Course Descriptions

Course Catalog for RELIGION
RELG 101
Introduction to Religion
This course introduces students to the academic study of religion by focusing on those major themes that connect religious experiences from around the world. We will explore the complex ways in which issues in religion relate to topics such as spiritual beings, birth, death, ritual, the afterlife, ethics, and the good-life. Through a range of classical, modern, and ethnographic sources, students will gain an understanding of the ways in which scholars have sought to understand the social, political, economic, and cultural contexts in which various religious traditions are embedded.
1.00 units, Lecture
RELG 109
Jewish Tradition
A thematic introduction to the major concepts, ritual cycles, holidays, and beliefs of Judaism. Readings and course material will be taken from classic Jewish texts as well as modern secondary sources. (May be counted toward International Studies, Middle Eastern Studies and Jewish Studies.)
1.00 units, Lecture
RELG 110
Introduction to Christianity
This course offers a survey of Christian thought from its origins to the present. Through the reading of a wide range of primary texts – encompassing different historical periods, literary genres, polemical concerns and religious sensibilities – the course demonstrates the rich diversity within Christianity. The course seeks to cultivate broad historical familiarity with the basic questions and debates in, as well as the central authors of, Christian thought. We will track the changing configurations of three sets of relationships that resurface variously throughout Christian history: the relationship between 1) faith and reason, 2) church and state, and 3) understandings of the identity and work of Jesus Christ and theories of redemption or salvation.
1.00 units, Lecture
RELG 151
Religions of Asia
An introduction to the major religions of Asia: Hinduism, Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism, with special emphasis on how each of these modes of thought gives rise to a special vision of man in the universe, a complex of myth and practice, and a pattern of ethical behavior. (May be counted toward international studies/Asian studies.)
1.00 units, Lecture
RELG 181
Introduction to Islam
This survey course explores the diversity of Muslim experiential and intellectual approaches to the key sacred sources of the religion, the Qur'an, and the figure of the Prophet. The course addresses pre-Islamic Arabia and the rise of Islam; Muhammad and the Qur'an; prophetic traditions and jurisprudence; theology and mysticism; art and poetry; basic beliefs and practices of the Muslim community; responses to colonialism and modernity; and Islam in the United States.
1.00 units, Lecture
RELG 184
Myth, Rite, and Sacrament
A phenomenological approach to the study of religion through an examination of the nature of religious consciousness and its outward modes of expression. Special emphasis is placed on the varieties of religious experience and their relations to myths, rites, and sacraments. Enrollment limited. (May be counted toward international studies/African studies and international studies/comparative development studies.)
1.00 units, Lecture
RELG 209
Religions in the Contemporary Middle East
The impact of religion in contemporary Middle Eastern culture will be examined through the study of Middle Eastern monotheisms: Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. The course will focus on specific national settings where religion has played a decisive role: Lebanon, Iran, Egypt, and Israel. Internal divisions and tensions will be explored, as well as interreligious conflicts. (May be counted toward and International Studies and Middle Eastern Studies.)
1.00 units, Lecture
RELG 211
Introduction to the Hebrew Bible
Where did the Bible come from? This class will examine the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) in its evolution and complexity. We will pay careful attention to the text's many powerful voices and striking literary features, its great figures such as Abraham, Moses, and David, and its relationship with the major historical events which shaped the life of ancient Israel and later Jewish and Christian tradition. (May be counted toward Jewish Studies and International Studies/Middle Eastern Studies.)
1.00 units, Lecture
RELG 212
New Testament
An examination of the New Testament in the context of the first century C.E. to study the formation and themes of these early Christian writings. The course will stress the analysis of texts and discussion of their possible interpretations. How did the earliest writings about Jesus present him? Who was Paul? Is it more accurate to call him the founder of Christianity instead of Jesus? How do we understand Gospels that are not in the New Testament? We will attend to these and other social, political, and historical issues for studying the New Testament and Early Christianity.
