Winter 2022

Winter 2022 Religious Studies Courses

RST 001B Death & Afterlife

RST 001F Religion Today: Religious Freedom

Instructor: Flagg Miller (

  • A01 CRN 41067
  • A02 CRN 41068
  • A03 CRN 41069
  • A04 CRN 41070

This course focuses on religious freedom, especially its relationship to struggles for social justice.  We devote special attention to Christianity, Islam and Native American religious traditions, particularly in contemporary North America.  The free exercise of religion and protections against overbearing state regulation are, of course, ideals enshrined in the U.S. constitution and regulated by law.  Rights and recognition afforded to those seeking religious freedom have also been subject to culture, politics and enduring forms of social inequality, however.  We explore what religious practitioners themselves say about how they make sense of these complicated legacies.  We also learn from scholars of religion who use various tools of the social sciences and humanities to try to produce a universal definition of “religion” while acknowledging religion’s cultural and historical variability.  Particular emphasis is given to structural inequities embedded in nationalism, colonialism, racism, and sex/gender discrimination.  Insofar as religious communities have long valued “spirituality” for its supposed distance from more commercialized or worldly pathways, we consider changing understandings of the spiritual/religious distinction throughout the course.  Indeed, we engage in a comparative and cross-cultural study of this dichotomy by focusing on modern pilgrimage rituals – specifically to Mecca and to the Black Rock Desert, Nevada – and their role in shaping ideals of civil society.  By the end of the course, you will better appreciate the rewards and challenges of studying, defining and inhabiting religion.

RST 001G Myth Ritual Symbol 

Instructor: Ryan Brizendine

Myths, rituals, and religious symbols found in a variety of religious traditions including examples from ancient and contemporary religious life. Variety of religious phenomena; validity of different approaches to the study of religion. Special focuses include the transformative power of myth and imaginative literature; continuities between ancient Egypt and Greek mystery religions; connections between Vedic fire sacrifice and early Buddhism; nature symbolism in Native American traditions; dreaming and the afterlife in Islamic thought; and religious functions of theater, dance drama, and film in ancient Greek, Indian, and modern contexts.

  • A01 CRN 41071
  • A02 CRN 41072
  • A03 CRN 41073
  • A04 CRN 41074

RST 008 Health & Religion 

  • A01 CRN 45334
  • A02 CRN 45335
  • A03 CRN 45336
  • A04 CRN 45337

This course explores different religious traditions that deal with the ethical dilemmas involved in healthcare such as the end of life, caring for the sick, responsibility for the common good, humanity’s relationship to the natural world, growing up, birth, pregnancy, and conception. 

  • IMPORTANT NOTE: Not open to students who have taken RST 10 with Professor O'Keefe.

RST 023 Intro To Judaism 

This course surveys the history, practices, beliefs, texts, and traditions of Judaism both as a global phenomenon and as a part of American culture. Students will examine how Jewish communities across history and around 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, 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, and how Jews have creatively adapted their traditions over time. 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.

  • A01 CRN 44475
  • A02 CRN 44476
  • A03 CRN 44477
  • A04 CRN 44478

RST 042 Religion & Science Fiction / CRN 45364

RST 106 Contemporary Christianity / CRN 44479

Professor Allison Coudert

During the past century and a half Christianity has expanded rapidly across the globe and changed so radically that it needs a new history. In 1900 80% of the world’s Christians were Caucasian and 70% lived in Europe and the US. Today Christian adherence is stronger in Africa than Europe, the number of Christians in China is close to equaling the number of Christians in the US, and by 2030 Africa will have more Catholics than Europe. These changing demographics mean that half of the Christian believers who have ever lived are alive right now in a world that is very different from the one that produced Christianity and in which its major denominations, institutions, and theological doctrines developed. Given these new realities, this course investigates what has been called “the new faces of Christianity,” as it has adapted to new cultural and social environments both in the US and abroad. Major themes we will address over the quarter are: How have Christian missionary activities destabilized, transformed, and in some cases destroyed native cultures? How has the growth of Evangelical and Pentecostal churches, many of which emphasize healing rituals and spiritual warfare, changed the face of Christianity and contributed to the rise of religious intolerance? Has the spread of prosperity churches, especially among the poor, offered values and strategies to alleviate poverty or do these churches reinforce and legitimize the gap between rich and poor? What effect has the spread of Christianity had on women and marginalized groups?  And finally, what is the role of Christianity in supporting both liberal and authoritarian political and economic agendas? In addition to these important questions, we will look at the resurgence of magical thinking and what has come to be called “alternative facts” to see what role religion has played in promoting as well as curbing both. We will also focus on what has been described as the “commodification” of religion as a product to be sold in the marketplace of modern capitalist culture.

