Courses relevant to Religions and Public Life
AAAS 243/HISTORY 348: The Civil Rights Movement
Instructor: Adriane Lentz-Smith
An interdisciplinary examination of the civil rights movement from World War II through the late 1960s.
AAAS 269/ CULANTH 269/RELIGION 270: Black Gods and Kings: Priests and Practices of the Afro-Atlantic Religions
Instructor: James Lorand Matory
Surveys the spiritual, political and economic experience of those who worship African gods—West and Central Africans, Cubans, Brazilians, Haitians, and North Americans. The gods as sources of power, organization and healing amid local political dominance of Muslims and Christians and seismic expansion of international capitalism. West African Yoruba religion, West-Central African Kongo religion, Brazilian Candomblé and Umbanda, Cuban Santería and Palo Mayombe, Haitian Vodou, and African American Pentecostalism are examined as belief systems, and contextualized to the trans-Atlantic slave trade, long-distance commerce and pilgrimage by free people.
AAAS 274S/AMES 230S/ HISTORY 351/RELIGION 384S: Islam in the Americas
Instructor: Mona Hassan
Explores how Muslim communities live and practice Islam in the American context. Examines diverse Muslim communities emerging from transatlantic exploration, trade in slaves, and migration as well as indigenous conversion. Discussion of religious and cultural identities of American Muslim peoples and consideration of questions of communal organization, religious authority, gender dynamics, youth culture, political and civic engagement, as well as American Muslim comedy and entertainment. Examination of impact of 9/11 upon American Muslims, their responses to the tragedy, and Americans’ shifting perceptions of Islam and Muslims.
AMES 114/RELIGION 120: Buddhism
Instructor: Richard Jaffe
This course offers a survey covering the life and teachings of the Buddha, the formation and composition of the Buddhist sutras, the development of Buddhist monasticism, Buddhist meditation, and the development of the Nikaya and Mahayana schools. At the end of the semester we will examine briefly the spread of Buddhism from India to other parts of Asia. As much as possible we will be reading primary materials in order to further our understanding of the development of various Buddhist traditions. We will also discuss the manner in which various modern presuppositions about the nature of religion have shaped our understanding of Buddhism. The goal of the class is to enable you to understand the core doctrines, practices, and institutions of Buddhism in India and Southeast Asia.
AMES 208FS/CULANTH 211FS/SES 209: Geopolitics and Culture from ISIS to Afghanistan
Instructor: Erdag Goknar
Study of countries on the geographical periphery of the commonly defined Middle East: Bosnia, Turkey, Armenia, Chechnya, Iran, and Afghanistan. All of these countries have deep Middle Eastern ties and traditions, sizeable communities with Middle Eastern origins and connections, and recent histories of cultural and ethnic conflict and violence. Exploration of how the Middle Eastern components and histories in these conflicts have been distorted and obscured as the conflicts have been depicted through the lenses of U.S. or Soviet/Russian geopolitical interests.
AMES 214/MUSIC 234/RELIGION 245: Music in East Asia
Instructor: Jonathan Kramer
East Asian musicians and their instruments, genres, performance traditions, and contexts. Study of the relationship of music to social, religious, historical, and philosophical trends informed by listening to the musical forms themselves in recorded and live performances.
AMES 223FS/HISTORY 248FS/RELIGION 283: History and Culture of Iran
Instructor: Omid Safi
A multi-disciplinary approach to Iran and Persian culture. Covers history, religion, politics, literature, music, and cinema. Focuses on the developments in Iran leading up to and after the 1979 revolution. Does not require any knowledge of Persian or previous background.
AMES 227/HISTORY 214/JEWISHST 258: The Modern Middle East
Instructor: Department Staff
The historical development of the Middle East in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The emergence of nation-states in the region following World War I.
AMES 258/RELIGION 279: Gandhi: Image and Reflection
Instructor: Leela Prasad
Who is Gandhi amidst the thousands of images of him? Course focuses on the writings of, and the popular imagery about, one of the most inspirational figures of modern times, who evoked Einstein’s awe and shaped Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. Considers Gandhi’s experiments and journeys across South Africa and India to understand his ideas of justice, method of civic protest, and way of living-with-others. First part of course studies Gandhi’s autobiography and other key writings. Second part analyses Gandhi-centered visual culture (comic books, cartoons, films, monuments) and global influence. Aims to understand visually why Gandhi has become a legend and how he is within our reach.
AMES 328S/ARABIC 328/LIT 328S/RELIGION 326S: Literary Islam
Instructor: Ellen McLarney
The Quran as scripture; mystical poetry; stories of the early community; literary cultures in the early community; modern reinterpretations of Islamic sources; Islamist literature; modern Islamic poetry, novels, plays, and stories.