1.00 units, Lecture
RELG 214
Jews in America
A social and religious history of American Judaism from pre-revolutionary to contemporary times. After examining the era of immigration and “Americanization,” the course will focus on the ethnic, religious, and social structures of American Judaism: the community center, the synagogue, and the federation. (May be counted toward American studies and Jewish studies.)
1.00 units, Lecture
RELG 222
Voodoo, Zombies, and the Conjured Dead
This course focuses on those religious traditions known collectively as “Voodoo.” By examining powerful displays of spirit possession, rituals in which the ancestors raise from their graves to dance, and secretive ceremonies from which social criminals become walking zombies, students will explore the lived experiences of Voodoo practitioners from around the world. We will juxtapose Western imaginations and fantasies of Voodoo to the real-lived experiences of practitioners. In so doing, students will learn how, despite racial stereotyping and anti-Africa sentiments around the globe, Voodoo has become one of the world’s fastest growing global religions. Along with rich ethnographic texts, throughout the course students will engage with critical-race theory, theories of globalization, transnationalism, diaspora, and urban religious expansion.
0.50 units, Seminar
RELG 223
Major Religious Thinkers of the West: Heresy and Orthodoxy in Conflict
A study of the shared (and contested) sites of ancient and medieval Jewish, Christian, and Muslim thought. The course will focus on various topics including the construction of religious identity through the identification of the “other” as well as debates over proper interpretation of scripture, the name and the nature of God, and the relationship between reason and revelation. Readings include the Babylonian Talmud, Philo, Origen, Augustine, Maimonides, Avicenna, Averroes, Aquinas, and Luther.
This course is only open to Religion majors or Guided Studies students.
1.00 units, Lecture
RELG 226
Christian Mysticism
An inquiry into the phenomenon of mystical experience exemplified in the Christian tradition as direct encounter with God. The course offers psychological and theological analyses of mysticism and its specifically Christian manifestations. Students will read works from Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, Quaker, and sectarian mystics such as Pseudo-Dionysius, Gregory of Nyssa, Bernard, Julian of Norwich, Teresa of Avila, Jacob Boehme, George Herbert, Simone Weil, and contemporary mystics.
1.00 units, Lecture
RELG 229
Short Story in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament)
A close reading of several “short stories” in the Hebrew Bible with attention given to literary artistry and theological insight. Along with gaining understanding for the rich texture and subtlety of the texts, students will be expected to master the data of the stories (who, what, where, when etc.). Questions of political, cultural, and compositional history will also be treated. Among the stories we shall consider are the Joseph “Novella,” David’s Fall, Esther, Ruth, Jonah, Judith.
1.00 units, Lecture
RELG 230
The Bible, Creation, and Evolution
The Bible has different and even conflicting accounts of creation. We will explore the creation myths in the Bible, how they relate to other ancient creation mythologies, and what social and political effects these myths had. We will also examine the social, political, and legal contours of the Bible, Creationism, and debates about evolution in American culture and public policy. What is going on when people talk about God, creation, and human origins – whether in biblical times or in American culture?
1.00 units, Seminar
RELG 231
Christianity in the Making
This course will examine the philosophical, cultural, religious and political contexts out of which Christianity emerged from the time of Jesus through the 5th century. Emphasis will be placed on the complexity and diversity of early Christian movements, as well as the process that occurred to establish Christianity as a religion that would dominate the Roman Empire. Topics to be covered will include the writings of the New Testament, Gnostics, martyrdom, desert monasticism and asceticism, the construction of orthodoxy and heresy, women in the early Church, the formation of the biblical canon, and the identity and role of Jesus of Nazareth.
1.00 units, Lecture
RELG 243
Latin American and Caribbean Religions
This course explores the ways in which global trends in religious practice have affected, inspired, and forever changed Latin American and Caribbean religion. Students will explore a variety of Latin American and Caribbean religions such as those of the Afro-Caribbean, so-called “folk Catholicism,” and the Amazon’s great Ayahuasca religions. In so doing, students will develop an appreciation for religious diversity and an understanding of the ways in which race, capitalism, colonialism, nationality, and emerging trends in global tourism continue to affect the ways Latin American and Caribbean peoples experience religion from across the region.
