jews and Muslims through the notion of a purity of blood permeate the French colonization of the Maghreb? Is French colonialism in North Africa secular or Christian? How does secularity emerge in the midst of this history by reconfiguring the legacy of the Crusades? 3) How are Muslims and particularly Sufi orders involved in the practices of resistance against French colonial violence? How are traditional Islamic languages and practices of sainthood or the longing of the Mahdi redeployed in this situation? How do these practices and languages of resistance transform themselves with the construction of anticolonial nationalism? How can one rethink decolonization by analyzing how Algiers became the capital of Third World resistance at a global scale? 4) How do contemporary debates about Islam, tradition and modernity deploy themselves in the Maghreb and particularly in Morocco? How do these debates shape our understanding of decolonization?
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 GU4255 Hegel, Information, “Artificial” Intelligence. 4 points.
The development of high-speed computers, artificial neural networks, miniaturized sensors, mobile phones, and Big Data has created the conditions for the transformation of artificial intelligence. These changes are not only transforming the world but are also recasting long-standing distinctions like nature/culture, natural/artificial, body/mind, complexity/ simplicity, and organism/machine that have shaped human thought and life for centuries. This refiguring of opposites as irreducibly interrelated was anticipated by Kant’s notion of self-organization and developed systematically by Hegel. This course will approach current forms of artificial intelligence through Kant’s interpretation of self-organization and Hegel’s dialectical logic and will reread Hegel’s system through “natural” and “artificial” neural networks, complex systems, and information theory. If nature and culture are inextricably interrelated, then is “artificial” intelligence really artificial, and is “nature” ever merely natural? What are the implications of these developments for the understanding of human “nature” that has shaped the Anthropocene since the time of Galileo, Newton, and Descartes?
RELI GU4304 Krishna. 4 points.
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.
CC/GS/SEAS: Partial Fulfillment of Global Core Requirement
RELI GU4305 Secular ＆ Spiritual America. 4 points.
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 Buddhis ＆ Daoism in China. 4 points.
In recent decades, the study of the so-called “Buddho-Daoism” has become a burgeoning field that breaks down the traditional boundary lines drawn between the two Chinese religious traditions. In this course we will read secondary scholarship in English that probes the complex relationships between Buddhism and Daoism in the past two millennia. Students are required not only to be aware of the tensions and complementarity between them, but to be alert to the nature of claims to either religious purity or mixing and the ways those claims were put forward under specific religion-historical circumstances. The course is organized thematically rather than chronologically. We will address topics on terminology, doctrine, cosmology, eschatology, soteriology, exorcism, scriptural productions, ritual performance, miracle tales and visual representations that arose in the interactions of the two religions, with particular attention paid to critiquing terms such as “influence,” “encounter,” “dialogue,” “hybridity,” “syncretism,” and “repertoire.” The course is designed for both advanced undergraduate and graduate students in the fields of East Asian religion, literature, history, art history, sociology and anthropology. One course on Buddhism or Chinese religious traditions is recommended, but not required, as background.
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 GU4314 Bhakti Poets. 4 points.
Hindu poetry of radical religious participation—bhakti—in translation: poets of different regions, genders, and theological leanings. Knowledge of the original languages is not expected. Music, art, and performance play a role.
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 of inspiration and contemplation for Sufis for centuries....
RELI GU4317 Islam in Southeast Asia. 4 points.
Despite the fact that a fifth of the world’s Muslim population lives in Southeast Asia, the region is often considered peripheral to or insignificant for the study of Islam more broadly. In this course, we will not only learn about Islamic thought and practice in the history and present of this important part of the Islamic world; we will also reflect on issues that, while grounded in the Southeast Asian context, illustrate a variety of key Islamic Studies issues. The first half of the course will provide a historical overview over the development of Islam in Southeast Asia while the second half will focus on contemporary issues. The Malay-Indonesian world, home to 90％ of Southeast Asia’s Muslims, will be our primary focus. Our approach will be interdisciplinary, incorporating anthropological, historical, and media studies approaches. Students in this class are expected to have some prior knowledge of Islam.
RELI GU4318 Interpreting Buddhist Yoga. 4 points.
