This course includes brief introductions to four or five major religious traditions, while exploring concepts and categories used in the study of religion, such as sacredness, myth, ritual, religious experience and social dimensions of religion. Traditions such as Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Confucianism, Taoism, Hinduism and Native American traditions may be presented through important texts and practices. This counts toward the 100-level introduction to religious studies course requirement for the major. No prerequisite. Offered every semester.
This course covers the same material as RLST 101 and is open only to first-year students, giving first-years the opportunity to experience the rigorous and intimate seminar setting as they work through the topics and themes of the Religious Studies department's introductory course. This counts toward the 100-level introduction to religious studies course requirement for the major. No prerequisite. Offered every two years.
This course presents an introduction to the study of religion, using the lens of gender and sexuality as a category of analysis. Students will examine constructions of the body, sexuality/celibacy, control and agency of marginalized persons, issues of fertility and purity, and gender performativity. A variety of religious traditions will be explored as well as feminist and gender/sexuality theorists. Open only to first-year students, with the possibility of second-year students with permission of the instructor. This counts toward the 100-level introduction to religious studies course requirement for the major. No prerequisite. Offered every two years.
This course introduces the process by which Judaism became a religious tradition, particularly in the late ancient and medieval world. This period marked the rise of rabbis as an authoritative source of Jewish knowledge, tasked with updating biblical laws for their contemporary communities following the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 C.E.. This course will explain how rabbis created the major features of present-day Judaism, such as holidays, kosher and Sabbath laws, gender roles, charity/tzedakah, liturgy, and Jewish identity, at the same time as creating their own power and authority. Attention will be paid to Jewish debates, Jewish-Christian discourses, Jews as post-colonial subjects within historically contextual empires, and the ways ordinary Jews navigated rabbinic and non-Jewish power. By the end of this course, students will have a sense of how "traditional Judaism" was created. No prior knowledge of Hebrew or Judaism is necessary. This is an introductory Judaism tradition course. No prerequisite. Offered every two years.
This course is an introduction to the context and reception of the books that comprise the core of all Bible canons. We will examine the Bible’s textual formation, historical context, and the role memory played in the compilation and editing of its final form. Several key texts will be traced in their reception to Jewish, Christian and Islamic sources, paying special attention to the ancient scribal process of “rewriting the Bible.” We will analyze techniques for textual interpretation, study how interpretive communities change over time, as well as examine the imaginal world of biblical stories. Open to students of all levels and recommended for students passionate about literature. This is an introductory Judaism tradition course. No prerequisite. Offered every one to two years.
This course explores the rich history and diverse traditions that are part of the Christian heritage. Close to two billion people today call themselves Christians. Who is a Christian? What are some of the differences among their traditions? How do Christians define and have defined the identity of Jesus? Why do Christians have different canons for their sacred scriptures? What is salvation and how is it achieved? Where is Christianity growing and decreasing in the world today? What attitudes have Christians shown towards gender, wealth, poverty, science, art and other issues? Over a span of two thousand years, Christians in different parts of the globe have answered these questions in an amazing variety of ways. As you will see, it is not an exaggeration to speak about Christianities or the faiths of Christians, considering the ever-changing networks of movements, beliefs, practices and forms of identification that we can appreciate as part of the long trajectories of the world Christian movement. This is an introductory Christianity tradition course. No prerequisite. Offered every two years.
This course is an introduction to the literature of the New Testament. We will engage the social, political and religious contexts of various texts from the first and second centuries of the Common Era. We will reflect about issues ranging from the material culture of the ancient world; the cultural and political background of early Christian literature; the role of women in the Jesus movement; competing forms of Christianity in the ancient world; the relation between Christian movements and the Roman Empire; the interactions between different trends in Judaism and the development of different Christian trajectories; and the process of biblical canon formation. We will also engage different methodologies currently practiced in biblical exegesis, ranging from form criticism and redaction criticism to historical criticism and literary criticism. Special attention is devoted to the reception history of the New Testament in pre-modern and modern contexts through a variety of media (literary sources, material culture, art, cinema and others) and geographical settings. This is an introductory Christianity tradition course. No prerequisite. Offered every two years.
