Preview of Courses

The following courses are regularly offered in the Department of Religious Studies. For a comprehensive list of courses, please refer to the current Schedule of Classes or Course Catalog.

JanTerm Courses

REL 256. Sacred Space in SoCal
Exploring the fascinating religious landscape of Southern California through scholarly readings, field trips, and comparative ruminations, the course familiarizes students with basic aspects of sacred space across various traditions (such as Christian, Jewish, Goddess, and Buddhist), and it promotes the understanding of human efforts to envision the sacred (however construed) as intimately grounded in real places and times. Readings introduce and problematize such concepts as “sacred space” and “sacred time,” and situate them within cultural and political contexts. To aid in the study and analysis of sacred space, students visit various sites, ranging from a Zen temple to Downtown Disney to Joshua Tree National Park. 

REL 241/KNS 381. Sport, Play, and Ritual
Analyzing the functions and significance of sport, play, ritual, and religion in ancient and modern cultures, students explore pertinent questions, such as: What do sport and play, religion and ritual really do or accomplish? How and why do sport and religion establish or generate meaning? In what ways are sport and religion structurally and functionally similar? Do their similarities mean that sports can function as a religion? For whom do sports and religion function and bear meaning: participants (like players and priests) and/or observers (like fans and worshipers)? Is there a uniform function or meaning for the participants and the observers? Is the spirituality of sports different from the religion of sports?

Interdisciplinary/Cross-Listed Courses

REL/GWS 253. Women and Religion
This course examines the role and status of women in world religions through an introductory survey of women's religious experiences in indigenous religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Daoism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and new religious movements. The course explores the past and present contributions of women to religious traditions, the increasing influence of feminist theological critiques and transformations of religious patriarchies, and the rise and impact of religious fundamentalisms. The course employs a variety of materials, including scripture, myth, doctrine, history, practice, and theology, to understand how different religions construct women as well as how women reclaim and re-appropriate those same materials to reconstruct religions and enact rich, dynamic religious lives.

REL 313/ENGL 322. Heroes, Gods, and Gurus
Do you ever want to study war and the gods from Hindu perspectives? If so, “Heroes, Gods, and Gurus” is a course for you. This seminar explores the complex world of the Mahabharata, a massively long epic poem, told and retold in various ways, that has been a foundational part of India’s religious history and culture. Close readings of primary literature (in translation) are paired with collective efforts to digest scholarly discussions of the poem, and also with viewings of television episodes and rituals. These efforts allow students to examine such topics as family conflict, the fate of heroes, the role of teachers in mediating violent confrontations, the construction of personality, the process of concealing one's identity, the turmoil caused by human vice, the goals of pilgrimage, the flow of time, the theology of avatars, and the role of slaughter in recreating the world. The course is adapted from the syllabus project of the American Academy of Religion in collaboration with the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning.

Courses Integral to Religious Studies

REL 351. Public and Popular Religion
This course examines religious communities and themes in U.S. society and politics since 1870, with a particular but not exclusive focus on Christianity and Islam, in order to map multiple perspectives on religion in recent U.S. history and public life. Topics include civil religion, Mormonism, African American as well as U.S. Latino/a traditions, religious approaches to prosperity and poverty, the rise of religious fundamentalism, the roles of women in religion and public life, and the intersections between religion and politics in ongoing debates about citizenship, national identity, and immigration; in elections; and in church-state relations, including legal issues and lobby groups. While engaging these topics, this course treats religion in U.S. society between 1870 and the present using an interdisciplinary analysis that combines religious studies, history, sociology, and political theory, along with other theories and methods that students can apply from their other courses. Recently paired with a sociology course on race and ethnicity in America, the course explored issues about American religious, racial, ethnic, and gender identities against the backdrop of the 2012 presidential election.

REL 361. Ways of Understanding Religion
What is religion? What are its foundations? Where does it come from? Who created it? Who controls it? Whose power does it serve? Does it derive from individual emotional needs? Does it derive from the collective identity of social groups, or from something else? How does it relate to economic and political systems? Is it irrational? Does it provide moral moorings for society? Does it detract from the moral betterment of society? What personal and social functions does it serve? To address these questions, this seminar acquaints students with different theories and methods in the field of Religious Studies in order to teach them about the diversity of the field as well as to provide them with tools for analyzing religious beliefs and practices they may encounter from time to time.