Courses and Requirements
The goal of the Religious Studies Department is to provide students with an expansive, self-reflective, and critical understanding of the complexity of diverse religious traditions, engaging in a variety of approaches, methods, and theories.
Concentrators will fulfill the Social, Structural, and Institutional Hierarchies requirement by completing 291.
A minor consists of five courses, including one Writing Intensive 100-level course, 291, and at least one 300 level course.
Courses from other departments and institutions may be approved for concentration or minor credit through a petition to the chair of the department. Normally, no more than two credits earned away from Hamilton will count towards the concentration.
No courses for the concentration or minor can be taken credit/no credit.
Religion and Politics in the Bible.
Close reading of selections from the Jewish Bible (Old Testament) that address the nature of political leadership, the nation, justice, and the best form of government. Examination of the relation between religion and politics in the Bible and in the Israelite nation. Comparison with works from other cultures (Greece, Rome, Islamic world) that focus on justice, the role of religion in politics, or biographies of political leaders. In addition to the Bible, readings may include Sophocles’ Antigone, Machiavelli’s The Prince, the Roman Stoics, and Arabic political texts. (Writing-intensive.) Maximum enrollment, 18. Ravven.
Race, Ethnicity, and Religion in America.
This course explores the complex ways in which race, ethnicity, and religion—as components of both individual and group identities—have been related in American history from the colonial period to the present day. (Social, Structural, and Institutional Hierarchies.) Newell.
Ancient Jewish Wisdom.
Exploration of major themes in the Jewish Bible (Old Testament). Shemesh.
Cross-cultural comparison of the parable. Emphasis given to parable as a form of religious speech. Includes selections from Jesus, Zen masters, Borges and Galeano. (Writing-intensive.) Maximum enrollment, 18.
Religious Diversity in the USA.
Religious diversity has been noted in big cities like New York and Los Angeles. But smaller cities like Utica have also diversified, seeing unprecedented population shifts in recent years. This course will take advantage of our proximity to Utica, and explore the mosques, temples, synagogues, and churches that exist there today, as well as explore the rich religious history of Central New York, including the Great Awakenings, Utopian communities, and recent immigration patterns. (Writing-intensive.) This course is only open to first years. Maximum enrollment, 16. S Brent Rodriguez-Plate.
Encountering Hinduism: Sacrifice, Soul, and Image.
This survey examines historical and current practices of Hinduism in a variety of social and religious contexts. It introduces students to essential beliefs, doctrines, institutions, and popular practices of Hinduism. Readings are drawn from the Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas, Epics and devotional poetry. Its multi-disciplinary approach draws upon literary, artist and performative sources including popular media and film. Not open to seniors.
Native American Spiritualities.
In order to develop a broad understanding of the religious lives of Native Americans, we explore diverse practices and worldviews. We begin with an examination of how Native American worldviews are unique and differ from modern-Western worldviews. With this grounding, we delve into explorations of the multifaceted history of Native American traditions including the Ghost Dance, the Sun Dance, religious freedom issues pertaining to the use of peyote, struggles over sacred places, and complex native engagements with Christianity. (Writing-intensive.) (Same as American Studies 129.) Maximum enrollment, 16. Schermerhorn.
Who owns Christianity? By the twenty-first century, the heartland of Christianity has shifted from Europe and North America to the Global South (Latin America, Africa, and Asia). Topics include the global reach of Christian missions and local appropriations of Christianity. (Writing-intensive.) Maximum enrollment, 18. Seth Schermerhorn.
Holocaust Literature and Films.
An examination of victims, perpetrators, rescuers, resistors, and bystanders through selected memoirs, fiction, documentaries, and other films. Students who take the course as 332 will have longer writing assignments including a longer research paper or creative project. (Writing-intensive.) (Social, Structural, and Institutional Hierarchies.) Maximum enrollment, 18.
American Freedom and Protestant Thought.
