Religion

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 except RELG 300, 359 or 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 Art and Religion For much of recorded history, what we now call “art” and what we now call “religion” were inseparable. In the modern period, art and religion have gone their separate ways. What, if anything, continues to connect them? Is art inherently religious? Can religion be considered a form of art? In this class, we look at modern works of art (from Renaissance painting to contemporary performance art) alongside the sights and sounds of religion (including the symbols, rituals, and architecture of multiple religious traditions), seeking points of confluence and displacement between these apparently disparate areas of culture.  6 credits; AI, WR1; Fall; Caleb S Hendrickson
RELG 100 Christianity and Colonialism From its beginnings, Christianity has been concerned with the making of new persons and worlds: the creation of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. It has also maintained a tight relationship to power, empire, and the making of modernity. In this course we will investigate this relationship within the context of colonial projects in the Americas, Africa, India, and the Pacific. We will trace the making of modern selves from Columbus to the abolition (and remainders) of slavery, and from the arrival of Cook in the Sandwich Islands to the journals of missionaries and the contemporary fight for Hawaiian sovereignty. 6 credits; AI, WR1, IS; Fall; Kristin C Bloomer
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; Chumie Juni, Caleb S Hendrickson, Sonja G Anderson
RELG 120 Introduction to Judaism What is Judaism? Who are Jewish people? What are Jewish texts, practices, ideas? What ripples have Jewish people, texts, practices, and ideas caused beyond their sphere? These questions will animate our study as we touch on specific points in over three millennia of history. We will immerse ourselves in Jewish texts, historic events, and cultural moments, trying to understand them on their own terms. At the same time, we will analyze them using key concepts such as ‘tradition,’ ‘culture,’ ‘power,’ and ‘diaspora.’ We will explore how ‘Jewishness’ has been constructed by different stakeholders, each claiming the authority to define it. 6 credits; HI, WR2, IS, QRE; Fall; Chumie Juni
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; Spring; Caleb S Hendrickson
RELG 122 Introduction to Islam This course is a general introduction to Islam as a prophetic religious tradition. It explores the different ways Muslims have interpreted and put into practice the prophetic message of Muhammad through analyses of varying theological, legal, political, mystical, and literary writings as well as through Muslims’ lived histories. These analyses aim for students to develop a framework for explaining the sources and vocabularies through which historically specific human experiences and understandings of the world have been signified as Islamic. The course will focus primarily on the early and modern periods of Islamic history. 6 credits; HI, IS, WR2; Spring; Kambiz GhaneaBassiri
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; Not offered 2021-22
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 2021-22
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 2021-22
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, QRE; Not offered 2021-22
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; Asuka Sango
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, QRE; Winter; Kristin C Bloomer
RELG 161 The Jewish Bible This course explores the text known to scholars as the "Hebrew Bible," to Jews as the "Tanakh," and to Christians as the "Old Testament." Composed, compiled, and redacted over a millennium, the Bible is a remarkably complex document that affords its readers the opportunity to ruminate on questions of divinity and humanity, judgment and redemption, slavery and bondage, history and memory, life and death. Through examining the contents and historical contexts of the Bible's constituent parts, we will gain insight into how ancient and modern writers, readers, and thinkers dealt with these same questions. Requires no previous knowledge and will use sources in translation. 6 credits; HI, WR2, IS; Not offered 2021-22
RELG 162 Jesus, the Bible, and Christian Beginnings Who was Jesus? What’s in the Bible? How did Christianity begin? This course is an introduction to the oldest Christian documents we have (27 books in the New Testament) as well as several ancient texts that did not become part of the Bible. We will study this literature critically and historically by situating it within its ancient Jewish, Greco-Roman context, but we will also learn about the different ways modern readers have interpreted it. As we work our way through the texts, we will pay special attention to three topics of enduring debate and political significance in the history of biblical interpretation: (1) suffering, liberation, and empire; (2) antisemitism, and (3) gender, sexuality, and marriage. 6 credits; HI, WR2, IS; Winter; Sonja G Anderson
RELG 210 The Arts of Islam This course focuses on arts in different shapes and forms created by artists and artisans influenced by Islamic thought and culture across different times and places. The goal is to raise questions about the aesthetics, praxis, and politics of art and the possibilities it offers for navigating, negotiating with, and responding to local and global dynamics. We will look at a diverse range of artistic productions, including photographs in the museums of New York, illustrated fourteenth-century manuscripts of a wine-drinking ceremony in Herat, and graffiti on the streets of Cairo during the Arab spring. 6 credits; HI, WR2, IS; Not offered 2021-22
