EXCITING Spring 2016 Religious Studies Courses!


RELS 101.001: Approaches to Religion:  Sacred and Special Stuff

Prof. Matthew Cressler   Section 001 (TR 10:50 – 12:05)    ECTR 116

When we hear the word “religion,” the first thing that probably comes to mind is belief. But when we actually encounter religion in the world, we soon find ourselves face to face with lots of stuff: rosary beads and hijabs, gongs and incense, prayer shawls and peace pipes, amulets and daggers and dolls. This course will introduce students to the academic study of religion through an exploration of some of the stuff – meaning, physical objects and material culture – that is significant for Christians in the Americas, Muslims in Africa, and Buddhists in southeast Asia. And, in the process, we will consider one of the most central questions for religious studies: what makes some stuff special or “sacred.”

RELS 101.002: Approaches to Religion:  Life After Death

Prof. Lee Irwin  Section 002 (MWF 10:00 – 10:50)          ECTR 103

This course is a comparative introduction to religion organized around the theme of death, soul concepts, and a variety of beliefs about life after death. In terms of culture areas, the theme will be internationalized by looking at a variety of model cultures: Hinduism and Buddhism in India; ancient Mediterranean religions; Judaism and Christianity in Europe and America; Islam in the Middle East; and Daoist and Confucian beliefs in China. The organization of the course starts with the culture areas and examine attitudes and religious beliefs in life after death among the religions of the world – this portion of the course will emphasize theories in comparative religions. In Buddhism we will discuss a book by a world famous Tibetan Buddhist leader on the after death process of rebirth and in Christianity we will look at an esoteric Christian writer on sacred cosmology. Toward the end of the course, we will look at current research on life after death, in relation to a variety of studies linked to scientific investigation of post-mortem life independent of theories in religion or philosophy.

RELS 101.003/04: Approaches to Religion:  Evil and Suffering

Prof Louise Doire  Section 003 (TH 12:15 – 01:30)    ECTR 103

Section 004  (TH 01:40 – 02:55)     ECTR 103

This course is an introduction to the academic study of religion through a particular theme. In this course we will focus our study on the topics of good and evil, and human suffering.  Our examination will incorporate theological (when applicable) understandings and cultural constructions of these themes as they have been presented in Judaism, Christianity and Buddhism. The human experience of evil and suffering has been and continues to be a fundamental element of theological, religious and cultural ideology. As we proceed in our academic study, each student will be challenged to examine the theological, religious and cultural influences that have shaped and informed their own understanding of the universal experience of evil, the “Good,” and human suffering.

RELS 105.01: Introduction to World Religions

Prof Margaret Cormack  Section 001 (MWF 11:00 – 11:50)     ECTR 103

The goal of this course is to introduce you to the beliefs, practices, and history of the major religions of the world. We will approach each tradition impartially, studying its beliefs concerning divinity/ies, the universe, the place and obligations of human beings within that universe, the afterlife, and how these beliefs were represented in cultural artifacts – poetry, statues, temples, and sacred texts. We will consider how the beliefs developed and how they relate to the societies that adhere to them. You will learn how people from different cultures look at the world, and how to think critically and sympathetically about a variety of world-views.

RELS 105.02/03: Introduction to World Religions

Prof June McDaniel  Section 003 (TR 09:25 – 10:40)    ECTR 103

Section 004 (TR 10:50 – 12:05)    ECTR 103

This course will examine a wide variety of religions, including  indigenous religions (Hawaiian, Australian, African, Inuit), Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Ancient Near Eastern religions, Rastafarianism, varieties of shamanism and new religious movements.  We shall discuss their beliefs and rituals, and assignments will include visits to religious sites in Charleston.  There will be films and guest speakers, three tests and two papers.

RELS 115.01:  Religion and Society in India & Tibet

Prof. Zeff Bjerken     Section 001 (TR 08:00 – 09:15)   ECTR 219

This course is an introduction to two Asian religious traditions, Hinduism and Buddhism, and how they have shaped the societies of India and Tibet. The course will survey forms of social organization (e.g. the caste system, religious hierarchies, the status of women, monastic life), and the practices and beliefs of Hindus and Buddhists, including their origin myths, life cycle rituals, and their ethical norms. In particular we will examine the religious and political reforms of Mahatma Gandhi and the Dalai Lama, two of the most important leaders of the twentieth century.  The non-violent ideals of Gandhi and the Dalai Lama present us with an alternative to our modern consumer-oriented technological culture, where people seek what they are programmed to seek. This course will really encourage you to “Think Different,” as the Apple computer advertisements that once featured both Gandhi and the Dalai Lama put it.

