RELST-UA.15 Advanced Seminar: Religions of New York
This course is an exploration of the diverse religious life of New York City, past and present. While the course focuses primarily on religions in New York City specifically, students will also engage broader theoretical discussions regarding sacred (and profane) urban space. What are the possibilities and perils that religious traditions face in the context of urban spaces? In what ways do cities transform religions? In what ways do religions transform cities? Not only does this course examine the religious communities that did and do operate in New York City; it also examines the city itself as a kind of sacred space. How has New York City been “enchanted” in the hearts and minds of New Yorkers? How have broader national and international discourses regarding New York rendered the city as a “religious” place, even as a pilgrimage site? This course will investigate all of these questions through field trips, through histories and sociological studies, and through popular film, music, and literature.
RELST-UA.270 Topics Seminar: How Will You Die?
How will you die? Suddenly, by heart attack? Early--in your 30s, 40s or 50s--after two rounds of chemotherapy? In a hospital bed, unconscious, maybe even brain dead, after being kept alive by a feeding tube? At the age of 85 after years of increasing dementia and frailty? This course will examine how death is understood and represented in American culture. Readings will include scholarly and popular works such as Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal and Sherwin Nuland’s classic, How We Die, as well as various pieces of longform nonfiction. The course will also examine aging and end of life ailments in TV and film including “Six Feet Under,” “The Walking Dead” and “Breaking Bad.” We will discuss questions surrounding the role of doctors, religion, economics and politics in end of life care, as well as the ethical issues pertaining to policymaking for the dying. Issues will include: legalization of assisted suicide, hospice care, and end of life planning; and the theoretical and legal concepts of "choice," "dignity," “quality of life” and "autonomy."
RELST-UA.107 Spinoza & Jewish Philosophy
Spinoza’s 1677 Theological-Political Treatise is often considered one of the most important attacks on Judaism. But, paradoxically, it also spurred the development of modern Jewish religious thought. In this course we will explore Spinoza’s incendiary Treatise and its impact on modern Judaism.
RELST-UA.240 Varieties of Mystical Experience
What exactly is this thing we call mysticism? As the general, secular public treats religion, so does the mainstream religious public treat mysticism, a special case, replete with mystery and the repository of great potential. Mysticism has served as the space for the bleeding edge of religion, where destabilizing forces have emerged but reactionary, regressive forces as well. Mystical religious communities have been both the most tolerant and the most exclusive, the most libertine and the most abnegating. Is there such a thing as mysticism? Can it be elicited from the religious frameworks in which it resides, or is it merely a modern, academic convention? In this course, we aim to work out some answers to those questions.
RELST-UA.244 Topics: Religion & Politics in the United States
This course is a survey of historical and contemporary issues surrounding politics and religion in the United States. The survey covers a broad time period and an array of phenomena—from 19th century debates over polygamy, to religious education in public schools, to the 20th century rise of the Christian Right. At the same time, one issue is of constant concern: the development of the concept of religious liberty. In what ways have Americans treated religious liberty a distinct form of freedom? How have legal definitions and popular notions of religious liberty interacted? How do varying notions of public and private faith intersect with efforts to engage (or to disengage) religion in public discourse? How have shifting demographics in the United States presented new promises and challenges to notions of religious liberty—and to accepted definitions of religion? This course plumbs these questions by investigating particular moments in United States political and religious history.
RELST-UA.404 Classical Mythology
Discusses the myths and legends of Greek mythology and the gods, demigods, heroes, nymphs, monsters, and everyday mortals who played out their parts in this mythology. Begins with creation, as vividly described by Hesiod in the Theogony, and ends with the great Trojan War and the return of the Greek heroes. Special emphasis on the return of Odysseus, as related by Homer in the Odyssey.
RELST-UA.681 Modern Jewish History
Major developments in the history and culture of the Jews from the 16th to the 20th centuries, emphasizing the meanings of modernity in the Jewish context, differing paths to modern Jewish identity, and internal Jewish debates over the relative merits of modern and traditional Jewish values.
RELST-UA.983 Topics: Jesus and Judaism
This course explores the Jewishness of Jesus and its reception with ancient, medieval, and modern Judaism. It begins by situating Jesus and his first followers in relation to the Jewish religion and culture of their time, considering the place of Judaism in the origins of Christianity. Then it explores reactions to Jesus' Jewishness within later Jewish literature, art, and philosophy--ranging from polemics to inspiration. In the process, the course will survey the history of Jewish/Christian relations from antiquity to the present. // I am requesting for this course to be renamed (i.e., from "Jewish background of Christianity" to "Jesus and Judaism") so that it can be broader in scope, not just including the Jewish "background" of Jesus and his first generations of followers, as it shaped Christianity, but also how later Jews understood Christianity's Jewish origins. This shift is consistent with more recent trends in scholarship on early Jewish/Christian relations.
RELST-UA.650 Topics in Religious Studies: Populism, Religion and Crisis in Europe
Explores cultural systems and social structures in modern European societies. Provides an introduction to the insights to be gained from an anthropological perspective on Western complex societies. Uses ethnographic literature on Western and Mediterranean Europe to examine issues such as ethnic and national identity, social dimensions of economic change, gender and family organization, and ritual and religious behavior.
