Schedule of Readings & Discussions

 
Thursday, September 28
What is Religion?

    Tuesday, October 3
    Why Nature?

    1. PDF Wade Davis, The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World (Toronto: House of Anasasi Press, 2009), pp. 1-34.
    Judaism
    Thursday, October 5 – Thursday, October 12
    Nature as Lost

    1. PDF “Judaism,” The HarperCollins Dictionary of Religion (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995), pp. 598-607.
    2. Read Elie Wiesel, Night, pages 3-120.
        This unit of the course will use Elie Wiesel’s Night to consider a Jewish response to virtually total alienation from the natural world as a source of spiritual and emotional sustenance.
        The unit has three class meetings. In the first meeting, lecture will focus on Jewish conceptions of god, providing a theological background to Night. The second lecture will consider Night as a work of Jewish theology in relation to its religious and historical contexts. The unit’s third lecture will then consider the connection, within Night, between the loss of a connection with nature and the loss of connection with god.
        Please remember, this course does not seek to provide an overview of Judaism’s major tenets, rituals, ideals, and so on. With Judaism, as with the other traditions we study, the course is very selective in its focus. Ultimately, Night offers one very clear, but also very a limited, perspective on how human beings seek spiritual meaning in relation to their larger natural and social environments.
        Personal Response Paper #1: Choose the example from Night that helps you best understand how, for the author, a loss of spiritual connection with the natural world mirrors a loss of connection with god. Use this example to clarify or reflect on an experience from your own life.

        Personal Response Papers: A Guide

        Due Tuesday, October 17. Make sure to submit it before class on that date through turnitin.com using Class ID 13531116. I will give you the password in class.

    Taoism
    Tuesday, October 17 – Tuesday, October 24
    Nature as All

    1. PDF “Taoism,” The HarperCollins Dictionary of Religion (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995), pp. 1053-1055.
    2. Read Chuang Tzu: The Inner Chapters, pages 12-77.
        This unit of the course will use Chuang Tzu: The Inner Chapters to consider Taoism as a religion of paradox that focuses on the deliberate cultivation of naturalness, and that seeks unchanging immortality within the ever-changing flow of nature. The unit has three class meetings. In the first meeting, lecture will focus on the history of Taoism, looking at the distinction between so-called Religious and Philosophical Taoisms. The second will consider Chuang Tzu’s particular understanding of the Tao. What does it means to be “natural”? The unit’s third lecture will then focus on passages within The Inner Chapters where total harmony seems to produce a seemingly most-unnatural effect, immortality.
        Please remember, this course does not seek to provide an overview of Taoism’s major tenets, rituals, ideals, and so on. With Taoism, as with the other traditions we study, the course is very selective in its focus. Ultimately, The Inner Chapters offers one very clear, but also very a limited, perspective on how human beings seek spiritual meaning in relation to their larger natural and social environments.
        Personal Response Paper #2: Choose the example from The Inner Chapters that helps you best understand how, for Chuang Tzu, the Tao is nature in its natural state. Use this example to clarify or reflect on an experience from your own life.

        Personal Response Papers: A Guide

        Due Thursday, October 26. Make sure to submit it before class on that date through turnitin.com using Class ID 13531116. I will give you the password in class.

    Christianity
    Thursday, October 26 – Tuesday, November 7
    Nature as Other

    1. PDF “Christianity,” The HarperCollins Dictionary of Religion (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995), pp. 240-253.
    2. Read Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, pages 45-250. (It is perfectly acceptable to use a different edition than the one assigned. You will have different pages. Feel free to skip the long chapter entitled, “The Custom House,” if your edition begins with it.)
        Christianity has come up several times in class insofar as its creation myth, its theology (theories about the nature of god), and its anthropology (theories about human nature) all grow out of Judaic roots. When we looked at Judaism, we considered the belief that human beings belong to nature (since we are created by god) and yet simultaneously are beyond nature (since we are created in the image of god). And while discussing Night we considered how the horrors of the Holocaust highlighted the tensions within this belief to such a degree that the book’s main character Eliezer was no longer able to accept it as received from his tradition.
        Even though Christianity and Judaism begin with the same creation myth, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter will give us a chance to look at Christianity as a religion that expresses deep ambivalence about creation in a way that differs from that of Judaism. The unit has three class meetings. In the first meeting, lecture will focus on Christian theology. What is the Christian Trinity? What does it mean for Jesus to be God born in the body of a human being? The second lecture will look at Puritanism: the form of Christianity Hawthorne describes in The Scarlett Letter. The unit’s third lecture will then focus on the ambivalence of the natural world for Puritan Christianity, as well as earthly pleasure as a source of both desire and fear.
        Please remember, this course does not seek to provide an overview of Christianity’s major tenets, rituals, ideals, and so on. With Christianity, as with the other traditions we study, the course is very selective in its focus. Ultimately, The Scarlet Letter offers one very clear, but also very a limited, perspective on how human beings seek spiritual meaning in relation to their larger natural and social environments.
        Personal Response Paper #3: Choose an example from The Scarlet Letter that helps you best understand the profound ambivalence that the natural world held for Puritan Christianity. Use this example to reflect on how Puritan theology affects attitudes and policies towards the natural world in contemporary America.