AMES 351S/RELIGION 330: Atheism and Buddhism
Instructor: Hwansoo Kim
A critical examination of atheism and religions (Buddhism), with a focus on intellectual, religious, philosophical, and scientific debates about God, the origin of the universe, morality, evolution, neuroscience, happiness, enlightenment, the afterlife, and karma. Readings to be selected from philosophical, scientific, and religious writings. Authors will include some of the following: Charles Darwin, Bertrand Russell, Christopher Hitchins, Richard Dawkins, Deepak Chopra, Sam Harris, Owen Flanagan, Stephen Batchelor, and the Dalai Lama.
AMES 373S/ETHICS 373S/ICS 380/RELIGION 373: Islamic Mysticism: Perso-Indian (Eastern) Traditions (Seminar)
Instructor: Mohsen Kadivar
This is a seminar on Islamic mysticism, or Islamic spiritual tradition known as Sufism. It surveys the teachings, texts, and institutions of Sufism, as well as its history, its sources in the Qur’an and the tradition of Prophet Muhammad, its literary, cultural and social deployment in Persian, Arab, Turkish, and Indic regions from 12th to 21st century. The aim of this course to develop detailed knowledge about Sufism in terms of religion and culture. All readings, essays and in-class discussions revolve around issues of mystical, spiritual and ethical expressions and experiences of Islamic religious tradition, culture and history. This course educates about key themes, major figures, main teachings, practices and institutions of Sufism in medieval period, as well as early modern and modern period in Eastern regions.
AMES 475S/RELIGION 411S: North Korea: Politics, Economics, and Culture
Instructor: Hwansoo Kim
Critical examination of the political and economic with social, cultural, and religious dimensions of North Korea. Topics includes North Korea’s leadership, religious (especially cultic) aspects of the North Korean Juche ideology, the daily lives of its citizens, religious traditions, the Korean War, nuclear development and missiles, North Korean defectors and refugees in other Asian countries, human rights, international relationships, and unification.
AMI 273/DOCST 268/RELIGION 268: Religion and Film
Instructor: David Norton Need
This class explores connections between religion and spirituality and the arts through a consideration of film and screen as a mediums for depicting, participating in and interrogating imagined worlds. Separate sections of the class include 1) biography and/or fictional films that depict the imagined world of a particular tradition; 2) speculative and science fiction films that explore moral and religious questions; 3) films from non-Western cultures that introduce explore religious themes and imagined worlds; 4) experimental films that consider the experience of watching a film as a ritual occasion (in which imagined worlds are considered), and 5) films by directors who use film to pose existential questions elsewhere taken up in religious or spiritual terms. We’ll watch films from both the classical era of film (1930s-70s) and the contemporary era. While this course is not an introduction to film theory, we will do readings that consider the relationship of film to thought, that theorize the experience of watching film, and that consider the function of the image in relation to religious and spiritual conceptions. This class is cross-cultural and global — films focus on a range of cultural and religious settings and actors/communities.
ARTS&SCI 279D/HISTORY 279D/ICS 276D: The Foundations of Modern Terrorism
Instructor: Martin A. Miller
An exploration into the problems associated with terrorism in the modern era. The subject will be treated historically, chronologically and thematically, with emphasis on the 19th and 20th centuries. We shall also be examining three main geographic areas — Europe, Russia and the U. S. Comparisons will therefore be made of the different genres of terrorisms that have functioned in these and other localities, including Latin America and Africa. We conclude with the road to 9/11.
ECON 285/ENVIRON 276/ETHICS 285/ HISTORY 325/POLISCI 249/PUBPOL 284: Denial, Faith, Reason: Sustainability and Survival
Instructor: Dirk Philipsen
Provides historical overview and working understanding of concept of sustainability. Explores how sustainability relates to most aspects of our lives. Examines core ethical concepts, developing models to get on path of sustainable living.
RELIGION 110: Hinduism
Instructor: Alivelu Nagamani
An exploration of the beliefs, ethics, everyday and ceremonial practices, philosophies, mythologies, and movements that are part of the aggregately-named religion of Hinduism.
RELIGION 232S: Prophecy and Prophets: Then and Now (Seminar)
Instructor: Melvin Peters
Historical and comparative exploration of the activities, roles, and claims of humans, in selected ancient and modern societies, to whom the label prophet or a similar title (diviner, shaman, mystic, etc.) has been applied. Critically examines features that are constant and variable among groups that accept the authority of certain individuals to function as mediators between a natural and a supernatural realm. Includes biblical, ancient Near Eastern, Greek, Islamic, Native American, and several modern examples of intermediation (prophecy) and intermediaries (prophets).
