The study of religion, in the context of a liberal arts education, draws upon multiple disciplines in the humanities and the social sciences. This is reflected in the variety of courses offered within the department: some introduce a religious tradition and trace its development historically; others examine in a cross-cultural context the issues faced by various religious communities and individuals; and still others explore and compare diverse theories and methods employed in the study of religions. The department is concerned with traditional and contemporary forms of both major and more marginal religions, and with both "elite" and "popular" forms of religious expression. We examine the existential, intellectual, and social problems to which religions respond, and probe the dynamic and often ambiguous relationship between religious beliefs and practices and the social order in which they are embedded. Throughout the curriculum, religion is approached as a significant and pervasive expression of human culture, both in the past and the present.

Requirements for the Religion Major

Sixty-nine credits earned through courses in the department, and in “Religion Pertinent” courses offered by other departments, and in select courses from off-campus study programs.

Required courses:

  • RELG 110 Understanding Religion, ordinarily taken by end of fall of the junior year
  • RELG 300 Theories and Methods in the Study of Religion, winter term of the junior year
  • RELG 399 Senior Research Seminar, winter term of the senior year
  • RELG 400 Integrative Exercise 3 credits, spring term of the senior year
  • 12 credits of 300-level seminars other than 300 and 399
  • Breadth requirement
    • Two 100-level survey courses numbered between 120-170
  • Depth requirement
    • A minimum of two courses (12 credits) that are focused on the same tradition or region of the world

Other notes:

Religion 100s (A & I Seminars) count toward the religion major

No cap on number of Religion Pertinent courses from other departments that can count toward the religion major

Courses taken for the depth and breadth requirements can be double-dipped and such courses could also be used for another requirement in the major if applicable.


Religion Courses

RELG 100 Illness, Medicine, and Magic What is a perfect body, and how do you get one? What makes a body, or a mind, imperfect, and what can be done about it? How are human bodies different from animal, angelic, demonic, and divine bodies, and what happens when these bodies come into contact with each other? This course considers the breakdown (illness) and manipulation (magic and medicine) of the mind and body, particularly within premodern Christianity, Judaism, and Greco-Roman traditions. Through a series of close readings and discussions, this course interrogates the categories of illness, magic, and medicine in antiquity and in select instances today. Topics include demons, gender, relics, ancient magical techniques, eating, bodily resurrection, medicine and modernity, mental illness, and the certification of miracles. 6 credits; AI, WR1, IS; Fall; Sonja G Anderson
RELG 100 Re-Imagining God In this class we explore how religious thinkers have interrogated and re-imagined the concept "God" in response to a range of modern intellectual, political, and cultural challenges to traditional faith. Focusing particularly on contemporary (post-WWII) contexts, we consider the ways in which questions related to secularization, social justice, oppression, and religious pluralism have prompted theologians to re-define the very meaning of the word "God" and the nature of God's power, agency, and relation to human communities. As we encounter these conceptions of God, we examine and assess the definitions of power, truth, and human fulfillment that undergird them. 6 credits; AI, WR1; Fall; Lori K Pearson
RELG 100 Religion and the American Landscape The American landscape has shaped and has been shaped by the religious imaginations, beliefs, and practices of diverse inhabitants. This course explores the variety of  ways of imagining relationships between land, community, and the sacred, and how religious traditions have been inscribed on land itself. Indigenous and Latino/a traditions will be considered, as will  Euro-American traditions ranging from Puritans, Mormons, immigrant farmers, utopian communities, and Deep Ecologists. 6 credits; AI, WR1, IDS; Fall; Michael D McNally
RELG 110 Understanding Religion How can we best understand the role of religion in the world today, and how should we interpret the meaning of religious traditions -- their texts and practices -- in history and culture? This class takes an exciting tour through selected themes and puzzles related to the fascinating and diverse expressions of religion throughout the world. From politics and pop culture, to religious philosophies and spiritual practices, to rituals, scriptures, gender, religious authority, and more, students will explore how these issues emerge in a variety of religions, places, and historical moments in the U.S. and across the globe. 6 credits; HI, WR2, IDS; Fall, Winter, Spring; Asuka Sango, Michael D McNally, Noah Salomon
RELG 120 Introduction to Judaism This course provides an overview of Judaism as a religion, exploring its history, modes of expression, and characteristic polarities as they have emerged in various times and places. The contours of classical Jewish life and thought are explored, as well as the crises, challenges, and choices confronting Jews and Judaism today. Our uniting theme will be the question of defining Jewishness: who gets to claim an identity as a Jew, and who has (and has had) the authority to decide who is and is not Jewish? 6 credits; HI, WR2, IS; Spring; Daniel M Picus
