What on Earth is Religion? RELIGST 1B03.
Spring 2019. McMaster University, Religious Studies Department
Lecture: Tues/Thurs 9:30AM-12:30PM. Term: May 7th – June 21st 2019
Instructor: Maxwell Kennel
Office Hours: University Hall (basement), by appointment.
“Religion is solely the creation of the scholar’s study. It is created for the scholar’s analytic purposes by his imaginative acts of comparison and generalization. Religion has no independent existence apart from the academy. For this reason, the student of religion, and most particularly the historian of religion, must be relentlessly self-conscious.” – J.Z. Smith
This course introduces the academic study of religion and religions by focusing on key themes and exploring diverse ways in which scholars approach religiosity, both historically and in contemporary global cultures. Topics may include truth and truth-claims, ritual and practice, myth and history, authority and power, community and conformity. This course is an introduction to the academic study of religion focusing on the history of the scholarly discipline, addressing ideas about what constitutes “religion” and “religions,” and exploring the ways in which religious worldviews affect individuals and communities both historically and globally.
By the end of the course students should be able to: (1) Recognize similarities and differences between how human beings participate in religious communities and form religious identities. (2) Understand fundamental problems in the academic study of religion. (3) Appreciate the complexity and diversity of religious studies and make use of several of its major perspectives.
Hillary Rodrigues & John S. Harding, Introduction to The Study of Religion. London: Routledge, 2008. [ISR]
Weekly Course Schedule and Required Readings
Tues, May 14: Definitions: What is Religion?
Readings: ISR, Chapter 1, 1-17 (review) and Boris Groys, “Google: Words Beyond Grammar” documenta 13. no. 46 (2012).
Film: “The Mystical Brain” (NFB, 2006)
Tues, May 21 and 23: Beginnings: How has religion traditionally been studied?
Readings: ISR, Chapter 2, 18-48.
Film: “The Amish: A People of Preservation” (Vision, 2003)
Tues, May 28: Culture & Society: How has religion recently been studied?
Readings: ISR, Chapter 3, 49-73.
Film: “American Jesus” (Gravitas, 2013)
Thurs, May 30: Guest Speaker: Jeremy Cohen. “Transhumanism and Ethnography”
Tues, June 4: Phenomenology: How is religious experience studied?
Readings: ISR, Chapter 4, 74-103.
Film: “Honour Thy Father” (NFB, 2008)
Thurs, June 6: Guest Speaker: Rob Jones. “Death and Dying, the Western Experience”
Tues, June 11: Judging Religion: How has religion been critiqued? (Part 1)
Readings: ISR, Chapter 5, 104-119.
Film: “Me and the Mosque” (NFB, 2005)
Thurs, June 13: Judging Religion: How has religion been critiqued? (Part 2)
Readings: ISR, Chapter 5, 119-133.
Tues, June 18: Method: What are recent issues in Religious Studies?
Readings: ISR, Chapter 6, 134-140.
Film: “Marathon Monks” (DER, 2002)
Thurs, June 20: Review Class