RELIGION 288: Acts of Engagement
Instructor: Christy Lohr Sapp
Whether called “service”, “mission”, “Seva”, “loving-kindness”, “tikkun olam”, selfless acts done in the service of others are a component of many of the world’s religious traditions. This course will explore the fundamental call to serve in a number of traditions. It will examine the works of community leaders from various religious traditions such as Dorothy Day, Abraham Heschel, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Said Nursi to unpack the elements in their traditions that led them to work with and for others. Special attention will be paid to Abrahamic traditions. The course will also put these concepts into practical service in the local community through partnerships with Durham agencies.
RELIGION 353: Ethical Issues in Early Christianity
Instructor: Daniel Becerra
Investigation of two major transitions in the early Christian movement and their impact on the formulation of Christian ethics: Christianity’s transition from a sect within Judaism to a Greco-Roman religious movement whose constituency came largely from the “pagan” world, and its transition from a sect in danger of persecution to a religion favored and supported by Roman imperial authorities. How these transitions are reflected in early Christian attitudes toward, and practices concerning, poverty and wealth, war and military service, marriage and sexuality, capital punishment, slavery, and other issues.
ARTHIST 911/RELIGION 911: Religious Material Culture in Theory and Practice
Instructor: David Ashley Morgan
Examines prevailing theories and methods of studying objects, spaces, images, and the senses as primary forms of evidence for understanding religions.
BCS 806/RELIGION 768: The Most Segregated Hour: Churches, Race, Class, & Caste
Instructor: Valerie C. Cooper
The Christian church remains the most segregated institution in America. It has been nearly sixty years since the historic 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. the Board of Education that began public school integration. And it has been almost fifty years since Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech in 1963. Yet, most Protestant congregations still reflect the racial makeup of their pre-Civil Rights era counterparts. This course explores why this is so and asks how we can move forward toward a religious life that better reflects the diversity of the nation.
ETHICS 947S/RELIGION 947S: Comparative Religious Studies (Case Study of Judaism, Christianity & Islam)
Instructor: Mohsen Kadivar
The course offers a general framework and methodology of comparative religious studies. It is a case study of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The key elements of discussions are: faith, belief and theological continuity in the pre-modern era; Scriptures of the Hebrew Bible, Old and New Testament, and the Qur’an; God’s essence, attributes and deeds; monotheism and Trinity; free will and predestination; creation and original sin; prophets and biblical figures; ethical orientation toward life; reason and revelation; and eschatology: life and death, end time, afterlife, salvation.
RELIGION 854/SOCIOL 776: The Social Organization of American Religion
Instructor: Mark Chaves
Focuses on social and institutional aspects of American religion. Topics include trends in American religion, social sources of religious variation, sociological knowledge about congregations and clergy, and religion’s place in American society.
RELIGION 767: How Blackness Thinks: Religion and Black Feminism
Instructor: Mark Chaves
Will read black feminist theory as a window onto modernity understood as a politico-theological arrangement or as a mythic assemblage, drawing on H. Spillers’ deployment of myth in relation to R. Barthes and Ralph Ellison and her thinking about black culture as ‘counterpower’ and ‘countermyth’ in the ‘flesh’. In its own varied registers black studies is an intervention into sovereignty, a discursive formation and political praxis of racialization predicated on certain God-terms and structures of belief. The course consists of readings by four black feminist thinkers—H. Spillers, S. Wynter, and Denise F. da Silva, and pieces of M. NourbeSe Philips Zong.
RELIGION 780/SOCIOL 776: The Christian Movement in China
Instructor: Xi Lian
This course examines the history of Christianity in China from the beginning through the twentieth century. It explores both the missionary origins of the Chinese church and the subsequent historical developments that turned Christianity into a vibrant Chinese faith. The following questions are at the center of our historical inquiry: What role did Western missionaries play in the spread of Christianity in China? What helps explain the Chinese response to the Gospel? How did Christianity take root in Chinese soil and become indigenized? What distinct features and temperament has Chinese Christianity developed? What are the implications for the future of world Christianity?
RELIGION 783: Christianity’s Encounter with Other Religions and Cultures: The Case of East Asia
Instructor: Xi Lian
The modern encounter between Christianity and other religions and cultures occurred primarily in the context of a vigorous and sustained missionary movement launched in the West. The results of that encounter have been far more complex—more inspiring for some and less satisfying for others—than the simple reproduction of Christian bodies in the denominational image of Western churches. This course is a search for historical answers to those questions within the limits of modern East Asia but also with basic concerns that go beyond those boundaries, concerns that would be shared by those who contemplate the future of a globalized Christianity.
RELIGION 854: The Social Organization of American Religion
Instructor: Mark Chaves
Addresses religion’s formal and informal social organization. Examines how religion is organized, and explores causes and consequences of variation in religious social organization. Considers impact of demographic changes on American religion, and asks how ideas from study of social networks, formal organizations, and professions apply to religion.