The Bible has been used throughout American history to justify various oppressions including slavery, gender inequality, and homophobia. Through exploring the biblical material that has historically supported such injustices, and the religious thought that has contributed to liberation movements, this course will seek to discover the meanings of the defining American mantra of “freedom.” We will examine such “theological” thinkers as Jefferson, Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Reinhold Niebuhr, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and James Baldwin. (Writing-intensive.) (Proseminar.) Experiential Learning: 20 hours of a community-based internship in a local non-profit is a required component of this class. Maximum enrollment, 16. Jeff McArn.
Americanism, Ballots, and Consumption: The ABCs of American Religion.
This course explores a variety of roles religion has played in American culture(s) and some of the ways that American culture has influenced Americans’ religious practices. We will focus on three areas: identity (Americanism), politics (Ballots), and economics (Consumption). In particular, we will consider how religion is involved in the construction of American identity and the exclusion of some people from American polity; how religion is (and is not) intertwined with our political system; and how religion affects – and is affected by – Americans’ economic practices (Same as American Studies 134.) Newell.
Ancient Healing and Magic.
The world of antiquity was populated with spirits and invisible forces, and with attempts to breach the divide between this world and others. What did people hope to accomplish when they wore an amulet, threw sheep knuckles as dice in consulting an oracle, wrote on a curse tablet, or offered votives to a god? This course examines miracles and magic as modes of intervention, focusing on the first through fifth centuries CE. We will discuss the technologies of facilitating such encounter and multiple categories of magical activity through attention to archaeological artifacts and ancient texts. Griffis.
The Sacred in South Asia.
What constitutes the sacred in south Asia? Is it a person, place, river, hill, temple or nature/ecology? Where and how did the notion of sacrality emerge in South Asia? Is it linked exclusively to religious institutions or is it found in the daily lives of people? This course will examine these questions by exploring the multiple religious traditions of South Asia and examining their essential beliefs, doctrines, institutions, rituals and popular practices through a study of texts, material culture, films and ethnographic accounts. (Writing-intensive.) Maximum enrollment, 16.
An introduction to origins, essential beliefs, popular practices and institutions of Buddhism. Examines the life of Buddha, his teachings (Dharma) and Buddhist communities through a range of Buddhist texts, art and archaeological sources. (Writing-intensive.) Open to all students (Same as History 144.) Maximum enrollment, 18. Abhishek Amar.
World Films, World Faiths.
Introduces the practices and beliefs of several major world religions (including Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism) through the medium of film. Exploring Japanese anime, Indonesia documentaries, video films from Ghana, Bollywood mythologicals, Jesus-films from Latin America, Korean-Buddhist films, contemporary fictional glimpses into Jewish life, and more, shows how religious people live and struggle and find joy, by using the audio-visual medium of film. Evening film screenings.
Pop Culture/Pop Religion.
Looking at graphic novels and comics, listening to music, watching television and playing video games can all lead us to understand religion. Religion may be about ancient texts and doctrines, but it is also reconceived in the present day through popular cultural texts. Alternates between popular culture artifacts and theories of religion, allowing students to rethink the religious underpinnings of much "secular" popular culture, but also to rethink the idea of religion as well.
Religion in the Wild.
Jesus, Moses, Siddharta, and Mohammed all had significant experiences in the wilderness. These experiences shaped their lives and the religious traditions that they helped found. We will read philosophers, mystics, and spiritual seekers who have gone to untamed spaces for inspiration, right up to the present day. The course begins with a mandatory designated XA orientation trip in August. (Writing-intensive.) Instructor's Permission Only. (Same as Environmental Studies 155.) Maximum enrollment, 10. S Brent Rodriguez-Plate.
Introduction to the study of Islam as an everyday lived religion. The course uses interdisciplinary approaches to understanding Muslim beliefs, practices, and institutional practices. Particular focus on questions of revelation, devotion, law, spirituality, and aesthetics. Students develop facility with analyzing Islamic texts and material culture. (Same as Asian Studies 160.) Usman Hamid.
The Education of Desire.
A close reading of Spinoza's masterpiece, The Ethics, with a view to understanding its contemporary implications in the light of the new brain sciences. (Writing-intensive.) Prerequisite, One course in Religious Studies or Philosophy. Maximum enrollment, 18.
Pirates, Ports, and Piety: Religion Across the Indian Ocean World.
