Engaging Religions: An Introduction to Religion and Global Affairs
In a religiously diverse and vastly troubled world, how do religious traditions motivate believers to work toward the common good?
“Engaging Religions,” the course title, refers to three things we will examine. First, it describes how religions are intrinsically engaging: they draw in adherents by fulfilling their material, intellectual, and spiritual needs. Second, it specifies what various secular institutions like governments and development organizations must do in pursuing the common good across our planet -- most of whose inhabitants are religious. Finally, it characterizes our work in this class: exploring how various religious traditions conceptualize and work toward the common good in a global context.
We will read historians, social scientists, philosophers, and critical theorists on how to analyze and interpret the role of religion in contemporary life, while examining case studies of how religious practices, beliefs, and identities intersect with issues in global affairs such as inequality, armed conflict, and climate change. In doing so, we will engage how religious traditions from the East and West—from Asian and Abrahamic “world” religions, to a variety of indigenous “local” religions—complicate or complement modern Catholicism's emphasis on integral human development.
American Adventurism in the Muslim World
This course examines US engagement in hotspots across the Muslim world before and after 9/11. In particular focus are nations in South Asia and the Middle East: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and Iraq. We will also look at US relations with important Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, as well as policies toward Israel-Palestine and the Bosnian War in Europe.
US engagement abroad takes many forms, including public diplomacy, trade, sanctions, alliances, covert operations, financial and military aid, and direct military intervention. What are the drivers of American decision-making in the region? Why is there so much anti-American sentiment in Muslim societies? Does peace depend on a critical reassessment of US foreign policy or the reform of a radical Islamist theology? Do certain interpretations of religion make conflict inevitable, or is it possible to attain reasonable outcomes even when dealing with extremists? Through a blend of history, investigative journalism, case studies, opinion polls, literature, and film, this course broadens our perspectives on some of America’s longest wars in the Muslim world.
In this course, we will survey influential figures and ideas from the Buddhist philosophical tradition, especially as embodied in the work of Indian and Tibetan Buddhist philosophers.
We will focus in particular on formulating and evaluating four distinctively Buddhist philosophical theses: no-self, impermanence, dependent origination, and emptinessIn this course, we will survey influential figures and ideas from the Buddhist philosophical tradition, especially as embodied in the work of Indian and Tibetan Buddhist philosophers.
This course is an introductory course on Christian and Islamic theologies that are inspired by the lives of, constructed through the lens of, and informed by the intersectional struggles of Christian and Muslim women. The course is divided into three major units. The first unit will be dedicated to analyzing the connection between secular feminist epistemologies and theories with the rise of Christian and Islamic feminist theologies. The second unit will consist of an exploration of different themes in Christian feminist theologies (Christology(ies), Ecclesiology(ies), and interreligious dialogue). Finally, the third unit of the course will provide an inquiry into core topics in Islamic feminist theologies (Quranic hermeneutics, formation of tradition and authorities, and interreligious dialogue).
The questions that the course aims to engage are: What are the major perspectives in Christian and Islamic feminist theologies? What makes a theology "feminist" and what make other theologies are not? How do women's lives inform the formation of a "feminist theology"? How do Christian and Islamic feminist theologies respond to the challenges of gendered, structural violence? The course aims to invite students to critically engage with the work of Christian and Muslim feminist theologians, especially those of colors. Furthermore, though some readings will seek to provide historical insight into the places of women in Early and Medieval Christian and Islamic traditions, this course significantly focuses on the work of contemporary Christian and Muslim feminist theologians with an eye towards intersectional forms of oppression (racial, gender, and class-based) suffered by Christian and Muslim women of color.
Cast Out! Identity, Belonging, and Religious Difference in American Literature
Many places of worship hang a sign of invitation: All Are Welcome! But what happens when an aspect of an individual's identity or beliefs comes into conflict with their religious community? Which differences are tolerated, and which are shunned? Who belongs, and who is cast out? From Nathaniel Hawthorne's short stories to Kendrick Lamar’s hip hop albums, the American literary imagination has long been interested in examining the conflicts between identity—race, gender, sexuality, class, and disability—and religion.
Together we will read a variety of American literature, including poetry, science-fiction, drama, and literary essays, paying attention to religious outcasts, misfits, and minoritized peoples as they search for belonging within established communities, or attempt to forge new spaces for themselves. Readings will include James Baldwin, N. Scott Momaday, Tony Kushner, Octavia Butler, more contemporary writing by Molly McCully Brown and R.O. Kwon, as well as music, film, and podcasts
Travels to Medieval Holy Lands, Otherworlds, and the “New Worlds”
Medieval literature abounds with tales of travel. Celtic, Norse, and British authors created an exciting array of narratives about journeys through far-flung, fantastical, and holy places, and transformative encounters with new people, landscapes, and ideas. While these stories often depict the distant and unfamiliar, they also reveal that which is “close to home,” shedding new light on the identities and beliefs of travelers and audience members alike.
In this course we will explore the genre of travel literature through a variety of texts, both sacred and secular (adventure and voyage tales, pilgrimage accounts, sagas, hagiographies, etc.). In our conversations, papers, and, if students choose, creative work, we will analyze the ideas, motifs, and compositional goals that animate these works and examine the implications that they hold, with respect to both the cultures from which they originate, and ourselves as contemporary readers (or vicarious journeyers). We will read both a range of primary literary texts and recent critical essays. Primary texts include the Voyage of St. Brendan, the Welsh Mabinogi, the Vinland Sagas, the Book of Margery Kempe, and the Travels of Sir John Mandeville (all available in modern English, some excerpted). Students will be asked to write two papers (or one paper and one creative project with analytical reflection), take a written exam, and give a presentation, as well as to participate regularly in class discussions.