Course Description

The goal of Core II is to consider the implications of your first-semester exploration of “Histories of the Present” in the context of a particular discipline or intersection of disciplines. In this course, we will take the kinds of questions you asked last semester about identity, race, gender, class, and so forth and apply them to the following question: What is the history of our (modern, Western, Euro-American) concept of “religion,” how did it emerge out of the encounter between selves and others, and how can we observe this intellectual conception in the literature of travel? In this way, we build on Core I’s investigation of how we know what we know about ourselves, and we can begin to subject that knowledge about knowledge to useful critique.


Through close reading of both travel texts and theoretical texts, from the present moment to the premodern past, we will ask how “religion” (as an abstract concept) and “religions” (as specific objects of Western study) emerged, and continue to be produced, out of the contact between “West” and “others.” Our goal is not to debunk the notion of “religion” as a mere artifact of western imperialism, but to think about the kind of cultural (and social, and political, and intellectual) work this concept has done, and continues to do, in our society.


We will also be making a concerted effort to explore multiple types of textual sources: scholarly and theoretical essays; modern memoirs; documentary and feature films; religious texts; and children’s books.


Course Goals

In all Core II seminars, students will:

  1. Understand how and why different disciplines approach seemingly similar objects of contemporary interest and/or historical importance from different perspectives, leading to different conclusions and material consequences.

  2. Use various disciplinary methods.

  3. Develop their own arguments in interdisciplinary contexts in writing and discussion.

The goals of this section of Core II are:

  1. To analyze diverse forms of travel narratives from multiple historical and cultural moments in which categories of belief, ritual, and “religion” are constructed or imagined;

  2. To interrogate the category of “religion” as a product of particular disciplinary histories;

  3. To evaluate modes of academic representation of “others” (anthropological, literary, theological) and debates over these academic modes;

  4. To acquire skills in analyzing diverse forms of academic and non-academic writings (essays, monographs, films, fictions, and so forth).


Course Requirements

You are responsible for all of the writing, reading, and participation outlined on this syllabus. The reading load for this course is somewhat heavy, because we will be focusing a lot of our energies on how to “decode” various types of written and visual works. I do not expect you to come into every class session with a perfect understanding of that day’s readings; I do, however, expect that you will have done the reading, and begun to formulate questions and ideas from the reading.


Your final grade will be based upon the following assignments, which have been designed to integrate as much as possible original contributions to class discussion; analytic reading and writing; synthetic writing and rewriting; and original research and evaluation.


Participation (25%): You are expected to have fully read the written assignments for any given day, and to come to class prepared to discuss those readings (some suggested discussion topics are provided in the syllabus to help guide your reading).

Forum posting: Part of your participation grade is active participation in discussion forums on Sakai every week. You will be assigned to Team Tuesday or Team Thursday at the beginning of the semester. Every Monday afternoon, members of Team Tuesday will post thoughts, reactions, or questions about the next day's readings; members of Team Thursday will read and respond to those posts. Every Wednesday afternoon, members of Team Thursday will post thoughts, reactions, or questions about the next day's readings; members of Team Tuesday will read and respond to those posts. All posts and responses should be up on Sakai by bedtime the night before class.

Because this class is driven by discussion and participation, excessive absence or tardiness may result in a lowering of your participation grade.


Debates (20%): The class will conduct two debates (on February 25 and April 19) concerning the problems of exploring defining the religion of “the other.” Students will participate in both debates, either as debaters or judges. Both debaters and judges must turn in a 200-400 word summary of the debates on the following class days (March 1 and April 21), evaluating, from their perspective, who “won.” (Assignment details on the course website.)


Reflection Essays (15% each; 30% total): You will complete two reflection essays, carefully composed written works in which you engage directly with some of the travel writings we are reading for this class. The first essay, a comparison of Conrad Rudolph and Malcolm X, is due on March 10. The second essay, a consideration of Bartolomé de las Casas, is due on April 14. Details on these reflection papers can be found on the course website.


Final Paper (25%): In consultation with the professor beginning E~A~R~L~Y in the semester, you will develop a 10-15 page research paper that explores a single site or text in which we can see the interplay of religion, travel, identity, and difference. (A list of sites and texts from which to choose is found on the course website.) The paper will be due during finals week.  Alternative final assignments: Students may also work with the professor to develop alternate final writing assignments, such as extended book reviews or creative works.


All students should meet with the professor before spring break to choose paper topics.


Scripps College’s policy on academic honesty: “Cheating and/or plagiarism seriously violate the principles of academic integrity that Scripps College expects its students to uphold. Academic dishonesty is not tolerated at Scripps and may result in suspension or expulsion from the College. (See the current Guide to Student Life, pp. 90-93.)”

Student accommodations: Students requiring academic accommodations should contact Sonia De La Torre-Iniguez,, in the Dean of Students office in order to formalize accommodations (be ready to discuss appropriate accommodations and provide necessary documentation). Accommodations may not be provided for students who have not registered through the Dean of Students Office.


Course Materials

The following books should be available for purchase at the Huntley Bookstore:


Edward Said, Orientalism (Penguin, 2003)
Rodger Kamenetz, The Jew in the Lotus (HarperOne, 2007)
Sir Richard Burton’s Travels in Arabia and Africa: Four Lectures from a Huntington Library Manuscript (Huntington Library Press, 2001)
Conrad Rudolph, Pilgrimage to the End of the World (University of Chicago, 2004)
Bartolomé de las Casas, A Short History of the Destruction of the Indies (Penguin, 1999)
Roger Smalley and Brian Bascle, The Adventures of Marco Polo, Graphic Library (Capstone Press, 2005)


In addition, there are several photocopied readings stored on Sakai; you can access these by logging on to Sakai, or by going to the syllabus page and clicking on the red links (if you are not already logged in to Sakai, you will be asked to log in and then you can access the materials). Finally, some readings are available on external websites, available by going to the course website and clicking directly on the blue link provided.



Important Dates

Mark your calendars now!
February 25: First debate (debate write up due Marcy 1)

March 10: First reflection essay due

March 15-17: Spring break: have you met with the professor yet?

April 5: Research and Writing Workshop

April 14: Second reflection essay due

April 19: Second debate (debate write up due April 19)

May 12 (Thursday), 12noon: Final paper due (no final exam)



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