Students and scholars approaching a vast amount of primary and secondary literature, as well as accounts and anthropological and sociological studies of Buddhism as a lived religion, are faced with an array of stories, data, theories and practices, many of which appear to be inconsistent with others. We try to make sense of these by interpreting them. The art or science of interpretation – “hermeneutics” after Hermes – has a long history in Asia and in the West. Buddhism itself has a tradition of hermeneutics, as does each of the Western religious traditions and Western philosophy and law, starting with Plato and Aristotle, becoming “romantic” with Schleiermacher, and “modern” with Heidegger, Gadamer, and Ricoeur. Today’s Western hermeneutics has become largely de-regionalized from specific subject areas, and has been extended to the interpretation of all human experience. After a grounding in traditional Buddhist and Western hermeneutic principles, we will focus on a number of aspects of Buddhism, including the central question of whether there is a “self” or not, and on esoteric Buddhist yoga, Tantra, central to several of the better-known forms of Buddhism today, including Tibetan Buddhism. Here we will witness the confluence and, sometimes, collision of traditional Buddhist and Tantric hermeneutics focusing in large part on “spiritual” concerns, and the Western tradition, with its emphasis on economics, power, and gender. In thinking about which interpretations are “right” -- indeed, whether any interpretation can be “right,” and, if so, "how much?" -- we will consider the cultures in which these scriptures and practices originated, as well as ourselves and our own contemporary perspectives, insights, presuppositions and prejudices. A primary concern of hermeneutics is the interpretation of so-called "objective" physical and subjective mental realities. In thinking about the hermeneutics of outer and inner time and space, towards the end of the semester we will consider whether the "objective" and the "subjective" intersect, how much, and look at some descriptions of quantum mechanics and the role of observation of physical reality there, and analogize and contrast those to and with some Buddhist systems of philosophy and practice.
RELI GU4322 Exploring the Sharia: Islamic Law. 4 points.
The platform of every modern “Islamist” political party calls for the implementation of “the shari‘a.” 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 ends 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. This class is designed for students interested in a close examination of the Islamic legal system; it is not a broad introduction to the Islamic religion. The format of the class will vary from topic to topic but students should anticipate *extensive* participation through in-class debates.
CC/GS/SEAS: Partial Fulfillment of Global Core Requirement
RELI GU4324 American Scriptures. 4 points.
What is scripture? How is cannon created? How do particular communities find meaning in varying works of literature? In this seminar, we will explore a number of influential American texts not simply in order to understand how they address questions of the holy and divine presence but also for how they provide creative ways of considering questions that have dogged Americans for centuries. In so doing, we will place literary works in conversation with contemporary theological trends and present-day scholarship on these connections. The course’s main thematic focus will be on government and collective rights; racial difference and questions of theodicy; children’s literature and disciplinary formation; the American libertarian streak; how best to care for the self; and humanity’s connection to nature. Students will examine a variety of texts – from the Declaration of Independence to Carl Sagan and Moby Dick – to better understand what matters to Americans and what do the literary artifacts we leave behind say about our current civilizational moment. This course will have succeeded in its goals if by its end your operative definition of religion has been significantly jumbled, challenged, and complicated. While many of our historical actors will use the term in different ways, this course is invested not in identifying what is or is not properly “religious,” but rather in examining how ideas operate in the world for the people to whom they’re important. To a certain extent, we must take seriously the claims made by religious actors of God acting in their lives. But in terms of analysis, religion for us will be a fluid concept, one that evades simple definition, and that is always “real” in terms of its effects on belief, action, and identity.
RELI GU4325 Sufism. 4 points.
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 or tasawwuf has misleadingly been described as the mystical side of Islam, implying that it is somehow detached from the material world. Throughout the history of Islam, Sufi ideas, practices, and institutions have borne a complex, intimate, and sometimes fraught relationship with other aspects of Islamic tradition and practice, a relationship that has also been profoundly impacted by Orientalist scholarship in the colonial period and by global reformist currents in the postcolonial period. This seminar for advanced undergraduates and graduate students is an interdisciplinary investigation of how Sufism has been affected by the historical, sociocultural, political, and everyday environments in which is it experienced and practiced, with a particular focus on South Asia. Eclectic in approach, we will begin by considering how Sufism has been construed and even constructed by scholars, considering how modern notions of the self, religion, and the political have shaped scholarly understandings of what Sufism is. Focusing on bodily practices and well known individual Sufis who lived in South Asia during different historical periods, we will use them as a vehicle for understanding Sufi experience within the context of the evolving Sufi orders within specific local spaces. We will consider why Sufism has become such a target of controversy and ambivalence among Muslims in the modern world and trace some of the changing controversies and tensions that Sufis have struggled with over time, focusing on their understandings of self, society and reality.
