University of Pittsburgh
three small photographs depicting various religious icons

Department of Religious Studies

Graduate

Courses

The Department of Religious Studies categorizes its graduate seminar offerings under the following rubrics:

Theories and Methods in the Study of Religion

Readings Seminars

Topics Seminars

Directed Study

Independent Study

Many of these courses are not offered annually. See Current Course Offerings (REL) for the three most recent terms.

Regularly Offered Courses
Theories and Methods in the Study of Religion

REL 2305: Religion and History

This seminar explores the historical study of religious traditions and is a readings and research seminar on different topics pertaining to religion and history.

REL 2505: Religion, Communication, and Culture

This seminar attempts to partly bridge the gap between the history of religion conceived of as the history of religious doctrines and beliefs and the history of religion conceived of as the history of religious practices and meanings. We do so by examining the connection between intellectual traditions and the ways that those ideas were transmitted, interpreted, and understood. Another way to put this is to say that we are concerned with authoritative teachings and the ways that those teachings come to have authority. Following an overview of major issues in the history of the book and the history of reading, we address some of the following issues depending on the interests and needs of seminar members: the role of reading, writing, textual practices in the construction of religious identity, the function played by scripture(s) in religious belief and religious practice, the nature of scriptural and canonical authority, reading as a ritual practice, how changes in the technologies of reading and writing change religion, authorized and unauthorized reading, and heresy and censorship. For each selected topic, we consider theoretical and methodological issues as well as specific case studies drawn from different religious traditions. Each student is expected to complete a core of common readings as well as readings related to his or her particular academic specialization. Although the seminar is primarily designed to examine the intersection of the history of books and reading with the study of religion, many of the issues discussed re relevant to students with interests in intellectual history, literary and cultural hermeneutics, and the study of the transmission of culture.

REL 2507: Metaphor

This seminar focuses on the theory of metaphor and examines substitution theories, interaction theories, controversion theories, tension theories, and deviance theories.

REL 2510: Language of Religion

This seminar considers religious phenomena as expressions of human communication and therefore views the study of religion as the interpretation of particular forms of communication: speech-acts, implicature, irony, metaphor, convention, intention, context, practice, make-believe, symbol, paradox, myth, narrative, and ritual.

REL 2550: Teaching Religious Studies

This seminar addresses the philosophical, ethical, legal, and pedagogical issues that arise in religious studies. We discuss the ends of liberal education, academic freedom, the rights of students, curriculum and syllabus construction, church and state, lecturing, and discussion-leading. We also discuss grant-writing and the job market. Students gain experience in syllabus writing, lecture design, and implementation.

REL 2700: Religion and Modernity

This seminar addresses fundamental developments and issues in the study of religion and modernity.

REL 2705: Myth, Symbol, and Ritual

This seminar approaches myths, symbols and rituals from cross-cultural perspective and explores their significance, role, and overall relationship to one another.

REL 2710: Perspectives on Religion

This core seminar is designed to acquaint students with a broad spectrum of theorists of religion from the 19th and 20th centuries. Topics range widely, therefore, from the relationships between society, individuals, and religion to the role of ideology, mythology, ritual, symbols, and experience. Areas of conflict in the study of religion are emphasized, including the death of metanarratives, categorical assumptions, challenges to the institutional identity of religious studies, the limits of phenomenology, and methodological pluralism. Readings include such scholars as Asad, Berger, Durkheim, Eliade, Freud, Geertz, Marx, McCutcheon, Pals, J. Z. Smith, and Stark.

REL 2715: Theories of Religion

This seminar is an extension of REL 2710: Perspectives on Religion.

REL 2730: Philosophy of Religion

The central focus of this seminar is on arguments for and against the existence of God of traditional western theism and other topics central to the philosophy of religion: the nature of religious language, the relation of faith to reason, the use of religious experience as evidence, and the philosophy of mind. 

REL 2745: Ritual Process

This seminar examines the role of ritual and ritual-like phenomena in religion and other forms of human expression from cross-cultural perspective.

REL 2750: Ethnography

This seminar introduces the contributions of ethnography to religious studies, the benefits and problems of ethnographic approaches to understanding religion, and techniques for conducting fieldwork-based studies. For the seminar, students read and analyze ethnographic studies of religion and learn methods for collecting, analyzing, and synthesizing data obtained through interviews and participant-observation.