RELG 211 Race and Religion: Slavery, Colonialism, and their Afterlives This course examines the emergence and entanglement of “race” and “religion” as categories, especially in relation to slavery and colonialism, and with regard to the study of Islam as well as other traditions. By touching on themes in postcolonial theory, psychoanalysis, black liberation theology, and decolonial studies, we will ask questions such as: What is the relation between the invention of the “infidel” and the invention of the “negro”? How did the classification of non-Christians by missionaries help shape the emergence of racial “science”? Is the construction of the “enemy combatant” in our contemporary age of terror informed by the fifteenth century classification of natives as “savages”?  6 credits; HI, WR2, IS; Not offered 2021-22
RELG 213 Religion, Medicine, and Healing How do religion and medicine approach the healing of disease and distress? Are religion and medicine complementary or do they conflict? Is medicine a more evolved form of religion, shorn of superstition and pseudoscience? This course explores religious and cultural models of health and techniques for achieving it, from ancient Greece to Christian monasteries to modern mindfulness and self-care programs. We will consider ethical quandaries about death, bodily suffering, mental illness, miraculous cures, and individual agency, all the while seeking to avoid simplistic narratives of rationality and irrationality. 6 credits; NE, WR2, IDS; Spring; 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 2021-22
RELG 217 Faith and Doubt in the Modern Age Is religion an illusion we create to explain what we don’t understand? An elaborate means to justify the violence we commit? Modern thinkers have put religion under the microscope and held faith to account. This class considers a number of historically significant critiques of religion in modern western thought and how those critiques have shaped the modern theological and literary imagination. Is God dead? Or only hiding--in aesthetic experience, solidarity with the suffering, projects of liberation, or the depths of human love?   6 credits; HI, WR2; Not offered 2021-22
RELG 218 The Body in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam Mind and body are often considered separate but not equal; the mind gives commands to the body and the body complies. Exploring the ways the three religious traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam think about the body will deepen our understanding of the mind-body relationship. We will ask questions such as: How does the body direct the mind? How do religious practices discipline the body and the mind, and how do habits of body and mind change the forms and meanings of these practices? Gender, sexuality, sensuality, and bodily function will be major axes of analysis. 6 credits; HI, WR2, IS; Winter; Chumie Juni
RELG 219 Religious Law, Il/Legal Religions The concept of law plays a central role in religion, and the concept of religion plays a central role in law. We often use the word ‘law’ to describe obligatory religious practices. But is that ‘law,’ as compared with state law? Legal systems in the U.S. and Europe make laws that protect religious people, and that protect governments from religion. But what does ‘religion’ mean in a legal context? And how do implicit notions of religious law affect how judges deal with religion? We will explore these questions using sources drawn from contemporary religions and recent legal disputes. 6 credits; HI, WR2, IDS; Spring; Chumie Juni
RELG 221 Judaism and Gender How does gender shape the Jewish tradition, and how have Jewish historical moments, texts, and practices shaped Jewish notions of gender? Taking Judaism as a test case, this course will explore the relationship between historical circumstance, positionality, and the religious imaginary. We will examine the ways that Jewish gender and theology inform each other. We will see how gender was at play in Jewish negotiations of economic and social class, racial and ethnic status, even citizenship. Following the threads of practice and narrative, we will think about how intersectional gender has shaped the stories Jews tell, and the stories that are told about them. 6 credits; HI, WR2, IDS; Winter; Chumie Juni
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; Not offered 2021-22
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 2021-22
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, IDS; Not offered 2021-22
RELG 227 Liberation Theologies Is God on the side of the poor? This course explores how liberation theologians have called for justice, social change, and resistance by drawing on fundamental sources in Christian tradition and by using economic and political theories to address poverty, racism, oppression, gender injustice, and more. We explore the principles of liberationist thought, including black theology, Latin American liberation theology, and feminist theology through writings of various contemporary thinkers. We also examine the social settings out of which these thinkers have emerged, their critiques of “traditional” theologies, and the new vision of community they have developed in various contexts. 6 credits; HI, IDS, WR2; Fall; 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, IS; Not offered 2021-22
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; Not offered 2021-22