RELI GU4355 Afr Am Prophetic Pol Tradition. 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 hijab just a hijab?,” “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 GU4376 A Political Introduction to the Christian Scriptures. 4 points.
In this course we will examine the New Testament canon and the twenty-seven texts that comprise it in light of their respective literary genres, their Jewish antecedents and Greco-Roman influences, which will include their historical, social, cultural, political and economic contexts, and the ways these factors impinged upon their various dimensions of meaning. Various modes of biblical interpretation, both ancient and contemporary, will be explored. A major emphasis will be on the ways select texts are utilized, misconstrued and weaponized in the public sphere in this contemporary moment.
RELI GU4407 Living Together: North American (Religious) Experiments. 3 points.
The purpose of this seminar is to study historical communal religious experiments in the United States. It will engage with the questions of religious counter-cultures, and in particular the ways that communal religious groups challenge mainstream economic, political, gender, racial, and sexual norms through fashioning alternative modes of living together. The seminar will concentrate on study and analysis of texts, practices, and materials from two religious groups, the Shakers and Father Divine’s International Peace Mission. The questions raised in considering these two historical groups will be refocused in a final unit that compares these communities to the comparatively short lived and “secular” Occupy movement, and brings the issues and challenges of alternative forms of living into the present moment.
RELI GU4411 Religion, Mind ＆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 GU4412 Recovering Place. 4 points.
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 GU4417 Recovering Place. 4 points.
During the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the intersection of multiple disruptions has led to the loss of a sense of place. This has resulted in pervasive alienation and disorientation, which has led to a desire a growing desire to recover place. This course will examine the interplay between Displacement (Migration, Virtualization, Surveillance, Climate, Globalization) and Replacement (City, Rivers, Forests, Country). Special attention will be given to Displacement and Replacement in New York City. Students will have the opportunity to write a term paper or to create a project in an alternative medium.
RELI GU4418 On African Theory: Religion, Philosophy, Anthropology. 4 points.
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.
CC/GS/SEAS: Partial Fulfillment of Global Core Requirement
RELI GU4420 Religious Worlds of New York. 4 points.
RELI GU4509 Crime/Punishment-Jewish Culture. 4 points.
Jews have stood on every imaginable side of criminal justice: accuser and accused; prosecutor, defendant, and defender; judge and judged; spectator; storyteller; journalist; critic; advocate. How did Jews approach these various roles, and what notions of crime, criminality, punishment, and justice did they bring with them? This course crosses chronological eras, geographical regions, and academic disciplines to explore configurations of crime and punishment in Jewish cultures. It strives to achieve a balance in its coverage of Ashkenaz vs. Sefarad; ancient, late ancient, medieval, modern, and contemporary Judaisms; the specific and historical vs. the philosophical and theoretical; and varieties of sex, race, and gender. The role of classical Jewish texts, theology, and community in shaping Jewish approaches to criminal justice will all be considered.
RELI GU4513 Buddhism and Neuroscience. 4 points.
With the Dalai Lamas 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 GU4517 After the Human. 4 points.
The advent of high-speed computing, Big Data, new forms of Artificial Intelligence, and global networking is rapidly transforming all aspects of life. Implants, transplants, genetic engineering, cloning, nanotechnology, cyborgs, hybrids, prostheses, mobile phones, tracking devices and wearable devices. The Internet of Things and the Internet of Bodies are becoming interconnected to transform what once was known as human being. These developments raise fundamental questions about what comes after the human. This course considers the philosophical and theological implications of this question by addressing the following issues: Natural vs. Artificial, Treatment vs. Enhancement, the Artificial Intelligence Revolution, Ubiquitous Computing, the Internet of Things, the Singularity, Extended Mind and Superintelligence, Internet of Bodies and Superorganisms, Death and After Life. Students will have the option of writing a term paper or doing a project related to the course readings.
