Spring 2021

Religious Studies Spring 2021 Courses

Undergraduate Courses

RST 001B sec A01 - A04 - Death & Afterlife
Prof. Seth Sanders

RST 005 - Comparative Religion
Prof. Seth Sanders

RST 011 sec A01 - A08 - Ethical Eating
Prof. Allison Coudert

In every culture food lies at the center of a complex value system that involves religious beliefs and rituals, social hierarchies, and gender distinctions. Food is the cement that binds groups together, but it also separates individuals according to age, wealth, status, and gender. Far from a natural product, food is a social construction and can only be “read” in specific cultural contexts. For example, the great 19th century French historian Jules Michelet attributed the French revolution to the consumption of coffee, but today coffee signifies the rest and relaxation associated with “coffee breaks.” Food connects the living with the dead and even with the gods. While the food that women provide will keep one alive, only male food offers eternal life. Food taboos are a central aspect of ancient as well as modern cultures and religions. Why do some foods pollute and not others? What makes us cringe at the thought of eating grasshoppers and worms, while other people relish both? And why are foods gendered, even eroticized? Finally, we are not only what we eat but how we eat and how we produce, distribute, and consume the food we eat. What therefore are the effects of our modern industrial form of food production on the animals we raise and eat, on our environment, and on our own bodies? In this regard, a “chicken McNugget” tells us a lot about modern food, modern life, and modern eating habits in the US, while a nice, ripe wedge of brie cheese and a glass of red wine would make us think of France. It is the purpose of this course to introduce students to the varied ethical, religious, and cultural meanings food has had across the centuries and globe as well as to its physical effects.

RST 023 sec A03 and A04 - Introduction to Judaism
Prof. Eva Mroczek

Course description: This course surveys the history, practices, beliefs, texts, and traditions of Judaism both as a global phenomenon and as a part of American culture. We will ask two seemingly simple questions: what is Judaism, and who is a Jew? The answers, however, are far from simple. Students will examine how various Jewish communities across history and the world have shaped their practices and beliefs within their own specific sociohistorical circumstances, and how they have understood their identity as Jews alongside their other racial, ethnic, and cultural identities. Students will critically examine a range of primary sources (including the Hebrew Bible, Dead Sea Scrolls, the Talmud, the Zohar, and modern rabbinic responsa [rulings], including from contemporary American contexts), and discuss topics like observance of holidays, dietary laws, diverse ideals regarding family life and sexual behavior, and relationships with other religious and cultural groups. Students will explore how Jewish identity, textual traditions, religious practices, race and ethnicity, and political circumstances combine to define “Judaism” differently in diverse times and places. The course will also give students an opportunity to discuss and complicate a foundational question of Religious Studies -- what is a "religion"? -- through the study of Judaism and Jewishness, which has been defined in various contexts not only through the category of religion, but also in terms of race, ethnicity, nationhood, peoplehood, tradition, and culture.

RST 065C - The Qur'an
Instructor Ryan Brizendine

RST 080 - Religion, Gender, Sex
Prof. Allison Coudert

This course examines the constructions of gender and sexuality within different religious traditions, both pre-modern and modern. Topics covered include: definitions of masculinity and femininity and the religious implications of these definitions in terms of the status of persons of differing genders or of non-gender-normative persons. We will discuss the way gender stereotypes influence the appearance, dress, and behavior of individuals in different religious traditions. The course introduces students to the variety of changes and conflicts in different religious attitudes toward gendered and sexual behavior such as marriage, reproduction, abortion, and homosexuality. It also examines the effects that ideas of gender and sexuality have on human notions of the divine and on notions of divine and human interaction, for example in the use of sexual language to describe mystical experience. A focus of the class will be on the way the art of different religious traditions reflects prevailing assumptions about gender and sexuality.

RST 115 - Mysticism
Instructor Wendy terry

RST 130 - Topics: Polytheism, Paganism, and the Anti-Christ: Misconceptions of the Religious Other from Antiquity to the Modern Age
Cai Thorman

> Course flyer (pdf)
Please contact the instructor if you have difficulty enrolling: cthorman@ucdavis.edu

Course Description: Since the advent of Christianity, pagans have had an unfortunate reputation. Yet prior to Christianity in the Near Eastern and Greco-Roman worlds, polytheism was the way of the world. How did polytheists come to be called pagans? What does Neo-Pagan mean today? After a developing a grounded understanding of ancient Mediterranean polytheism, with a special look at mystery cults and magic, this course will take a tour through early Christian demonization of pagans, early modern witch hunts, esotericism, modern satanism, and the emergence of Neo-Paganism (with a brief look at modern Hinduism for comparison), in order to plumb the misconceptions that have both shaped and plagued polytheistic religious practice since the birth of Christianity.

Prerequisite: NONE. GE credit: World Cultures & Writing Experience

Format: Online, Lectures, Special Guest Lectures, Quizzes, Short Projects, Final Paper

Readings will be provided by the instructor and guest lecturers in electronic format.

RST 135 - Bible & Film (film viewing & lecture)
Prof. Wendy Terry

RST 136 - Topics in Jainism (Images of Jain Devotion in Texts and Art)
Prof. Lynna Dhanani

This course will examine the ways in which Jain texts and works of art transmit devotional ideas and images. We will look at a range of primary texts, including literature, hymns, and epigraphy as well images in painting and sculpture to elaborate cosmic diagrams and pilgrimage maps. With these primary materials and the aid of secondary scholarship, we will explore themes such as verbal and visual iconicity, aesthetic culture, and notions of embodiment and presence. In doing so, students will not only learn about Jain devotional literature and art, but also ways to interpret them and to think critically about the relationship between text and image.  

GE credits: AH (former) / AH, WC, WE (new)  

RST 158 - Ramayana (Cross-listed with COM 156)
Prof. Archana Venkatesan

Course description: This course examines Rāmāyaṇa story traditions with a primary focus on its many literary and oral variants. We will begin with a thorough dive into the Valmiki Ramayana, and will then engage in comparative analysis, engaging literary sources in numerous languages (in translation). The course will tackle questions about ethics, law, moral behavior, gender, social hierarchies, and war.

Required text:
Valmiki's Ramayana
Translated by Arshia Sattar
ISBN-10 : 1538113686
ISBN-13 : 978-1538113684

RST 165 - Islam in Asia
Instructor Ryan Brizendine

RST 170 - Buddhism
Prof. Lynna Dhanani

RST 171 sec A01 - A04 - Buddhist Art
Instructor Layne Little

RST 181 sec A01 - A02 - Hindu Gods & Symbols
Instructor Layne Little

RST 190 - Seminar: Writing About Religion Inside and Out
Prof. Eva Mroczek

In this course, we will read and write about religion in a variety of nonfiction prose genres, including journalism, personal essays, research articles, and memoirs. We will pay special attention to the "insider/outsider problem" in religious studies. How do we write with respect and integrity about the religious traditions of others? And how do we turn our analytical gaze on our own experiences of religious community, text, and practice? What if these boundaries begin to blur? Reading and discussing examples of powerful American writing about religion will help students develop their distinctive voices, and build the confidence to critically bring their own identities and experiences into their work.

RST 130 Flyer jpg