This course explores the religious history of the United States, with an emphasis on the relationship between religious beliefs/values and broader social and political processes. We first examine the attempt of European immigrants to establish church-state compacts in New England and Virginia, while the middle colonies adopted a more pluralistic approach. Next we survey the period between the American Revolution and the Civil War, looking at the separation of church and state, the growth of religious pluralism and the continued existence of the "Peculiar Institution. We then look at how various social forces shaped religion in the United States from the Civil War to World War II: immigration, urbanization, prejudice and the Social Gospel; expansionism and missions; and modernism and fundamentalism. Finally, we examine the shaping of the American religious landscape from World War II to the present through such forces as religious revitalization, activism for personal and civil rights, new waves of immigration and new communication media. This is an introductory American religions course. No prerequisite. Offered every other fall.
This course explores the contours of the religious expressions of the African diaspora in the Americas. It will survey various Orisha traditions in Cuba, Brazil, the United States and Trinidad and Tobago; Regla de Palo and Abakua in Cuba; Kumina in Jamaica; Vodou in Haiti and the United States; Afro-Christian traditions in Jamaica, Trinidad and Guyana; and Rastafari in Jamaica and beyond. The course will pay close attention to the social history of these traditions, their understanding of the universe, their social structure and their rituals and ceremonies. This course provides students with an understanding of the formation and history, major beliefs and ceremonies, leadership and community structure, and social and cultural significance of these religious traditions. This is an introductory American religions course. No prerequisite. Offered every two years.
This course serves as an introduction to the religion of Islam, a diverse tradition that includes more than a billion adherents and is a dominant cultural element in a geographical region that stretches from Morocco to Indonesia. This course focuses primarily on the development of Islam and Islamic institutions from the time the Prophet Muhammad through the emergence of the Sufi tradition as a primary expression of Muslim piety in the late medieval period. Special attention will be given to the rise and development of Sunni, Shi'i and Sufi pieties as distinctive responses to the event of the Qur'anic revelation throughout the history of Islam. This is an an introductory Islam tradition course. No prerequisite. Offered every fall.
This course aims at an in-depth exploration of controversial issues that marked turning points in Western religious history -- issues that resulted in trials and/or significant national debates. Each offering of the course will engage some combination of the following: the trial of Galileo, the English Reformation, the trial of Anne Hutchinson in Puritan New England, the abolition debate leading up to the American Civil War, and contemporary controversies over abortion and same-sex marriage. (Other trials, debates or controversies may be introduced from time to time.) The course is built upon the pedagogical approach called "Reacting to the Past," developed by Barnard College history professor Mark Carnes. Students separate into at least two competing factions as well as a group of indeterminates (or persuadables). Each student is assigned a role based on a historical person or a composite of ideas that informed the particular issue. Students will assume, research and reenact the roles of the various participants in these controversies. The goal is to persuade others, especially the indeterminates, to vote for the outcome that one’s role specifies. This is an introductory level elective course. No prerequisite. Offered every two years.
The South Asian subcontinent has been the home of a fascinating array of religions and religious movements. Focusing on Hinduism, this course will examine the development of religious practice in South Asia and the interaction of competing religious ideas over time. The course will include discussions of Indus Valley religion, Vedic Brahmanism, Jainism and Buddhism, the Upanishads, classical Hinduism, Bhakti, South Asian Islam and modern Hinduism. This is an introductory South Asian religions course. No prerequisite.
Buddhism has been one of the major connective links among the varied cultures of South, Southeast and East Asia for over two millennia, and over the past one hundred years it has established a presence throughout the world. This course surveys the ideas and practices of Buddhism with a focus on Buddhist ideas as they developed in South Asia within the first millennium of Buddhist history. Readings include ancient Buddhist texts, contemporary commentaries and scholarship, and a contemporary memoir. This is an introductory Buddhism tradition course. No prerequisite. Offered every fall.