RELI GU4519 Gender, Islam and Society in North Africa. 4 points.
This course provides a range of perspectives for the study of gender and Islam in North Africa, foregrounding the entangled genealogies of religious, political and feminist thought across the region. Through lectures, readings, documentaries, and class discussions, students will be introduced to important conceptual and empirical frameworks related to the construction of religion and gender in the region. A significant part of this course will explore gendered experiences within sacred texts, rituals, political praxis and social expression. The course will also explore the different women’s rights movements, with particular focus on the emergence of female Muslim activism. We will examine how feminism is shaped and/or challenged by the encounter with Islam, and look at the strategies and activism(s) of Muslim feminists and how they contribute to the development of civil society, social justice and feminist re-interpretation of religious texts. Students will be encouraged to think broadly across social, political and embodied ideas of gender and Islam, and therefore develop new avenues for capturing and interpreting the complexities of gender and religious subjectivity.
RELI GU4524 Unconscious and Jewish Thought. 4 points.
This survey aims to reflect on the specific dialogue between faith and theories of the mind. After an overview of pre-Freudian notions of the unconscious, the course will examine Freuds 1896 Theory of the unconscious mind and the key analytical concepts which display similarities between psychoanalysis and Jewish thought, from Talmudic hermeneutics to Kabbalah studies. We will explore the unconscious through readings from Leibnitz, Schelling, Goethe, von Hartmann, Freud, Jung, as well as its preludes and echoes in the Talmud and in the writings of Azriel of Gerona, the Magid of Mezrich, Krochmal, Leiner, Lou Andreas Salome, Scholem, Idel, Wolfson.
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 GU4528 Religion and the Sexed Body. 4 points.
This seminar will examine how bodily practices associated with gender and sexualities are cultivated, regulated, and articulated within various religious traditions and how these practices have been influenced by global processes, including colonialism, the accelerating movement of people and technologies, and modern secularism and identity politics. Throughout the course we will tack back and forth between theoretical works and ethnographic/historical writing, in order to articulate what is probably the most difficult aspect of original research: how to bring together “high theory” and primary sources ranging from field research to data drawn from a variety of media.
RELI GU4535 Buddhist Contemplative Sciences. 4 points.
Buddhist arts and sciences traditionally are divided into the interconnected disciplines of ethics (śīla), wisdom/philosophy (prajñā), and “meditation” or experiential cultivation (samādhi/bhāvanā). This seminar course introduces the latter discipline, thus complementing and completing Prof. Yarnall’s Columbia seminars on Buddhist Ethics (RELI UN3500) and Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Philosophy (RELI GU4630), either of which—in addition to his introductory lecture course on Indo-Tibetan Buddhism (RELI UN2205)—are encouraged as prerequisites. This course will provide a detailed presentation of key Buddhist contemplative sciences, including: stabilizing meditation (śamatha); analytic insight meditation (vipaśyanā); cultivation of the four immeasurables, and form and formless trances; mind cultivation (lo jong); mindfulness meditation; Zen meditation; great perfection (dzogchen); and the subtle body-mind states activated and transformed through advanced tantric yoga techniques. These arts and sciences will be explored both within their traditional interdisciplinary frameworks, as well as in dialog with related contemporary disciplines, including: cognitive sciences, neuroscience, psychology, psychiatry, philosophy, epistemology, and so forth. To be conducted in a mixed lecture/seminar format (active, prepared participation required).
RELI GU4547 Sacrifice. 4 points.
This seminar provides an overview of sacrifice in both theory and practice. The concept of sacrifice, and its contestation, allows us to explore a range of issues and institutions related to the (often violent) act of “giving up,” or exchange. What must a sacrifice be, and how do its instantiations—for God; for country; for kin; for love; for rain; etc.—take shape? Readings are drawn from a range of sources, including Biblical texts and commentaries, the anthropological record, critical theory, comparative literature, and work on race and gender. The seminar aims to provide students with a strong foundation for relating sacrifice to broader concerns with the body, media/mediation, religion, politics, and kinship.
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 GU4565 Women and Islam. 4 points.
