Winter 2020 Course Descriptions

Religious Studies Expanded Course Descriptions Winter 2020

RST 1H: Sex, Marriage, Divorce
Prof. Mairaj Syed

Extended Course Description: Sex, marriage and divorce are ubiquitous features of human societies. This course will consist of a comparative investigation of these phenomena across different religious traditions, time periods, and areas of the world. In the first two-thirds of the course, we will analyze how Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have conceived of the law, primarily by looking at how these religions regulated the institution of marriage and sexual activity. In the last third of the course, we will analyze how the emergence of modernity affected the way sexuality was conceived in the United States and the way that Judaism and Christianity dealt with modern values.

RST 60 Introduction to Islam
Prof. Mairaj Syed

Extended Course Description: This course seeks to provide an introduction to pre-modern and contemporary Islam. We will study the central beliefs, institutions, and practices that constitute Islam. We will start with Muhammad’s message in seventh century Arabia. We will then examine the intellectual traditions of Islamic law, theology, and mysticism in medieval Muslim societies. We will then analyze the impact of colonialism on Islamic thought, practice, and culture. In the last few weeks, we will study themes that have figured prominently in contemporary Islam in America.

Religious Studies 125. Dead Sea Scrolls, Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha
Prof. Naomi Janowitz

Ancient authors produced many more texts than the few that became the Hebrew Scriptures. This course will survey a selection of these texts, including the amazing set of scrolls found in the Judean desert near the Dead Sea (The Dead Sea Scrolls). We will also read some of the vivid depictions of cosmic battles, tours of the heavens and claims about divine knowledge that appear in the Apocrypha (“hidden” writings) and Pseudepigrapha (“false” writings). For historical background we will read selections from an ancient history (Jewish War, Josephus) and a modern history (The Archaeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jody Magness).

Intellectual Questions/Student Learning Outcomes Goals:

  1. Familarize students with an array of texts from the ancient world.
  2. Gain an understanding of the historical setting in which these texts were composed.
  3. Consider a set of intellectual questions about the study of ancient religious texts. Questions include: What is sectarian literature? How have the concepts of orthodoxy/heresy been defined by scholars of religion
  4. What makes a text Jewish? What is the difference between re-writing and re-interpreting a text? What is a canon and how does it function? What is the relationship between wisdom literature and apocalyptic ideas?
  5. What was the role of kings in ancient texts? Are religious texts inherently violent? How was identity shaped in the post-Biblical world?
  6. Have fun.

Required Textbooks:

  • An academic Bible such as The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypah, New English Bible, Jewish Study Bible
  • The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English (Seventh edition) by Geza Vermes   [ISBN-13: 978-0141197319]
  • The Archaeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls by Jody Magness   [ISBN-13: 978-0802845894]
  • The Jewish War by Josephus   [ISBN: 978-0140444209]
  • Additional readings are posted on the course Canvas site

Religious Studies 156. Religion and the Performing Arts in India
Prof. Archana Venkatesan

This course examines the relationship between religion and the performing arts in India, with an emphasis on the reinvention, re-making, reforming and rewriting of the performing arts in the nexus of colonialism and nationalism.We will pay particular attention to the role of social reform movements and nationalism in re-imaginging the role of women and hereditary performers in the project of creating a classical performing arts tradition for a newly independent nation.

GE credit (New): Arts & Humanities, World Cultures and Writing Experience.

Required Textbooks:

  • Readings on Canvas

Religious Studies 190. The Making of Religious Identity
Prof. Mairaj Syed

Religions have moral stances on a variety of issues, from things like how to perform rituals to sexuality. At any given time and in any given place only a small subset of these stances come to represent markers of religious identity. For example, in the case of Islam, one marker is the head scarf that many Muslim women wear (hijab). But why did hijab become a stand-in for the religion as a whole, as opposed to the duty to pay the yearly charitable tax (zakat)? Similar things can be said about other religions. Christianity has teachings on a wide variety of issues, such as the sacrament of marriage or baptism. But, why has the issue of abortion come to represent a flashpoint for Christian identity? The class explores the social process and logic through which this happens. It seeks to answer the question of why some teachings out of a long list are selected to represent the identity of the religious group in question and model the impact that fact has on the debates within that religion and between it and others.

Prerequisite(s): Consent of Instructor.

Format: Seminar—3 hour(s); Term Paper.