This course introduces the changes in Judaism and Jewish life wrought by the advent of modernity and the Jewish Enlightenment (the Haskalah). We will first discuss developments in modern Jewish thought and the ways Jewish movements (such as Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructing and Renewal Judaism) interacted with the classical Jewish tradition. We will also examine the tensions and challenges to Judaism as a normative category in modernity, including intermarriage, conversion, the South American/African/Chinese Jewish diaspora, “cultural” Jews, Chrismukkah, the formation of the state of Israel and secularism. Throughout the semester, we will ask: what makes someone a Jew? What are the relationships between power, tradition, and non-Jewish culture that shape modern Jewish practice? Will Judaism survive modernity? This is an introductory Judaism tradition course. No prerequisite. Offered every one to two years.
This course surveys the religions of East Asia, including Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, Shinto, Christianity, and the shamanic practices of China, Korea and Japan. We will read primary literature in its conceptual and historical contexts and study major themes that cross national and religious boundaries, such as gender, space and landscapes, ritual and political power. This is an introductory East Asian religions course. No prerequisite. Offered every two years.
Jews from antiquity to modernity have sought to control and defend themselves against unseen forces teeming around them. Whether through the crafting of amulets and spells, mystical incantations to ascend to heaven or bind angels to their will, or powerful knowledge of divination and talismans, Jews have dabbled in the enchanted as a defense against the darkness in their world. This course examines the Jewish magical tradition from antiquity through the Middle Ages and investigates how it survived and underwent transformation in the modern world. We will examine different Jewish definitions of magic and ritual power to analyze the occasions when such practices were deemed acceptable or wholly outside normative Jewish practice. This course will interrogate conceptions of mysticism and magic, their relationship with “religion” and “philosophy,” contextualize Jewish magical practices alongside their neighbors and will conclude by examining the reception of Jewish mysticism into the modern West. This is an advanced Judaism tradition course. Permission of instructor required. No prerequisite. Offered every two years.
This course explores the variety of movements that we identify as “Christianity” from its official recognition under Emperor Constantine to its regional expansion across the Mediterranean basin and beyond in the subsequent centuries. This course engages key issues like the debates between orthodoxy and heresy, the emergence of various Christian institutions, engagement with other religious traditions, debates about human nature, the environment, economics and politics. We will engage a wide variety of sources ranging from biblical commentary, theological treatises, New Testament Apocrypha, legal documents, material culture, graphic novels and cinema. The course gives special attention to methodological practices in a historical framework (How do we learn about the past? How can we probe our sources? What approaches may help us engage the Christian past? How is the past still not past?). This is an advanced Christianity tradition course. No prerequisite. Offered every two or three years.
This course explores the political, social, cultural and demographic shifts that make the Global South (Africa, Latin America and Asia) a key center of the world Christian movement. The course will engage historical and regional surveys by examining test cases with an interdisciplinary outlook, emphasizing the richness and diversity of what we can call "World Christianities." The students will gain a sense of Christianity as a cluster of polycentric and culturally diverse traditions and of the challenges that Christians in the Global South face in the contemporary world. The course devotes special attention to the emergence of new Christian movements, the development of liberation theologies, colonial and postcolonial struggles and the complex processes of identity formation of Christians in the Global South. This is an advanced Christianity tradition course. No prerequisite.
This course explores the evolution and development of mystical traditions in Christianity from its early context and origins to its global presence today. We will engage the Greco-Roman philosophical background of ancient Christian mysticism, the development of monasticism as well as popular and ecstatic mystical practices across different Christian traditions and denominations. As part of our discussion we will problematize the term "mysticism" and trace its linguistic and philosophical development through the 19th and 20th centuries. We will give special attention to these questions (and others that will emerge during the term): Is mysticism a solitary or a communal experience? What type of experiences are privileged when we explore "classical" examples of mysticism? What do different interpretations of embodied expressions of mysticism (such as copious weeping, bleeding or fasting) tell us about their social contexts? How does mysticism engage the entanglements between race, gender, sexuality, health, class, and ecology in different contexts? What does mysticism look like today? This is an advanced Christianity tradition course. No prerequisite. Offered every two years.
