REL 149
The Sacred in South Asia Spring 2023
Division II
Cross-listed ANTH 249 / ASIA 242
This is not the current course catalog

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Is religious identity necessarily singular and unambiguous? The jinn – Islamic spirits born of fire – are sought out for their healing and other powers not only by Muslims in India, but by Hindus, Christians and Sikhs, as well. In parts of Bengal statues of the Hindu goddess Durga are traditionally sculpted by Muslim artisans. Buddhist pilgrimage sites in Sri Lanka contain tombs of Muslim Sufi saints and shrines of Hindu deities. South Asia – where a fifth of humanity lives – provides some of the most striking examples of pluralism and religiously composite culture in our contemporary world. Yet at the same time, strident religious majoritarianism has been a defining feature of the politics of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka for decades, and haunts Nepal and Bangladesh as well. Are these two modes of religious being – pluralistic and composite on the one hand, singular and majoritarian on the other – reflective of two different conceptions of selfhood? What if we turn from questions of community and identity to questions of unseen power and the sacred? This course is an exploration of lived religion in South Asia. It is simultaneously a study of popular Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam and an introduction to the anthropology of religion. Centered on in-depth studies of popular sites of ‘syncretic’ ritual practice (shared across religious difference) as well as studies of mass mobilizations that seek to align the religious community with the nation, we approach from multiple angles what the sacred might mean in modernity.
The Class: Format: lecture
Limit: 20
Expected: 15
Class#: 3590
Grading: yes pass/fail option, no fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: weekly (1 page) posts on readings, two short (5 page) papers, and one (12-14 page) final research paper.
Prerequisites: Interest in the topic!
Enrollment Preferences: Students in all fields of study are most welcome; if overenrolled, priority will be given to majors in Anthropology, Sociology, Religion and Asian Studies.
Distributions: Division II
Notes: This course is cross-listed and the prefixes carry the following divisional credit:
REL 149 Division II ANTH 249 Division II ASIA 242 Division II
Attributes: GBST South + Southeast Asia Studies

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