Readings Seminars

These seminars are offered in conjunction with upper-division undergraduate courses. Graduate students attend the undergraduate lectures and participate in additional seminar meetings with the instructor designed to meet their intellectual interests and needs within the context of the broader issues of the course.

REL 2130: Biblical Israel

This course covers the history and development of Biblical Israel from its ancient Near Eastern origins up through the advent of Hellenism, a period roughly covering the entire first millennium BCE. Students read both biblical and extra-biblical materials in order to assess their value as historical sources. This seminar is offered in conjunction with RELGST 1100: Israel in the Biblical Age.

REL 2132: Jerusalem: History and Imagination

Jerusalem was and remains both a magnet for cultic devotion and an epicenter of religious conflict. This course examines the political, religious, and cultural history of Jerusalem, focusing primarily on Jerusalem as a concrete and conceptual phenomenon in the premodern period. Beginning our story in the Bronze Age, we will explore a wide range of sources—literary, archaeological, and iconographical—that bear witness to the remarkable transformation of a small, backwater village in the hills of Canaan to a sacred center for millions of Jews, Christians, and Muslims today. We will study the political, physical, and conceptual development of this urban space through its multiple destructions and reconstructions, considering the emergence of Jerusalem as a sacred space, an apocalyptic space, and a contested space. This seminar is offered in conjunction with RELGST 1160: Jerusalem: History and Imagination.

REL 2135: Classical Judaism

This course covers the development of classical Judaism from the Second Temple period—beginning with the end of the Babylonian exile in the 6th century BCE—and continues up through the emergence of rabbinic Judaism, culminating with the redaction of the Babylonian Talmud in the 6th century CE. The course covers major historical trends and religious developments and emphasizes close readings of major Jewish texts of both the Second Temple and Rabbinic periods. This seminar is offered in conjunction with RELGST 1210: Classical Judaism.

REL 2137: Biblical Interpretation

This course surveys the methods used in the modern academic study of the Hebrew Bible. Rather than approaching the Bible as "revealed Scripture," scholars over the last two centuries have developed a variety of literary strategies that seek to reconstruct the world and the circumstances that produced the Hebrew Bible. Also considered are the immense contributions of archaeology during the last two centuries and how modern literary-critical techniques have been applied to the text of the Hebrew Bible. This seminar is offered in conjunction with RELGST 1675: Reading the Hebrew Bible.

REL 2150: Religion and Rationality

Toward the end of Why Does Language Matter to Philosophy? Ian Hacking answers his own question: language matters to philosophy because philosophers see language as the medium through which subjects relate to objects, both in knowledge and in everyday experience. I would add that philosophers see things this way largely because of the deep and lasting influence of Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. More than two centuries after it was written, Kant’s first Critique remainsthe paradigm in relation to which many philosophers do their work. If we understand the chief responses to Kant—especially among those who have studied language—we will be able to understand the chief problems of religion and rationality in our time. Religious believers have held that God is an object (of their faith, experience, or knowledge). That makes them subjects, and it makes their relation to God something that falls within the Kantian paradigm. A crucial question, therefore, is “How does religion fare under the Kantian paradigm?” Another question is “How does religion fare under the alternatives to the Kantian paradigm?” We will try to answer both these questions this semester. This seminar is offered in conjunction with RELGST 1760: Religion and Rationality.

REL 2152: Guide for the Perplexed

Moses Maimonides (1138–1204) was the greatest Jewish thinker of the medieval period, and remains highly influential today. Born in Spain, he became the leading rabbinic authority of his time by writing a compendium of Jewish law, the Mishneh Torah. He was also famous as a physician and author of medical works. His widest impact, however, has been through his masterpiece of philosophy of religion, The Guide of the Perplexed. This engaging, elusive book is important not only for its influence on such major thinkers as Aquinas, Spinoza, Leibniz, and Newton, but also for its insight into questions of religion and rationality. In this course we will study virtually all of the Guide, giving special attention to Maimonides’ account of the fall, his theory of religious language, his arguments for the existence of God, his doctrine of creation, his teachings on religious experience, prophecy, and revelation, and his views on human perfection and immortality. In our sessions we will work closely and carefully through the text, at each step following up Maimonides' hints and challenges to his readers. Our goal will be, not merely to appreciate the surface purport of the book, but also to discern its deeper implications—through which Maimonides sought to suggest, to a few of his readers, the secret meaning of the Bible itself. This seminar is offered in conjunction with RELGST 1762: Guide to the Perplexed.