This course offers an examination of some aspects of the vast and complex Jewish nationalist movement, Zionism. Encounters between Jews, Palestinians and Arabs will serve as a thematic current throughout our study. Resources include primary and secondary sources, poetry, fiction, photographs, film and music. An array of voices from the 19th and early 20th centuries will serve to demonstrate the discontent and alienation that led to the development of Zionism in Europe. We will then consider Jewish writers who expressed caution and concern, anticipating barriers to peaceful coexistence between Jews and Arabs even decades before the dream of a Jewish state became reality in 1948. Today Jews and Palestinians continue to grapple with many unresolved issues, and we will turn our attention to their voices in the last five weeks of the semester. This is an elective course. Permission of instructor required. No prerequisite.
This course seeks to combine a survey of the history of African-American religious experiences with an exploration of various themes emerging from that history. Special attention will fall on the social forces shaping such experiences; the influence of African-American religious commitments on their cultural, social and political activities; and the diversity of religious experiences and expressions among African Americans. The survey will encompass African religious heritage and its relevance in America; the religious life of slaves on the plantations and rise of independent African-American churches in both the North and the South; the role of African-American churches during Reconstruction and Jim Crow; the emergence of diverse African-American religious traditions and movements in the first half of the 20th Century; African-American religion in the civil rights era; and current trends and issues in African American religion and spirituality. Some of the themes that will occupy our attention include religion and resistance; religion and cultural formation; African American Christian missions; the Back-to-Africa Movement; the aesthetics of worship in African-American churches; class, gender and social mobility; and religion and political activism. We will employ a combination of primary and secondary readings along with audiovisual materials in exploring the development of and the issues in African-American religious experiences. This is an advanced American religions course. No prerequisite. Offered every other fall.
Emerging from an alienated and marginalized people trapped in the underside of Jamaica's colonial society, the early Rastas drew inspiration from the crowning of Haile Selassie I to sever cultural and psychological ties to the British colonial society that for centuries had disparaged African traditions and sought to inculcate European mores in Jamaicans of African descent. Furthermore, the early Rastas made the newly crowned potentate the symbol of their positive affirmation of Africa as their spiritual and cultural heritage. From its humble beginnings, the Rastafari movement has cemented itself in the religious and cultural life of Jamaica and has extended its influence around the world, garnering adherents in most major cities and in many outposts around the world. This course will expose students to the identity creation of Rastafari via the espousal of a particular view of the world and the fashioning of a distinctive lifestyle. It will also explore the internal dynamics of the movement, its spread to disparate parts of the world, and its influence on cultural expressions in the Caribbean and beyond. This course will emphasize close reading, analytical writing and guided discussion. We will make use of videos (video clips) and reggae music to elucidate aspects of the topic. This is an advanced American religions course. No prerequisite. Offered every two years.
This course examines the formation of Judaism and Christianity in the Ancient Mediterranean, focusing on their shared developments, tensions and relationships. What aspects of their religious worlds did Jews and Christians share? What were the continuities and disruptions on their stances on issues ranging from communal authority, scriptural interpretation, ritual action and tolerance? How did they confront social issues like gender, ethnicity, legal power and poverty? We will explore these and other questions by focusing on a variety of approaches ranging from “lived religion,” material culture, contemporary readings of critical theory and others. This is an introductory Judaism or Christianity tradition course. No prerequisite. Offered every two to three years.
This course covers the central ideas and practices of Zen Buddhism in China, where it originated and is called Chan; Japan, where it has influenced and been influenced by many aspects of Japanese culture and from where it was exported to the West; and the United States. Readings include primary texts, secondary studies and a memoir. This is an advanced Buddhism traditions course and an advanced East Asian religions course. No prerequisite. Offered every two years.
