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Skidmore College
Religious Studies Department

Spring 2020 Religion Course Offering

Course Number/Title Days/Times Credits Professor

RE 103- Understanding Religions

An in-depth investigation of religion as a global, cross-cultural phenomenon. Religions situate human actors in relation to nonhuman agents, and yet scholars of religion view religion as a profoundly human activity – as something “made” not by gods and spirits but by people. In our effort to study religion both critically and empathetically, we examine multiple traditions from different times and places, and we engage scholarly approaches that help us to consider religion from different perspectives. 

Fulfills humanities requirement.

Sec. 001:

T/R   11:10 - 12:30 p.m.

M    11:15 - 12:20 p.m.

Sec. 002: 

W/F   12:20-2:10 p.m.


G. Spinner



R. Overbey

RE 105-  American Gods

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 cultural diversity and humanities requirements.

Sec. 001:

T/R   9:10 - 11:00 p.m.

Sec. 002: 

T/R   3:40-5:30 p.m.

4 L. Hulsether

RE-225-001 - Religion and Ecology

An exploration of the critical connections between religion and the natural environment. How do religious beliefs, symbol systems, and ritual behaviors shape human perceptions of, and interactions with, animals and the nonhuman environment? How might the primary models provided by western, eastern and indigenous religions help us to address specific local and global environmental concerns?  Using primary texts drawn from a variety of sacred traditions, and writings from a broad spectrum of historical and contemporary naturalists, poets and theologians, the course will cover such topics as deep ecology, ecofeminism, and religiously-engaged environmental activism.  In addition, we will read in-depth case studies that feature how people of faith have drawn on the ethical and theological resources of their traditions to reimagine our relationship to non-human nature – from an ethnography of engaged Hindu ecotheology and river restoration in India to Pope Francis’ landmark encyclical, Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home. 

Fulfills humanities requirement.

10:10 - 11:30 a.m. 
3 E. Kent

RE 230C-001 - Religious Approaches to Death and Dying

A philosophical and comparative exploration of religious perspectives on human mortality, mourning, and memorialization. “Death,” 20th century philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote, “is not an event in life.” Despite this paradox (or perhaps because of it), human beings have spent centuries meditating on death and how the proper relation to one’s own mortality might facilitate a more meaningful existence. In this course, we will approach these issues as a vector of comparison in the study of religions. What, for instance, can the approaches to death within a tradition tell us about how people value life and the human body? How does a community’s approach to mortality serve to shape and renew their sense of identity, history, and fate? Are there better and worse ways to die? Can reflecting on death and its relation to life empower us to live better lives?

Fulfills humanities requirement

9:40 - 11:00 a.m.
3 W. Goggin

RE 230C-002 - Denying the Gods: The Religious Origins of Atheism

A historical and systematic investigation of the religious sources of ancient, modern, and contemporary atheisms. “New Atheists” such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens are often invoked in contemporary discourse as intellectually authoritative voices for atheism. For these “New Atheists”, the difference between religion and unbelief is straightforward: rationality is superior to superstition, freedom should be valued over submission, critical inquiry should replace blind faith. However, the historical relationship of atheism to religion and religious belief is considerably more complex than such neat, binary oppositions allow. Far from being a contemporary phenomenon, atheism has religious roots as deep and ancient as the theism which it purports to reject. While “New Atheism” tends to be dismissive of religion and religious beliefs, ancient and modern atheisms emerged from a willingness to take religion seriously on its own terms. Through comparative analysis of the appearance of atheism and antireligious thought within, between, and adjacent to several religious traditions (e.g., Ancient Greek religion, Christian Mysticism, Hinduism, Judaism) this course will contextualize and evaluate a range of atheistic positions. By the end of the course, we will see, it is perhaps better to speak about “atheisms” than “atheism.”         

Fulfills humanities requirement

8:40 - 10:00 a.m. 
3 W. Goggin

RE 221 - Buddhism: An Introdution (NAB)

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 humanities requirement; fulfills non-western requirement.

8:10 - 9:30 a.m. 
3 R. Overbey

RE 241-001 - Theorizing the Sacred

An introduction to the theory and methodology of the academic study of religion. The course examines both foundational theories and contemporary approaches, bringing together disciplines such as anthropology, sociology, and psychology.  We not only interrogate the scholarly category of “religion,” but we employ it as a critical lens through which diverse aspects of social life and material culture can be examined.  In addition, students collaborate on special projects, interviewing practitioners or scholars of religion.

Fulfills humanities requirement.

2:30 - 4:20 p.m.
4 G. Spinner

RE 330D-001 - Queer Religion

A cross-cultural and multi-disciplinary approach to the question of how sexuality has been shaped by religious discourse, myth, doctrine and ritual.  We begin by examining how, within the Christian tradition, particular forms of sexual expression come to be seen as normal, while others are seen as deviant or “queer.”  Then, through case studies drawn from the US, India, Africa and the Middle East, we examine how sexual minorities and non-gender conforming people across time and space have challenged (or embraced) social norms governing gender and sexuality by drawing on religion.  In the process, we grapple with questions at the intersection of religious studies and queer studies: Why have debates over marriage equality/gay marriage been so divisive among US Christians?  How have queer performance traditions of “camp” been utilized by activists fighting discrimination against LGBTQI people within the Catholic church?  How have the lives of Indian hijras (eunuchs and transgender people, whose lifeways have been traditionally sanctioned within Hinduism) changed with greater legal recognition?  Does global gay rights activism help or hurt sexual minorities and transgender people whose lifeways take shape within very different religious, cultural and historical contexts?

Fulfills humanities requirement; counts toward Gender Studies. Prerequisite: One prior Religious Studies or Gender Studies course or permission of the instructor.


12:20 - 2:10 p.m.
4 E. Kent

RE 330D-002 - Sex, Gods & Rock and Roll: Religion and American Pop

A seminar on the historical relationship between religious expression and the production and consumption of popular music in the U.S. When we try to make sense of the place of popular music in the cultures of the United States, we find ourselves led almost irresistibly toward the analytical categories of religious studies and the lexicons of specific historical religious traditions. Indeed, popular music stands as a vital source of identity, meaning, community, and profound –even transcendent –experience. Such resonances are no accident. We cannot understand the power of popular music in U.S. cultures without attention to its roots in the hybridization of various historical developments in American religious consciousness. This seminar will examine diverse genres of popular music (e.g., vaudeville, soul, jazz, psychedelia, hip-hop) through theoretical texts, case studies, and significant popular music recordings. Our investigations will be at once historical, formal, and critical. Historically speaking, we will attend to the ways in which religious traditions (e.g., West African Diaspora Religions, Unitarianism and Transcendentalism, Judaism and Protestant Christianity) have historically impacted the form, content, and social role of popular music in the U.S. Formally speaking, we will consider how popular music opens and/or forecloses certain types of religious activity. Critically, we will consider how attention to the religious aspects of popular music help us to think through the changing role of religion in the modern world.

Fulfills humanities requirement. Prerequisites: One prior Religious Studies course or permission of the instructor.

3:40 - 5:30 p.m.

4 W. Goggin