1.00 units, Seminar
RELG 248
Women, Gender, and Sexuality in Religion
Why do particular embodiments render some people “other” within their religion? How are women represented in religious texts and images? How does gender determine what counts for religiously-sanctioned behavior? This course provides an overview of topics where issues of gender and sexuality intersect with particular religious traditions (including Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Native American traditions). Topics include: purity and power, celibacy and virginity, marriage and reproduction, veiling and eating practices, violence and sacrifice, as well as the issue of religious leadership and ordination. This course may count towards the Women, Gender and Sexuality major.
1.00 units, Lecture
RELG 253
Indian and Islamic Painting
A survey of the history of miniature painting from the Persian, Mughal, and Rajput schools, with emphasis on their religious and cultural backgrounds. (May be counted toward art history, international studies/Asian studies, international studies/comparative development studies, and international studies/Middle Eastern studies.)
1.00 units, Lecture
RELG 254
Buddhist Art
A survey of the art of Buddhism in Asia with special attention given to the development of the Buddha image, the stupa, and a wide array of deities and saints. Using painting, sculpture, architecture, and contemporary expressions of ritual, dance, and theater, the course will cover many of the traditions in South, East, and Central Asia. (May be counted toward international studies/Asian studies, art history, and international studies/comparative development studies.)
1.00 units, Lecture
RELG 256
Buddhist Thought
An examination of fundamental concepts in Buddhist philosophy as they reflect an ongoing conflict between faith and reason: the non-self, dependent origination, karma, and nirvana. Special emphasis will be placed on the meaning of these concepts for the Buddhist way of life. Readings from classical Theravada and Mahayana texts. (May be counted toward international studies/Asian studies.)
1.00 units, Lecture
RELG 258
Buddhist Texts: The Bodhisattva
An exploration of the Bodhisattva ideal as found in classical Asian texts, focusing on the recognition of enlightenment, the practice of perfections, and the dynamics of skillful means. Central to our discussion will be the use of compassion to realize wisdom, and we will pay special attention to Avalokiteshvara, Tara, Manjushri, and Jizo. We will use elect Indian, Tibetan, and Japanese texts.
1.00 units, Seminar
RELG 259
Hindu Texts: The Bhagavad Gita
An exploration of the great Indian devotional text, “The Song of God,” focusing on its context in the Mahabharata epic, its social teaching, and its understanding of the god Krishna. Central to our discussion will be Arjuna’s dilemma, the renunciation of attachment to the fruits of action, and the mind stabilized on the divine. We will use elect translations of the text and their commentaries.
1.00 units, Seminar
RELG 262
Religion in America
The historical role of religion in shaping American life and thought, with special attention to the influence of religious ideologies on social values and social reform. (May be counted toward American Studies.)
1.00 units, Lecture
RELG 265
Religion and American Politics
Since the earliest days of the American republic, religion has played a significant role in the country’s politics. This course will trace that role, beginning with the Constitution’s proscription of religious tests for office to the current “God Gap” between the Democratic and Republican parties. Subjects to be covered include ethno-religious voting patterns, social movements, American civil religion, and religion in wartime.
1.00 units, Lecture
RELG 267
Religion and the Media
Western religion, and Christianity in particular, has always put a premium on employing the available techniques of mass communication to get its message out. But today, many religious people see the omnipresent “secular” media as hostile to their faith. This course will look at the relationship between religion and the communications media, focusing primarily on how the American news media have dealt with religion since the creation of the penny press in the 1830s. Attention will also be given to the ways that American religious institutions have used mass media to present themselves, from the circulation of Bibles and tracts in the 19th century through religious broadcasting beginning in the 20th century to the use of the Internet today. (May be counted toward American studies and public policy studies.)
