- Academic English Studies (ESL)
- Asian Studies
- Biochemistry/Molecular Biology
- Environmental Studies
- Ethnic Studies
- Exploration and Discovery
- French Studies
- Gender Studies
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- Political Science
- Religious Studies
- Rhetoric and Media Studies (formerly Communication)
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Religion is a complex and often contentious topic. While everyone might not have a handy theory about history or physics, it’s hard to find someone without a passionately held opinion about religion. Well aware of this fact, the Religious Studies Department takes a broadly historical approach to the study of religion, exploring religious texts, practices, ideas, communities, and institutions in the context of local, regional, and global histories.
Our curriculum ranges across four areas: Jewish and Christian origins, the history of the religious traditions of Western civilization (including America), the history of religious traditions of Asia, and the religious traditions of Islam. Within each area, we explore such issues as the nature and social context of religious texts; the development of religious doctrines in situations of both cooperation and contestation; the dynamic relations among religious, political, economic, and cultural life; the role of religion in constructions of gender, race, and class; and patterns of change within religious communities. We also investigate the very idea of religion and the varied ways people—religious practitioners as well as secular scholars—have sought to understand this category of human thought and action.
Introductory courses in the department (100- and 200-level courses) trace the emergence and development of various traditions and emphasize the mastering of foundational knowledge and methods of academic inquiry. Upper-level course treat selected topics in greater detail and pursue the state-of-the-art scholarly thinking in various sub-fields of the discipline.
The lifeblood of Religious Studies is its openness to creative, interdisciplinary inquiry; our courses and faculty draw from the fields of literary studies, history, sociology and anthropology, art, and even the natural sciences. Majors in the department hone their skills in research, writing, critical thinking, and persuasive argumentation, and many of our majors spend time on overseas programs. Deeply enmeshed as it is in the liberal arts tradition, Religious Studies is a route to exploring a fascinating dimension of the human experience.
November 27th, 2017
“Spirit/Medium/Media: A Critical Examination of the Relationship Between Animism, Animators, and Anime” by Jolyon Thomas (University of Pennsylvania)
This talk critiques the oft-repeated argument that Japanese animation (anime) is thematically and aesthetically unique because it draws upon Japan’s ancient animistic traditions. I argue that when professional observers describe anime as “animistic,” they use a politically fraught and technically inaccurate term to engage in certain political projects related to environmentalism or cultural nationalism. I also argue that when these professional observers repeat the essentialist idea that “Japanese people believe that spirits exist in everything,” they categorically ignore the potentially “spiritual” qualities of the material objects that are actually used to make anime in the first place (celluloid, ink, computer screens, cameras, cables). I conclude by offering alternative language that can more accurately depict what anime directors and their audiences do when depicting or observing relationships between spirits and nature in animated film. These attitudes and ideas can be deemed meaningful and even religious, I argue, without relying on the loaded language of “animism.”