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Skidmore College
Religious Studies Department

FALL 2021


Number/Name Days/Times Credits Professor

RE 103P  Understanding Religions

An introduction to the principal beliefs, practices, symbols and institutions of four of the world’s religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Lakota Sioux religion) along with the conceptual tools for understanding and appreciating religion as a fundamental component of human experience.  With help from a range of scholarly studies, religious biographies, scriptural texts and films, we will examine both the intriguing patterns of similarity evident in religions across space and time, and the ways particular varieties of religion are embedded in social and historical contexts.  How do religious beliefs and practices justify – or challenge – prevailing social arrangements?  How do adherents adapt and transform a received religious tradition into new socio-historical contexts?  Throughout the course, we will be reading texts that describe the experiences of individual adherents, to get a sense for how individuals draw on religious traditions to create meaningful lives amidst great personal and social challenges.  

Fulfills Humanistic Inquiry requirement; fulfills non-Western and Global Cultural Perspectives requirement.

Offered as Explorations in Religious Studies through Critical Perspectives.

10:10 - 11:30


M  11:15-12:10



4 E. Kent

RE 105W  American Gods: Religious Diversity in the U.S.

What is an “American” religion? What do people mean when they refer to the United States as a site of “religious diversity” or “religious freedom”? This course explores these questions, with special attention to how issues of religion are shaped by dynamics of race, gender, sexuality, and nation. Students will encounter key players in the religious history of the Americas and build a toolbox for interpreting the interplay of religion, culture, and politics more broadly.

Fulfills Humanistic Inquiry requirement; fulfills Global Cultural Perspectives and Cultural Diversity requirement.

Offered as Explorations in Religious Studies through Writing.

3:40 - 5:30 

RE 215  Islam

A basic introduction to Islamic scripture, rituals, and spiritual practices. Our approach is historical, undertaking a critical investigation of both texts and contexts, in an attempt to understand and analyze the lived reality of Islam, both past and present. Roughly one out of every five people on this planet today identify as Muslim, and yet Americans know relatively little about a religious tradition having such a profound influence on world history and culture and which continues to impact contemporary events. Whereas media images tend to distort its message and dilute its meanings, we will give Islam far more careful consideration, approaching this religion as the rich and multi-faceted tradition that it is. Covering some core beliefs and practices shared by most Muslims, we will emphasize the complexity and diversity of Muslim life, as various Muslim cultures interpret and implement Islam in different ways. While we adopt a global perspective for a global religion, the course also looks at Muslims in contemporary North America.  

Fulfills Humanistic Inquiry requirement; fulfills non-Western and Global Cultural Perspectives requirement.

9:40 - 11:00
3 G. Spinner

RE 221  Buddhism: An Introduction

A broad introductory survey of the Buddhist tradition, focusing on the tradition’s history and development, its key doctrines and practices, its geographic spread, and its cultural adaptations. The course materials have a dual focus. We will examine the intellectual and philosophical history of Buddhism in detail; and we will also explore how Buddhism functions as a living, practical tradition.

Fulfills humanistic inquiry requirement; fulfills non-Western and Global Cultural Perspectives requirement. Counts toward Asian Studies.

8:40 - 10:00 

RE 230C-001  Religious Approaches to Death & Dying

According to Buddhist traditions, death is an opportunity for the soul to progress in its spiritual journey, yet according to transhumanist scientists death is the worst disease to ever plague humankind. For certain medieval Christians, the whole of life was a practice of the ars moriendi (the art of dying) in order to prepare for the afterlife, yet for certain modern atheist philosophers life is the practice of joy in the face of death because there is no afterlife. For the ancient Aztecs, life was made meaningful in some way through human sacrifice, yet for many modern thinkers vegetarianism is the only ethical option for meaningful human life on earth. Despite the mystery of the nature of death and dying, it is clear from all of these perspectives that one's understanding of death reflects one's interpretation of the meaning of life. In light of this fact, this course will approach three major questions: What is death? What are the ways humans can Interpret the process of dying? What do the answers to our questions about death and dying have to do with our answers to the meaning of life?

Fulfills Humanistic Inquiry requirement.

T / TH
8:10 - 9:30

RE 230C-002   Worlds of Buddhism

As a global religion, Buddhism has been transmitted across countless cultural and linguistic borders, from the Indian subcontinent to what are now Sri Lanka, China, Japan, Korea, southeast Asia and more recently Europe and North America.  Focusing on case studies from Asia, this class explores how Buddhism has changed and effected change in societies and cultures in diverse socio-historical contexts.

Fulfills Global Cultural Perspectives, non-Western, and Humanistic Inquiry requirements. Counts toward Asian Studies

2:30 - 3:50

RE 230W   Sacred Pain

An exploration of pain and suffering in religious contexts, wherein personal trauma intertwines with collective memory. Religions often validate and sometimes valorize suffering, investing painful experiences with noble purpose or redemptive power; thus, certain groups deliberately inflict rather than avoid pain. Our cross-cultural approach pays critical attention to canonical texts, historical sources, and ethnographic accounts. Covering an assortment of martyrs, mourners, flagellants, stigmatics, sundancers, ‘needle girls,’ and other interesting figures, our initial focus on self-harm eventually widens into an examination of ritualized violence. An additional, asynchronous credit hour devoted to writing balances personal reflections with analytical essays.

Fulfills Humanistic Inquiry requirement.

Offered as Explorations in Religious Studies through Writing.

12:40 - 2:00 
 4 G. Spinner

RE 320  Yoga: History, Theory Practice

An exploration of yoga from its roots in ancient Indic religious philosophy to its current status as a globally popular form of physical culture.   Understood as a set of physical and meditative practices, yoga has been employed by Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists to attain magical powers, heightened states of consciousness, and spiritual liberation. But it has also been used more recently as a form of exercise consisting of stretches and breathing techniques.  This seminar examines the social, religious, political and historical issues raised by the practice of yoga, as we investigate its development in various contexts. 

Fulfills humanistic inquiry requirement; fulfills non-Western and Global Cultural Perspectives requirement. Counts toward Asian Studies.

12:20 - 1:40 

M   12:20 - 1:15

 4  E. Kent

RE 330D   Religion, Sex, and Citizenship

An exploration of the relationship between religion, sex, and citizenship. What has been the role of religion in the creation of sexual norms in United States history? How has this relationship changed over time, in relation to intersecting systems of class and race? What are “family values” and where did they come from? Does secularism necessarily promote sexual freedom? This seminar course takes up questions like these, anchoring our inquiry in interdisciplinary theories of gender and sexuality and American religious movements. Looking at a range of grounded contexts—from Supreme Court rulings on religious freedom, to fights over sex education in schools, to feminist and queer-centered religious collectives, to the affinities between sexual violence and empire, to capitalism’s regimes of gendered labor—students will develop critical vocabularies for analyzing the intimacies between religion and sexuality in the United States. Students also learn the basics of independent primary-source driven research, which they will use as the basis for a final 10-12 page research paper due at the close of the term.

Fulfills Humanistic Inquiry requirement. Counts toward Gender Studies and American Studies.

Prerequisite:One prior Religious Studies or Gender Studies course or permission of the instructor.

4:00 - 5:40 

4 L. Hulsether