1.00 units, Lecture
RELG 275
Existentialism and Religion
This course engages some of the most basic questions of human existence, as understood by a wide variety of philosophers, artists, poets, and theologians in the 19th and 20th centuries. What does it mean to be human? How do we lead authentic lives? We examine the many ways in which existentialism can be understood as a critical engagement with basic philosophical, theological and social assumptions in regnant Western thought: rationalism, religion and moral positivism. We look at some of the major themes of existentialism (contingency, ambiguity, death and finitude, absurdity and authenticity) and how they constitute what it is to exist as a person. Finally, we examine different examples of religious existentialism.
1.00 units, Lecture
RELG 280
Muhammad and the Qur’an
What is the Qur'an? Which role did Muhammad play for the development of Islam's sacred text? This course introduces the historical and social context, thematic and literary features, and major doctrines of the Qur'an. We will focus on the history of the text through a close reading of English translations of the Qur'an and the life of the Prophet Muhammad, and explore methods of interpretation through various exegetical texts. Topics will also include the relation to pre-Islamic biblical figures and other faith traditions, questions of Islamic law and ethics including sexuality, gender roles, notions of justice, peace, and war, the use of violence, and the role of the Qur'an as a living text in Muslim devotional life.
1.00 units, Lecture
RELG 281
Anthropology of Religion
Introduction to the foundations of religion through an examination of religious phenomena prevalent in traditional cultures. Some of the topics covered in this course include a critical examination of the idea of primitivity, the concepts of space and time, myths, symbols, ideas related to God, man, death, and rituals such as rites of passage, magic, sorcery, witchcraft, and divination. (May be counted toward anthropology and international studies/comparative development.)
1.00 units, Lecture
RELG 282
Modern Islamic Movements – Religion, Ideology, and the Rise of Fundamentalism
This course examines the rise and ideological foundation of modern Islamic movements, including the Muslim Brotherhood, Hizbollah, Hamas, al-Qa’ida, and ISIS. We will study the emergence of Islamic fundamentalism in its historical and political context as well as major intellectual figures of these movements, and take a close look at the notion of jihad in classical and modern legal contexts.
1.00 units, Lecture
RELG 283
Islamic Law and Ethics
What is Sharia? This course examines the basic principles, historical origins, and textual sources of Islamic law. We will study the development of the classical schools of jurisprudence and the nature of pre-modern legal institutions, especially the courts and madrasa education, and explore the substance of classical Islamic law, especially in the areas of family, finance and international as well as interfaith relations. Next, we will discuss the impact of colonialism and modernity on Islamic legal discourses and institutions and finish with a discussion how Islamic law is observed in contemporary America. We will also discuss how contemporary legal and ethical questions, such as gender equality, secularism, or bio-ethics, are addressed by Muslim legal scholars.
1.00 units, Lecture
RELG 284
Sufism: The Mystical Tradition of Islam
For over a thousand years, Sufism has been a dynamic expression of the inner quest for God-consciousness in Islam. Sufis have often expressed their devotion in literary form: from poetry and ecstatic utterances to metaphysical theoretical prose works. This class explores the emergence of Sufism from the Qur'an and the life and words or the Prophet Muhammad, and traces its historical development from the formative period to the age of trans-national Sufi orders. The course will study key constructs of this tradition: the relationship between God and humankind, the stages of the spiritual path, contemplative disciplines, the idea of sainthood, ethical perfection, the psychology of love, the idea of the feminine, and Sufi aesthetics. It also considers the modern expression (and transformation) of Sufism in the United States.
1.00 units, Lecture
RELG 285
Religions of Africa
This course is an exploration of the ways in which Africans make sense of their worlds through religion. By reading a wide range of ethnographic and historical texts, students will consider the challenges that post-colonial politics present to understanding religion in Africa and in the diaspora Students will examine a variety of African religious traditions ranging from indigenous practices to the ways in which Christianity and Islam have developed uniquely African beliefs. In so doing, students will frame African religions as global phenomena while considering the historical and contemporary salience of the many canonical themes found in African religion such as spirit possession, divination, healing, magic, witchcraft, sorcery, and animal sacrifice.
