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Jan 19 (T): Introductions

Go over syllabus; how do we study religion?

No readings


Jan 21 (Th): Religion and the "other"

Can religion exist in a vacuum? What role does comparison play in developing a definition of "religion"? Also: How to read a scholarly essay

Reading: *Jonathan Z. Smith, "Religion, Religions, Religious," in Relating Religion: Essays on the Study of Religion (Chicago, 2004), 179-196


Jan 26 (T): What are "world religions"?

How did debates over enlightenment, colonialism, and race lead the West to develop categories of "religion" (such as world religion or folk religion)? Also: How to read a theoretical essay

Reading: *Tomoko Masuzawa, The Invention of World Religions, or, How European Universalism Was Preserved in the Language of Pluralism (University of Chicago, 2005), 1-33


Jan 28 (Th): Anthropology and religion

What kinds of methods and assumptions undergird the anthropological construction of "religion"? What problems does anthropology have, either methodological or ethical?

Reading: *Clifford Geertz, "Religion as a Cultural System," in The Interpretation of Cultures (Basic Books, 1973)


Feb 2 (T): The Scope of Orientalism

How did "the East" emerge as the shadow double of "the West," and role has it played historically in literature, politics, and scholarship? Also: How to read a scholarly book

Reading: Edward Said, Orientalism (Vintage, 2003), 1-110


Feb 4 (Th): Orientalist Structures and Restructures

To what extent was the material reality of "the East" necessary for--or even available to--Western power?

Reading: Edward Said, Orientalism (Vintage, 2003), 111-97


Feb 9 (T): Orientalism Now

How does Orientalist scholarship (or "area studies") remain potentially complicit in the Western construction and appropriation of a pliable "East"? How do scholars approach ethical representations of "others"?

Reading: Edward Said, Orientalism (Vintage, 2003), 201-328



Feb 11 (Th): Jews and Buddhists, I

In-class screening of The Jew in the Lotus. Also: How to watch a documentary

Reading: Rodger Kamenetz, The Jew in the Lotus: A Poet's Rediscovery of Jewish Identity in Buddhist India (HarperCollins, 2007), 1-127


Feb 16 (T): Jews and Buddhists, II

Discussion of Kamenetz (book and documentary).

Reading: Rodger Kamenetz, The Jew in the Lotus: A Poet's Rediscovery of Jewish Identity in Buddhist India (HarperCollins, 2007), 128-289


Feb 18 (Th): A critique of encounter

Why is Western scholarship enamored of Tibetan Buddhism, and how has this relationship replicated, or disrupted, earlier Orientalist attitudes?

Reading: *Donald Lopez, Jr., "Foreigners at the Lama's Feet," in Curators of the Buddha: The Story of Buddhism Under Colonialism (University of Chicago, 1995), 251-96; *Donald Lopez, Jr., "Introduction," Prisoners of Shangri-La (University of Chicago, 1998), 1-13


Feb 23 (T): A defense of encounter

Why do some scholars insist on the value of encounter, and what is at stake in preserving religious encounter as a method of understanding and knowledge-building? Also: How to read an academic debate

Reading: *"Symposium on Donald S. Lopez Jr.'s Prisoners of Shangri-La: Tibetan Buddhism and the West," Journal of the American Academy of Religion 69 (2001): 163-214

(must be accessed from a campus computer, or the library):


Feb 25 (Th): Debate 1: Their Religion or Ours?

Pro: We primarily study "other" religions in order to find something of ourselves.

Con: We primarily study "other" religion for their own sakes.


Mar 1(T): Historical religion

Can religious travel be conducted without religious intention? What does it mean to locate authentic religion in the past?

Reading: Conrad Rudolph, Pilgrimage to the End of the World (University of Chicago, 2004)

first debate write-up due


Mar 3 (Th): From Hajj to Homeland

Can religious affiliation transcend geography, class, race, or gender? Should it?

Reading: *Selections from The Autobiography of Malcolm X


Mar 8 (T): Satire of ourselves

How does the religious terrain of "the other" become a mirror to decode American identity? What are the moral and political limits of religious tourism?

