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What Do We Study When We Study Religion?

Semester and Year WI 2019
Course Number IDSEM-UG1938
Section 001
Instructor Gregory Erickson
Time 10:00 AM - 1:30 PM
Units 4
Level U
Requirement   HUM



Despite predictions throughout the twentieth century that modernization and secularization went hand in hand with an inevitable decline of religion, the so-called “return of religion” in the late twentieth century called this thesis into question. Political and social shifts of the twenty first century have made it even more clear that to understand our world—its past, present, and future—we must understand religion. But what do we mean when we say religion has “returned” and what do we mean by “religion”? Is it a set of practices, a belief system, an ethnicity, or a cultural identity? This course will be based around the complex and ultimately unanswerable question, “what do we study when we study ‘religion’?” The course will include discussion of major world religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—as well as new religious movements, magic, atheism, and religious identifications such as “spiritual but not religious.” We will discuss religious studies as an academic discipline, the history of religion, sociological and anthropological approaches, the psychology of religion, feminist theory, the idea of “lived religion,” topics within popular culture and religion, and recent political characterizations and debates. Readings may include works by Tala Asad, Graham Harvey, William James, Mircea Eliade, J. Z. Smith, Robert Orsi, Barbara Herrnstein Smith, Saba Mahmood, Charles Taylor, Russell McCutcheon, Jeffrey Stout, and Michael Warner.


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Course Type

Interdisciplinary Seminars (IDSEM-UG)