REL 2155: Orthodox Christianity

This course is designed as an overview of the history, teachings and rituals of Eastern Orthodox Christianity in its multinational context. Geographically this context refers primarily to Russia, southeastern Europe and the coastal areas of the eastern Mediterranean, but there is also a large Orthodox Diaspora in the western hemisphere. Understanding Orthodox Christianity—its specific historical experience (from the Byzantine and Ottoman empires to the life under communism, and beyond), theological doctrines and spiritual practices, rich artistic, and musical and ritual expressions—has become increasingly relevant in the post-communist era with the emergence of religion as an important aspect of cultural identity and national self-definition. This seminar is offered in conjunction with RELGST 1135: Orthodox Christianity.

REL 2160: Catholicism in the New World

This course examines the history of the Roman Catholic Church since 1492 in the Americas using various moments of internal crisis or external conflict as focal points for study. Topics include missionary and military contact with New World indigenous populations after 1492, the minority situation of Catholics in the new United States, the Irish Famine and its consequences, conflicts between Catholic ethnics, the impact of Catholic support for fascist regimes in the 1930s and 1940s, counter-cultural forms of Catholicism (conscientious objectors, civil rights activists, pacifists), Vatican II and its impact, liberation theology, Marxism and structural reform in Latin America, shifting theological positions on social and moral issues, and the current sexual abuse crisis. While the emphasis rests upon the social, economic and political dimensions of Catholic history, the course also addresses the aesthetic and cultural legacy of Catholicism including sacred architecture, music, and the arts, in elite and vernacular forms. This seminar is offered in conjunction with RELGST 1372: Catholicism in the New World.

REL 2170: Popular Religion in America

This course introduces the complexities involved in theorizing and describing the folk/popular religion in the study of American religion. “America” is defined broadly here to include Afro-Caribbean traditions as well as Native American responses to colonization and conquest. Texts include work by anthropologists, art historians, historians, cultural theorists, psychoanalysts, and sociologists. This seminar is offered in conjunction with RELGST 1425: Popular Religion in America.

REL 2320: Readings in Jewish Historiography

This course studies the history of writing history. It offers an introduction to the various ways in which the history of Jews and Judaism has been written in both the premodern and modern periods. In different semesters, the course focuses on different topics, for example, a survey of Jewish historiographical writing from antiquity to the present or a series of case studies on the representation and commemoration of tragic events in pre-Holocaust Jewish history. This seminar is offered in conjunction with RELGST 1680: Readings in Jewish Historiography.

REL 2325: Jews in the Islamic World

This course surveys Jewish life in Spain, North Africa, and the Middle East in medieval and early modern times. This seminar is offered in conjunction with RELGST 1640: Jews in the Islamic World.

REL 2326: Jewish Mysticism

This course is an introductory survey of Jewish mystical thought and its cultural role from the prophet Ezekiel to the pop star Madonna, focusing mainly on the form of Jewish mysticism known as Kabbalah. Topics include non-Kabbalistic forms of Jewish mysticism, the emergence of the Kabbalah, the Zohar, 16th-century developments in Safed, the popularization of Kabbalah, the mystical messianic movement of Sabbatai Zevi, 19th-century Hasidism, Christian uses of the Kabbalah, and contemporary developments. This seminar is offered in conjunction with RELGST 1222: Jewish Mysticism.

REL 2327: Medieval Judaism

This course introduces the Jewish historical experience from the 7th to 18th centuries. Political, social, cultural, and religious dimensions of a variety of self-governing Jewish communities are explored within the contexts of the larger societies in which Jewish minority lived. We discuss "periodization": how should the "medieval" period of Jewish history be defined? This seminar is offered in conjunction with RELGST 1220: Medieval Jewish Civilization.

REL 2329: Jewish Culture in Medieval Spain

This course is a survey of major topics related to the cultural, intellectual, and religious life of Jews in medieval Muslim and Christian Spain from the early Middle Ages through 1492. Topics include the culture of al-Andalus, Hebrew poetry, Jewish philosophy, biblical exegesis, the impact of the Reconquista, Jewish mysticism, "convivencia," Jewish-Christian disputation, the conversos, Jewish thought in the 15th century. This seminar is offered in conjunction with RELGST 1225: Jewish Culture in Medieval Spain.