RELS 120.01:  Religion, Art, and Culture:  Searching for the Sacred in the Art, Food, and Music of the South

Prof. Zeff Bjerken   Section 001 (TR 12:15 – 01:30)     ECTR 219

This course will introduce students to unusual expressions of the sacred in the American South, including Southern  “outsider” art, “soul food,” and “soul music,” including the jazz of New Orleans. We begin by reading the studies of two “Road Scholars” who interpret unusual forms of religiosity while they undertake a common American ritual: the road trip. On their journeys they encounter religion on the margins of the South, yet they reveal themes that are central to religious life in America: prophecy and the apocalypse, pilgrimage and the desire to recreate sacred time and space, and creativity as religious devotion. Then we move to New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz, where we will examine the relationship between African religions, voodoo, jazz funerals and parades, and Mardi Gras Indians. We will rely on texts that combine travel narrative, story-telling and religious study, as well as films and the HBO series Treme, to gain insight into the sacred art, rituals, and stories that inspire faith and create ties that bind communities together.

RELS 185.01:  Women and Religion

Prof. Louise Doire     Section 001 (MW 04:00 – 05:15)       ECTR 103

In this course students will examine two aspects of “woman” as she has been encountered in human religious history, i.e., through the religious roles of women, and representations of the divine feminine. Attention will be paid to religiously and culturally constructed gender ideology and role expectations. These roles will include the priestess, the holy virgin, the saint, the martyr and the mystic. Treatment of the divine feminine will focus on images of the goddess through various historical time periods and cultures. The methodology will consist of analysis through historical, comparative and feminist criticism.

RELS 201.01/02: Hebrew Bible:  History and Interpretation

Prof. John Huddlestun     Section 001 (MWF  11:00 –  11:50)    ECTR 219

Section 002 (MWF 12:00 – 12:50)    ECTR 103

In this course, the student is introduced to the academic study of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, examining issues of its composition, historical development, and interpretation (ancient and modern). Particular genres or types of biblical literature are interpreted within their wider ancient Near Eastern context (creation and cosmos, biblical laws, wisdom traditions, etc.). In reading and analyzing selected portions of the Hebrew scriptures, students will be exposed to various historical-critical, literary, and archaeological interpretations of the text. Topics covered include the covenant theme in Genesis and beyond, kingship in ancient Israel, the exodus event (history and archaeology), the biblical legal tradition (covenant code, Ten Commandments), the role of prophets and the nature of ancient Israelite prophecy, the Davidic king-messiah and messianic expectation, biblical wisdom literature (e.g., Job, Qohelet), and love poetry (Song of Songs). A primary goal of the course is to instill in the student an acute awareness of and appreciation for the underlying strategies and ideologies that informed the composition of the biblical and other ancient texts, as well as the cultures that produced them.

RELS 210.01:  Theories in the Study of Religions

Prof. Todd LeVasseur     Section 001 (TR 09:25 – 10:40)     ECTR 219

As a theoretical introduction to the academic study of religion, this course surveys a number of important debates in the history of religious studies, such as the insider/outsider problem, definitions of religion, theories on the origins of religion, the comparison of religions, and religion’s psychological, sociological and political functions.

RELS 248.01/02:  Religions of China & Japan                         

Prof. Elijah Siegler      Section 001 (MWF 09:00 – 09:50)  ECTR 219

Section 002 (MWF 10:00 – 10:50)   ECTR 219        

This course provides an overview of the history, worldviews, and practices of Chinese and Japanese religions. We begin with the earliest period of Chinese history, the Shang dynasty (ca. 1550-ca. 1030 B.C.E.), and end with the present day. Although we will consider discrete traditions such as Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism, Shinto, and various new religious movements, we pay special attention to thematic issues (religion and the state; religion and popular culture; religious change) and contemporary issues in East Asian religions, including their internationalization.  Students will read excerpts from important primary sources.