RELG 121 Introduction to Christianity This course will trace the history of Christianity from its origins in the villages of Palestine, to its emergence as the official religion of the Roman Empire, and through its evolution and expansion as the world's largest religion. The course will focus on events, persons, and ideas that have had the greatest impact on the history of Christianity, and examine how this tradition has evolved in different ways in response to different needs, cultures, and tensions--political and otherwise--around the world. This is an introductory course. No familiarity with the Bible, Christianity, or the academic study of religion is presupposed. 6 credits; HI, WR2, IS; Not offered 2018-19
RELG 122 Introduction to Islam This course provides a general introduction to Islam, as a textual and lived tradition. Students will read from the Qur'an and the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad, engaging them both as historical resources and as dynamic and contested objects that have informed Muslim life in diverse ways throughout the centuries. Through following a thread from scripture, through the interpretive sciences (chiefly law and theology), and into an analysis of Muslim life in the contemporary world, students will explore answers Muslim thinkers have given to major questions of our shared existence, with both fidelity to the texts and flexibility to present demands. Though the focus of this course is not on Islam's role in current events, through attaining a solid introduction to the tradition--its sociology, its history, and its modes of reasoning--students will attain the knowledge necessary to begin to engage those events with a critical and informed mind. 6 credits; HI, IS, WR2; Winter; Noah Salomon
RELG 130 Native American Religions This course explores the history and contemporary practice of Native American religious traditions, especially as they have developed amid colonization and resistance. While surveying a broad variety of ways that Native American traditions imagine land, community, and the sacred, the course focuses on the local traditions of the Ojibwe and Lakota communities. Materials include traditional beliefs and practices, the history of missions, intertribal new religious movements, and contemporary issues of treaty rights, religious freedom, and the revitalization of language and culture. 6 credits; HI, WR2, IDS; Spring; Michael D McNally
RELG 140 Religion and American Culture This course explores the colorful, contested history of religion in American culture. While surveying the main contours of religion in the United States from the colonial era to the present, the course concentrates on a series of historical moments that reveal tensions between a quest for a (Protestant) American consensus and an abiding religious and cultural pluralism. 6 credits; HI, WR2, IDS; Not offered 2018-19
RELG 150 Religions of India India is home to some of the world’s most vibrant religious practices. This course offers a survey of the origins and development of the major religious traditions of the Indian subcontinent: Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Jainism, and Sikhism. We will consider classical and historical texts along with ethnographies, modern and contemporary politics, and, most likely, site visits. Readings span the gamut -- from Indian sources in English translation to news, novels, and poetry. Film and other media will also serve as fodder. 6 credits; HI, IS, WR2; Not offered 2018-19
RELG 151 Religions in Chinese Culture An introduction to the major religious traditions of China, from earliest times to the present. Combining thematic and historical approaches, this course will scrutinize both defining characteristics of, and interactions among, various religious traditions, including Buddhism, Daoism, and the Confucianism, as well as Christianity and new religious movements. We also will discuss issues crucial in the study of religion, such as the relation between religion and violence, gender, modernity, nationalism and war. 6 credits; HI, IS; Not offered 2018-19
RELG 152 Religions in Japanese Culture An introduction to the major religious traditions of Japan, from earliest times to the present. Combining thematic and historical approaches, this course will scrutinize both defining characteristics of, and interactions among, various religious traditions, including worship of the kami (local deities), Buddhism, shamanistic practices, Christianity, and new religious movements. We also will discuss issues crucial in the study of religion, such as the relation between religion and violence, gender, modernity, nationalism and war. 6 credits; HI, IS, WR2; Not offered 2018-19
RELG 153 Introduction to Buddhism This course offers a survey of Buddhism from its inception in India some 2500 years ago to the present. We first address fundamental Buddhist ideas and practices, then their elaboration in the Mahayana and tantric movements, which emerged in the first millennium CE in India. We also consider the diffusion of Buddhism throughout Asia and to the West. Attention will be given to both continuity and diversity within Buddhism--to its commonalities and transformations in specific historical and cultural settings. We also will address philosophical, social, political, and ethical problems that are debated among Buddhists and scholars of Buddhism today. 6 credits; HI, IS, WR2; Fall; Matt Robertson
RELG 155 Hinduism: An Introduction Hinduism is the world's third-largest religion (or, as some prefer, “way of life”), with about 1.2 billion followers. It is also one of its oldest, with roots dating back at least 3500 years. “Hinduism,” however, is a loosely defined, even contested term, designating the wide variety of beliefs and practices of the majority of the people of South Asia. This survey course introduces students to this great variety, including social structures (such as the caste system), rituals and scriptures, mythologies and epics, philosophies, life practices, politics, poetry, sex, gender, Bollywood, and—lest we forget—some 330 million gods and goddesses. 6 credits; HI, WR2, IS; Winter; Matt Robertson