RELG 231 From Luther to Kierkegaard Martin Luther and the Reformation have often been understood as crucial factors in the rise of "modernity." Yet, the Reformation was also a medieval event, and Luther was certainly a product of the late Middle Ages. This class focuses on the theology of the Protestant Reformation, and traces its legacy in the modern world. We read Luther, Calvin, and Anabaptists, exploring debates over politics, church authority, scripture, faith, and salvation. We then trace the appropriation of these ideas by modern thinkers, who draw upon the perceived individualism of the Reformers in their interpretations of religious experience, despair, freedom, and secularization. 6 credits; HI, WR2, IS; Not offered 2021-22
RELG 232 Queer Religions 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, IS; Not offered 2021-22
RELG 233 Gender and Power in the Catholic Church How does power flow and concentrate within the Catholic Church? What are the gendered aspects of the structure, history, and theology of Catholicism? Through a combination of readings, discussions, and conversations with living figures, students will develop the ability to critically and empathetically interpret issues of gender, sexuality, and power in the Catholic Church, especially as these issues appear in official Vatican texts. Topics include: God, suffering, sacraments, salvation, damnation, celibacy, homosexuality, the family, saints, the ordination of women as priests, feminist theologies, canon law, the censuring of “heretical” theologians, Catholic hospital policy, and the clerical sex abuse crisis. 6 credits; HI, WR2, IDS; Not offered 2021-22
RELG 234 Angels, Demons, and Evil Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do bad things happen, period? Could angels and demons have something to do with it? This course asks how cosmology—an account of how the universe is put together and the different entities that inhabit it—can be an answer to the problem of evil and injustice. We will start with a historical investigation of the demonology and angelology of ancient pagan, Jewish, and Christian texts and then move into modern practices such as exorcism and magical realist literature. Along the way, we will keep asking how these systems justify the existence of evil and provide programs for dealing with it. 6 credits; HI, WR2, IS; Not offered 2021-22
RELG 235 Power, Resistance, and Sacred Texts What are the political implications of calling a book "sacred"? How does reading a sacred text, such as the Bible or Qur'an, become a subversive act? How does it become a strategy of domination? Focusing mainly (but not exclusively) on Judaism and Christianity, we will explore these questions through a variety of examples from acts of reading and textuality among rabbis and ancient Mediterranean bishops to politicians and political leaders in the U.S. today. We will consider not only how books are read, but also how they are banned, burned, put on trial, and used to divine the future.  6 credits; HI, WR2, IS; Not offered 2021-22
RELG 236 History of Antisemitism This course explores the historical, theological, and social foundations of the phenomena variously known as antisemitism, anti-Judaism, and Judeophobia. Starting in the Roman period, we will trace the discursive arc of Jews as problematic Others throughout history. Forever mindful that antisemitism is not just theoretical, we will also examine its specific manifestations in various historical contexts. We will also pay close attention to antisemitism's relationship to other forms of oppression, bigotry, and discrimination. 6 credits; HI, WR2, IDS; Not offered 2021-22
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, WR2, IS; Fall, Spring; Kristin C Bloomer
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 2021-22
RELG 239 Religion & American Landscape The American landscape is rich in sacred places.  The religious imaginations, practices, and beliefs of its diverse inhabitants have shaped that landscape and been shaped by it. This course explores ways of imagining relationships between land, community, and the sacred, the mapping of religious traditions onto American land and cityscapes, and theories of sacred space and spatial practices. Topics include religious place-making practices of Indigenous, Latinx, and African Americans, as well as those of Euro-American communities from Puritans, Mormons, immigrant farmers. 6 credits; HI, WR2, IDS; Not offered 2021-22
RELG 241 Islam in Asia: Lived Traditions and Meaning-Making This course explores contemporary expressions of Islam in Central, South, and Southeast Asia, and China. We will examine the ways theology, philosophy, ethics, and poetics have served as crucial forms of Islamic meaning-making in conversation with Islamic legal traditions. Additionally, the course examines a diversity of mystical and embodied traditions, as well as material cultural productions, emerging from interactions between indigenous rituals and practices and Islamic poetic and philosophical traditions. 6 credits; HI, IS, WR2; Not offered 2021-22
RELG 242 Oh My G*d: Christianity and Sexual Revolutions This course introduces students to Western Christianity by studying Christian movements, theologies, communities, eschatologies, and sensibilities through the lens of marriage, sexual revolutions, and counterrevolutions. Using a multidisciplinary approach, we will engage with scholarship from media theory, history, anthropology, sociology, and literary studies to consider the boundaries of “Christian traditions” and the transformation of religious and sexual cultures. While “sexuality” and “religion” are often imagined as oppositional social forces, this course will introduce students to a rich and complex range of practices, modes of embodiment, and territories of socio-cultural negotiation in which religion and sexuality are entangled, imagined, and co-constituted.  6 credits; HI, WR2; Not offered 2021-22
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 2021-22
