Religious Studies


RELC 2559: The Spiritual Life [3] - THIS CLASS HAS BEEN CANCELLED

Kevin Hart, Professor

This course introduces students to spirituality, primarily as expressed in the Christian tradition yet with reference to other religious traditions. In particular, it concerns itself with three modes of the spiritual life: visions, contemplations, and mystical experiences. Students are invited to consider the spiritual or inner life in two ways: (a) texts, and (b) problems that arise from those texts. The main texts to be read and discussed are works by Julian of Norwich, Teresa of Ávila, Meister Eckhart, and the Cloud-Author: two English authors, one Spaniard, and one German; two women and two men. Among the questions to be considered are these: What differences are there between visionary, contemplative, and mystical writings? Do all these refer to experience in the same ways? Do male and female writers speak of the same things? What sense may we give to “transcendence”? Is spiritual life at the center or at the margin of institutional religious life? Does the spiritual life in Christianity resemble in important ways the spiritual life in other world religions? Attention will also be given to historical changes in the understanding of the spiritual life, especially the formation of the modern notion of “mystical experience.”


RELG 2559: Religious Diversity in the Religious Imagination or Fiction Amidst Many Faiths [3] - THIS CLASS HAS BEEN CANCELLED

Petra Turner, Instructor

Religious Pluralism, the fact that we live in a world that contains many forms of vibrant religious practices and faiths, is an ever-present reality, one that brings with it its own series of responses and practices. This mix of response, relationality and continuing commitment has provided fiction writers with a rich mix of psychological, social, and religious elements, and these writers have entered into this milieu, attempting to explore if not answer the questions we all have, even if we sometimes hesitate to ask them.   In that spirit, this course will introduce the students to the ways in which the human imagination uses fiction to explore the relationship between religious commitment amidst the ever present plurality of faiths   We will begin with Flannery O'Connor's 'Revelation', which opens out the course with an examination of the judgment  we place on others. This short story will be followed by Silence  by Shusako Endo, which depicts a hostile relation between faiths, before moving on to E.L. Doctorow's City of God,  which explores one Episcopal priest's journey  into a particular synthesis ofreligious belief. In this same key, we will then tum to The Life of Pi, who Iike the protagonist in City of God, practices faith as a synthesis of many faiths, but whose relationship to these faiths presents an alternative avenue of synthesis. Finally, we will tum to An Ocean Full of Angels, whose protagonist,  'Isa ben Adam, has chosen one faith, and yet lives that faith in full dialogue with other faiths.

RELG 3559/GDS 3559/NUIP 4005/PPOL 5225: Conscious Social Change [3]

Gretchen Wallace, Visiting Lecturer


Conscious Social Change is the intersection of personal leadership, global citizenship, mindfulness and social entrepreneurship.  It is an approach whereby leaders invest in their own self-understanding so that they may initiate social change mindfully with an understanding of how to embody the change they want to see in the world. It is a methodology whereby change agents leverage their own assets, gifts and passions to benefit the common good, while also honoring the wisdom and ideas of those they aim to serve.  It employs design tools that ensure solutions are innovative, sustainable and impactful at the systemic and root level of a social issue. It is a process where continual inner and outer transformation strives to advance a whole, just and compassionate society.

The Conscious Social Change J-Term course is an experiential social venture incubator integrating mindfulness-based leadership practices, social entrepreneurship tools, conscious social change methodologies, and contemplative ideas and practices.  Students will work in teams to develop a business plan for a real or hypothetical social-purpose venture or community-based organization.  Daily contemplative practice, interactive personal leadership work and course dialogue will allow students to explore both the inner and external dimensions of becoming change leaders. Drawing from the experiences of Lecturer, Gretchen Wallace, President and Founder of an international NGO, Global Grassroots, the course incorporates case studies of social entrepreneurs and conscious change leaders from grassroots communities globally.  After completing this program, students should be equipped with the knowledge and tools necessary to:

  • Employ social entrepreneurship frameworks to diagnose the root causes of an issue and to design a solution that will create conscious, sustainable, and systemic change
  • Initiate a new community-based organization or program that will have a measurable social impact
  • Pursue personal growth practices that foster responsible, ethical, and compassionate leadership
  • Deepen global citizenship skills so as to be prepared to work collaboratively under a conscious social change and participatory paradigm to support communities in advancing self-sufficiency and wellness.

RELH 3559: Yoga and Religious Experience [3]

John Nemec, Assistant Professor

The purpose of this course is to question the nature of religious experience, and in particular to interrogate the role of yogic practices (in their kinesthetic, psychological, reflective, and cultural dimensions) in defining, and cultivating, such experiences.  We will read two key primary texts in translation, classical Indian works from the original Sanskrit that define yoga, the practices it prescribes, and the states of consciousness it proposes to cultivate.  We will also read scholarly accounts of religious experience to help us to interpret these works.  Juxtaposing these works—key “confessional,” primary sources, on the one hand, and key “objective,” secondary scholarly works, on the other—we will be able to pose a fundamental set of questions: what is yoga, according to those who first developed it, and what kind of experiences did it claim (and seek) to cultivate?  How has yoga been practiced in history?  How can we understand the nature of the experience that yogic practices are said to cultivate?  How do they compare to other forms of religious (and mystical) experience?  And, simply, what is religious experience?