Current Courses


Study of Religion Courses 2019-20

Fall 2019

REL 230E- COUDERT-Changing Attitudes Toward Pain and Suffering, 1500-1900


Course Description:

Today we speak of the “painful” truth without realizing that this innocuous phrase has deep roots in positive attitudes about pain and suffering deeply embedded in Western thought. For Christians pain and suffering were essential aspects of human life as a consequence of sin, and the central image in Christianity is the crucified Christ, whose imitation would lead to redemption. Painful ascetic practices destroyed the selfish ego to allow room for God. Pain was also thought to destroy the rebellious will that hindered truth telling, an idea providing a rationale for judicial torture and the institution of the Inquisition. During the four centuries under review these assumptions came into question. The meaning of pain, truth, and the bodies of humans and animals were re-conceptualized under the influence of developments in science, theology, philosophy, aesthetics, and law. Trade, travel, and, most importantly, colonialism and imperialism introduced increasing numbers of Westerns to Eastern philosophies and religions, which envisioned pain and suffering differently and offered new conceptions about the relationship between humans, the divine, and natural world. It is the purpose of this class to investigate the reasons why attitudes toward pain and suffering changed so radically and to show how this change affected previously marginalized groups such as the old, sick, insane, poor, and disabled. Not only were the boundaries of sympathy expanded to include these groups, but the boundary between humans and the natural world became increasingly porous to the point that by the end of the seventeenth century environmentalism, human rights, and even animal rights had established themselves as political issues.  The fact that racism, discrimination, poverty, and injustice continued to exist and that environmentalism and animal rights remain contentious issues does not undermine the seismic shift in attitudes that occurred. It underlines the profound and unsettling nature of this shift and how fiercely those opposed fought to rebuff challenges to what they considered established and incontrovertible  ideas about God, man, and nature. 

REL 230E- JANOWITZ- Reading course-Language, Ethics, and Analysis
-Keane, Webb Ethical Life: Its Natural and Social Histories

-Carr, E. S. “Signs of the Times: Confession and the semiotic production of inner truth”  Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 2013
-Antze, P. On the pragmatics of empathy in the neurodiversity movement in Lambek, Michael. Ordinary Ethics
-Sidnew, J. the ordinary ethics of everyday talk” in Lambek, Michael. Ordinary Ethics
-Cohen, D, Brian Bowdle, R. Nisbett and N. Schwartz “Insult, aggression, and the Southern culture of honor: An “experimental ethnography” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 70 (1996) 945-960
-Anderson, E. “The social epistemology of morality: Learning from the forgotten history of the abolition of slavery” in The epistemic Life of Groups edited by M. Fricker and M. Brady
-Irvine, Judith “Insult and Responsibility: Verbal abuse in a Wolof village” in Responsibility and Evidence in Oral Discourse edited by J. Hill and Judith Irvine-Kuipers, J. “Obligations to the word: ritual speech, performance, and responsibility among the Weyewa” in Responsibility and Evidence in Oral Discourse edited by J. Hill and Judith Irvine
-Lempert, Michael. Disciple and Debate: The Language of Violence in a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery
-Nakassis, Constantine. Doing Style: Youth and Mass Mediation in South India
-Kohn, Eduardo. How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human



Winter 2020


A History of Apocalyptic Thought: From Ancient Science to the End of the Modern World

When did we start imagining how the world would end? Is there a connection between ancient religious visions and scientific projections of the end of the habitable world today? Starting with a grounding in the original ancient Mediterranean apocalypses of the Bible, New Testament, and Early Judaism, we will trace their history from medieval revolutions to modern ecological disaster, and ways people have envisioned resistance and survival. This will let us explore a deep pattern connecting religion (the Apocalypse), politics (the failure of states and social orders), and science (climate collapse). Readings will range from 70s SF movies to medieval visionary texts and post-apocalypse novels.


REL 230D—JANOWITZ- Theory and Method

The Semiotics of Religion: Dialogism in Ritual and the Multi-functionality of Language

(Tentative Schedule)

Wednesday 1-3 in 922 Sproul plus an additional one-hour workshop per week

This course is an introduction to the semiotics of religion with a focus on the role of dialogism in ritual, the comparative study of metalanguages and the semiotic ideologies that ground religious practices.


Parmentier, Richard The Pragmatic Semiotics of Culture

Benjamin Lee Talking Heads: Language, Metalanguage and the Semiotics of Subjectivity

With selections from Kant, Frege, Austin, Bakhtin, Silverstein and Keane as well as recent work by semiotic anthropologists and scholars of ritual.


Spring Quarter 2020

Study of Religion 210B - "Race, Caste, and Comparative Religion"
Jamal Jones
Thursdays 12:10pm - 3:00pm - CRN 83897

This course will explore the place of race and caste in the comparative project of religious studies from three angles: (1) as categories integral to the historical formation of the academic study of religion (among other human sciences), especially given that the discipline(s) are entangled with histories of colonialism and the like; (2) in their premodern articulations; and (3) as they are constructed in modern social justice movements.

May be repeated for credit when topic differs.

Prerequisite: Graduate standing or consent of instructor.



The Study of Religion Graduate Program is affiliated with the following designated emphases: