Learn more about the courses I teach below. For more details click on each name to view a course syllabus in a separate window.
The number of Americans who identify as spiritual, but who are not affiliated with any traditional religion, has doubled in the last twenty years. In this course, students will try to make sense of this phenomenon by studying what these Americans practice, such as mindful meditation, ethical eating, and forms of political activism. What is their lived experience? What counts as spirituality? Students will engage with primary and secondary sources on American SBNRs, and conduct original ethnographic research about spirituality at Smith College. (Course developed with Prof. Andy Rotman.)
How has religion been used to construct race in America? How has race helped constitute religion? What can the shared histories of religion and race in America tell us about our culture and politics? And how have these understandings been used to foster resistance? This class examines these questions, from the era of colonization to the present, through a study of laws, uprisings, rituals, social movements, monuments, sacred texts, songs, theologies, and foodways.
The United States is one of the most religiously diverse nations on earth. This course investigates that diversity, in the past and in the present, and explores traditions imported to America, recent traditions born in America, and/or traditions indigenous to the Americas. By doing so, this course asks how religious traditions shape and are shaped by other forms of difference (race, class, gender, age, sexuality, etc.). As part of this study, students engage in original ethnographic research to document the (online) religious diversity of Northampton, Massachusetts.
This course investigates case studies from Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam that illustrate or complicate prevailing theories of globalization. With a historical focus that begins in the 1970s, we’ll encounter diverse peoples like a hugging Hindu saint in India who advocates for female empowerment, Congolese charismatic Christians worshipping in once empty London cathedrals, and Chicago Muslims who sell Halal meat at an eco-food cooperative. We’ll discuss subjects like globalization and localized violence in Hindu India, transnational sex politics in Christian Uganda, and cosmopolitanism in Muslim Mauritania. Together we’ll analyze how religions shape and have been shaped by the larger cultural, political, and economic processes that scholars call globalization.
Mormonism has gone from a religion of a few families to a global family of small sects and large denominations. This course explores the diversity of contemporary and historical Mormonisms. Topics for discussion include the creation of new scriptures; conflict between church and state; the dynamics of religious schism; temple spaces and the politics of secrecy; constructions of race, gender, and sexuality; missions and evangelism; modern pilgrimage; and the globalization of modern Mormonisms. In addition, students will conduct oral histories with various Mormons, including women ordained within a progressive Mormon church.
This seminar surveys pilgrimage practices in the contemporary world. Along our journey, we will analyze how pilgrimage intersects with questions of national identity, gender and sexuality, religious orthodoxy and heterodoxy, “the secular,” and popular culture. Our case studies will delve into the diverse ways that humans engage travel, shrines, and constructions of the sacred. Finally, we will reflect on the limits, utility, and generative possibilities offered by pilgrimage as an academic category.
A central feature of religious traditions and lived religious experience, ritual is often thought of as repetitive, unchanging, and prescriptive. Yet, enacted rituals are often open-ended and allow considerable room for creativity and innovation. Through embodied action and symbolic drama, rituals serve complex functions of making meaning, deepening spirituality, performing cultural identity, and advocating for social change. In this course, students will study various theories of ritual and examine ritual practices (religious and secular) in diverse traditions and societies. For their final project, students will themselves participate in the process of ritualizing–that is, crafting new rituals. (Co-taught with Prof. Lois Dubin.)
Ordaining Women in America
In the 1970s, many Christian, Jewish, and Buddhist communities in America began ordaining women as ministers, rabbis, priests, and teachers. This change in policy provided women long-denied vocational paths, necessitated new theological self-understandings and ritual forms, and served as a proxy for larger culture war divisions in America. While focused on the last fifty years, this course provides a wider historical context for these developments, from the bold revivalism of colonial-era women preachers to anti-racist activism by contemporary Zen senseis. As part of a larger project, students will conduct interviews with ordained women and construct podcast episodes from these interviews.
This course looks at the spiritual traditions of Native peoples within the lands that became the United States of America. We study how Euro-American colonization suppressed Native spiritual practices, how Native peoples resisted this suppression, and how Native peoples have used their spirituality as a resource for decolonization and well-being. Topics include sacred lands and sovereignty, Native feminisms and the revitalization of ceremony, religious freedom and traditional practices, foodways and contemporary traditions, Native ecologies and the climate crisis, and contemporary Native traditions in diaspora. We read works by Native and settler scholars and consider a range of contemporary methodologies.
This course examines prevailing definitions of what religion is, and current debates about how we should study it. We will survey some (but by no means all) of the most influential theorists and methodologies utilized in the academic study of religion. Our present selection emphasizes the impact made by the social sciences (sociology, anthropology, and psychology), while considering newer directions being taken in the discipline. Students will also develop their own research skills, further contributing to their critical examination of the relation between evidence and argument.
In this course, we will encounter several theories of religion and assess their utility as we study four major religious traditions through classic texts and secondary articles. For each tradition (Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam), we will highlight two major analytic terms in the study of religion, such as sacred space, scripture, body, or ritual. Finally, we will consider how these categories, studied in class against a specific religious tradition, can illuminate or obscure understanding another religious community.