Introductions to the Study of Religion
The 2021 cohort of American Examples developed these syllabi during the Teaching Workshop. Each participant was charged with writing a syllabus that used their area of expertise as an example for teaching an introduction to religious studies course. Each syllabus includes annotations from the developer that explain the decisions they made along the way.
In this course we explore a variety of approaches to the academic study of religion through the data available readily made available in news media, popular culture, and various other channels of information. The course will consider questions such as the politics of using the term “religion,” the costs and benefits of deploying the term in public discourse, the perseverance and utility of the term for scholars of religion, and the role the category continues to play in social, cultural, and political issues of concern to the scholar.
This course will introduce students to important theories and theorists in comparative studies of religion, the function of religion, the history of religion, and the definition of religion. This course will put special emphasis on how ideas of religion organize social and political worlds. As a general education course, REL 100 will emphasize critical thinking, written and oral communication, reading, and note-taking skills.
This course is an introduction to the academic study of religion. What are the fundamental questions in the study of religion? Can we define religion? How do people experience religion? How do we study religion? What is “a scholar of religion”?
Investigating specific examples and case studies help illustrate the history of religion in North America and the history of religion in North America teaches us about power, identities, community, boundaries, and classifications, among many other things, but all important to the study of religion. While this is an introduction to the study of religion, there will be a heavy emphasis on the history of religion in North America with special attention to both Canada and newer religious movements such as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or Mormonism). Why? Because this is my “example” (or case study) to help illustrate some of the common approaches to and theories guiding the study of religion.
This interdisciplinary course offers a general introduction to the academic study of religion. It provides a critical examination of how the word “religion” has been used historically and continues to be used today to organize social worlds. This course will engage with some of the key debates in the field of Religious Studies. For example, we will consider the meaning of the word religion, theories of the origins of religion, and some of the sociological and political functions of religion. By the end of this course, students will develop the critical thinking skills they need to succeed in the humanities and social sciences. Additionally, students will work toward developing the skills they need to succeed in their lives beyond the classroom.
This seminar-style course introduces students to the study of religion through an investigation of the concepts of sacrifice and salvation. Students read a range of inter-disciplinary theoretical texts that are later applied to the examination of historically-grounded, empirically-driven representations of religious practice. In order to broaden how we think about religion, faith, and ritual, students investigate the twinned concepts of sacrifice and salvation by critically engaging with secular, religious, and liberation discourses. Course readings focus on the following themes: martyrdom, state violence, liberation, and political and civil rights. The intent of this course is neither to exhaust the conceptual history of sacrifice and salvation in Western thought nor to create a singular narrative out of their conjoined usage. Rather, it is to utilize these concepts as a lens through which students can begin to closely engage with the critical study of religion.
What is “religion”? And what is “religious studies”? Who decides what gets to count as “religious” and what are the implications of classifying something as “religious”? Because classes just like this one have a huge role in shaping answers to those questions, we are going to read three very different textbooks commonly used in introductory courses like this. We will consider each author’s approach to the topic, and think about how these types of books, these types of courses, and this type of discourse among the general public actually shapes the way we view “religion.” Along the way, you will have the opportunity to gain many new insights into the doctrinal and ritual dimensions of several cultural practices commonly labeled religions; however, the main point of the course is to figure out and articulate the assumptions, values, and goals that shape our thinking about religions (and other stuff!).
The aim of this course is to introduce students to a variety of theoretical approaches in the study of religion. It is not a survey of different religious traditions. We will begin by interrogating some of the basic concepts which have classically informed studies of religion, noting both their genesis in the context of early modern Christian Europe and the problems entailed in applying them outside that context. The historical issues raised here will provide a basis from which to question the meaning of such key terms as belief, experience, religion, and law as they have been discussed in different scholarly traditions. We will then turn to a more in-depth analysis of specific problems and debates within the contemporary study of religion as they have been formulated in different ethnographic and historical works on religion.
This course introduces the study of religion as a critical, academic discipline—exploring the ways the category of ‘religion’ is deployed, defined, and interpreted. Religion affects the everyday experiences of people around the world. Oftentimes, religious beliefs and practices shape identities, influence cultures, and are inextricably tied to ideas of race, gender, sexuality, and class. This course introduces the field of Religious Studies by looking at themes and constructions of religion through doctrine, ritual, scripture, mysticism, nationalism, and colonization across two or more religions, including Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism, while also introducing theoretical approaches to the study of religion. Readings will include theorists such as Michel Foucault, Edward Said, and Judith Butler in conjunction with ethnographic or case study readings that explore lived religions at the intersections of gender and sexuality.