1.00 units, Seminar
RELG 286
Islam in America
Islam has become the fastest growing and most ethnically diverse religious group in the United States. This course is divided into two parts: the first provides an historical survey of Islam in America, from its discovery to the present; the second part examines contemporary issues of Muslim American communities and their interactions with American society at large. Topics include religious movements among African-American and immigrant groups, educational, cultural and youth initiatives, Sufism, civil rights groups, progressive Muslims, women's and feminist movements, and Islam in popular culture and in the media.
1.00 units, Lecture
RELG 288
Magic, Possession, and Spiritual Healing
An anthropological approach to religion and magic. A cross-cultural analysis of the forms of spiritual healing in traditional cultures. Emphasis is given to the manifestations of spiritual power, the role of possession, magic, shamanistic utterances, and hallucinogens in the process of spiritual healing. (May be counted toward international studies/comparative development studies.)
1.00 units, Lecture
RELG 301
Religion in Chinese Society
This course is designed to introduce students to the sociological study of religion in traditional Chinese society and in the late modern world. The course offers the student differing perspectives in understanding the significant role of Chinese religion in both the traditional and the contemporary worlds. One goal of the course is to develop scholarly resources in support of intellectual dialogue and mutual understanding between China and the West.
1.00 units, Seminar
RELG 307
Jewish Philosophy
This course provides an introduction to the major themes and thinkers of medieval and modern Jewish philosophy. We will study how Plato, Aristotle, and other non-Jewish philosophers found their Jewish voice in the likes of Philo, Saadia Gaon, Judah Halevi, Maimonides, and Mendelssohn. Issues to be considered are the relationship between reason and revelation, the concept of monotheism, the nature of prophecy and the Jewish tradition, and the problem of evil. Extensive use of original sources in translation will be complemented by interpretive studies. (May be counted toward Philosophy.)
Prerequisite: C- or better in Religion 109.
1.00 units, Seminar
RELG 308
Jewish Mysticism
An examination of the secret speculative theologies of Judaism from late antiquity to the present. The course will touch upon the full range of Jewish mystical experience: visionaries, ascetics, ecstatics, theosophists, rationalists, messianists, populists, and pietists. Readings will include classical texts (such as the Zohar) and modern secondary studies.
Prerequisite: C- or better in Religion 109.
1.00 units, Lecture
RELG 309
Material Religion
This course explores the ways in which individuals from a variety of religious traditions experience religious belief, enact religious practice, and relate to the so-called “Divine” through material culture. Students will examine themes such as relics, clothing, bodies, blood, architecture, shrines, and charms. By reading ethnographic and theoretical texts, this course helps students to consider the role that material religion plays in enhancing or complicating prayer, ritual, and everyday religious piety.
1.00 units, Seminar
RELG 312
Jesus
This course explores the central figure in Christianity, Jesus of Nazareth What are his major theological innovations? How did his religious messages diverge from the Judaism practiced at the time? Why did his followers understand him to be the founder of an entirely new religion? By examining the New Testament Gospels and some non-canonical literature from the period, we will study both the historical Jesus and the powerful religious movement he began.
1.00 units, Seminar
RELG 313
The David Story
Although David is often lauded as ancient Israel’s greatest king, his character is one of deep flaws. By exploring the many and often conflicting depictions of the founder of the ancient Israelite monarch, this course will probe this most important moment in biblical history: What are the theological implications of David’s divine election? How do the king’s painful missteps ricochet forward and influence later events? By focusing mainly on the Old Testament story, we will examine the historical institution David initiated and the religious problems it engendered.
1.00 units, Lecture
RELG 318
Islamophobia / The Fear of Islam
This survey course explores the historical roots and contemporary forms of Western anxieties toward Muslims and Islam by critically engaging the following questions: What are the theological, historical, political, and cultural forces that have given rise to perceptions of Islam as inherently violent, intolerant, misogynist, and backwards? How does Islamophobia differ from legitimate disagreements with specific Islamic beliefs and practices? How has the fear of Islam translated into concrete acts of exclusion, discrimination, and psychological and physical harm? What do negative perceptions of Muslims and Islam reveal about Western assumptions concerning religion and the religious ‘Other’?