REL 2334: Russian Jewry

This course focuses on the experience of Russian Jewry from the Partitions of Poland (1772) to the end of the empire (1917). We treat internal developments focusing especially on Jewish modernization as well as on the relationships between the Jewish people and the general society in this critical period of Russian history. Finally, we pay close attention to the emergence of secular forms of Jewish cultural life as they came to be expressed in the Yiddish, Hebrew, and Russian languages. This seminar is offered in conjunction with RELGST 1257: Russian Jewry.

REL 2336: Modern Judaism

This course is an intensive introduction to the major themes and the basic narrative of modern Jewish religious, social, and intellectual history, from the 17th century to the middle of the 20th century. We examine the specific challenges posed by the Enlightenment, liberalism, nation-state citizenship, modern antisemitism and socialism, and the responses offered by Jews in Europe, North America, and the Middle East. This seminar is offered in conjunction with RELGST 1250: Modern Jewry.

REL 2337: Jews and the City

Over the course of the 19th century, millions of Eastern European Jews migrated from their places of birth to cities across the globe. This course will trace this Eastern European Jewish diaspora to urban destinations around the world, before training its lens on the Jewish encounter with American cities. We will pay close attention to how patterns of Jewish urbanization changed regionally and over time; how urbanization affected Jews’ home-life, leisure time, religious practices and occupational choices; how differences in gender and class affected Jews’ experiences in urban spaces; and how Jews interacted with other ethnic groups in diverse, urban environments. Delving into the history, built environment, and archival sources pertaining to the Jewish experience in Pittsburgh will provide us with a dynamic case study for this crucial relationship between Jews and the city. This seminar is offered in conjunction with RELGST 1240: Jews and the City.

REL 2339: History of the Holocaust

This course examines the Jewish Holocaust within the contexts of both European and Jewish history. We begin our study by paying close attention to the evolution of the Jewish stereotype within European letters and arts. We focus on European political developments in the modern period as we trace the growth of modern nationalism and racism in the second half of the 19th century. As we study the rise of Nazism in Germany, we concentrate on the place of the Jew within the ideology of the movement. We conclude our investigation with an analysis of Nazi policies and actions in the period 1933-45 together with the responses to those actions by Jews in Germany and the rest of occupied Europe. This seminar is offered in conjunction with RELGST 1252: History of the Holocaust.

REL 2341: Approaches to the Study of Antisemitism

This course surveys historical, sociological, psychological, religious, and political approaches to expressions of antisemitism as we study scholarly treatment of the phenomenon from the end of the 19th century to the present. This seminar is offered in conjunction with RELGST 1650: Approaches to Antisemitism.

REL 2343: Modern Israel

The idea of a Jewish-initiated return to the ancient biblical homeland in the last quarter of the 19th century marked a significant break with traditional Jewish thinking on the theme of Return and Redemption. The subsequent migration to Palestine and the building of institutional Jewish life there culminating in the independent state of Israel (1948) has not only been a watershed in modern Jewish history, it has also had a major impact on Judaism and global affairs. This seminar traces the history of modern Israel from the idea of the return through the State of Israel today. It is offered in conjunction with RELGST 1256: Modern Israel.

REL 2350: Law and Religion in America

Law and Religion in America: Religious Freedom in the American Legal System explores how the concept of “religious freedom,” generally taken to be at the heart of what it means to be a democracy, has been put into practice throughout America’s history, into the present day. The course will examine various ways that “religious freedom” has been interpreted and executed by studying foundational documents leading to the ratification of the First Amendment; landmark Supreme Court cases that have been instrumental in creating and refining the category of “legal religion,” whether by prohibition or protection; and the ramifications of those cases in lower courts, other municipal arenas, and beyond. It is offered in conjunction with RELGST 1427: Religion and Law.

REL 2365: Religion in India

Few countries can boast such an extensive and diverse religious heritage as can India. It is the birthplace of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism, home to a large Muslim community, as well as to small, but ancient, communities of Syrian Christians, Parsis, and Jews. The course gives a brief historical overview of these religious traditions, introduces students to basic concepts related to each of them, and illustrates their rich practices through primary and secondary readings, films, art, and music. This seminar is offered in conjunction with RELGST 1500: Religion in India 1.

