Tower

Courses Offered in Religion

Biblical Figures in Early Judaism and Early Christianity (Sandgren)
This course will explore the ways in which pivotal characters and narratives were interpreted within the literature of Judaism, Christianity, and early Islam. Selected readings will come from the Hebrew Bible, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Jewish Pseudepigrapha, Philo, Josephus, the New Testament, the Early Christian Apocrypha, the Patristic Writers, and the Qur'an.

Birth and Death in Rabbinic Literature (Kessler)
The two equalizing experiences everyone shares are birth and death. By examining the stories, laws, and rituals around these two poles--or parentheses--of existence we will begin to understand some of the central aspects of Judaism as it was developed by the Rabbis (e.g. God, community, ritual, prayer). Through studying rabbinic stories about birth and death we will see how the rabbis created a livable reality founded upon the myths of God's providence and God's covenant with Israel. By studying rabbinic legal traditions about birth and death, we will see how the rabbis tried to maintain order in the face of such extraordinary events. And, when focusing on ritual traditions surrounding birth and death, we will discuss the relationship between the community and the individual, and examine some of the different roles and responsibilities of women and men in the rabbinic period. Finally, by reading rabbinic traditions on birth and death from these three different genres (narrative, law, and ritual), we will begin to explore the relationship between various types of rabbinic literature.

Comparative Mysticism (Isenberg)
This seminar will have three major divisions. The first will be introductory, and will utilize materials from modern academics asking modern academic questions about mysticism and its study. We will also deal with mystical texts from various traditions in the second part of the class. In the third part, we will go directly into the problems of comparison.

Classical Judaism (Kessler)
This course surveys Jewish history and Jewish literature from the biblical through rabbinic periods-roughly 1000 years in the making. Judaism is an ever-complex culture, at one and the same time remarkably adaptable and resilient. This course will introduce the student to the diversity, as well as the continuity, of Jewish history, literatures, and practices/beliefs during the biblical, 2nd Temple, and rabbinic periods. Any narrative of Judaism, be it intended as scholarship or fiction (we will read both), is often just that, one narrative-where really a multitude of narratives can simultaneously be written. Biblical, 2nd Temple, and rabbinic literatures, as we will see, delight in such multi-dimensional narratives. In this course it is our task to read both fiction and scholarship critically as we seek out ways to understand-to translate-the history, literature, and beliefs/practices, of Ancient Judaism.

Diaspora Judaism (Hochman)
This course surveys the development of Judaism through the medieval, modern and contemporary periods. We will look at Jewish culture, history and religious traditions through the course of the Jewish Diaspora (Greek for "dispersion"), as Jewish communities developed different practices that contributed to and learned from local religious, cultural, philosophical, and political environments.

Early Judaism and Early Christianity (Sandgren)
A brief survey of ancient Israelite religion and the Hebrew scriptures, and a detailed political and social history of the Jews and Christians from the Maccabean Revolt to the Christian emperor Constantine. It will provide a forum in which we can examine the self-definition of Jews and Christians over and against each other as a platform for understanding Jewish-Christian relations today.

Introduction to Rabbinic Literature (Kessler)
This course is a survey of rabbinic documents redacted between the 3rd and 9th centuries of the Common Era (CE). The students will be introduced to a number of rabbinic compilations via both secondary and primary readings. Students will acquire an understanding of key terms used in the scholarship of rabbinic literature, e.g.: halakhah, aggadah, tannaitic, amoraic, midrash, talmud, gemara, etc. In addition, we will discuss some of the many difficulties involved in the study of rabbinic literature, e.g.: reliability of attributions, problems of accurately dating compilations and traditions within them, relationships between rabbinic documents, etc. Finally, the study of rabbinic literature may be compared to the piecing together of a rather large jigsaw puzzle--with some pieces still missing. In other words, there are many questions that have not yet been answered. Rather than gloss over that which we do not know and can only (at this point) speculate about, some emphasis will be placed on the many possible answers to the difficulties in rabbinic scholarship today.

Feminist Biblical Criticism (Kessler)
How are women portrayed in the Bible? How is gender constructed in biblical literature? What does the Bible have to say about sex, sexuality, and gender? This course introduces students to feminist interpretations-and criticisms-of the Bible. Using contemporary feminist, gender and queer theories, we will explore the reading of these ancient books (Hebrew Bible and New Testament) anew.

Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual, Trans-Gender Jews and Judaism (Kessler)
Contemporary Judaism-like other religions today is struggling to respond to the various challenges posed by gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Jews. By exploring Jewish literature of different time periods-from the biblical period up until today-and of different genres-from legal writings on sexuality to first person narratives to fiction-we will examine the various ways Judaism has met, or has yet failed to meet, the challenges of its GLBTG Jews.

Gender and Genesis (Kessler)
The first two chapters of the biblical book of Genesis offer two very different ancient accounts of the creation of humanity and the construction of gender. The rest of the book of Genesis offers a unique portrayal of family dynamics, drama and dysfunction, full of complex and compelling narratives where gender is constantly negotiated and renegotiated. In this class, students will engage in close readings of primary biblical sources and contemporary scholarship about these texts, as we explore what the first book of the Bible says about God, gender, power, sexuality, and "family values.

Gendering God: God Trouble (Kessler)
This course applies contemporary feminist, gender, and queer theories, to the portrayals of God in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. With the publication of Judith Butler's book Gender Trouble (along with other works), the very categories of male and female and sex and gender are continually being reconfigured as sites of trouble. This course explores what happens when the now troubled (unstable or destabilized) categories of sex and gender and male and female are superimposed upon religious conceptions of God.