Long before the modern rise of globalization, the Indian Ocean world was defined by the movements of itinerant merchants, saints, pilgrims, and adventurers across the political boundaries of empires and kingdoms. What role did religion and the bonds of faith play in empowering the kinds of mobility and circulation characteristic of the Indian Ocean? This course will use the ports of south India and Sri Lanka as launching points to trace the circulation of religious objects, people, and ideas across the Indian Ocean.
Islamic History and Culture.
An interdisciplinary exploration of Muslim societies from the 7th century to the present. Beginning with the origins of Islam, the history of the Quran, and the biography of the Prophet, the course examines how questions of political authority, religious practice, and cultural exchange were navigated as the Muslim community developed. We read texts from Islam’s rich literary heritage and pay close attention to the ways in which the Muslim past continues to animate contemporary debates, practices, and imagination. (Same as History 209 and Asian Studies 209.)
Religion in Film.
Study of the religious in film. Focus on the relationship between myth-making in film and post-modern culture. (Same as American Studies 215.)
Coming of Age.
This course presents several case studies of adolescent rites of passage, including the Navajo Kinaaldá puberty ceremony, gender socialization of Hasidic adolescents in Brooklyn, and youth innovation among Latina gang members in Northern California. Students examine ways in which these adolescent girls and boys navigate coming of age through rituals, observances and obligations, and the communities’ policing of adolescent behavior through discourses about childhood, adulthood, and change. (Writing-intensive.) Maximum enrollment, 18. Meredith Moss.
Indigenous Revitalization Movements.
This course examines cultural and linguistic revitalization efforts among various cultural groups, particularly indigenous peoples of North America. This interdisciplinary course will draw from the fields of anthropology, religious studies, linguistics, and education in order to study the history of traditional religious and linguistic practices in several communities and the various forms of revitalization efforts programs being used. (Writing-intensive.) Maximum enrollment, 18. Moss.
History of Iran.
This course traces the history of Iran from Late Antiquity to the modern period. It looks beyond the geographic territory of the modern nation state of Iran and considers the impact of Persian culture in the Middle East, Central Asia, and South Asia. Topics include the cultural and political legacy of pre-Islamic Iran; the impact of the Arab conquest; the Perso-Islamic cultural synthesis; the rise of Turkic and Mongolian dynasties; the emergence of Shi’ism as a state religion in the early modern period; and social and political roots of the Iranian revolution in the twentieth century. (Same as Asian Studies 228 and History 228.) Usman Hamid.
Religion and Language.
This course examines complex relationships between the categories of ‘religion’ and ‘language,’ particularly the ways in which discourse and linguistic variation constitute social groups and police social boundaries. In particular, we will use tools of critical discourse analysis to extrapolate ideologies at work in various discursive communities and communities of practice. (Writing-intensive.) Maximum enrollment, 18.
What is pilgrimage? Why do people go on pilgrimages? We begin to answer these questions by exploring pilgrimage traditions from across the globe to see religions, not as static, but as dynamic, living, and in motion. In attending to movement--crawling, walking, dancing, riding, driving, or flying--we investigate how traveling across sacred landscapes connects pilgrims with the places they travel through as well as those who have gone before them. Topics may include methods and theories in pilgrimage studies from the Americas and Europe. (Writing-intensive.) Maximum enrollment, 18. Seth Schermerhorn.
Native American Religious Freedom.
Is American religious freedom a reality, an unfinished project, or merely a myth? This course explores how Native Americans have struggled for religious freedom in the United States, focusing on contemporary legal battles to protect sacred lands, repatriate ancestral remains and objects, and defend the ceremonial consumption of peyote. (Writing-intensive.) (Same as American Studies 239 and Government 239.) Maximum enrollment, 18. Seth Schermerhorn.
Religion in the American West.
This course explores and considers three themes in the history of religion in the American West: migrations (movement in and out of the region), locations (the designation of particular places as special), and adaptations (changes over time, in response to changing conditions). The course will use a variety of primary and secondary sources – some texts, but also films, photographs, and other kinds of sources. Students will also do their own research and contribute to the construction of a website about the religious history of the American West. (Writing-intensive.) (Same as American Studies 241.) Maximum enrollment, 18.
