J.Z. Smith used to say that the only place one could find religion was in the scholar's study. By this he meant that no one ever does 'religion' in the sense that the course title uses the term. If you do religion, you do a particular one (and even then, you do not practice all forms of Judaism at once, but Conservative or Reform or whatever). The wager of religious studies is that you learn something worthwhile if you stand back and study, not just particular religions, but 'religion' in general. That said (and despite the class title), scholars long ago gave up trying to come up with a definition of religion that fit all forms of religiosity across all time and space: religions have been, are, and will be just too diverse!
The purpose of this class is to introduce you to the study of 'religion' by looking briefly at Judaism, Christianity and Islam. By the end of this class you will be able to describe some basic aspects of their historical contexts, as well as be able to relate that history to key texts and practices/rituals. (This is departmental learning goal #1: knowledge).
But religious studies is about more than description. As part of investigating why it might be worthwhile to think about 'religion,' by the end of the class you will be able to analyze:
But studying religion is about more than analysis and evaluation. The point of standing in the scholar's place and thinking about religion in general (which no one lives) is to ask questions that you could not ask if you stand within the situated perspective of an actual life (either inside a religion as a believer or beside that religion as someone who studies it and only it). The wager of religious studies is that thinking through difference enables you to ask larger questions. The primary way we as a class will learn to do this is through our overall theme of Religion and its Monsters. What is religion, really? Who knows ... really? What kind of thing can you learn if you try to understand different worldviews and maybe even different epistemes? Asking these questions propels you (and me) into the dimension of un-knowing, of opening a space of freedom beyond the known answers: what if religion was that? This not-knowing is part of what it means to think comparatively and thus, to theorize religion in general: to open up a space where you think analogously, migrating back and forth between different concrete situations. The wager of religious studies is that thinking through difference is productive. This is departmental learning goal #2.
Many of you are taking this course as part of your distribution requirements in General Education. This course fulfills Goal #1 (critical thinking), Goal #2 (analytical reasoning), Goal #3 (written communication), Goal #4 (oral communication) and Goal #5 (global issues). For a list of these goals, click here.
Required materials to be purchased:
You MUST bring a copy of whatever material is assigned
for the day to class!
Studying religion is both an academic and a personal exercise. In your written assignments you will be graded on thinking and argumentation. I will not grade your personal beliefs or non-belief. Nor will I grade or the particular position you take. I will grade how well you articulate why you (or someone) thinks this way as well as your ability to reflect critically on the position you take.
This course is dedicated to helping you develop your own thinking
about what religion is. Thus I regard plagiarism as a serious violation of
the academic compact, because it involves passing off someone else's
thought as your own. This can happen by copying someone else's words
or re-phrasing someone else's ideas in your words. Neither is your
own thought: If through conversation with you I determine that you
have committed an academic violation, you will receive a zero for the assignment
and I will file a report to the Provost and Dean (as per University
regard cheating on a test similarly: you are encouraged to work and
study with others before the test, but when you are in a test
you are on your own, without notes or cell.
Plagiarism is a serious ethical and professional infraction. Hofstra’s policy on academic honesty reads: “The academic community assumes that work of any kind [...] is done, entirely, and without assistance, by and only for the individual(s) whose name(s) it bears.” Please refer to the "Procedure for Handling Violations of Academic Honesty by Undergraduate Students at Hofstra University" for details about what constitutes plagiarism, and Hofstra’s procedures for handling violations.
Disabilities Policy: If you believe you need accommodations for a disability, please contact Services for Students with Disabilities(SSD). In accordance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, qualified individuals with disabilities will not be discriminated against in any programs, or services available at Hofstra University. Individuals with disabilities are entitled to accommodations designed to facilitate full access to all programs and services. SSD is responsible for coordinating disability-related accommodations and will provide students with documented disabilities accommodation letters, as appropriate. Since accommodations may require early planning and are not retroactive, please contact SSD as soon as possible. All students are responsible for providing accommodation letters to each instructor and for discussing with him or her the specific accommodations needed and how they can be best implemented in each course.
For more information on services provided by the university and for submission of documentation, please contact the Services for Students with Disabilities, 212 Memorial Hall, 516-463-7075.
-- You turned in an assignment that was not your own. Don't let
this be you!