This course explores key Buddhist people, concepts and movements around the world from the 19th to the 21st centuries. Topics of study may include: how Buddhism in traditionally Buddhist cultures has been shaped by modern political and social forces; how colonialism and its aftermath have influenced Buddhist institutions and practices; the application of Buddhist ideas to theories of race, gender and sexuality; the intersections of Buddhist practices and concepts (particularly meditative practices) with scientific and psychological discourses; and Engaged Buddhism movements. Our focus will be on primary texts, supplemented by secondary readings. This is an advanced Buddhism tradition course. No prerequisite. Offered every two years.
Religious spaces, ideas and practices have exerted a formative influence on the cultures of the people of African descent in the Americas. Nowhere is this more evident than in the musical traditions of the African diaspora. This course will examine the relationship between African diaspora religious expressions and popular music in the United States and the Caribbean. It will focus primarily on the African-American (U.S.) musical traditions, rara from Haiti, calypso from Trinidad and Tobago, and reggae from Jamaica. Special attention will be given to the religious roots of these musical expressions and their social functions in shaping identity and framing religious, cultural and political discourses. Readings, videos/DVDs and CDs, along with presentations and discussions, will assist us in the exploration of the various facets of our topic. This is an advanced American religions course. No prerequisite. Offered every two years.
This course will explore some of the crucial issues and debates in the contemporary Muslim world. Issues to be examined will include the compatibility of Islam with democracy, the connections between Islam and terrorism, the role of Wahhabism in the construction of contemporary Islamic movements, feminist movements within Islam, Islam and pluralism and Sufism in the contemporary context. The course will focus on primary sources, including writing by authors like Khaled Abou el Fadl, Amina Wadud and Usama bin Laden. This is an advanced Islam tradition course. No prerequisite.
This course will examine some of the important ideas, personalities and institutions associated with Islamic mysticism. Students will read and discuss important primary and secondary sources on such topics as the development and organizations of Sufi tariqahs, mystical poetry, the nature of the Sufi path and Sufi psychology. A crucial aspect of the course will be an examination of the role of the veneration of "holy persons'' in Islamic piety. This is an advanced Islam tradition course. No prerequisite. Offered every two years.
This course will examine Islam in contemporary North America and Canada. It will explore such topics as the religious diversity of the Muslim community, the relevance and practice of Islamic law in a secular society, the problem of Islamophobia, and issues of race, ethnicity and gender among North American Muslims. This is an advanced Islam tradition course. No prerequisite.
This course examines the history of charitable aid and the theoretical positions informing the politics of aid. Recognizing the discursive properties of poverty as a category, we will trace the identification of “the poor” along with systems of charitable aid through four periods of history, emphasizing the role religion played in the development of ideas and institutions. We will study the Hebrew Bible’s justice traditions, the emergence of "the poor" as a distinct social category in the late Roman Empire, the charity revolution in the Medieval period, and the institutionalization of aid and philanthropy in recent American history — analyzing the ways people with power talk about the poor. With careful attention to artistic and textual primary sources, students will consider the role politics and religion play in who counts as “the poor.” This is a theory course. No prerequisite. Offered every two to three years.
This seminar explores the symbols, interpretations and practices centering on death in diverse religious traditions, experiences, historical periods and cultures. We will engage religious texts from various traditions, art, literature, and memoires. We will also explore various approximations to the study of death and dying including ethnographic, psychological, philosophical and anthropological studies. As part of our inquiry, we will pay special attention to various social issues ranging from the memorialization of the transatlantic slave trade, death and self-formation, illness and writing, and contemporary ecological threats. This is a theory course. No prerequisite. Offered every two years.