The Rise and Fall of David.
A literary reading of the biblical Book of Samuel as historical and political fiction. Comparison with other great works of literature on political themes. (Writing-intensive.) (Proseminar.) Maximum enrollment, 16.
Indigenous Oral Traditions.
This course examines various elements of indigenous oral traditions, including oral literatures, such as creation stories, narratives, oratory, and song. We will study the indigenous modes of performance, such as tone and pitch, gestures, silence, back-channeling, turn-taking, taking of floor, and traditional openings and closings. We will also examine intercultural communication in order to analyze communicative norms, including conversational norms, metaphors, puns, and humor. (Writing-intensive.) Maximum enrollment, 18. Moss.
Is religion a source of conflict in the modern world? Investigates examples of religious difference and negotiation from Asia and Europe. Focus on political and religious differences over sacred space, conversion, and Love-Jihad, and interactions among Hindus and Muslims in India. (Same as History 244.) Abhishek Amar.
Religion and Gender in American History.
In this course students examine the ways in which religious ideas have shaped Americans’ conceptions and performances of femininity and masculinity, and vice versa. Using case studies from the colonial period through contemporary times, we will explore the ways in which religion both constrained the performance of gender and the ways women and men found (and, sometimes, created) liberating resources within religious traditions. We will pay particular attention to the intersection of religion and gender with race, class, and sexuality. (Same as Women's and Gender Studies 247.)
Sacred Space in South Asia.
This course examines the complex relationship between space, society, and religious identity in South Asia, past and present. The course will draw upon Buddhist, Hindu, and Islamic materials to analyze the ways in which the idea of ‘sacred space’ has been used in political, social, and legal contexts for decidedly secular objectives. (Social, Structural, and Institutional Hierarchies.) Friedrich.
Apocalypse Now and Then.
The end of the world has always been with us. In ancient Hebrew literature, apocalypse was a literary genre that was intended to get people to change their ways. In contemporary media, from television and film to graphic novels, it becomes a trope that signals the end of the world, imaged in grand cataclysmic fashion, and aided by computerized graphics. Through films, literature, sacred texts, and special collections in the library, students will survey the range of media of apocalypse, and will ask questions about why the world seems to always be ending. Open to all class years. Cross-listed with CNMS 251 Rodríguez-Plate.
Islam in South Asia.
An exploration of the rich history of Islam in South Asia with a particular focus on the pre-colonial period. Beginning with questions of Islam’s arrival to South Asia, we shall explore the rise of Muslim polities and communities in North India, the proliferation of Sufism across the subcontinent, and the elaboration of Sultanate court culture before focusing on the political, cultural, and religious landscape of Mughal Empire. The course will conclude with a discussion of the impact of colonial rule, modernity, and nationalism in South Asia. (Same as Asian Studies 256 and History 256.) Usman Hamid.
The New Testament.
A critical introduction to the literature and history of New Testament Christianity. (Writing-intensive.) Maximum enrollment, 18. Humphries-Brooks.
Religion and Politics in Spinoza.
Study of the Radical Enlightenment political theory of the philosopher Spinoza, who greatly influenced American Revolutionary thinking. We will pay special attention to Spinoza’s insistence on the privatization of religions in the modern polity and his invention of a civil religion to bolster democratic institutions and freedoms. Ravven.
The Self Beyond Itself.
The Self Beyond Itself: Ethics, Science, and Religion.Multidisciplinary Study of why and when people are ethical --and why and when they are not. Review of contemporary research of neuroscientists on the moral capacity. (Proseminar.) Maximum enrollment, 16. H Ravven. (Writing-intensive.) (Proseminar.) Next offered Fall 2018. Maximum enrollment, 16.
Islamic and Jewish Political Philosophy.
Students examine the history of political philosophy in the medieval Islamic world. We begin with early debates about the value of philosophy versus prophecy. Students analyze key works by Muslim and Jewish thinkers who navigated the relationships between religion, politics, and philosophy. Along the way we discuss approaches to divine law, the figure of the philosopher-prophet, logic and language, and human perfection. (Writing-intensive.) Maximum enrollment, 18. Shemesh.