Hebrew Scriptures (Sandgren)
The history, literature and beliefs of the Israelites and Jewish people as reflected in the Biblical text (in English Translation), including the Old Testament Apocrphya, in the light of modern scholarship.

Introduction to Judaism (Hochman)
This class looks at the basic tenets of Judaism as a living, developing religion through the historical development of Judaism and Jewish religious practice. Students will study the history and development of holiday and life cycles, prayer, and ritual, as well as the different movements within contemporary Judaism, in order to get a sense of everyday living Judaism. No prior knowledge of Judaism is required or expected.

Jesus and Judaism in Historical Imagination (Sandgren)
The primary goal of this course is a critical understanding of the value and limitations of the historical novel in comparison to historical imagination in describing Jesus and early Judaism. The course will compare the modern historical novel with academic "histories" and the intermediate approach of dramatic historical narrative, called historical imagination. Students will put to task the critique of the historical novel and historical imagination, as well as writing their own historical sketches.

The Jewish Question (Hochman)
One of the most pressing concerns of European Jewry during the nineteenth-century was the debate regarding Jewish Emancipation and its resulting issues: the nature of political freedom, toleration versus acceptance, integration, identity, self-determination, assimilation, and anti-Judaism. We will look at the pitfalls and challenges of the debates regarding Jewish assimilation and investigate the political, social, cultural, and even physical assessments of Jews, Judaism and Jewishness within the context of nationalism and ideology.

Jewish Mysticism (Isenberg)
Exploration of major themes in the development of Jewish mysticism. Spiritual experience and Jewish esoteric practices. The mystical path and the evolution of consciousness in Judaism. Merkabah, Kabbalah, Hasidism, and contemporary trends in Jewish spirituality. Primary texts in English translation.

Judaism, the Environment, and Ecology (Kessler)
What does Jewish literature from the Garden of Eden to the present day say about the earth and humanity's relationship with it? Because of the growing awareness about current ecological concerns and crises, Jewish tradition is being mined--or cultivated--for historical precedents that reflect ecologically sound models of Jewish living. How fruitful is this process? To what extent can contemporary Jews rely on tradition to provide such models, and to what extent must Jews today find new ways of bringing humanity and nature together?

Midrash: Jewish Interpretation (Kessler)
This course introduces students to Jewish biblical interpretation from antiquity to today. How have Jews--in religious, political, and artistic contexts--reshaped biblical personalities, stories, and imagery, in order to make the Bible a "timeless text"? How have biblical texts and images been mobilized in the ongoing negotiation of Jewish identity? Some of the key biblical stories revisited in this class are: the binding of Isaac, the exodus from Egypt, revelation at Mt. Sinai, Esther and Song of Songs.

Modern Jewish Thought (Hochman)
This course introduces students to the main topics in Jewish religious thought and theology by looking at several different and differing religious conceptions of Judaism from the last three centuries. Through the close study of original texts, the class will examine aspects of Judaism from within the tradition itself.

Modern Judaism (Hochman)
Since the 19th-century, Jews have been confronted with choices engendered by secular society and religious tolerance, as well as by new and old forms of anti-Semitism. We will look at the temptations and realities of civil liberty and religious freedom that Jews met (and continue to meet) in the modern and contemporary periods (18th-21st centuries) by assessing two main themes: the continued engagement with the Jewish past (both reform and preservation) and the profound interaction with non-Jewish culture and life.

Monotheism (Sandgren)
This course will introduce the student to a brief historical sketch of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The main study will be a thematic comparison of their beliefs and practices, with special attention to what each religion says about the others. It will provide a forum in which we can examine the historical, psychological and theological origins to the animosity between them.

Performing Judaism: Feasts and Fasts (Kessler)
This course introduces students to Judaism as lived through and framed by Jewish Holidays. We will survey most--if not all--Jewish Holidays, learning about their beginnings and their development throughout centuries of Jewish history. In addition, our discussions will be informed by contemporary scholarship in Performance Studies and Ritual Studies. These current approaches to Performance and Ritual will allow us to contrast and compare Jewish rituals with rituals of other religions.

Religion and Politics: Historical Roots and Modern Dilemmas (Sandgren)
A persistent difficulty for religion is striking a balance between religious law and the often conflicting demands of human government. Freedom of religious practice and belief, independent of political authority, has remained a primary concern for Judaism and Christianity throughout the Common Era. The course traces the Jewish origins of the concept of a people of God, and the political theory of theocracy up to the Middle Ages, and the way this ideology was appropriated by Christianity. We then look at the problems this theocratic ideology fosters in post Enlightenment thought, as seen in contemporary problems in Israel, Islamic nations, and particularly in American pluralism with its separation of Church and State.

Women and Gender in the Hebrew Bible (Kessler)
Using contemporary feminist criticism and gender theory, this class will examine the varied images of women set forth in the Hebrew Bible. 'Woman' is also used as a metaphor throughout the Bible, at times personifying Wisdom, Jerusalem, and Israel herself. In addition to looking closely at individual female characters in the Hebrew Bible, we will discuss these metaphorical depictions of woman in order to analyze the biblical constructions of gender and power relations. Finally, we will look at the various ways in which the Hebrew Bible portrays God as both male and female.

Courses Offered in Other Departments:
African & Asian Languages and Literature, Anthropology, English, Geography, German and Slavic Studies, History, Linguistics, Music, Political Science, Jewish Studies

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African & Asian Languages and Literature, Anthropology, English, Geography, German and Slavic Studies, History, Linguistics, Music, Political Science, Jewish Studies

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