This course is designed to explore the resurgence of religion in the contemporary world. More specifically, we will discuss the phenomenon of "fundamentalism" within the major world religions and its influence on national and international politics. Early in the course, we will discuss the theory of secularization, the recent resurgence of religion in public life, and some literature theorizing the phenomenon of fundamentalism and religious nationalism. We will then turn to reading and discussing texts on Hindu nationalism, Buddhist nationalism, Jewish fundamentalism, the Christian right in the United States, and Islamism. We will conclude by reflecting on what Mark Juergensmeyer calls “The Logic of Religious Violence” (Terror in the Mind of God). This is a theory course. No prerequisite. Offered every fall.
Most recognized religions originated millennia before human discovery of electricity, let alone computer technology, and many predate printing, photography, radio and even writing. They also fundamentally center humans as the primary subject of concern. This course imagines how a redefinition of humanity's place in the world by both the technological and the biological continuum upsets or reframes religion as a category. We will ask: What does it mean to be human? How have various changes in technology and media affected the practices and meanings of religion? What role would religion play in a posthuman present/future? The course will read recent work in post/transhumanist theory along with science fiction in order to interrogate the categories of religion and humanness. This counts as a theory course for the major. No prerequisite. Offered every two years.
This seminar examines various religious perspectives on the meaning and value of the natural world and the relationship of human beings to nature in different time periods and traditions. We look at different trends in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Indigenous religions. Special attention is given to recent debates on religion and anthropocentrism, intellectual trajectories in ecocriticism, environmental ethics, animal studies, the Anthropocene, the contacts between liberation theology and ecology and decolonial ways of knowing. This is a theory course. Prerequisite: any 100- or 200-level course in religious studies or permission of instructor. Offered every three years.
This course acquaints students with major theoretical approaches to the academic study of religion. The course will cover phenomenological, psychoanalytical, sociological and anthropological approaches to religion. Authors to be discussed will include Frazer, Marx, Freud, Weber, Durkheim, Eliade, Lévi-Strauss, Douglas, Geertz, Turner and Orsi. This is a theory course. This course also fulfills the methods requirement for International Studies. No prerequisite.
This course is designed as a capstone experience in religious studies for majors in the department. Themes of the course will vary according to the instructor. Past themes have included religious autobiography, religion and cinema and new religious movements. Religious studies minors are encouraged to enroll, provided there is space. Non-majors should consult the instructor for permission to register. This is a required course for all senior majors. Offered every fall.
The department reserves individual studies to highly motivated students who are judged responsible and capable enough to work independently. Such courses might entail original research, but usually they are reading-oriented, allowing students to explore in depth topics that interest them or that supplement aspects of the major. Students may pursue individual study only if they have taken all the courses offered by the department in that particular area of the curriculum. An individual study course cannot duplicate a course or topic being concurrently offered. Exceptions to this rule are at the discretion of the instructor and department chair. Students must secure the agreement of an instructor to provide guidance and supervision of the course. The instructor and student agree on the nature of the work expected (e.g., several short papers, one long paper, an in-depth project, a public presentation, a lengthy general outline and annotated bibliography). The level should be advanced, with work on a par with a 300 level course. The student and instructor should meet on a regular basis, with the schedule to be determined by the instructor in consultation with the student. Individual studies may be taken for 0.25 or 0.5 units, at the discretion of the instructor. A maximum of 0.50 units of IS may count towards major or minor requirements in RLST department. A student is permitted to take only one 0.5-unit class of IS in the department (one 0.5-unit course or two 0.25-unit courses). A student must present a petition with compelling reasons in order to obtain special permission to take an additional IS course. Because students must enroll for individual studies by the end of the seventh class day of each semester, they should begin discussion of the proposed individual study preferably the semester before, so that there is time to devise the proposal and seek departmental approval before the established deadline. Prerequisite: GPA of at least 3.0. Exceptions (e.g., languages not taught at Kenyon are granted at the discretion of the instructor, with the approval of the department chair.)
Prerequisite: permission of department chair.
Prerequisite: permission of department chair.