Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2023

Course Description

In this course, we begin an engaged examination of some of the major categories of analysis that are used in the academic study of religion and apply them to introductory surveys of a selection of case- studies of traditions from around the globe. The academic study of religion takes a comparative, global and pluralistic approach, looking at the idea of religion critically and analytically, with as much objectivity as possible, while also attempting to develop and maintain sensitivity to subtle levels of human meaning-making and behavior embodied by particular traditions. Throughout the term we will be examining the problem of classifying and de"ning “religion” (in theory and in practice) and exploring the utility of classical approaches to thinking about and critically analyzing religion as a human endeavor through historical, anthropological and sociological standpoints. In our surveys, we will try to get at a clearer and more critically informed understanding of ways of thinking about religion while looking at: some of the basic features of the worldviews of particular traditions; how various traditions give expression to similar forms of human behavior; how traditions have developed through history and re#ect socio-historical conditions; some of the in#uences that these traditions have had on one another; and the social construction of individual belief and communities of practice. We will be moving quickly through vast and rich traditions, and we should bear in mind that there is much, much more to explore than our short sessions will allow. I hope that our surveys—by no means exhaustive—will open up windows to traditions you may not have been exposed to before, and that, after this course, you might revisit and spend more time in some of these places. I also hope that by the end of the course you will not only have learned certain details of this or that tradition but will have begun to appreciate complex sets of human phenomena on a more critical level and will have cultivated an ability to discern some of the ways in which our lives today shape and are shaped by their powerful in#uence.

Student Outcomes

This course provides a focused opportunity for you to cultivate your global (and local/self) awareness. By the end of the term, you will have initiated and/or enriched... • Engagement with cultural difference(s): learn to de"ne, accurately describe, and compare in a non-evaluative manner, so as to find significant similarities and differences among, forms of observable human behavior—developing a critical appreciation of some of the defuning (meta)narratives, beliefs/knowledge, rites and rituals, symbolics (art, iconography, and architecture), values and mores, modes of discourse, and cultural appropriations that distinguish religious traditions within varying historical, social, and cultural contexts; • Commitment to critical, structural and intersectional analysis: connect and unpack fundamental elements of religious traditions to the ongoing development of political, economic and cultural identities, configured around power relations (frequently intersecting with race, class, gender, and other categories of difference) within diverse contexts; and, • Development of robust, cross-cultural approaches to the study of religion(s): establish and refine a toolkit of responsible, comparative practices and interdisciplinary skills in approaching and understanding cultural (and religious) difference(s), all while considering reflexively our own globally-situated position(s) as it/they impact the relationships we have with religion(s)