RELG 161 Making Meaning of the Hebrew Bible Since antiquity, the Hebrew Bible has been read through various lenses and made meaningful to communities of readers through a range of interpretive methodologies and techniques. In this introductory class, we will survey different genres of literature found in the Hebrew Bible and consider how interpreters, classical and modern, have read the text and found it relevant in their lives. We will also examine how the Bible as a bounded text came to be, and how it has inspired devotion, critiques, political and social movements. Requires no previous knowledge and will use sources in translation. 6 credits; HI, WR2; Not offered 2018-19
RELG 162 Jesus, the Bible, and Christian Beginnings This course introduces students to the diverse literature and theologies of the New Testament and to the origins and social worlds of early Christianity. Possible topics include: Jesus and his message; Paul and women's spiritual authority; non-canonical gospels (Mary, Thomas, Judas, etc.); relations between Christians and Jews in the first century; and conflict with empire. Attention is given to the interpretation of New Testament texts in their ancient historical setting, and to the various ways contemporary scholars and groups interpret the New Testament as a source for theological reflection. 6 credits; HI, WR2; Winter; Sonja G Anderson
RELG 215 Muslim Misfits: Islam and the Question of Orthodoxy "Islam began strange, and it will return to being strange in the same way as it began. So good tidings to the strange ones!" So goes a famous saying (hadith) attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, placing the virtue of nonconformity to social norms at the very heart of what it means be Muslim. Islam's beginnings as something strange and rebellious within the context of its polytheistic Arabian birthplace, and the virtue of truth over numbers more generally, is seen by many not only as a noble past from which Islam emerged, but its inevitable future as well. This course will examine several non-conformist movements throughout Islamic history. The movements will be discussed for their unique contributions to Islamic theology, practice and social life as well as in regards to what they tell us about the orthodoxies against which they came to rebel, all within the context of submission to a higher power and truth. 6 credits; HI, WR2, IS; Not offered 2018-19
RELG 221 Judaism and Gender Questions raised by feminism and gender studies have transformed religious traditions and dramatically changed the way scholars approach the study of religion. In this course, we will consider how reading Jewish tradition with attention to gender opens up new ways of understanding Jewish history, texts, theology and ritual. We will also consider how women and feminism have continually and newly envisioned Jewish life. We will interrogate how Jewish masculinity and femininity have been constituted through, reinforced by, and reclaimed/transformed in Jewish texts, law, prayer, theology, ethics and ritual, in communal as well as domestic contexts. 6 credits; HI, WR2, IDS; Fall; Daniel M Picus
RELG 222 Politics, Medicine, and the Self in Asian Religion What is a self? What does it mean for a person to be “in” the world? Is a person really a discrete entity, set apart from everything else? We will explore how Asian religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism answer these questions and compare those answers to ones offered in the West. By drawing on a wide variety of sources including ancient texts, artworks, and architecture, we will examine how the idea of “self” acts as a lens through which Asian religions conceptualize health and disease, as well as political power and spiritual liberation. Topics will include yoga, medicine, kingship, sacrifice, and sorcery. 6 credits; HI, WR2, IS; Winter; Matt Robertson
RELG 223 Religion, Madness, and Modern Psychology Madness is one of the most socially and intellectually fraught notions today. At the same time, it has long been a vital lens for exploring the human mind. But what exactly is madness, and why do some people give it religious significance? This course traces the relationship between biomedical and spiritual understandings of madness. We will discuss debates about whether madness is a matter of biochemistry, religious experience, or disrupted social norms, as well as different forms of care (including psychopharmacology, psychoanalysis, spiritual care, and moral reform). Finally, we will consider what a cross-cultural perspective might add to these debates. 6 credits; HI, WR2; Not offered 2018-19
RELG 224 Religion, Science, and the Modern Imagination This course explores the relationship between religion and science through a focus on imagination. Throughout history, science and medicine have animated the theological imagination (and vice-versa). In many shared cultural contexts, scientific and religious thought rely on shared conceptions of time, space, nature, and the infinite. We will examine images, analogies, and metaphors that both scientific and religious writing use to visualize unseen realities and to depict visible subjects. At the same time, we will use imagination as a lens to consider questions of power through examining assumptions about gender, race, and sex that undergird conceptions of the human self. 6 credits; HI, WR2; Not offered 2018-19
RELG 225 Losing My Religion What happens when religion loses its plausibility--whether because of its lack of intellectual or moral credibility, or because it just doesn't make sense of highly ambiguous or deeply troubling or powerfully novel experiences? This course explores how modern Western theologians and philosophers have grappled with the loss of traditional religious beliefs and categories. What is the appropriate response to losing one's religion? It turns out that few abandon it altogether, but instead find new ways of naming the religious and the sacred, whether in relation to existential meaning, aesthetic experience, moral hope, prophetic insight, or passionate love. 6 credits; HI, WR2; Not offered 2018-19