REL 2400: East Asian Buddhism

The transmission of Buddhism to East Asia was a momentous development in the history of world cultures and religions. Not only did it precipitate major changes in the cultures of China, Korea, and Japan, it also was attended by a transformation within Buddhism itself. Beginning with an introduction to the basic concepts of Buddhism, this course examines the major doctrinal, meditative, devotional, and institutional traditions and themes within Chinese and Japanese Buddhism in historical perspective. Particular attention is paid to the problems of transmission of thought from one culture to another and to the ways in which Buddhism changed to meet those challenges and make itself relevant to the members of East Asian traditions. This seminar is offered in conjunction with RELGST 1550: East Asian Buddhism.

REL 2410: Religions of China

This course examines the major traditions and themes that constitute religion in China. The origins and development of Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism, popular and family religion, and religion and the state are presented within an overall historical framework. In addition to the study of religious ideas, practices, and institutions in premodern China, contemporary beliefs and practices and issues of politics, class, and gender are also examined in relationship to, and as reinterpretations of, older themes. This seminar is offered in conjunction with RELGST 1560: Chinese Religious Traditions.

REL 2420: Religions of Japan

This course provides an historical overview of religion in Japan from the 3rd century BCE up to the present. It introduces many of the events, texts, doctrines, institutions, personalities, and practices in the history of religion in Japan and examines issues related to myth, shamanism, ritual, art, and politics. This seminar is offered in conjunction with RELGST 1570: Japanese Religious Traditions.

REL 2422: Japanese Popular Religion

The majority of Japanese today claim not to have any religious faith but most participate in religious activities. Why is this? Those Japanese who do espouse religious faith often pray at both Buddhist temples and Shintō shrines without feeling conflicted. How is this possible? To answer these and other questions, religion in contemporary Japan is examined primarily on the basis of ethnographic studies. This seminar is offered in conjunction with RELGST 1572: Popular Religion in a Changing Japan.

REL 2520: Jesus and Judaism

This course examines the complex and often polarized relationship between Jesus and Jews and, by extension, Christianity and Judaism, in both ancient and modern contexts. Students interact with a wide range of primary sources centered on the figure of Jesus—from the Christian Gospels through Rabbinic discussions of Jesus to modern portrayals of Jesus and the Jews in cinema and scholarship. Topics covered include constructions of Jesus and Judaism in modern scholarship, the relationship between the historical Jesus and first-century Judaism, Jewish perspectives on Jesus, ancient Jewish and Christian polemics, the parting of the ways between Judaism and Christianity, Jesus and Jews in the movies, and the place of Jesus in modern Jewish-Christian dialogue. This seminar is offered in conjunction with RELGST 1645: Jesus and Judaism.

REL 2800: Jewish-Christian Relations

This course surveys the relationships between Jews and Christians from the time of Jesus through the early modern era, as viewed by both Jews and Christians. Topics include the position of Jews in the Roman Empire before and after the rise of the early Church, rabbinic views of Christianity and Church fathers' views of Judaism, Jews and Jewish communities in early medieval Europe, the Crusades, accusations of ritual murder and host desecration, Papal-Jewish relations, money-lending and usury debates, Jewish-Christian scholarly interchange, late medieval disputations and polemics, expulsions, the impact of the Reformation, early modern Christian Hebraism, and the beginnings of toleration and early Enlightenment views. This seminar is offered in conjunction with RELGST 1644: Jewish-Christian Relations.

REL 2801: Christian-Muslim Relations

This course examines the historical encounter between Christianity and Islam, an encounter which did not only take the form of military conflict and confrontation, but also of theological debates, cultural exchanges and religious practices that reveal the permeability of the frontiers that divide Christian and Muslim communities. We first look at some of the early debates (dialogues and refutations) of eminent Byzantine scholars with their Muslim counterparts regarding their respective faiths. We then follow the changing image of Islam in the popular literature of the Christians in the Ottoman Empire; and explore the practice of Muslim-Christian crossovers, overlaps and sharing of sacred sites at various locations in Asia Minor, the Balkans and the Iberian peninsula. Additionally, we look at contemporary interactions of Christians and Muslims in Europe and Middle East and examine issues that may both advance the dialogue between the two religions or obstruct it. This seminar is offered in conjunction with RELGST 1642: History of Christian-Muslim Relations.