Philosophy as Spiritual Quest.
Exploration of the spiritual power attributed to philosophy by religious philosophers from classical Greece to modern times through readings from Greek, Jewish, Islamic and/or Christian philosophical works. (Writing-intensive.) Prerequisite, One course in philosophy and/or religious studies. (Same as Philosophy 281.) Maximum enrollment, 18. Ravven.
Scholars imagine, analyze, and interpret religions in a wide variety of ways. This Seminar explores phenomena from multiple religions, drawing upon a range of disciplines including history of religion, textual studies, material and visual culture, and ethnography. Students will engage in inter-disciplinary interpretive projects in collaboration with faculty of the Religious Studies department. (Proseminar.) Prerequisite, One Religious Studies course or consent. Maximum enrollment, 16. Amar and Schermerhorn.
Buddhism, Business and State.
Buddhism is often presented as a rational and spiritual philosophy that does not promote either sociopolitical engagements or ritual practices. Questioning this protestant/text-based understanding of Buddhism, this course will examine Buddhist engagements with trade and mercantile communities, state and imperial powers, and ritual and devotional practices in premodern India. Learning about the everyday life of Buddhist monasteries offers insights into today’s connections between religious, economic, and government life. Maximum enrollment, 12. Amar.
Religion and Media.
Investigates the role of various media in shaping religious traditions especially Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Hinduism. Beginning with studies of orality and literacy, we move into the impact of the printing press, then electronic media including Internet and video games. Prerequisite, one course in religious studies or consent of instructor. Maximum enrollment, 12. Rodriguez-Plate.
Asian Temples in a Digital World.
Examination of Asian religions in ritual, bodily, and spatial contexts. Discussions of textual and visual sources on human ritual interactions with gods; the use and layout of temples and altars, including food offerings, music, dance, representations of deities; and meditation and internal alchemy. Readings in scholarly sources, instruction in digital historical methods of collecting and analyzing materials on the web. Writing assignments include short essays and a final research project of the student’s design to be presented with text and images in digital form. (Writing-intensive.) (Same as History 309 and Asian Studies 309.) Maximum enrollment, 12. Thomas Wilson.
Seminar: Religion and Environment.
This interdisciplinary seminar explores the traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) of indigenous peoples. Drawing upon scholarship from such diverse fields as acoustic ecology, ethno-ecology, ethnography, geography, environmental history, Native American and Indigenous Studies, and religious studies, we will examine indigenous knowledge about particular species and relationships between them. (Same as Environmental Studies 310.) Maximum enrollment, 12.
Seminar Religion and Modern Art.
Investigates the ways religious traditions have continued to influence the visual arts into the modern and postmodern periods. Topics range from the theosophical inclinations of Kandinsky and Mondrian to the mystical inclinations of abstract expressionism, from the "blasphemous" images of Ernst and Dix to the meditational video work of Gary Hill and Bill Viola. Media covered include painting, sculpture, video, architecture, and film. Recent exhibitions such as "Negotiating Rapture," "Traces du Sacre" and "The Third Mind" will be discussed. Prerequisite, one course in religious studies or art history. Includes mandatory two-day trip to NYC. Maximum enrollment, 12.
Jesus and the Gospels.
A comprehensive introduction to the four Gospels, with special emphasis on the nature of early Christian views of Jesus. (Writing-intensive.) Prerequisite, one course in religious studies. Next offered Spring 2019. Maximum enrollment, 18. Humphries-Brooks.
Raging Gods: Scorsese and Coppola’s Religious Films.
The religious in the films of Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola. As American New Wave auteurs they contribute to the emergence of a new sacramental style in American film. We pay attention to the film traditions that inform their development, e.g. Italian neo-realism, horror, film noir and French New Wave. A look at the influence of their Roman-Catholic, Italian-American religious culture. Prerequisite, two courses in religious studies and/or cinema & new media studies or consent of instructor. (Same as American Studies 321.) Maximum enrollment, 12. Humphries-Brooks.
Art of Devotion: Visual and Material Culture of Islam.
