Spring 2014

"What is Enlightenment?": Science, Religion, and the Making of Modernity

Soha Hassan Bayoumi  Course Page

From Immanuel Kant's answer to this question in 1784 to Michel Foucault's engagement with the same question and answer in 1984, two centuries had passed and a lot of water had flown under the bridge. From the inception of its ideals in the Anglo-Saxon world in the seventeenth century at the hands of Spinoza, John Locke and Isaac Newton, to its development in France in the eighteenth century by Voltaire, Montesquieu and Rousseau and culmination with the writings of Immanuel Kant, the Enlightenment developed into an important intellectual movement which helped shape modernity and its repercussions in the contemporary world. This course will trace the history of Enlightenment in primary sources, enriched by a collection of secondary readings, and will explore contemporary reflections on Enlightenment from various schools of thought ranging from Marxism to feminism and from postmodernism to conservatism. The course will address the themes of reason and rationality, science and knowledge, religion and religious institutions, tolerance and intolerance, ethics and morality.

“Other Possible Worlds: Utopia, Eschaton, and Other Science Fictions”

Steven Jungkeit Course Page

Financial austerity and urban decay, rising social inequality and ecological devastation - these are realities that confront religious and political leaders around the world. Apologists for the prevailing economic and social regime have argued that "there is no alternative." Yet religion and philosophy have always nourished dreams of alternative social relations. Those dreams are captured in religious language as eschatology, and in philosophical language as utopia. Lately, those themes have surfaced most prominently in science fiction novels. This course will spend time reading theoretical accounts of utopia and the eschaton (Plato, the Revelation of St. John, Thomas More, Marx and Engels, Ernst Bloch), as well as more recent theoretical explorations of utopia in queer theory (Samuel Delaney, Jose Esteban Munoz) and science fiction (Octavia Butler, Ursula K. LeGuin, Philip K. Dick). But we'll also consider several famous 19th and 20th century utopian experiments, among them those of Saint-Simon, Charles Fourier, and Robert Owen, as well as movements less frequently characterized as utopian, such as the Surrealists, and the Situationists. Throughout, we shall be asking how even ostensibly secular utopian visions remain rooted in a religious imagination, complicating neat divisions between the sacred and the secular. Furthermore, we shall be asking how these ethical visions might inform contemporary social movements and ordinary religious communities, both of which require the ferment of utopian dreams to contest the dominant economic and social models of the present.

“Martyrdom: Bodies, Death, and Life in Ancient Christianity”

Karen L. King  Course Page

This course will consider newly discovered works, as well as engage critical readings of well-known sources, around such topics as the politics of martyrdom, performance and ritual, gender, and intra-Christian controversies.

“Witchcraft, Rituals and Colonialism”

Aisha M. Beliso-De Jesús  Course Page

This course will explore the coming together of ideas on witchcraft and rituality as discourses and practices of power, gender, race and sexuality in colonial and imperial moments. We will examine history, literature, films and social theory dealing with different forms of self-identified and interpellated forms of "witchcraft" such as questions of sorcery, brujeria, shamanism, voodoo/hoodoo and santeria/palo--all as complex and multivalent sites of productive power. We will look at how discourses and experiences marked and claimed "witchcraft" intersect with ideas and practices of rituals in the everyday lives and perceptions of colonial, postcolonial, national and transnational subjects in different locations. Students will take into consideration these questions in relation to broader topics such as colonialism/postcolonialism, imperialisms and transnationalisms, as well as within critiques of modernisms versus traditionalisms. This course will specifically focus on Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa and African diasporic contexts.

"Magic, Medicine and Miracles: Health and Healing in the Middle Ages and Renaissance"

Katharine Park  Course Page

An introduction to theories and practices of healing in the medical, religious, and magical realms. Topics include the construction of medical authority and expertise, potions and incantations, saints' cults, the play of sex and gender among healers and patients, the multiple social and cultural roles played by early hospitals, and responses to "new" diseases such as syphilis and plague.

"Sex, Gender, and Evolution"

Sarah S. Richardson  Course Page

Evolutionary theories of sex and gender and central controversies in human evolutionary biology from Darwin to the present. Topics include debates over the theory of sexual selection and the evolutionary basis of monogamy, sexual preference, physical attraction, rape, maternal instinct, and sex differences in cognition. Readings: primary texts and historical, philosophical, and feminist analyses.

"Self, Serenity, and Vulnerability: West and East"

Michael J. Puett  Course Page

An inquiry into basic moral beliefs and their metaphysical assumptions in the high cultures of Western and Eastern civilizations. The background concern is our struggle, in philosophy, religion, and art, with nihilism: the fear that our lives and the world itself may be meaningless. The foreground theme is the contrast between two answers to the question about how to live one's life: stay out of trouble and look for trouble. How speculative thought has dealt with the limits of insight into what matters most. Exemplary writings from several traditions: modern European, ancient Greek, Chinese, South Asian.

"Why They/We Hate Us/Them: Islam, History, Violence and Identity"

M. Shahab Ahmed  Course Page 

This course examines the relationship between the production of (binary) identities in relation to Islam and Muslims in the modern world (e.g. Islam/The West, them/us, terrorist/freedom-fighter, "clash of civilizations", etc), on the one hand, and the construction of the categories of legitimate and illegitimate violence (eg. just war/unjust war, collateral damage/terrorism, interrogation/torture, etc), on the other. The course will draw upon theoretical readings and historical case studies that investigate the relationship between violence and the values, narratives, moralities, meanings, truths and incoherences drawn from it.

"Harvard's History and Evolving Religious Identity"

Stephen Paul Shoemaker  Course page 

An examination of the intellectual and institutional history of the University that leads students through a chronological exploration of key events and significant presidents. Among themes to be considered are European antecedents, developments in faculty, changes in student life, curricular alterations, as well as the maturation of the built environment. Significant attention is paid to the evolution of the religious context of the school, which was a vital component of the University's identity for several centuries.