RELG 246 Christianity and Capitalism The Bible says that “the love of money is the root of all evil,” but the history of Christianity and mammon contains multitudes – voluntary poverty and acquisitive empires, radical utopian communities and the blessings of business, peace movement feasts and prosperity gospels, colonialism and humanitarian neo-liberalism, and commodity fetishism for Christ. This course will use a breadth of historical case studies alongside critical theories of modernity and capitalism to explore Christianity’s relationship with wealth, from pre-modern economic theologies, to faith in modern industrial capitalism and Christianity’s vexed entanglements with late capitalist ideologies and practices. 6 credits; HI, WR2; Not offered 2021-22
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; Not offered 2021-22
RELG 249 Religion and American Public Life This course explores the contentious place of religion in American public life. What roles do religious organizations and religious motivations play in the public arenas of electoral politics, policy-making, schools, courts, social service delivery, media, and marketplace? What roles ought they play? In a pluralistic society, how are Americans to balance diverse moral positions with our shared civic life? Engaging the insights of sociologists of religion, legal scholars, ethicists, political theorists, and cultural critics this course will refine the language with which we address such broad questions. Students will apply those insights to focused critical analyses of issues they choose. 6 credits; HI, WR2, IDS, QRE; Not offered 2021-22
RELG 250 It’s the End of the World: Religion, Moral Panics, and Apocalypses Pandemics, global climate destabilization, the collapse of good order, the rise and fall of empires, and life at the edge of civilization -- for many religious communities, in many historical moments, it has seemed clear that the world is ending. In this course, we will examine some of the ways that religious communities in the United States have imagined and narrativized impending apocalypse(es) and the problem of living when the world is falling apart. Emphasizing the cultural politics of apocalypticism, this course will explore race, gender, affect, ritual practice, epistemology, and community formation in contexts including nineteenth century millennialist movements, alien abductions, contemporary conspiracy theories, sex panics, indigenous resistance to colonialism, cold war apocalyptic literature, and Afro-futurist responses to climate collapse. 6 credits; HI, WR2, IDS; Not offered 2021-22
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 2021-22
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 2021-22
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; Not offered 2021-22
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 2021-22
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; Fall; Caleb S Hendrickson
RELG 271 Religion and Critical Theory Is God dead? What have the great modern and postmodern thinkers done with religion? What is the function of our pleasures, desires, anxieties, and passions in relation to religion? This course explores the surprising ways in which religion becomes a resource for understanding the contradictions of modernity. We examine theories of history and time as well as critiques of capitalism in relation to Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. 6 credits; HI, WR2, IS; Not offered 2021-22
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; Not offered 2021-22
RELG 274 Religion and Bioethics This class examines the ethical principles that often guide decision-making in health care. It focuses on principles espoused by many religious and humanistic traditions, within the context of a modern, pluralistic society. Using plentiful case studies, we consider a number of issues in bioethics, including assisted suicide; maternal-fetal relations; artificial reproduction, including human cloning; the use of human subjects in research; health care justice and reform; triage and allocation of sparse medical resources; and public health issues surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. 6 credits; HI, WR2; Winter; Caleb S Hendrickson
RELG 275 Death, Heaven, and Hell What happens after we die? Immortality of the soul? Resurrection of the body? Reincarnation? Unending punishment, eternal reward, temporary purgation? This course explores the history of the afterlife in ancient paganism, Judaism, and Christianity, the theological functions of the doctrines of heaven and hell in contemporary religious communities, and the question of what a good death looks like in light of various postmortem destinies. 6 credits; Not offered 2021-22
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; Not offered 2021-22
RELG 279 Pilgrimage and Sacred Space in Japan Program: Pilgrimage & Sacred Space in Japan 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; Not offered 2021-22
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 abortion and reproductive politics in Buddhism, Confucian-influenced practice of foot-binding, Buddhist masculinities and male-love, sati (widow burning) and same-sex marriage in Hinduism, and the concept of a “third sex” in these traditions. 6 credits; HI, WR2, IS; Not offered 2021-22
RELG 282 Samurai: Ethics of Death and Loyalty This course explores the history of samurai since the emergence of warrior class in medieval times, to the modern developments of samurai ethics as the icon of Japanese national identity. Focusing on its connection with Japanese religion and culture, we will investigate the origins of the purported samurai ideals of loyalty, honor, self-sacrifice, and death. In addition to regular class sessions, there will be a weekly kyudo (Japanese archery) practice on Wednesday evening (7-9 pm), which will enable students to study samurai history in context through gaining first-hand experience in the ritualized practice of kyudo. 6 credits; HI, WR2, IS; Spring; Asuka Sango