This course is a comprehensive engagement with Islamic perspectives on women with a specific focus on the debates about woman’s role and status in Muslim societies. Students will learn how historical, religious, socio-economic and political factors influence the lives and experiences of Muslim women. A variety of source materials (the foundational texts of Islam, historical and ethnographic accounts, women’s and gender studies scholarship) will serve as the framework for lectures. Students will be introduced to women’s religious lives and a variety of women’s issues as they are reported and represented in the works written by women themselves and scholars chronicling women’s religious experiences. We will begin with an overview of the history and context of the emergence of Islam from a gendered perspective. We will explore differing interpretations of the core Islamic texts concerning women, and the relationship between men and women: who speaks about and for women in Islam? In the second part of the course we will discuss women’s religious experiences in different parts of the Muslim world. Students will examine the interrelationship between women and religion with special emphasis on the ways in which the practices of religion in women’s daily lives impact contemporary societies. All readings will be in English. Prior course work in Islam or women’s studies is recommended, but not required.
RELI GU4611 The Lotus Sutra in East Asian Buddhism. 4 points.
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. Well 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 Kurzweils 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 GU4619 Islam in Popular Culture. 4 points.
This course interrogates seminal issues in the academic study of Islam through its popular representation in various forms of media from movies and television to novels and comic books. The class is structured around key theoretical readings from a range of academic disciplines ranging from art history and anthropology to comparative literature and religion. The course begins by placing the controversies surrounding the visual depiction of Muhammad in historical perspective (Gruber). This is followed by an examination of modern portrayals of Muslims in film that highlights both the vilification of the “other” (Shaheen) and the persistence of colonial discourses centered on the “native informant” (Mamdani). Particular emphasis is given to recent pop cultural works that challenge these simplistic discourses of Islam. The second half of the course revisits Muhammad, employing an anthropological framework (Asad) to understand the controversies surrounding Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. The obsession with a gendered depiction of Islam is then examined through an anthropological framework that sheds light on the problems of salvation narratives (Abu Lughod). The course ends with a look at the unique history of Islam in America, particularly the tension between immigrant and African-American communities.
RELI GU4620 Religious Worlds of New York. 4 points.
RELI GU4626 Reading (In Theory). 3 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 GU4807 Divine Human Animal. 4 points.
This course focuses on thinking with animals (Levi-Strauss) through the lens of the religious imagination. The concentration will be primarily on Western religious cultures, especially Judaism and the question of Jewishness.
RELI GU4998 Religion and the Indian Wars. 4 points.
The frontier is central to the United States’ conception of its history and place in the world. It is an abstract concept that reflects the American mythology of progress and is rooted in religious ideas about land, labor, and ownership. Throughout the nineteenth century, these ideas became more than just abstractions. They were tested, hardened, and revised by U.S. officials and the soldiers they commanded on American battlefields. This violence took the form of the Civil War as well as the series of U.S. military encounters with Native Americans known as the Indian Wars. These separate yet overlapping campaigns have had profound and lasting consequences for the North American landscape and its peoples. This course explores the relationship between religious ideology and violence in the last half of nineteenth century. Organized chronologically and geographically, we will engage with both primary sources and classic works in the historiography of the Indian Wars to examine how religion shaped U.S. policy and race relations from the start of the Civil War through approximately 1910.
RELI GU4999 Global Indigenous Religious Histories. 4 points.
Nomads, natives, peasants, hill people, aboriginals, hunter-gatherers, First Nations—these are just a handful of the terms in use to define indigenous peoples globally. The names these groups use to describe themselves, as well as the varying religious practices, attitudes, and beliefs among these populations are far more numerous and complex. For much of recorded history however, colonial centers of power have defined indigenous peoples racially and often in terms of lacking religion; as pagan, barbarian, non-modern, and without history or civilization. Despite this conundrum of identity and classification, indigenous religious traditions often have well-documented and observable pasts. This course considers the challenges associated with studying indigenous religious history, as well as the changing social, political, and legal dimensions of religious practice among native groups over time and in relationship to the state. Organized thematically and geographically, we will engage with classic works of ethnohistory, environmental history, indigenous studies, anthropology, and religious studies as well as primary sources that include legal documentation, military records, personal testimony, and oral narrative.
RELI GR6101 Theory and Method-Study of Religion. 3 points.