RELG 226 Colonialism and Christianity in the Global South While the "Global North," a quarter of the world's population, has access to four fifths of its income, the "Global South" generally Africa, Latin America, and developing Asia--comprises three quarters of the world's population and has access to one fifth of its income. Christianity, long proclaiming the need to create the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, has nonetheless maintained a tight relationship to colonialism, power, empire, and the making of "modernity." This course will investigate the paradoxical ways that Christianity has been both complicit with and a source of liberation from colonial and post-colonial forces in the Global South. Not offered 2018-19
RELG 227 Liberation Theologies An introduction to liberationist thought, including black theology, Latin American liberation theology, and feminist theology through writings of various contemporary thinkers. Attention will be directed to theories of justice, power, and freedom. We will also examine the social settings out of which these thinkers have emerged, their critiques of "traditional" theologies, and the new vision of Christian life they have developed in recent decades. Previous study of Christianity is recommended but not required. 6 credits; HI, IDS, WR2; Spring; Lori K Pearson
RELG 228 Martyrdom What does it mean to be a martyr? How have various traditions understood bodily suffering, violence, and integrity in relation to gender, piety, the divine, empire, and conflicts with other groups? We will examine the noble death tradition in Greco-Roman antiquity, various Jewish and Christian martyrdom accounts, the artistic depiction of martyrdom, and the cultural function this material has had from antiquity into modernity. The course will also consider martyrdom in Islam and the rhetoric of persecution in contemporary religious and political events. 6 credits; HI, WR2; Winter; Sonja G Anderson
RELG 229 Monks and Mystics Is mysticism just a religious word for what are actually natural, neurological processes? Is prayer a dressed-up form of positive thinking? Does mindfulness meditation have medical benefits, and should it be promoted by clinicians? Have monks been practicing a spirituality that science is now vindicating? Are these even the right questions to ask? This course offers a historical, comparative, and theoretical exploration of the techniques of rigorous bodily and mental discipline (asceticism) that humans in different cultural contexts have used as a strategy for union with the divine (mysticism). We will focus on ancient Jewish, Christian, and pagan texts that advocate ascetical practices for mastering the body’s passions, disciplining the imagination, and uncovering the deceits of the visible world, and we will trace the reception of these traditions in modern monastic and mystical movements. This course emphasizes close reading, active discussion, and critical reflection on constructions of the ideal body and the ideal mind in antiquity and the present day. Conditions permitting, there will be two field trips to monasteries in Minnesota. Each trip will take place on a weekend and will last for nearly a whole day. 6 credits; HI, WR2; Fall; Sonja G Anderson
RELG 232 Queer Religion Passions, pleasures, ecstasies, and desires bear on religion and sexuality alike, but intersections and tensions between these two domains are complicated. This course wagers that bringing the hotly contested categories “queer” and “religion” together will illuminate the diverse range of bodies, activities, and identities that inhabit both. The course explores religion and sexuality in Modern Western thought, erotic elements in religious texts and art, and novels and narratives of religious belief and practice in queer lives. The course combines concrete cases with theoretical tools that queer and feminist scholars have used to analyze religious and sexual communities, bodies, and identities. 6 credits; HI, WR2, IDS; Not offered 2018-19
RELG 233 Gender and Power in the Catholic Church This course introduces students to the structure, history, and theology of the Catholic Church through the lens of gender and power. Through a combination of readings and conversations with living figures, students will develop the ability to critically and empathetically interpret Catholicism in its various manifestations. Topics include: God, rituals, salvation, the body, women, materiality, sex; the authority of persons, texts, and tradition; conflicts and anxieties involving masculinity, feminist theologies, the ordination of women as priests, the censuring of heretical theologians, and the clerical sex abuse crisis. Conditions permitting, this course will include trips to local Catholic sites. 6 credits; HI, WR2, IDS; Spring; Sonja G Anderson
RELG 234 Angels, Demons, and Evil Besides humans, animals, and gods, what other beings populate the cosmos? Where do evil, sin, and suffering come from? What can be done about them, and can their existence be justified philosophically? This course explores the problem of evil through an exploration of angels and demons in Jewish, Christian, and Greco-Roman traditions from antiquity to the present, with a focus on late antiquity. Special attention will be given to the bodies of angels and demons: Are they gendered? Where do they dwell? What do they know, and what can they do to humans? This course will also consider modern articulations of systemic, historical injustice. 6 credits; HI, WR2, IS; Not offered 2018-19