RELST-UA.991 Gods and Bods: Medicine, Magic & Religion in the Greco-Roman World
In the case of the ancient world, how do we begin to sort out what qualifies as “scientific” or “rational” practice from the “magical” and “divine”? What is the substance of their opposition, where their places of coincidence and concurrence? Further, is there a practical division between religion and magic? This course offers undergraduates a confrontation with these challenging issues. By introducing students to a range of theoretical perspectives this course aims to familiarize them with the tools and sources used in studying the intersections of ancient religion and medicine. Equal emphasis will be placed on elite, rationalizing texts as on the extant material and literary sources for magical and religious cures. In "Gods and Bods" students will encounter the texts of the Hippocratic corpus, Plato, Pliny, Galen, and Aelius Aristides not only as sources of medical theory, but as social and cultural critics of different modes of medical practice. Ultimately, students will leave class with a theoretically enriched understanding of the interrelation of medicine, religion, and society and a sensitivity to how these questions continue to animate debates around medical care and policy today.
RELST-UA.787 Gender and Sexuality in Medieval Islamic Society
The course attempts to get behind myths of unbridled sensuality and well-stocked harems to the realities, through careful reading of selected primary sources from the medieval period in English translation, including religious treatises on marriage and proper gender roles, love poetry, stories from the Arabian Nights, and works of erotica, supplemented by secondary studies. The emphasis throughout is on evaluating the role of culture?whether Middle Eastern or Western?in shaping fundamental sexual attitudes.
CORE-UA.500 Cultures & Contexts: Global Christianities
This course examines the ongoing global formation and reformation of Christianity, from its origins in a pluralistic ancient Mediterranean world and spread throughout Europe and the Middle East, to its historical and ever-transforming role in Africa, Asia, and the New World. Rather than attempting to identify an essential core of this complex religious and cultural formation, we will explore the problems and possibilities Christian texts, concepts, institutions, and narratives have posed for a diversity of populations over distinct historical periods. We will gain an appreciation both for how various populations have responded to Christianity and the ways in which these encounters have subsequently disrupted and transformed Christian narratives. Exploring this global multi-sided conversation will allow us to consider how Christians have not only justified and reproduced, but also critiqued and questioned the power of empires and nations, elites and tyrants, and reformers and critics.
The course is divided into three sections. In the first, we will look at the broad narratives that tend to accompany Christianity in its various global expressions. We will cover concepts such as the incarnation and resurrection, God’s presence and absence, and sin and suffering. In the second section of the course we will look at Christian institutions and structures of power, placing the concepts we have covered in the first section in a range of political and historical contexts, including the Roman Empire, European colonial expansion, and the challenge of maintaining a church of and in the world. In the final section of the course, we will explore a variety of Christian actors, including Popes and reformers, relics and images, language and bodies, and texts and traditions.
Recitation discussions will focus on the week’s theme, often through a close reading of a primary document, or a careful examination of an image, object, or short film connected to the week’s readings.
Cultures and Contexts is intended to prepare you for life in a globalized world. Through critical engagements with primary cultural materials, it introduces you to ways humans come to understand themselves as members of social, religious, national, and regional collectives, and with the dynamics of cultural interaction and influence. By taking Global Christianity you will learn a great deal about the remarkable diversity of the most populous religion on the planet. Rather than attempting to create a narrow definition of Christianity and ascertain whether or not its various “incarnations” measure up, we will expand that which we understand Christianity – and religion – to be. As a part of the College Core Curriculum, this class is designed to extend your education beyond the focused studies of your major, preparing you for your future life as a thoughtful individual and active member of society.
RELST-UA 9671 Magic, Religion & Inquisition (MEDI-UA 9995)
This course is made up of four sections. The first opens with an analysis of the intellectual foundations of the witch-hunt from late Antiquity to the early Renaissance. The second section concentrates on the most infamous handbook for witch-hunters, Malleus Maleficarum (“The Hammer of the Witches”) and on the roots of medieval misogyny. The third section looks at the mass witch-hunts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries on the backdrop of the break between Protestant and Catholic Europe, and examines the connections linking witch-hunting to the momentous social, political and religious changes of the times. In the fourth part, the course will shift focus to the grassroots level, shedding light on the economic and social mechanisms which lead a community to “make a witch”.
RELST-UA 9360 Religion, Culture and Politics in Eastern and Central Europe
Religion is without doubt one of the most important elements that shaped the history and contemporary face of Central Europe. Religion played an important role in the political and cultural development of this part of the world. The history of the mutual interaction between religion and politics is evident in the cultural richness of this part of the world, particularly in Bohemia and Prague.
This course explores various religious phenomena that formed political ideas and cultural values of this region indifferent historical periods. We examine particularly those religious characteristics and figures that remarkably influenced the world's history and enriched human thinking. First, we study the Christianization of Central European society and the prominent role of religion in the political and cultural transformation of the medieval period. Then we follow the religious reformation process and development of the relationship between Judeo-Christian tradition and the secular world in the early modern period. Finally, we explore the policies of communist regimes in the spheres of religion and culture and study the struggle of Christian churches against communist totalitarianism. The transformation of Catholicism in the 1960s is also examined together with the role of religion in post-communist society.
Excursions to significant historical and religious sights are an important part of the course.
RELS-SHU 9270 Religion and Society in China: Ghosts, Gods, Buddhas and Ancestors
This course is a survey of the major historical and contemporary currents of China's religious thought and practice, including Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism and “popular religion”. It will focus on the interactions between such teachings and practices, as well as on the contributions of all four to Chinese culture. You will study various topics including divination, visual culture, ritual, ancestor worship, morality, longevity techniques, healing practices and meditation. A selected number of primary and secondary sources will be discussed in lecture; documentary films and visits to sacred spaces will be also be key constituents of the course.