1.00 units, Lecture
RELG 324
Suffering Religion: Pain and its Transformations
What does religion have to say about suffering and its function in the spiritual life – is it a “natural” part of human existence, divine gift or punishment, or a preventable tragedy? What does it mean when religion is experienced as suffering or as trauma? This course explores these questions within the Greco-Roman, Jewish and Christian traditions. After introducing some of the classic texts on suffering, the course examines suffering as both a logical and a moral problem for religious thought. It then considers some of the resources that religious traditions have brought to bear on different kinds of suffering – physical pain, trauma, grief or loss, and mental suffering or depression.
1.00 units, Seminar
RELG 325
Religion in the City
Observers of cities have long predicted that the rise of urbanism will slowly but continually lead not only to the gradual decentralization of religion but also to increased secularization. However, today we find thriving religious communities in cities. This course will explore a range of urban religious experiences in the classroom and in the city ranging from Hartford to New York. In so doing, we will study cases of people who (re)imagine cityscapes in ways that support religious practice; we will examine the importance of cities in creating a space where diasporic religions can thrive; and we will chart the ways in which urban diversity provides the perfect space for an upsurge in religious practice. Students will examine urban religion ranging from Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, to Vodou and Santeria.
1.00 units, Seminar
RELG 338
Christian Social Ethics
An in-depth exploration of the historical teachings of, and contemporary controversies within, Christianity on selected moral issues in sexuality, economics, business, medicine, ecology, race, war and pacifism, and foreign policy. Special attention will be given to problems in contemporary American society.
1.00 units, Seminar
RELG 369
The Cradle of Voodoo
This course is a survey of Vodún, the West African religious complex known commonly as “Voodoo.” With a focus on the Republic of Bénin students will examine the ebb and flow of Dahomey, the country’s most powerful and famous African empire. Students will explore the ways in which Vodúnisants mobilize the spirit worlds to heal their families; use complex systems of magic and witchcraft to overcome obstacles; and venerate their dead using elaborate masquerades during which the dead are reanimated to dance in spectacular displays of power. This course is designed as a precursor to the J-term course, “West Africa Abroad” where students will travel to Bénin to explore the topics of this course first hand.
1.00 units, Lecture
RELG 392
Tutorial
An introduction to the grammar, vocabulary, and translation of classical Sanskrit.
0.50 units min / 2.00 units max, Independent Study
RELG 399
Independent Study
Advanced work on an approved project under the guidance of a faculty member. Submission of the special registration form, available in the Registrar’s Office, and the approval of the instructor and chairperson are required for enrollment.
0.50 units min / 2.00 units max, Independent Study
RELG 466
Teaching Assistantship
A teaching assistant works with a faculty member in the preparation and teaching of a course and receives academic credit for his or her work. See the Student Handbook for the specific guidelines. Submission of the special registration form, available in the Registrar’s Office, and the approval of the instructor and chairperson are required for enrollment.
0.50 units min / 1.00 units max, Independent Study
RELG 497
Senior Thesis
Submission of the special registration form, available in the Registrar’s Office, and the approval of the instructor and chairperson are required for enrollment in this single-semester thesis.
1.00 units min / 2.00 units max, Independent Study
RELG 498
Senior Thesis Part 1
Submission of the special registration form, available in the Registrar’s Office, and the approval of the instructor and chairperson are required for each semester of this yearlong thesis. (two course credits are considered pending in the first semester; two course credits will be awarded for completion in the second semester.)
2.00 units, Independent Study
RELG 499
Senior Thesis Part 2
Submission of the special registration form, available in the Registrar’s Office, and the approval of the instructor and chairperson are required for each semester of this yearlong thesis. (two course credits are considered pending in the first semester;two course credits will be awarded for completion in the second semester.)
2.00 units, Independent Study