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What is Religion? Theories and Methods in the Study of Religion
As recently as the 1960s, the most influential theorists of modernity were predicting that religion would eventually vanish, while theologians lamented what they called the “Death of God.” But one has only to glance at today’s headlines to see that accounts of religion’s demise were premature. Indeed a basic knowledge of religion is indispensable to understanding the current global moment as well as a range of fields from political science to English literature and history. To explore the meaning of religion, this course will introduce the debates around which the discipline of religious studies has been constituted. It will familiarize students with the discipline’s most significant theorists (both foundational and contemporary) and trace their multidisciplinary–philosophical, sociological, anthropological, and psychological–modes of inquiry. At stake are questions such as: How does one go about studying religion? Is “religion” even a cultural universal? Or is it merely the byproduct of the European Enlightenment? What is religion’s relationship to God? to science? to society? to secularism? to colonialism? to ethics? to politics? to violence? to sex? to freedom? Has religion changed fundamentally in modernity? And if so, what is its future?
Grading: yes pass/fail option,
no fifth course option
class participation, three short (2-3 pages) writing assignments, a 5-page midterm paper, and a 10-page final paper
none, although a previous course on religion is recommended