-- You can earn an F in two ways. Your writing was
fantastic, but late. OR your writing fails to answer the questions, expresses little
accurate information, and/ or is not coherent.
-- shows effort,
but the information and explanation are weak. You need to make
more references to the readings.
-- articulates what you think clearly. You need to
engage in a more detailed and systematic way with the readings.
-- explores why you think the way you do.
-- reserved for excellence, when you use the material as a
springboard for higher level thinking. You engage with other
perspectives and counter-arguments. You elaborate a creative and
original take on the readings and issues being discussed in class,
and you articulate your thoughts in your own voice. You go beyond
stating your point of view to evaluate the pros and cons of
thinking the way you do.
In order to return your work to you promptly with detailed and constructive feedback, I do not accept late work. You will earn an F, and will forfeit your right to my feedback. If there is an emergency or a tragedy in your life and you need an exception, you must communicate with me BEFORE the due-date. This includes tests: if you are too sick to attend class on a day when we are scheduled to take a test, you must call and let me know BEFORE class begins that you will not be able to take the test and arrange time for a make-up.
Because there is no one textbook that holds this class together, absences in this class work like karma. You have two days to be absent without consequences. On your third day of absence, you lose all benefit of the doubt when it comes to your final grade. For every absence thereafter, you lose 1/3 of a letter grade from your final grade. (This means you have two cuts. You do not. If you cut class twice in the beginning of the semester, and then become sick at the end, karma will take effect).
are absent, YOU are responsible to find out from another
student what went on in class and for making up the work that
you missed. MAKE FRIENDS. If you are absent on a day
when we are scheduled to take a test, see the above
policy on late
|W Jan 26
||M Jan 31
William Connolly, Pluralism, 11-37.
W Feb 2
More theoretical frameworks
Using Religion to Create Order out of Chaos: Creation Narratives
||M Feb 7
and Multiplicity: The Ancient Near Eastern Context
||W Feb 9 and M Feb 14
||W Feb 16
Geertz, Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight
|M Feb 21
||Enjoy your holiday!
||W Feb 23
||Finish Geertz and review for test
||M Feb 28
||Test # 1
II. Using Practices to Create Order from
Chaos: Creation Myths as Ritual
||W Mar 2
Judaism: Prayer, Shabbat, Talmud, Contemporary Denominations
1) Mary Pat Fisher, Living Religions,
"Torah," "Sacred Practices," "Holy Days," and "Contemporary
Judaism," in Living Religions, 90-106.
The video that we saw in class was The Long Search: Judaism. Hofstra has this video on streaming video.
|M Mar 7
Death and Dying
Samuel Heilman, When a Jew Dies, 80-83,
92-100, 119-128, 134-135, 153-60, 162-181.
|W Mar 9
Writing assignment using Geertz to analyze Jewish ritual:
|M Mar 14
1) Cleary, The Essential Koran, 1-18, 34-35 and 41-43.
|W Mar 16
|| Islam: Five Pillars
Sachiko Murata and William Chittick, "The Five Pillars," from The Vision of Islam.
|M Mar 21
Hajj, Nation of Islam
You will turn in ONE of the following:
|W Mar 23
The Practice of Confession
|M Mar 28
||review for test #2
What is the story Christians tell themselves about themselves in the practice of daily confession (NOT what Catholics do today!)?
|W Mar 30
III. Suffering Creates Chaos: What is the Relation of History to
||M Apr 4
1) Proverbs 8.
2) Job chapters 1-7.
3) Beal, chapter three, 35-45.
|W Apr 6
2) Beal, chapter four, 47-55.
|M Apr 11
Elizabeth Grosz, Chaos, Territory, Art.
|W Apr 13
Writing assignment using Grosz to analyze ritual
|W Apr 27
||Paper #1 is due.
V. Using Modern Reason to Create
Order out of Religious Chaos: What is the Relation of Religion and
||M May 2
and the State: Leviathan
1) Beal, 89-01.
|W May 4
Studies: Modern Science, "Primitive" Religion, and the
|M May 9
||Latour, We Have Never Been Modern, 29-43.
||W May 11
||Test # 3
|| Part Two of your Project is due.
I took the image of the Psalter map from http://www.us-israel.org/jsource/History/ Psaltermap.html.
For other images, see:
British Library, and the Map History discussion list's
Be "Here Be Dragons."
Created by Ann Burlein
Updated January 24, 2011.