What is the relationship between aesthetics, material culture, and religious experience? In this course we explore this question by examining the aesthetic traditions of Islam, focusing on how Muslims have used literature, visual art, musical performance, and architecture as modes of religious expression and creativity. Through studying aesthetics and devotion in the Islamic tradition, we will reflect on questions of cultural appropriation and reuse, politics of representation, and the global circulation of objects, peoples, and capital. (Writing-intensive.) Prerequisite, one 200-level course in Asian Studies, History, or Religious Studies. (Same as Art History 329 and Asian Studies 329 and History 329.) Maximum enrollment, 12. Usman Hamid.
Topic: Seminar in American Religions.
Topic for 2019: Mormonism in America and the World. The United States is one of the most religious of the world’s industrialized nations, so understanding the nation requires an understanding of religion’s role in American history and culture. This course provides an in-depth examination of selected themes in American religious history, culminating in student-driven research projects. (Writing-intensive.) Prerequisite, One course in American history or Religious Studies, or instructor consent. Maximum enrollment, 12. Newell.
Survey of a variety of Christianities, diversity in the two thousand year global history of Christianity, the history of Christianity among the indigenous peoples of the Americas since 1492 with a focus on the present. The bulk of the course will delve into the diversity and complexity of contemporary indigenous engagements with Christianity. Maximum enrollment, 12. Schermerhorn.
Can a secular nation have sacred texts? How do writings achieve that status, and what results? We’ll ask these questions of works dating from before the US’s founding to the current day. We’ll consider how and why groups have taken specific texts as authoritative and how these documents have shaped understandings of what it means to be human, live well, and be American, among other “big questions.” Possible readings include essays, speeches, stories, and poems from the Declaration of Independence and The Book of Mormon to MLK’s "I Have a Dream" and Beyoncé’s performance of “Lift Every Voice.” Prerequisite, Two courses in Literature or Religious Studies, or consent of instructors. (History). (Same as Literature and Creative Writing 349.) Maximum enrollment, 24. Quincy Newell, Benj Widiss.
Seminar: Death, Dying and the Afterlife.
How do humans prepare to die? What happens to the soul after death? What techniques are used to achieve immortality or better afterlife? Examines death and the afterlife from medical, philosophical and religious perspectives, focusing on Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam. (Writing-intensive.) Not open to those who have taken Religious Studies 119 or 248 Maximum enrollment, 12. A Amar.
Seminar: Religion, Art and Visual Culture.
What do the visual arts tell us about religions in ways that written texts alone cannot? How do religious practices actually train religious people to see? Such questions will begin our examination of various media (including painting, calligraphy, architecture, film, and comics) in conjunction with various religious traditions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism). Prerequisite, one course in either art history or religious studies. Required weekend field trip to New York City. (Same as Art History 375.) Maximum enrollment, 12. Rodriguez-Plate.
Seminar: History of Gods.
This historiography course offers a comparative study of how gods have been conceived and venerated in early Mediterranean and Asian societies. Students read liturgical texts, hymns and myths to consider the variety of conceptions of gods and the range of ritual forms used to venerate them across the Euro-Asian continent. Draws from theoretical readings to consider such problems as polytheism and monotheism, myth and ritual. Each student shall determine in consultation with the faculty whether his or her written work will focus on historiography or research. (Writing-intensive.) Prerequisite, one 200-level History course. (Same as History 396.) Maximum enrollment, 16.
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Senior Project Seminar.
Students perfect research skills necessary for the senior project. Keeping their project in mind, students review relevant literature, develop conceptual and theoretical frameworks, and collect and study source materials. Subsequently they submit a proposal, abstract, annotated bibliography and drafts leading to the final project. Emphasis given to analysis of structural, institutional, and social categories of race, class, gender, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexuality, age, and abilities/disabilities. Prerequisite, Restricted to senior majors in Religious Studies. Maximum enrollment, 12. Amar.
A project resulting in a substantial essay supervised by a member of the department. Prerequisite, consent of instructor. Open to qualified students. The Department.
Continuation of the honors project resulting in a substantial essay supervised by a member of the department. Prerequisite, consent of instructor. Open to qualified students. The Department.
(from the Hamilton Course Catalogue)