        Personal Response Papers: A Guide

        Due Thursday, November 9. Make sure to submit it before class on that date through turnitin.com using Class ID 13531116. I will give you the password in class.

    Hinduism
    Thursday, November 9 – Tuesday, November 21
    Nature as Mirror

      Read Gita Mehta, A River Sutra, pages 1-282. There is a glossary of terms beginning on page 283.
        This unit of the course will use a contemporary novel, Gita Mehta’s The River Sutra, to consider how, for Hinduism, nature provides a mirror within which human beings behold the reflection of their own spiritual state. The unit has three class meetings. In the first meeting, lecture will focus on the complexities of Hindu theology. How can a religion claim that there are 330,000,000 gods and that there is only one god? The second will focus on The River Sutra’s depictions of the Narmada River in light of these theological complexities. The unit’s third lecture will then focus on how the natural world provides human beings the sphere of beauty, mystery, and suffering within which to recognize their own divinity.
        Please remember, this course does not seek to provide an overview of Hinduism’s major tenets, rituals, ideals, and so on. With Hinduism, as with the other traditions we study, the course is very selective in its focus. Ultimately, The River Sutra offers one very clear, but also very a limited, perspective on how human beings seek spiritual meaning in relation to their larger natural and social environments.
        Personal Response Paper #4: Choose an example from The River Sutra that helps you best understand how the natural world provides a mirror within which human beings behold the reflection of their own spiritual state. Use this example to reflect on an experience from your own life in which you resorted to a “both/and” logic.

        Personal Response Papers: A Guide

        Due Tuesday, November 28. Make sure to submit it before class on that date through turnitin.com using Class ID 13531116. I will give you the password in class.

    Shamanism
    Tuesday, November 28 – Thursday, December 7
    Nature as Home

      Read Malidoma Patrice Somé, Of Water and the Spirit: Ritual, Magic, and Initiation in the Life of an African Shaman, pages 1-311.
        Class meeting on Tuesday, November 22 will not be a lecture. Instead I will make myself available for your questions. Think of it as a whole-class office hours. So please bring questions you might have about any unit in the quarter, not just Shamanism.
        This unit of the course will use a personal memoir written by a West African shaman to consider how a human being can come to see nature as his home, without the ambivalence or alienation that we have observed in several of the other traditions considered earlier in the quarter. The unit has three class meetings. In the first meeting, lecture will focus on Shamanism as a cross-cultural phenomenon. The word shaman does not come from Africa, but rather from Siberia. Why does Malidoma Somé call himself a shaman? The second lecture will look at Malidoma Somé’s early life, focusing on the differences between the community-life of the village in which he grew up and the Jesuit Christian seminary in which he was educated. The unit’s third lecture will then focus on the ritual of initiation, and the ways in which shamanic practitioners ally with nature to transform death into life.
        Personal Response Paper #5: Focusing on the Dagara initiation ritual in the second half of Of Water and the Spirit, choose an anecdote, event, or trial that was NOT discussed in lecture. Make sense of that anecdote, event, or trial in terms of “indigeneity” as an acquired value.

        Personal Response Papers: A Guide

        Due Monday, December 4 before 11 am. Make sure to submit it before class on that date through turnitin.com using Class ID 13531116. I will give you the password in class.

    Final Exam
    Wednesday, December 13, 11:30 am – 2:30 pm
    Warren Lecture Hall 2112

      The exam is scheduled on Wednesday December 6, 11:30 am – 2:30 pm. The exam will be open-book. This means that you should bring your books and class notes to the exam. Bring your books because you will be asked question(s) that require you to cite or paraphrase the readings directly. Using your resources as well as your brains, you will have to write one (possibly two) essay(s) that compare and contrast the traditions we studied during the quarter.
      I encourage you to also bring a computer or tablet. You will be permitted to write your essays on the device, and then to submit your answers electronically through turnitin.com before leaving the room. If you do not take the test on a computer or tablet, you will need a bluebook. If you hope to reschedule this exam for any reason, please make sure you speak with me by the end of Week 3 at the latest.