RELI GR6112 Thesis Research and Writing Seminar. 4 points.
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.
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.
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 GR6210 Issues-Study of S Asian Religion. 3 points.
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 GR6214 Religious, Secular, and Other Temporalities. 4 points.
Concepts and sensibilities surrounding time, temporality, and history are major aspects of peoples’ “lived everyday metaphysics,” which is to say the myths, concepts, affects, values, rituals, and practices by which we orient ourselves in the world. Religious studies in the broadest sense examines these lived and material metaphysics and their emergence, transmission, and transformation in and through communities of practice. Our work falls into the “zone of inquiry” of “time and history” of the Religion Department’s graduate programs. “Zones of inquiry” seek to introduce students to a particular cluster of key concepts and various theoretical elaborations of those concepts, in order to aid students in honing their ability to reflect critically on and develop further the central concepts that they derive from and bring to the specific traditions and phenomena that they study in their own research. A main goal of this course will therefore be to expand our conceptual resources at the intersection of religious studies and theories of time and history.
This course will explore how time and history, their structures and their relationships to meaning making have been theorized in different traditions at various points in time. We will study how rituals of time, calendars, and chronologies give shape to imaginaries of history and space and how these differences influence the place of religion and religious experience. As a case study of sorts, we will examine the profound changes of metaphysics of time that the rise of capitalism effected in early modern Europe and the continued impact on social imaginaries of secular time, impending apocalyptic times, and possibilities and impossibilities of utopias and redemption.
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 GR6314 Mothers. 4 points.
It might be an exaggeration to say that religion begins with mothers. More accurate, perhaps, would be the suggestion that birth being paradigmatic of all origins and beginnings, all creation stories, mothers might serve as the ultimate metaphorical resource to think religion (and a few other things). And then there is of course the Great Mother, the matriarchal origins of the divine, as well as the contested matriarchy at the origins of human society. We will consider as many mothers as we can, beginning with specific mothers, mothers like Eve and Hagar, and “Mother India” too. We will attend to Mary, Mother of God, and we will consider matricide and maternal infanticide too. We will learn about the “mother tongue” and African matriarchy. Throughout we will explore the mother and the maternal as religious and theoretical questions — with a little help from psychoanalysis’ mothers.
RELI GR6316 World Religions: Idea, Display, Institution. 4 points.
The course proceeds in three overall units.
(1) We begin with a study for the Parliament of the World’s Religions, held at the Columbian Exhibition at Chicago in 1893, because it is so often regarded as one of the great annunciatory moments for the field. A number of the 19th-century European “founding fathers” were invited or present, as was Swami Vivekananda, who has been at least as significant as any of them for the development of the field as a global idea. The WPR’s American location not only relates to the course’s own location in obvious ways; it also serves lays a basis for asking whether scholarship on the history of the field (e.g., that of Tomoko Masuzawa) may have been more Eurocentric than it should have been. In addition, the WPR serves to introduce students to each of the aspects of the course featured in its subtitle: the conceptual content of the idea “world religions” and problems classically associated with it (e.g., Barrows, Clarke, Ellinwood); the element of display involved (continuing forward to millennial events in 2000 and the ongoing meetings of the organization that claims the WPR as its direct ancestor; and the institutional aspect (organizations who contributed delegates; the special role of the University of Chicago in the framing of the academic field that would be known as Religious Studies; and funding institutions related to both of these, and beyond).
(2) In the second part of the course we investigate the consolidation/invention of the conceptual entities that comprise “world religions,” as well as debates about just how many of them they are, and by what principle of accounting. To exemplify the production of “isms” that are said to comprise the world religions, we investigate the conceptual origins of Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and the Judeo-Christian Tradition. Others are in the wings.
(3) In the third part of the course we turn to several academic institutions in the United States that have played significant roles in the production and maintenance (to use the industrial metaphor that is now typical) of “world religions.” Again, the list cannot be exhaustive, but by anyone’s standard it would have to include Chicago and Harvard. Columbia belongs there too, arguably, at least in relation to the larger complex of which it is a part, and we tip our hat to our neighbor, the Interfaith Center of New York, before concluding.
RELI GR6340 Topics in Chinese Buddhist Studies. 3 points.
Reading on recent scholarship in English on the studies of Chinese Buddhism.
