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Skidmore College
First-Year Experience

Scribner Seminar Program
Course Description

River Goddesses of India: Religious Purity and Environmental Pollution

Instructor(s): Joel Smith, Philosophy

This course will introduce students to disciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives on three river goddesses of India, with the goal of understanding the complex relationship between religion and the environment in India. We will explore the vision (darsan) of and devotion (bhakti) to the goddesses to understand how Hindus see the goddesses as both transcending the rivers yet present in them. We will also explore political and scientific research to understand the environmental pollution of the rivers. We will discuss issues such as the following: How can a river simultaneously be religiously pure yet environmentally polluted? How can the goddess be both transcendent and immanent? Does Hindu religion hinder or support cleaning up river pollution? What is the legacy of Gandhi for the environment? Students will use interdisciplinary approaches to explore these issues of myth and ritual, literature and poetry, theology and science, art and politics.