RST 120 Religion Magic & Science / CRN 44480

Professor Naomi Janowitz

This seminar will examine a range of ideas about religion, magic, and science, three foundational concepts that shape how we view the world around us and how we try interpret pre-modern civilizations as well. Topics include the use of the term “magic” and “magician” in the ancient world, contemporary theories of scientific explanation, the question of the social construction of definitions of religion, the particular role of magic and mentalism in our society, and controversies about the enchantment/disenchantment of the world.

Readings include:

How Magicians Think and why Magic Matters Joshua Jay

The God Equation: The Quest for a Theory of Everything  Michio Kaku

Magic in the Roman World Naomi Janowitz

Other Worlds: Spirituality and the Search for Other Dimensions  Christopher White

The Social Construction of What? Ian Hacking

Imagining Religion J.Z. Smith

Drugs for Life: How Pharmaceutical Companies Define Our Health Joseph Dumit

An Inquiry Into Modes of Existence: An Anthropology of the Moderns Bruno Latour

Recommended: After God Mark Taylor

RST 123 Sex & Gender in Bible / CRN 44481

RST 130 Religion and Medicine 

CRN 44482 / Place: SocSci 00090 / Time: MWF 12:10-1:00

Instructor: Dr. Allison P. Coudert / Email: / Sproul Hall 908

A cross-cultural approach to the relationship between Religion and Medicine from earliest times to the present. A major goal of the course is to demonstrate how specific religious and philosophical worldviews have shaped and continue to shape attitudes toward physical and mental health.

The encounter between religion and medicine goes back to the beginning of human history. Religious beliefs provided the framework for explaining and curing disease and alleviating suffering, and the first medical practitioners were priests, shamans, and magicians. The history of medicine is therefore the history of the institutionalization of what was once a priestly role into a secular profession. While often positive, the relationship between religion and medicine has not always been smooth. This is particularly clear in cases where religious leaders and institutions have demonized specific groups as agents of disease and misfortune (lepers, Jews, witches, the poor, the mentally ill, the disabled, people of color, and now even medical professionals themselves). Friction between religion and medicine appears in contemporary debates over who should have access to care (and what kind of care) and in hot-button issues like euthanasia, genetic engineering, and women’s reproductive rights, and, most recently, vaccinations.

Among the central questions we will discuss are:

  • What are some of the fundamental differences between a religious and scientific approach to the cause and cure of disease?
  • How have these differing views played out historically in events like the Christian attack on Jews during the Black Death and later, the attack on women as witches in the past and present. And what accounts for the glaring inequalities in the health care system and the explosion of alternative medical therapies?
  • How do issues of race, class, and gender affect who has historically been able to enter the medical profession and who has received care?
  • What accounts for the rise in religious healing and exorcism today and the backlash against medicine (and science in general) as seen in the anti-vaccine movement and the increasing popularity of QAnon?

Course objectives:

  • To provide historical knowledge of the intersectionality of religion and medicine in major religious traditions as well in indigenous and folk traditions.
  • To demonstrate how specific religious and philosophical worldviews have shaped and continue to shape attitudes toward physical and mental health and how these views have changed over time to reflect cultural changes. For example, how do modern attitudes toward pain differ from those of earlier societies that lacked modern medications?
  • To provide students with a variety of perspectives from different religious and philosophical traditions on the question of the value of human life, the spiritual significance of suffering, and the expected roles of healer as well as patient.
  • To provide students with the necessary critical and theoretical tools to discuss, compare, analyze, and criticize the many contentious issues involving religion and medicine in the past as well as in the contemporary world.

RST 137 Topics in Buddhism / CRN 44483

RST 141B New Testament Literature: John / CRN 44484

RST 152 Medical Humanities Course / CRN 41098

Professor Meaghan O'Keefe

The course asks students to engage with pressing issues of justice and equity in healthcare and biomedical research. One of the four principles of healthcare ethics is justice which, in this context, means fairness. Students in this course will study complex situations in which fairness is difficult to determine and equally difficult to implement. There is a particular emphasis on the ways in which historically marginalized groups are being treated in an increasingly global and increasingly complex world of biotechnology. Case studies may include global gestational surrogacy, structures of regulation and funding in scientific research, genetic modification, and  public health policy.

RST 181 Hindu Gods & Symbols 

  • Section A01 CRN 44486
  • Section A02 CRN 44487