RELG 237 Yoga: Religion, History, Practice This class will immerse students in the study of yoga from its first textual representations to its current practice around the world. Transnationally, yoga has been unyoked from religion. But the Sanskrit root yuj means to “add,” “join,” or “unite”—and in Indian philosophy and practice it was: a method of devotion; a way to “yoke” the body/mind; a means to unite with Ultimate Reality; a form of concentration and meditation. We will concentrate on texts dating back thousands of years, from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras to the Bhagavad Gita—and popular texts of today. Come prepared to wear loose clothing. 6 credits; HI, IS; Not offered 2018-19
RELG 238 The Sacred Body The human body has been a focus of reflection throughout history and across traditions. This course will draw particularly on Hawaiian, South Indian, Native American, Euro-American-Christian, and ecological approaches to "the sacred body," from ancient to contemporary times. We will explore numerous ways of cultivating, imagining, representing, disciplining, inhabiting, and adorning the body--in daily life and in religious fields. Theoretically, we will consider the body in relation to gender, subjectivity, personhood, and performativity. We will also enjoy "live" visits ranging from a male Hawaiian hula halau (hula school), to a yoga teacher, and educational excursions in the Arb. 6 credits; HI, WR2, IDS; Not offered 2018-19
RELG 240 Investing in God: American Religion and Economic Life What do economic practices like investing, shopping, and consuming have to do with American religion? This course takes up this question through exploration of economic practices in contemporary American religious communities and of secular notions of ritual, value, and desire that some argue fulfill needs traditionally met by religion. Topics include: prosperity gospel, religious investments, consumer rituals, God and the market, the commodification of “Eastern spirituality,” and global media and the performance of wealth. 6 credits; HI, WR2, IDS; Not offered 2018-19
RELG 243 Native American Religious Freedom This course explores historical and legal contexts in which Native Americans have practiced their religions in the United States. Making reference to the cultural background of Native traditions, and the history of First Amendment law, the course explores landmark court cases in Sacred Lands, Peyotism, free exercise in prisons, and sacralized traditional practices (whaling, fishing, hunting) and critically examines the conceptual framework of "religion" as it has been applied to the practice of Native American traditions. Service projects will integrate academic learning and student involvement in matters of particular concern to contemporary native communities. 6 credits; HI, IDS; Not offered 2018-19
RELG 245 Buddha Buddha, "the awakened," is the ideal being--and state of being--in all Buddhist traditions. This course will explore the contours of the Buddha-ideal as revealed in legendary narratives, devotional poems, ritual texts, visionary accounts, philosophical treatises, meditation manuals, and artistic representations. We will draw primarily on classical South Asian and Tibetan sources from the Theravada, Mahayana, and Tantric traditions, but also will consider East Asian (e.g., Pure Land and Zen) conceptions of Buddha and modern reinterpretations of the idea. In addition, we will compare Buddha with the "ideal being" of other traditions, e.g., Brahman, the Dao, and God. 6 credits; HI, WR2, IS; Not offered 2018-19
RELG 247 The Islamic Republic: Explorations in Religion and Nationalism This course examines processes of nation-building in the modern Middle East, when competing enterprises were at work to establish an “authentic national character” with a focus on religious identity. We will look at political essays, literary creations, images, and songs to study the diverse ways in which the nation is imagined and critiqued in the region, along with sources on modern political thought. Our primary countries of focus will be Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. 6 credits; HI, WR2, IS; Winter; Ahoo Najafian
RELG 254 Zen Buddhism An exploration of the "meditation" school of East Asian Buddhism. We will trace Zen back to its purported origins in India, through its development in China, while focusing on its history in Japan. In addition to its philosophy and practice, we will study its influence on various aspects of Japanese culture--ink painting, calligraphy, Noh theater, tea ceremony, samurai ethics, and martial arts. We will also consider Zen's participation in Japan's nationalism and wartime aggression as well as its place in America, where it has influenced art, literature, and religion for over a century. 6 credits; HI, IS, WR2; Not offered 2018-19
RELG 262 Islamic Africa This course rethinks how we understand Africa through attention to the role of Islam and Arabic culture in its past and present. Through religious texts, novels, and critical commentary from the continent, students will get a strong introduction to key trends in Islamic thought and activism, while exploring how attention to them might reshape our perceptions of both its history and present. Equally addressing Africa as geographic space and analytic category, we will examine its features--from the Sahara to the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean, and beyond--not as barriers, but as sites of complex, creative and often fraught exchange with the broader Muslim world. 6 credits; HI, WR2, IS; Not offered 2018-19
RELG 263 Sufism From Rumi to the Whirling Dervishes, Islam's Sufi mystical tradition has sparked the fascination of Western observers for many decades. Its music, its poetry and its esoteric sciences have been embraced as part of global heritage. However, where these colorful practices fit into the Islamic tradition is less well understood. This course will situate the Sufi tradition within Islam's broader framework, tracing its development from an elite philosophical system to a mode of popular practice. 6 credits; HI, IS, WR2; Winter; Noah Salomon
