Spring 2020 Course Descriptions

Religious Studies Expanded Course Descriptions Spring 2020


Religious Studies 001C. Sacrifice (4 units)
Allison Coudert

This course addresses the topic and practice of sacrifice in three major areas: sacrifice in specific religious traditions; sacrifice in the service of a country or nation; and sacrifice for love whether religious or secular. All three areas have religious implications inasmuch as they involve suffering and the pursuit of some higher ideal and/or physical or spiritual transformation, even to the point of death. During the first part of the course we will focus on sacrificial rituals in major world religions (Traditional Religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). The central questions addressed will be why has sacrifice played such a prominent part in religions right up to the present? And what has encouraged humans to believe that supernatural beings demand the sacrificial death of men, women, children, and animals? In the second part of the course, we will examine the role of sacrifice in the formation of national identity and the promotion of patriotism. Finally, we will look at Romanticism and the ideal of sacrificing oneself in the service of love. To help us understand these forms of sacrifice, we will analyze and evaluate various theories offered by scholars to explain sacrifice. Is it sufficient to understand sacrificial rituals as a means of communication with higher powers or as gift made in the hope of receiving something valuable in exchange? Or do we have to look more deeply into human nature and psychology and explain sacrifice as a response to human anxiety, aggression, and altruism? Finally, what, if any, role does gender play in sacrifice?

The course is introductory, and no prior academic study of religion is expected. The course fulfills the General Education requirement and emphasizes the development of skills in critical reading and analytic writing. All assigned readings will be available to students on Canvas.


Religious Studies 130, Section 001. A Short History of Monsters (4 units)
Allison Coudert

    “I have never seen a greater monster or miracle than myself” Michel De Montaigne, Essays

Monsters have fascinated ordinary people, not to mention theologians, artists, writers, and poets, in every age, not least our own. What would religion, or politics for that matter, be without monsters? Neither tragedy nor comedy would exist without monstrous figures, who can terrify and harm us but who also help us and make us laugh. Part rebel and part clown, monsters are the incarnation of everything evil, terrifying, and grotesque in the world and in ourselves. They reveal the collective fantasies of all those who reject social norms and long to experience everything forbidden. They legitimize hatred, violence, and persecution, but they can also charm and amuse us. In all ages and places, human beings have been confronted with the same traumatic experiences of injustice, deprivation, suffering, disease, and death. They only differ in how they have understood and reacted to these unsolicited evils and to whom or what they attribute them—demons, gods, fate, human nature, or the dreaded, feared, and hated “other.” But although monsters serve many of the same purposes wherever they appear, they have a history that reflect the times and places in which they appear. This course will therefore investigate monsters as they have been imagined over time and in different parts of the world but with a special emphasis on contemporary monsters. Humans have always used monsters to think about themselves, so what do yesterday’s and today’s monsters tell us about how humans have seen themselves, and how has this changed?


Religious Studies 130, Section 002. Ethics and Ghazali (4 units)
Mairaj Syed

W 1:10-4:00P
111 Wellman Hall
CRN 81285

Course Description: Ghazali (448/1056—505/1111) is arguably the most influential and famous pre-modern intellectual in history. He lived at a time when the disciplines of learning representing law, ethics, mysticism, and philosophy that would largely constitute medieval intellectual culture had established distinctive identities, accepted modes of reasoning, and what each considered the most important questions meriting inquiry. The exemplary practitioners within each of these traditions claimed that they exclusively represent the best moral vision of the human individual and his place in society. This course will examine how Ghazali fashioned a coherent vision of the ethical life out of the disparate and conflicting strands of thought represented by the practitioners of law, ethics, philosophy, and mysticism.

May be repeated for credit when topic differs.

Prerequisite: Contact instructor at msyed@ucdavis.edu.

GE credit (New): World Cultures and Writing Experience.

Format: Lecture/Discussion - 3 hours; Term Paper.