Reading: Selections from Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad, chs. 51-53; *Jeffrey Alan Melton, "Keeping Faith in Mark Twain's The Innocents Abroad," South Atlantic Review 64 (1999): 58-80


Mar 10 (Th): Photoblog assignment: Imaging the other

Has the "digital age" transformed how we picture ourselves (mentally and materially) in "other" landscapes? Can the internet be sacred space--and a site to represent the religion of the "other"?

Online: Find at least four images (found in public, online sources such as of "other" sacred landscapes, and create a blog post with them in Sakai. Photos should be posted by Wednesday AM, and you are encouraged to leave comments on others' blog posts.

first reflection essay due





Mar 22 (T): Passing pilgrim

Where and how did European imperialists draw the line between religious selves and others? What do we discover about ourselves by "passing" as the other? Also: How to analyze primary sources

Reading: Sir Richard Burton's Travels, ch. 1 and 2


Mar 24 (Th): Dark continents

How is the "native" constructed at the intersection of the natural and the monstrous? Is religion a point of connection, or division between explorer and "native"?

Reading: Sir Richard Burton's Travels, ch. 3 and 4


Mar 29 (T): Comparative religion

Does the study of religion illuminate or obscure the discover of other cultures and societies? To what extent does colonial religion reflect and refract the concerns of Empire?

Reading: *David Chidester, "Dreaming in the Contact Zone: Zulu Dreams, Visions, and Religion in Nineteenth-Century South Africa," Journal of the American Academy of Religion 76 (2008): 27-53


Mar 31 (Th): Native lessons

What can we learn--historically, politically, ethically, personally--from the experience of natives, conquerors, and missionaries? How does "religion" fit into the founding of an Enlightenment, colonial nation?

Reading: (1) Red Jacket, "Religion for the White Man and the Red" (also available in audio) or (2) *Original published version of the speech (with the Missionary's Request) from Monthly Anthology and Boston Review (April 1809): 221-24; The First Amendment; *Robert Michaelsen, "Red Man’s Religion/White Man’s Religious History," Journal of the American Academy of Religion 51 (1983): 667-84


Apr 5 (T): Research and Writing Workshop


Apr 7 (Th): Savage souls

Can humans be people without religion? If not, on what grounds can we defend their rights?

Reading: Bartolomé de las Casas, A Short History of the Destruction of the Indies


Apr 12 (T): In-class screening: Pocahontas; also, How to watch a Disney film


Apr 14 (Th): In-class screening: Pocahontas

second reflection essay due


Apr 19 (T):  Debate 2: Colonial religion?

Pro: Religion primarily assisted the colonialist enterprise, and remains tinged with imperial ideas.

Con: Religion resisted colonialism, and remains an important tool to question imperial ideas.



Apr 21 (Th): Pushing boundaries

How do we teach children to reimagine religion, travel, and encounter in the premodern world?

Reading: Smalley and Bascle, Adventures of Marco Polo

second debate write-up due


Apr 26 (T): Medieval Encounters

How does war shape the invention of religious others (looking especially at Islam and the crusades)? How difficult is it for us as moderns to appreciate, contextualize, or even overcome the intersection of violence, religion, and territory?

Reading: *Paul M. Cobb, "Infidel Dogs: Hunting crusaders with Usamah ibn Munqidh," Crusades 6 (2007): 57-68; Excerpts from The Autobiography of Usama ibn Munqidh; Pope Urban II, "Speech at Clermont"


Apr 28 (Th): A holy land filled with others

What can early Christian constructions of the "holy land" tell us about the origins of religious travel and the production of "the other"? To what extent can such histories reflect our selves? Also: How to read your professors

Reading: The Piacenza Pilgrim; *Andrew Jacobs, Remains of the Jews: Holy Land and Christian Empire in Late Antiquity (Stanford, 2004), 103-38


May 3 (T): Last things

Discussion of final projects, and final thoughts

Reading: No reading assignment

Final paper to due on Thursday, May 12, 2016, by 12noon







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