RELG 264 Islamic Politics From the Islamic state to Islamic secularism, from progressivism to jihadism, this course examines a broad range of Islamic political thought and practice. Through exploring thinkers and movements both classical and modern who have shaped contemporary conversation, students will get beneath the headlines and come to a robust understanding of the role of Islam in modern politics across the globe. 6 credits; HI, IS, WR2; Not offered 2018-19
RELG 265 Religion and Violence: Hindus, Muslims, Jews Whether seen on TV screens or in history books, the horror of war, genocide, terrorism, communal violence, and land disputes often prompts the question: is religion the problem? Conversely, one may point to the peaceful aspirations and non-violent social movements that have been led by religious leaders, and motivated by religious philosophies and impulses and ask: can religion be the solution? This course will explore the complex, and sometimes paradoxical roles religious ideas, practices, communities, and leaders play in both the perpetuation and cessation of violence. Case studies will be drawn from Hindu, Muslim, and Jewish conflicts in recent history. 6 credits; HI, WR2, IS; Not offered 2018-19
RELG 268 The Perfumed Life: Islamic Sources of the Self This course will examine the multiple ways the ideal life has been imagined in the Muslim world, from antiquity to modernity, in both Shi‘i and Sunni renderings. Through putting biographical/auto-biographical narratives from the Muslim world into conversation with readings about the nature of selfhood and subjectivity that emerge in philosophy, psychology and anthropology, we will examine together what unique resources the Muslim tradition has to explore the self, its capabilities and its limits, and in what ways it participates in dilemmas shared across traditional boundaries. Rather than merely studying concepts of the self as they pass through history, this course will ask students to inhabit authors’ worldviews long enough to see how they might grapple with some of the most vexing and intractable issues of our time: from the nature of freedom and submission, to the politics of identity, to the boundaries between humans and their environment. 6 credits; HI, WR2, IS; Not offered 2018-19
RELG 270 Philosophy of Religion A study of classic issues in the philosophy of religion and philosophical theology. Possible topics include: the existence and nature of God; the status and nature of religious experience; the problem of evil; the meaning of faith, belief, and truth; definitions of the self and salvation; and the significance of religious pluralism for claims about truth and God. Readings are drawn from the work of modern and contemporary philosophers and theologians. Prerequisites: Previous work in religion or philosophy will be helpful but is not required. 6 credits; HI, WR2; Not offered 2018-19
RELG 273 Religious Approaches to Death As the inevitable conclusion of every human existence, our lives are profoundly shaped by death. Consequently, we are all in the process of approaching death—both our own and that of others. This course examines the stunning variety of ways in which humans have approached death and mortality throughout history and across the globe. We will (1) develop a vocabulary of human mortality and death that will allow us to (2) illuminate the structural and functional continuities/discontinuities present across human approaches to death and (3) think critically about mortality and death as we approach them in our own lives. 6 credits; HI, WR2, IS; Fall; Matt Robertson
RELG 276 Pilgrimage and Sacred Space in Japan Program: Field Studies Sacred Sites Students will do directed readings in order to design and conduct independent research and fieldwork projects that are related to Religion 279 but will require them to do an in-depth study of particular site(s). Prerequisite: Participation in OCS Religion in Kyoto program. 3 credits; HI, IS; Spring; Asuka Sango
RELG 277 Buddhism and the Beats The development of a uniquely American Buddhism beginning in the late 1960s owes much to "Beat" writings in the 1950s. The cultural innovations of the Fifties reverberated in the social and political shifts of the sixties to give rise to an American Buddhist idiom that emphasized meditation, direct experience, community, socially engaged action, and concern with the environment. This course will explore representations of Buddhism in the works of such notable Beats as Kerouac, Ginsberg, Snyder, Whalen, and Watts and their influence on the counterculture and the various Buddhist communities (both imagined and institutional) that arose from the Sixties on. 6 credits; HI, WR2, IDS; Not offered 2018-19
RELG 279 Pilgrimage & Sacred Space Japn An introduction to the major religious traditions of Japan such as Shintō and Buddhism from earliest times to the present, focusing on pilgrimage and sacred space. Course material is drawn from a variety of primary sources in translation, as well as from Japanese films, anthropological accounts, historical studies, and other works of secondary scholarship. Students will go on field trips in and near Kyōto. Prerequisite: Participation in OCS Religion in Kyoto program. 6 credits; HI, IS; Spring; Asuka Sango
RELG 280 The Politics of Sex in Asian Religion This course will explore the intersection of religion, sex, and power, focusing on Asian religions. Key questions include: In what ways do religions normalize certain constructions of sex, gender, and sexuality while marking others deviant and unnatural? How do they teach us to perform (and sometimes to overcome) "masculinity" or "femininity"? We will probe these questions by studying both traditional and contemporary examples--such as the erotic discourse of the Kama Sutra, concepts of "Women's Hell" in medieval East Asia, attitudes toward abortion in Buddhism, Confucian-influenced practice of foot binding, homosexuality in Japanese Buddhism, and queer Buddhists in North America. 6 credits; HI, WR2, IS; Not offered 2018-19