This course will explore a variety of approaches to the study of religion by examining critical terms that have helped to define the field, such as myth, ritual, race, colonialism, experience, gender, authority, sacrifice, and belief, among others. We will use these terms to think critically and comparatively about examples from a variety of traditions from around the world. We will pay particularly close attention to the ways in which states define and regulate the social formations we call religions as well as the politics of the denial of that category. This course takes a “practical” approach to studying religion: we will examine religions not as sets of abstract ideas or philosophies but rather see the act of categorization itself as a contested practice. The course will not present disembodied histories of ideas but a critical examination of contextualized human contestations.
This is not a survey course and, as such, we will not be discussing the specifics of different religious traditions except insofar as they inform our broader discussion. This course is divided into three modules: the first looks at the struggle to define “religion,” as well as the historical, social, and political implications of the attempt to do so. It offers a broad overview of the history of the category of religion, and an introduction to some of the key terms in the field. The second examines the limitations of definitions of religion through a series of short, modern case studies, including paranormal belief and experience, and New Religious Movements. The final module brings together all of these discussions in a case study of the novel Station Eleven.
This class will explore all three of those analytical methods (religion as phenomena, comparativist religion, religion as a classification system) to some extent, experimenting with how they might be useful and where they might fail. Above all, this course holds the category “religion” loosely, it does not grip it tightly. It assumes that the tools developed by religious studies scholar and the ways we approach religion are applicable both in the study of what is commonly called religion and in social phenomena that might seem entirely nonreligious.
This course will introduce students to the academic study of religion, which includes definitions of religion, theories of religion, comparisons of religion, etc. Using American evangelicalism as our main point of reference, we will discuss both theoretical texts and representative case studies (e.g., films, sermons, etc.) as our course materials. This course will encourage and cultivate critical thinking, argumentation skills, and analytic writing abilities that are necessary in the humanities and social sciences.
Religion in America
The 2020 cohort of American Examples developed these syllabi in groups during the Teaching Workshop. They reflect a collaborative blending of their expertise and the goal of using the content of the typical survey of religion in America to ask broader theoretical questions.
This course introduces students to the study of religion and America from the seventeenth century to the contemporary period. Students will also learn and apply a sample of research methods commonly used in the study of religion and be invited to critically consider the categories of “religion” and “America” through a variety of case studies. The primary textbook for the class, Religion in American Life, will be used for two purposes: (1) introduce students to the history, key events, and concepts of religion in America, and (2) as an example of a narrative of religion in America that students will examine through a critical lens. The students will be invited to examine the perspectives from which this narrative is told, which voices are included, and which voices are omitted.
What is “American” about “religion” and vice versa? We live in a nation that claims to uphold religious freedom and separation of church and state as founding ideals, but what exactly do these words mean? Have dominant understandings of these ideas changed over time? And how have marginalized groups used these ideas to advocate for change? This class will equip you to consider such questions by introducing you to critical concepts in religious studies, including nation, community, identity, canon, authenticity and others. Throughout the course, we will focus on how religious categorizations and identities intersect with race, gender, and sexuality. In the final section of the course, students will have the opportunity to apply these developing understandings to “case studies” or examples of American “founding myths,” including “religious freedom,” “the American dream,” and “e pluribus unum.” What are the politics and limits of these founding stories?
Countercultures and American Religion explores tensions between mainstream and marginal ideas about what it means to be ‘American’ from the 1960s to the present. We begin by grounding the course with selections from Bruce Lincoln’s Discourse and the Construction of Society, which sets the tone for our basic thesis – that discourse, including language, spectacle, rituals, and symbols, are the primary ground upon which competing cultures within a society attempt to tell and retell their versions of who ‘we’ are and who we ought to be. The first unit turns to the 1960s, where countercultures like the hippies and the Black Power movement serve as key examples of how normative ideas of ‘Americanness’ were challenged in significant ways. The second unit turns to the question of ‘civil religion’ in America, which was an idea proposed by Robert Bellah in 1967, and subsequently used as a multicultural framework for managing difference. Turning to critiques of this framework in post-9/11 representations of Islam we explore how the mainstream trope of ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ Muslims reveals once again the shaky ground upon which American identitiy has been constructed. Finally, in unit 3 we explore Native American dispossession, appropriation, and resistance, focusing on the various relationships between Indigenous religions and Christianity in the United States, historically and today.