REL 2805: Saints East and West

A Russian monk once observed that "each saint is a unique event." Indeed, in various religious traditions we encounter men and women who are recognized and venerated as particularly holy and unique witnesses to the divine. Just as each saint is unique within his or her tradition so is each tradition of saints unique in its articulation and expression of the overall religious culture. By looking cross-culturally at materials on saints and problematizing the notion of sainthood itself, we examine religious themes, ideas and symbols found in them. These diverse writings are often marked by a very personal tone, a deeply felt relation with the divine (sometimes reflecting a saint’s inner struggles, sometimes his/her mystical experience of union), but also by pleas and calls for social and/or religious reforms. Our examples of devotional literature include Hindu, Muslim and Christian sources, medieval as well as modern. This seminar is offered in conjunction with RELGST 1540: Saints East and West.

REL 2807: Mysticism East and East

Mysticism, understood as a living experience of theological doctrines, constitutes an unexpected point of convergence between such different religious traditions as Hinduism and Eastern Orthodox Christianity. We look into how this spiritual kinship is forged from distinct practices in India and in the traditions of Orthodox Christianity by examining the selected mystical writings of the Hindu sages and holy men and women of the Orthodox Church, past and present. The course is structured around three central themes: God as Mystery: negative theology (Hindu and Orthodox ways of unknowing the divine), God as Person: the Hindu notion of avatar and Orthodox understanding of incarnation, and God as Prayer: two selected methods of contemplation (Hindu yoga and Orthodox hesychast prayer). This seminar is offered in conjunction with RELGST 1545: Mysticism East and East.

Topics Seminars

These seminars deal with particular topics of interest in the core areas of the graduate program. Topics vary.

REL 3180: Topics in Religious Thought and Language

This seminar explores topics and themes related to western monotheism and/or in the comparative study of religious thought and concentrates on interpretative approaches to religious texts.

REL 3190: Topics in Christianity

This seminar addresses central philosophical, ideological, institutional, practical and/or popular themes in the history of Christianity, including Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity.

REL 3305: Topics in Judaism

This seminar addresses topics and themes in the history of medieval, early modern, and/or modern Judaism.

REL 3342: Religion in Euro-America, 1700-1900
Cross-listed with HIST 2740

Religions are among the oldest forms of transnational organizations. From the time of Columbus' voyage in 1492 to the apex of Western imperialism in the mid-20th century, western religions structured human relations, enabled action and survival, and provided utopian visions of hope. They were also contributors to genocide, slavery, and oppressive moral, economic, and political systems. This seminar introduces critical issues in the religious history of the new Atlantic world created as a result of the “Columbian encounter.” We begin in the 18th century when the colonization process is well underway and conclude at the moment when the United States is poised to surpass Great Britain as the world’s most powerful empire. The seminar supplies the historical content, critical terms, and theoretical concepts necessary for the study of the history of religion in the Atlantic world between the 18th and 20th centuries. We assume that each religion needs to be understood in light of its relations to those traditions that stand beside it and that each religion had to reckon with the Protestantism that came to dominate colonial North America. Topics include the end of witchcraft prosecutions in the West, the spiritual transformation of indigenous Americans, the creation of syncretic slave religions in the Americas, the impact of capitalism and imperialism upon religious expansion and sect formation, alternatives to mainstream traditions (including magic and occultism), the effects of religion on gender roles, the Enlightenment critique of religion, and the impact of the social sciences.

REL 3347: Topics in Religion in America

This seminar addresses central issues in the history and theorizing of modern America from the 18th century to the present. In Spring Term 2013, students will encounter some of the most groundbreaking and influential studies of religious life in America. We will be introduced to a range of methodologies through which scholars have approached the study of American religion, and discuss the benefits and pitfalls of each. Major foci of the seminar will include the intersectionality of religious identities with categories of race, gender, class, and sexuality; the diverse religious landscape of America; the relationship between religion and politics; and the interplay between religion and commerce, material culture, and popular culture.

