Introduction to Religious Studies Course (Spring 2019 and 2021)

Course Syllabus
What on Earth is Religion?
SCAR 1B03. Spring 2021

Course Description

This course is an introduction to the academic study of religion and religions that focuses on key themes in the discourse and examines how scholars approach religiosity both historically and in contemporary global cultures. This course focuses on the history of the discipline, including ideas about what constitutes “religion” and “religions” and the ways in which religious worldviews affect individuals and communities historically and globally.

Course Objectives

By the end of the course students should be able to:

  • Recognize both similarities and differences between how human beings participate in religious communities and embody religiosity.
  • Understand fundamental problems and perspectives in the academic study of religion.
  • Appreciate the interdisciplinarity, complexity, and diversity of Religious Studies.

Required Materials and Texts

Weekly Course Schedule and Required Readings

Week 1. May 3-7. Course Introduction

  • Questions: What are the Humanities and Social Sciences? What is the study of religion?
  • Reading: ISR, Intro 1-17. and “The Is-Ought Fallacy,” The Critical Thinking Toolkit. (Wiley, 2017): 149-152.
  • Film: “The Trap” (NFB, 2007).
  • Lecture 1: The Social Sciences and Humanities in the University
  • Lecture 2: Introducing the Study of Religion

Week 2. May 10-14. Definitions

  • Questions: What is religion? What is Religious Studies?
  • Reading: Richard King, “The Copernican Turn in the Study of Religion” in Theory, Religion, Critique: Classic and Contemporary Approaches and Methodologies. Ed. Richard King (CUP, 2017).
  • Lecture 1: A Brief History of Religious Studies
  • Lecture 2: ‘The boxes we put things in’: Definitions of Religion and the Problem of Categories

Week 3. May 17-21. Beginnings

Week 4. May 24-28. Religion, the Social Sciences, and Material Cultures

  • Questions: What are recent approaches to the study of religion? What are material cultures?
  • Readings: ISR Ch 3, 49-73. and David Morgan, “Introduction” to Religion and Material Culture: The Matter of Belief. (Routledge, 2010), 1-17.
  • Film: “The Amish: A People of Preservation” (Vision, 2003). Kanopy.
  • Lecture 1: Anthropological and Sociological Approaches
  • Lecture 2: Political and Economic Approaches

Week 5. May 31-June 4. Phenomenology and Religious Experiences

  • Question: How has religious experience been studied? How does it feel to be religious?
  • Readings: ISR Ch 4, 74-103. and selections from Maia Kotrosits, The Lives of Objects: Material Culture, Experience, and the Real in the History of Early Christianity. (University of Chicago Press, 2020).
  • Film: “Marathon Monks” (DER, 2002). Kanopy.
  • Lecture 1: Phenomenological and Psychological Approaches
  • Lecture 2: Guest Lecture!

Week 6. June 7-11. Judging Religion

  • Question: How has religion been critiqued?
  • Readings: ISR Ch 5, 104-133. And selections from
  • Film: “Me and the Mosque” (NFB, 2005).
  • Lecture 1: Feminist and Atheist Critiques
  • Lecture 2: Critical Theory and the Study of Religion

Week 7. June 14-18. Course Review and Individual Essay Writing Consultations.

  • Readings: ISR Ch 6, 134-140. and Boris Groys, “Google: Words Beyond Grammar” documenta 13. no. 46 (2012).
  • Lecture 1: Essay Writing Suggestions and Topics
  • Lecture 2: Religion in the Contemporary World.