2018-2019 History of Religions: Topic Courses

RLG340H5F: Topics in Christianity: Christmas: A History (K. Smith)

This course is a broad historical survey of one of the world's most popular and beloved holidays: Christmas. Clending approaches from cultural and religious studies, the course begins with the ancient stories about Jesus' birth - several of which are not in the Bible. The course then considers a number of different themes, including the development of Christmas as a holiday and the medieval calendars of the Church, Charles Dickens's famous story 'A Christmas Carol', the creation of Santa Claus during the American Civial War, the importance of winter and nostalgia in Canadian celebrations of Christmas, and contemporary battles over the commercialization of the holiday and its continued role in the public sphere.

RLG340H5S: Topics in Christianity: Race, Sex and Christianity in North America (A. Jones)

This course offers students the opportunity to explore the compelling, contradictory, and fraught - even explosive! - interplay between Christianity and sexual and racial identities and politics in North American history. Focusing on the nineteenth and (especially) twentieth centuries, this class is attentive to both broad cultural changes and more directed case studies. We will investigate how Christian communities responded to major shifts in racial and sexual norms (especially those brought about by feminism, civil rights, and LGBTQ movements). And we will interrogate the sexual, racial, and religious aspects of slavery and abolition, residential schools, miscegenation, Satanism and sex panics, AIDS and the religious right, and more recent debates over abstinence and consent.

RLG388H5F: Religion and Multiculturalism in Canada (R. Korpan) 

This course examines how multiculturalism and religion intersect in Canada, from colonial policies related to religion, race, language, and culture to contests over religious freedom in Canadian courtrooms. Drawing on insights from legal theorists, anthropologists, historians, and religious studies scholars, students will learn to think critically about multiculturalism as an ideology, policy, and lived reality continually contested by both defenders and critics.

RLG415H5S: Advanced Topics in the Study of Religion: Religion and Death in Hong Kong (K. Derry)

Please note: This course is part of UTM Abroad and requires students to travel to Hong Kong as part of the course. Please visit the International Education Centre website for more information and to submit an application.

This course will consider general concepts of religion and death in relation to the specific and very diverse religious life of Hong Kong. This will include some discussion of traditions such as Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Taoism. It will also include discussion of Hong Kong traditions not necessarily tied to specific religions. One of our main questions will be to consider how a particular location impacts various beliefs and practices. In this case, that means asking "How and why is religion and death in Hong Kong not like religion and death in other places?"

RLG440H5F: Topics in Christianity: Women and Gender in Early and Medieval Christianity (K. Smith)

This course focuses on how ideas about women, gender, and the body wer constructed and naturalized in ancient and medieval Christianity. perhaps the most important factor in the development of Christian concepts of gender and sexuality was he ascetic movement, the strikingly "anti-familial" choice of women and men to renounce sexual activity and, frequently, to live alone or in communities of like-minded individuals. throughout the course, by paying special attention to social categories such as gender and class, we will address how and why sexual renunciation came to be regarded as holy in Christian antiquity and how ascetics (inlcuding many women) acquired religious authority. In learning to read and understand the rhetoric of the debates over sexual issues, we will pepper our reading of ancient and medieval texts with reflections on contemporary arguments about sexuality, gender, and holiness.

RLG470H5S: Advanced Topics in Buddhism - Dalit Buddhism or Navayana (C. Emmrich)

In 1956, disappointed by Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian elites that had freed India from British rule without liberating the "Untouchables," still subjected to harrowing caste-based discrimination, and in the hope of having a new religion do away with social inequality, the principal architect of the Indian Constitution Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar converted to a new kind of Buddhism of his own design and with him half a million Dalits. Today, the Navayana, the "New Vehicle," as it is called, is the fastest growing form of Buddhism in South Asia. In this course we will give a closer look at what kind of Buddhism exactly Ambedkar initiated, what it looks like today, and what impact it has had on Indian society. We will be asking what role religion plays in furthering social justice and injustice, but also what role creativity plays in the assemblage of new religions out of old ones, what role real or imagined founders like Ambedkar or the Buddha are made to play by their proclaimed followers, and how the secular and the religious come to define each other. To answer these questions we will read passages from Ambedkar's The Buddha and His Dhamma (1957), in which he radically rewrites Buddhism, as well as select papers of his on caste, Hinduism, and Marxism, we will look at historical figures who tried to do similar things around the same time, like the Tamil iyothee Thass, the Punjabi Babu Mangu Ram, and Swami Acchutanand from U.P., and we will try to place Navayana in the context of other comparable social activist movements like the Japanese Value Creation Society, or Soka Gakkai, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Latin America Libertaion Theology.