RELG 281 Performing Tradition: Art, Religion, and Globalization Visit a museum and it is not uncommon to find--along side visual displays--exhibitions of "culture" in the form of performances. Building upon the idea that "art is a bridge to understanding," festivals, fairs, and classrooms have become venues for artists and religious leaders to bring the global local. Tracing the history of exhibiting cultures, beginning in the late nineteenth century, we will consider how religions and traditions are represented in different contexts with a range of political and social implications. We will also work with artists-in-residence to consider the role performance plays in constructions of rituals, religions and cultures. 6 credits; IS, HI, WR2; Not offered 2018-19
RELG 287 Many Marys The history of Christianity usually focuses on Jesus: the stories and doctrines that have revolved around him. This course will focus on Mary and the many ways she has contributed to the various lived traditions of Christianity. We will, for example, consider the mother of Jesus (Miriam, as she was first called) as she has figured in literature, art, apparition, and ritual practice around the world. We will also consider Mary Magdalene, her foil, who appears in popular discourse from the Gnostic gospels to The Da Vinci Code. Case studies, texts, images, and film will be our fare. 6 credits; HI, WR2, IDS; Not offered 2018-19
RELG 289 Global Religions in Minnesota Somali Muslims in Rice County? Hindus in Maple Grove? Hmong shamans in St. Paul hospitals? Sun Dances in Pipestone? In light of globalization, the religious landscape of Minnesota, like America more broadly, has become more visibly diverse. Lake Wobegon stereotypes aside, Minnesota has always been characterized by some diversity but the realities of immigration, dispossession, dislocation, economics, and technology have made religious diversity more pressing in its implications for every arena of civic and cultural life. This course bridges theoretical knowledge with engaged field research focused on how Midwestern contexts shape global religious communities and how these communities challenge and transform Minnesota. 6 credits; HI, IDS, WR2; Spring; Michael D McNally
RELG 300 Theories and Methods in the Study of Religion What, exactly, is religion and what conditions of modernity have made it urgent to articulate such a question in the first place? Why does religion exert such force in human society and history? Is it an opiate of the masses or an illusion laden with human wish-fulfillment? Is it a social glue? A subjective experience of the sacred? Is it simply a universalized Protestant Christianity in disguise, useful in understanding, and colonizing, the non-Christian world? This seminar, for junior majors and advanced majors from related fields, explores generative theories from anthropology, sociology, psychology, literary studies, and the history of religions. 6 credits; HI; Winter; Lori K Pearson
RELG 325 Ritual, Transformation, Tradition Ritual connotes patterns and adherence to traditional pasts, and yet the workings of ritual often imply intentions to effect change, invoking the power of ritual transformation. In this, the study of ritual invokes central tensions animating the study of religion: continuity and change, social stability and transformation. This course explores "ritual" and "tradition" from a range of scholarly perspectives: theoretical; anthropological; textual; sociological; political; and psychological. Working at the level of the individual and communal, or the cosmic and political, we will consider the processes of ritual preservation and innovation. 6 credits; HI, WR2, IDS; Not offered 2018-19
RELG 326 Religion and the Post-Colonial Imagination Two vexing questions: What is post-colonial thought? And: What is religion? These will guide us as we look at the literary and theoretical production that, we may find, expresses the post-colonial imagination. We will use our guiding questions as a way of exploring a variety of problems both raised by and manifested in these works, such as: the nature of identity; the question of nationalism; the writing of history; questions of class, gender, and race. The emphasis will be on close readings of these works which emerge from the crucible of the Third Worlds "encounter" with European and American colonialism. 6 credits; HI, IS; Not offered 2018-19
RELG 329 Modernity and Tradition How do we define traditions if they change over time and are marked by internal conflict? Is there anything stable about a religious tradition—an essence, or a set of practices or beliefs that abide amidst diversity and mark it off from a surrounding culture or religion? How do people live out or re-invent their traditions in the modern world? In this seminar we explore questions about pluralism, identity, authority, and truth, and we examine the creative ways beliefs and practices change in relation to culture. We consider how traditions grapple with difference, especially regarding theology, ethics, law, and gender. 6 credits; HI, WR2; Not offered 2018-19
RELG 344 Lived Religion in America The practices of popular, or local, or lived religion in American culture often blur the distinction between the sacred and profane and elude religious studies frameworks based on the narrative, theological, or institutional foundations of "official" religion. This course explores American religion primarily through the lens of the practices of lived religion with respect to ritual, the body, the life cycle, the market, leisure, and popular culture. Consideration of a wide range of topics, including ritual healing, Christmas, cremation, and Elvis, will nourish an ongoing discussion about how to make sense of lived religion. 6 credits; HI, IDS; Winter; Michael D McNally