RELI GR6411 Punjab and Religion. 4 points.
RELI GR6420 Religion and Public Life. 4 points.
RELI GR6511 Religion and the Body. 4 points.
This course situates classic and contemporary work on the body, and broader concerns with materiality, in relation to the study of religion. Over the course of the semester, our readings and discussions will consider the body in relation to a range of topics and problematics, including: ideological distinctions between the material and immaterial; gender and sexuality; sovereignty and political authority; corpses, bones, and relics; affect, emotions, and the senses; race; and secularity/secularism. Course texts will include a combination of conceptual 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 the body; (2) to study some theoretical classics in the field, as 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 interests and research.
This seminar is a gateway course for the Body “Zone” within the Religion Department and is cross-listed with the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society. Graduate students in other departments/institutes are also welcome to enroll with permission of the instructor.
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 GR6611 Theories of Materiality and Media. 4 points.
This seminar is intended as a general introduction to a series of conversations that have been taking place across the humanities with regard to the role of inanimate objects in the construction of human subjectivities and social behavior. By calling into question methodological and theoretical dispositions rooted in deeply entrenched dichotomies between subject and object, spirit and matter, social and natural, animal and human, text and artifact, scholars in such diverse fields as philosophy, anthropology, economics, art history, and literary theory have been highlighting the manifold ways in which humans live with and through the fabricated and natural objects that shape our world, our identities and our social behavior. This course is also designed to aid students preparing for the Religion Department Zones exam in media.
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 GR6620 Walter Benjamin: Thinking in a Damaged World. 4 points.
In this seminar we will examine the thought of the early 20th-century German-Jewish thinker Walter Benjamin in light of his commitment to the task of philosophy (broadly understood) as a form of Erkenntniskritik, epistemological critique, that takes up questions of experience, history, culture, and politics in a damaged world. Paying special attention to Benjamin’s deployment and reshaping of theological tropes and figures, our considerations will be shaped around the following thematics: (1) the transformations of theorizing experience in relation to philosophies of history; (2) the critique of culture and modernity; and (3) the aesthetics of rhetoric and affect in relation to social criticism.
RELI GR8105 The PhD Dissertation. 4 points.
This course provides a forum for advanced PhD students at all stages of dissertation work, from designing the dissertation prospectus and grant proposals to organizing and writing the dissertation. Emphasis is on clear formulation of a research project, sources and methodology, the mechanics of research, and strategies for turning research into prose with a clear argument and well-designed structure. Class requirements include reading and responding to other students’ work and presenting one’s own work (however fragmentary) in a workshop setting. Throughout the course, you should also be in regular communication with your dissertation supervisor and other committee members as appropriate. Registration is by permission of the instructor only.
RELI GR8303 Seminar in Law and Medieval Christianity. 3 points.
Gratian's Decretum and the Decretals of Pope Gregory IX: Parts 1 & 2 of the Corpus Iuris Canonici.
RELI GR8900 Field Methods of Religious Studies. 3 points.
This course will introduce graduate students in Religion to several qualitative, empirical research methods and related epistemological and ethical issues. In addition to introducing basic research techniques, we will also deal with several issues of central importance to many scholars who conduct ethnographic research in religion, including representations of religious agents in ethnographic writing, interpreting testimony and conversion narratives, and integrating historical and textual material and interpretations into ethnographic writing.
RELI GR9036 Chinese Buddhist Literature. 3 points.
Selected readings in Chinese Buddhist literature. Buddhist apologetics: miracle tales; biographies of monks, nuns, and lay devotees; poems and novels with Buddhist themes; precious volumes; Tunhuang documents; monastic rules, ritual and meditation manuals; writings of modern Buddhist masters and scholars.
RELI GR9300 Readings in Japanese Religion. 3 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.
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.
Advanced seminar in reading and translating major scriptures of East Asian Buddhism. Key doctrinal concepts, figurative strategies and hermeneutical theories underlying canonical texts.
RELI GR9336 Chinese Buddhist Literature. 3 points.
RELI GR9355 Readings in Chinese Religion. 3 points.
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 GR9901 Research in Religion I. 1-6 points.
Guided individual research.
RELI GR9902 Research in Religion II. 1-6 points.
Guided individual research.