RELG 283 Mysticism and Gender Love. Emptiness. Union. Ecstasy. These are some ways that humans have described “mystical experience,” often defined as an immediate encounter with God, ultimate reality, or the absolute—however those may be construed. This course interrogates “mysticism” across traditions, with close attention to issues of gender, sexuality, and race, through studying a number of famous female and male mystics across historical periods. Questions include: What, exactly, is mysticism? Is it gendered? Is it just the firing of a bunch of neurons? What is the role of the body in mystical practice? Are mystics critics of institutionalized religion? Radicals for social justice? 6 credits; HI, WR2, IS; Not offered 2021-22
RELG 284 Art and Religion For much of recorded history, what we now call “art” and what we now call “religion” were inseparable. In the modern period, art and religion have gone their separate ways. What, if anything, continues to connect them? Is art inherently religious? Can religion be considered a form of art? In this class, we look at modern works of art (from Renaissance painting to contemporary performance art) alongside the sights and sounds of religion (including the symbols, rituals, and architecture of multiple religious traditions), seeking points of confluence and displacement between these apparently disparate areas of culture.  6 credits; HI, WR2; Not offered 2021-22
RELG 285 Islam in America: Race, Religion and Politics This course examines the history of Islam in America from the colonial period to the present. It contextualizes American Islam at the cross section of American religious history and modern Islamic history. While primarily focused on the politics of race and religion in America, the course also explores the influence of comparative theology and religious studies on conceptions of religious diversity; the relationship between race, religion and ideas of progress; the role of Islam in the civil rights movement and in nationalist movements in Muslim-majority societies; and the rise of militant Islam as a matter of global concern. 6 credits; HI, WR2, IDS; Spring; Kambiz GhaneaBassiri
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 2021-22
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; Not offered 2021-22
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; Kristin C Bloomer
RELG 322 Apocalypse How? When will the world end, and how? What’s wrong with the world—morally, politically, naturally—such that people have seen its destruction as necessary or inevitable? Are visions of “The End” a form of sophisticated resistance literature, aimed at oppressive systems of power? Or are they evidence of a disturbed mind disconnected from reality? This seminar takes a deep dive into the contours of apocalyptic thought, which in its most basic form is about unmasking the deceptions of the given world by revealing the secret workings of the universe. We will begin with the earliest apocalypses, found in ancient Jewish and Christian texts, and move into modern religious and “secular” visions of cosmic collapse. Our approach will be historical and comparative, and we will explore topics ranging from doomsday cults to climate catastrophe, visions of heaven to tours of hell, malevolent angels to meddling UFOs, all the while asking how the apocalyptic imagination creates, as one thinker put it, “another world to live in.” 6 credits; HI, WR2, IDS; Winter; Sonja G Anderson
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 2021-22
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, WR2; Not offered 2021-22
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 2021-22
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; Not offered 2021-22
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, IS; 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; Spring; Kristin C Bloomer
RELG 365 Mysticism Love. Emptiness. Union. Ecstasy. These are just a handful of ways that humans have described “mystical experience,” often explicated as an immediate encounter with God, ultimate reality, or the absolute—however those may be construed. This comparative course will explore the phenomenon of “mysticism” across traditions as we try to understand (and interrogate) both the term and the plethora of experiences that fall under its rubric. Questions will include: What is mysticism? Is mystical experience gendered? What is the role of the body in mystical practice? Does mystical experience free us? Are mystics critics of institutional religion or social injustice? 6 credits; NE, WR2, IS; Not offered 2021-22
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; Asuka Sango

Other Courses Pertinent to Religion

  • CLAS 145 Ancient Greek Religion (not offered in 2021-22)
  • HIST 131 Saints and Society in Late Antiquity (not offered in 2021-22)
  • HIST 135 Making and Breaking Institutions in the Middle Ages: Structure, Culture, Corruption, and Reform (not offered in 2021-22)
  • HIST 201 Rome Program: Building Power and Piety in Medieval Italy, CE 300-1150 (not offered in 2021-22)
  • HIST 288 Reason, Authority, and Love in Medieval France (not offered in 2021-22)
  • HIST 330 Ideas Incarnate: Institutional Formation, Reform, and Governance in the Middle Ages (not offered in 2021-22)
  • HIST 332 Image Makers and Breakers in the Premodern World
  • HIST 360 Muslims and Modernity (not offered in 2021-22)
  • MELA 230 Jewish Collective Memory (not offered in 2021-22)
  • SOAN 228 Public Sociology of Religion
  • WGST 180 Power and Desire: Gender Relations in the Middle East (not offered in 2021-22)