RELG 353 Saints, Goddesses, and Whores Saint or sinner? Goddess or demon? Perfect virgin or (im-)penitent whore? Repeatedly across cultures and religious traditions, the female figure has been split—in religious texts and practices as well as in popular culture and quotidian life. This course investigates the sexualization and/or containment of women—as female sexuality is often equated with danger—and the varied responses to such containment that often produce fascinating alternatives. Christian and Hindu traditions (sometimes overlapping) will serve as fields for case studies, including: Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, mystics, Mother Theresa, Hindu goddesses and demonesses, bhakti poet-saints, politicians, and film divas. 6 credits; HI, WR2, IS; Not offered 2018-19
RELG 357 Televangelists and Cyber-Shaykhs: Explorations in Religion and Media Beyond the mystic ideal of approaching the divine without intermediary, all believers have encountered religious truth only by the use of certain material objects, certain media that act as tools to help the believer develop piety or communicate theological truth. This course is interested in these "in-betweens," these media, objects and material that religious people use to approach the divine, as well as the impact of new medias (electronic or otherwise) on the development of modern religiosity. Students will be asked to roll-up their sleeves and delve into primary source material gathered from internet, television, popular literature and material culture. 6 credits; SI, WR2, IS; Spring; Noah Salomon
RELG 359 Buddhist Studies India Program: Buddhist Meditation Traditions Students will complement their understanding of Buddhist thought and culture through the study and practice of traditional meditation disciplines. This course emphasizes the history, characteristics, and approach of three distinct meditation traditions within Buddhism: Vipassana, Zazen, and Dzogchen. Meditation practice and instruction is led in the morning and evening six days a week by representatives of these traditions who possess a theoretical as well as practical understanding of their discipline. Lectures and discussions led by the program director complement and contextualize the three meditation traditions being studied. Prerequisite: Acceptance into the Carleton-Antioch Program required. 7-8 credits; NE; Fall; Arthur P McKeown
RELG 362 Spirit Possession This course considers spirit possession in relation to religion, gender, and agency. Through surveying a number of works on spirit possession--recent and past, theoretical and ethnographic--we will analyze representations of the female subject in particular and arguments about agency that attend these representations. This class will explicitly look at post-colonial accounts of spirit possession and compare them to Euro-American Christian conceptions of personhood. We will consider how these Euro-Christian conceptions might undergird secular-liberal constructions of agency, and contribute to feminist ideas about the proper female subject. 6 credits; HI, WR2, IS; Not offered 2018-19
RELG 365 Mysticism Drawing from selected traditional texts and modern analyses, we will investigate the human encounter with ultimate reality. Questions we will consider include: What is the definition and typology of mysticism? Is mystical experience truly ineffable? What are its modes of expression? Do all mystics experience the same reality? Is unmediated experience possible? Do mystical experiences show us the truth? Is there a place for reason on a mystical path? What is the role of the body and brain in mystical practice? Does mystical experience make us good? Does it free us? Are mystics critics of institutional religion or social injustice? 6 credits; HI; Not offered 2018-19
RELG 380 Radical Critiques of Christianity This course introduces students to some of the most radical critiques brought against the foundations of Christian theology (by philosophers and theologians, outsiders and insiders, alike) in the modern period. We examine critiques concerning the authority and historical veracity of scripture, the nature and status of Christian doctrines, the true meaning of faith, the relation between Christian theology and oppressive power, and the value of Christian morality. We also consider the work of Christian theologians who have embraced these critical perspectives and who have put them to use in their efforts to reform and redefine Christianity. Prerequisites: Prior coursework in philosophy or Christian theology is desirable, but there is no prerequisite for the course. 6 credits; HI; Not offered 2018-19
RELG 399 Senior Research Seminar This seminar will acquaint students with research tools in various fields of religious studies, provide an opportunity to present and discuss research work in progress, hone writing skills, and improve oral presentation techniques. Prerequisite: Religion 300 and acceptance of proposal for senior integrative exercise and instructor permission. 6 credits; HI; Winter; Asuka Sango
RELG 400 Integrative Exercise 3 credits; S/NC; Spring; Lori K Pearson

Other Courses Pertinent to Religion

  • ARTH 164 Buddhist Art (not offered in 2018-19)
  • HIST 131 Saints, Sinners, and Philosophers in Late Antiquity (not offered in 2018-19)
  • HIST 201 Rome Program: Community and Communication in Medieval Italy, CE 300-1250
  • HIST 202 Icons, Iconoclasm, and the Quest for the Holy in Byzantium and Its Neighbors (not offered in 2018-19)
  • HIST 203 Icons for All: Teaching an Exhibition (not offered in 2018-19)
  • HIST 283 Christian Encounter, Conversion, and Conflict in Modern Africa (not offered in 2018-19)
  • HIST 330 Ideas Incarnate: Institutional Formation, Reform, and Governance in the Middle Ages
  • HIST 360 Muslims and Modernity
  • MELA 230 Jewish Collective Memory
  • MUSC 213 Music and Religion (not offered in 2018-19)
  • SOAN 260 Myth, Ritual, and Symbolism (not offered in 2018-19)
  • WGST 180 Power and Desire: Gender Relations in the Middle East
  • WGST 210 Sexuality and Religious Controversies in the United States and Beyond (not offered in 2018-19)
  • WGST 310 Asian Mystiques Demystified (not offered in 2018-19)