RELS 250.01:  Religions of America

Prof. Matthew Cressler   Section 001 (TR 04:30 – 05:45)      ECTR 219

Some people call the United States of America a “Christian nation” while others consider it the most religiously diverse nation in the world. What is the history of religion in America? What does American religious life look like today? And what does it mean to call something an “American religion” in the first place? Students will engage each of these questions as they are introduced to religion in the American past and present. Students will explore topics ranging from encounters between Native Americans, Europeans, and Africans in the colonial Americas to the rise of American evangelicalism to Islam and Atheism in the post-9/11 United States. Special attention will be paid religion in “the Holy City,” with trips to significant sites around Charleston.

RELS 298.01:  Special Topics:  Spirituality, Madness and Healing       

Prof. June McDaniel    Section 001 (TR 01:40 – 02:55)      ECTR 219

This course will deal with the religious aspects of healing and healers, and examine illness, healing, and religion in cross-cultural perspective.  There will be a special focus on understandings of body, mind and spirit in both Asian and Western traditions.  We shall look at alternative medical traditions which are dependent on non-traditional understandings of body and spirit:  ayurveda, acupuncture, kundalini, indigenous shamanic healing, and faith healing, as well as responses to culture-bound syndromes explored by ethnopsychology.  We shall see how mental and physical illnesses are framed in a meaningful context, and the role of religious, spiritual, and moral concerns.   We shall also question the ways that modern Western psychology determines mental illness, by exploring alternative understandings of consciousness.  There will be three tests, and two papers.

RELS 360.01:  Myth, Ritual & Symbols

Prof. John Huddlestun  3 Credit Hours Section 001 (MW 04:00 – 05:15)  MYBK 119

Since its inception, the field of religious studies and related disciplines have struggled to address both the meaning of and interrelationships among the three central topics of myth, ritual/performance and symbol. Drawing from the vast literature in religious studies, anthropology, and sociology, we will address a number of questions and concerns across a range of religious, social, and political situations. Do myths, rituals and symbols reflect reality, or create it? Do (or must) myths or symbols have universal meaning? What is the relationship between myth and ritual? Must one precede the other? Do rituals simply reflect one’s belief or worldview or do they create it? What is the place of myth, ritual, and symbol in human social and political life?

What about secular rituals or rituals that are performed incorrectly or fail? How would one determine (or who would determine) that a ritual had failed? Following a reading of some influential figures and selected responses to their work, we will focus on a number theoretical issues relating especially to ritual, and on how myth, ritual, and symbol are created, used (or abused), revised, reinvented and given authority in modern life (e.g., birth, death, circumcision, abortion, political contexts, etc.), and ways in which they legitimate or reinforce existing religious and socio-political institutions.

RELS 375.01:  History of Religions:  Religions of Scandinavia

Prof. Margaret Cormack 3 Credit Hours  Section 001 (MW 02:00 – 03:15)  ECTR 219

This interdisciplinary course will examine the religions of Scandinavia, and evaluate the evidence and sources for myths, beliefs and practices from the prehistoric period to the nineteenth century.  The course will cover two conversions, from paganism to Christianity and from Catholicism to Lutheranism, and discuss how these events changed conceptions about the otherworld and the various kinds of supernatural beings that inhabit both it and the physical world. We will consider the nature of, and punishments for, magic (and cross-dressing) at different periods. The sources will be archeological, legal, literary, and folkloric. We will read the primary versions of some Norse myths, and consider how they compare with other evidence for the same stories.

RELS 451.01:  Capstone Colloquium

Prof. Elijah Siegler     For Seniors-210, 450 & 1 other RELS    

Section 001 (M 12:00 – 12:50)   MYBK 119

This required course is designed to provide a capstone experience for majors in Religious Studies, and it will feature visits from RELS faculty and recent alumni as guest speakers. The Colloquium is not another course on the subject of religion, but a “meta-course” that will provide RELS students with an opportunity to reflect on the cumulative achievement of their studies and consider how they might apply their knowledge and skills in their future professional lives.  The Colloquium is designed to give students, in the company of other majors, the opportunity to: 1) review their own study of religion at CofC in order to identify their distinctive interests in particular subjects; 2) write an intellectual autobiography; 3) evaluate how their training served as a bridge between other academic disciplines; and 4) grasp how the study of religion might prepare them to put their learning to work in the world.