REL 3370: Death and the Afterlife in Buddhist Cultures

Mortality is the human condition. How religious systems deal with death and dying, both traditionally and in modern times, tell us as much about how we live our lives as it does about what lies beyond. This seminar explores Buddhist approaches to death, dying, and the afterlife with a focus on South Asia, Tibet, and East Asia. Topics include Buddhist cosmology and the doctrine of karmic causality; tales of exemplary deaths; accounts of journeys to the hells and other postmortem realms; Buddhism, the family, and rites for ancestors; Buddhist funerary and mortuary practices; theories of ritual and anthropological studies of mortuary rites; the placation of ghosts and revenants; changes in contemporary Buddhist funerals and issues related to unnatural deaths. We consider both Buddhist doctrinal teachings and social roles with respect to death and the afterlife, as well as interactions of Buddhism with local religious cultures. Seminar readings combine Buddhist primary texts in translations (sermons, monastic regulations, didactic tales, ritual manuals, hagiographical literature, etc.) with a range of secondary scholarship from the fields of Buddhist studies, anthropology, history, history of art, philosophy, ritual studies, and sociology of religion. Crosslisted with ANTHRO 2757.

REL 3374: Topics in East Asian Buddhism

Recent topics include Processes of Assimilation and Issues of Self-Identity, Buddhist Representations in Medieval China and Japan, Esotericism—Ritual and Art in Medieval Chinese and Japanese Buddhism, Rhetoric and Ritual in Medieval Chinese and Japanese Buddhism, and Death and the Afterlife in Buddhist Cultures. Seminar readings may draw on primary source materials and a range of secondary scholarship from the fields of Buddhist studies, history, philosophy, anthropology, art history, ritual studies, gender studies, and sociology of religion.

REL 3376: Topics in East Asian Religion

This seminar explores transcultural and transnational topics and themes in the religions of East Asia from interdisciplinary perspective.

REL 3384: Topics in Chinese Religion

Recent topics include Popular Religion in Modern China, Text and Context in Chinese Religion, Convergence and Conflict: Foreign Religions on Chinese Soil, Gender in the Chinese Religious Context, and Religion and the State. Seminar readings may draw on primary source materials and a range of secondary scholarship from the fields of Chinese studies, religion, history, philosophy, anthropology, art history, ritual studies, gender studies, law, and sociology of religion.

REL 3388: Topics in Chinese Buddhism

This seminar explores doctrinal, ideological, institutional, practical, and popular themes in the history of Chinese Buddhism, past and present.

REL 3394: Topics in Japanese Religion

Recent topics include Medieval Hagiography and Narrative, Issues and Trends in Modern Japanese Religion, and Modern Buddhist Reformers. Seminar readings may draw on primary source materials and a range of secondary scholarship from the fields of Japanese studies, religion, history, philosophy, anthropology, art history, ritual studies, law, and sociology of religion.

REL 3398: Topics in Japanese Buddhism

This seminar explores doctrinal, ideological, institutional, practical, and popular themes in the history of Japanese Buddhism, past and present.

Directed Study

Students may initiate an individual research or readings project under the guidance of a senior faculty member. Regular meetings are required.

REL 2902: Directed Study for MA Students

MA students may design a research or readings project that does not fall under a specific directed study rubric.

REL 3100: Directed Study in Theories and Methods

REL 3182: Directed Study in Religious Thought and Language

REL 3184: Directed Study in Philosophy of Religion

REL 3192: Directed Study in Christianity

REL 3309: Directed Study in Judaism

REL 3348: Directed Study in Religion in America

REL 3377: Directed Study in Religions of Asia

REL 3379: Directed Study in Buddhism

REL 3389: Directed Study in Chinese Buddhism

REL 3399: Directed Study in Japanese Buddhism

REL 3902: Directed Study for PhD Students

PhD students may design an individual research or readings project not offered under a specific directed study rubric.

Independent Study

One-to-three research credits are available to late-stage MA and PhD students to prepare for qualifying examinations and/or thesis and dissertation research and writing. Students work under the supervision of a senior faculty member and receive an S/N (not letter) grade.

REL 2000: Master’s Thesis

Open to MA students in the late stages of researching and writing the master's thesis.

REL 2990: Independent Study for MA Students

Open to MA students preparing for the comprehensive examination or in the early stages of thesis research.

REL 3000: Research and Dissertation—PhD

Open to PhD candidates in the late stages of researching and writing the dissertation.

REL 3990: Independent Study for PhD Students

Open to PhD students preparing for the comprehensive examination or PhD candidates in the early stages of dissertation research.

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