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Religious Studies

Spring 2018 Courses

RELS 102: Food and Religion in America
Dr. Susanna Morrill MWF 11:30AM - 12:30PM

Examination of the relationship between food, American religions, and American popular culture; how food is incorporated into formal religious rituals such as the Eucharist or fasting; how cooking, communal eating, and food practices are part of the more informal religious culture of religious communities. Also, consideration of whether eating and food have taken on religious meaning within American culture as a whole, using the Northwest as a focus.

Prerequisites: None.

RELS 241: Religions of Japan
Jessica D. Starling MWF 10:20AM - 11:20AM

Religious traditions of Japan from the eighth century to the present examined through the thematic lenses of hagiography, asceticism, syncretism, gender, family, and cultural identity. Critical attention will be paid to the concepts of “religion” and “secular” during examination of continuities and changes from the ancient to the contemporary period. Students will conduct a semester-long research project on a topic related to Japanese religion.

Prerequisites: None.

RELS 241: Medieval Christianity
Benjamin Westervelt MWF 10:20AM - 11:20AM 

Formation and development of Western Christianity from late antiquity through the late medieval period (circa 250 to 1450 C.E.). The relation of popular piety to institutional and high cultural expressions of Christianity. Issues such as Christianity and the late Roman empire, the papacy, monasticism, religious art and architecture, and heresy and hierarchy discussed using theological texts, social histories, popular religious literature.

Prerequisites: None.

RELS 262: Modern Judaism
Sylvia Frankel MWF 9:10AM - 10:10AM

Exploration of how the emancipation period in Europe transformed the Jewish world, beginning in the latter part of the eighteenth century. Includes some of the early personalities, such as Moses Mendelssohn, Samson Raphael Hirsch, Leopold Zunz; the emergence of new denominations in Europe in the nineteenth century, such as the Reform and neo-Orthodox movements; and denominations developed in the United States in the twentieth century.

Prerequisites: None.

RELS 274: Islam in the Modern World
Dr. Paul Powers MWF 1:50PM - 2:50PM

The religious, social, and political dynamics of the Islamic world, circa 1300 C.E. to present, especially the nineteenth through twenty-first centuries. Earlier developments (e.g., the Qur’an, Muhammad, Muslim dynasties) considered in relation to the modern context. European colonialism, postcolonial change, reform and “fundamentalist” movements, Sufism, Muslim views of “modernity,” and changing understandings of politics, gender, and relations with non-Muslims.

Prerequisites: None.

RELS 355: Sufism: Islamic Mysticism
Dr. Paul Powers TTH 1:50PM - 3:20PM

The historical roots and branches of Sufi Islam, including the search for the “inner meaning” of the Qur’an, complex metaphysical formulations, ascetic assertions, meditation practices, devotional ruminations on love, and Sufi poetry and music. Discussion of the important role of Sufism in the spread of Islam. Muslim critiques of Sufism and Sufi responses.

Prerequisites: RELS 273

Restrictions: Sophomore standing required.

RELS 356: Buddhism and Gender
Jessica D. Starling TTH 11:30AM - 12:30PM

Examination of women and gender in Buddhist mythology, doctrine, practice, and institutions spanning the length of the Buddhist tradition (i.e., 500 BCE to the present), addressing examples from Indian, Southeast Asian, Tibetan, and Japanese Buddhist contexts. Tension between Buddhism’s theoretical discourse on women and gender; actual roles and experiences of women in the Buddhist tradition. Topics include the founding myth of the Buddhist order of nuns and the writings of early nuns; Buddhist discourse on female impurity and the exclusion of women from sacred mountains; female tantric adepts and depictions of the feminine in Tibetan Buddhism; the movement to revive full ordination for nuns in Southeast Asia; the Buddhist feminist movement in contemporary Japan.

Prerequisites: Any 200-level RELS course.

Restrictions: Sophomore standing required.

RELS 376: Religious Fundamentalism
Dr. Paul Powers TTH 9:40AM - 11:10AM

The perceptions and realities of religious resurgence in a supposedly secularizing world. Focus on the historical, theological, social, and political aspects of Christian and Islamic fundamentalism. Themes include secularization theories and their critics; changing understandings of religion and modernity; connections among religion, politics, violence, sexuality/gender, and identity.

Prerequisites: RELS 254 or RELS 274.

Restrictions: Sophomore standing required.

RELS 451: Seminar: Ancient Aliens?
Dr. Susana Morrill MWF 12:40PM - 1:40PM 

RELS-451: “Ancient Aliens”?: The Metaphysical Tradition in
American Religious History

In this seminar, we begin in the present day U.S. with a series on the History Channel called “Ancient Aliens.” This series is based on the premise that most religious, cultural, technological, and even economic developments originated in human encounters with a more advanced alien race that has visited earth periodically throughout human history. We add to this shows such as “Monster Quest” and “Paranormal State” that strive to investigate scientifically paranormal and cryptozoological phenomena. Culturally and historically, where are these shows coming from? More importantly, how do we get to a place in U.S. religious history where, at least in lived cultural religious experience, religion and science have merged to such a degree that aliens become gods who can be encountered mystically, but explained scientifically? How and why have a critical mass of Americans adjusted their religious worldviews in this way?

To begin to get at potential answers to these questions, we will make a selective survey of institutional and popular religious history in the U.S., along with some relevant theoretical works. We start in the Puritan era during which mysterious phenomena were explained through a combination of orthodox Calvinist theology and a more traditional “world of wonders” viewpoint. We investigate how these developments helped to create a metaphysical tradition in the U.S. that manifests itself in expressions as diverse as Swedenborgianism, Mormonism, Spiritualism, Theosophy, the Nation of Islam, Scientology, and modern-day UFO cults. Along the way, we consider Thomas Kuhn’s work on the shift to the scientific paradigm, Albanese’s work on metaphysical religion, and the larger concept of reductionism in the study of religion. While we focus on trying to answer these specific questions discussed above, we will constantly be challenging ourselves to think about how we study and understand the categories of religion and science.

Prerequisites: Any 200-level RELS course.

Restrictions: Sophomore standing required.

RELS 490: Senior Thesis
Jessica D. Starling MW 3:00PM - 4:30PM 

Advanced readings and major works in religion. In consultation with faculty, selection of a thesis topic and further reading in the discipline and research in the topic area. Substantial written document demonstrating mastery of theory and methodology in the study of religion and the ability to integrate these into the thesis topic.

Prerequisites: None.

Restrictions: Senior standing required.

Religious Studies

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