Topic Courses

Spring 2017 

CLA391H5: Topics in Roman History and Culture:
Of Peacocks and Fishponds: Luxury in Ancient Rome (C. Fulton)

The ancient Romans had a voracious appetite for importing luxury objects from around the Mediterranean: spices from the Arabian Peninsula, sculpture from Greece, fish sauce from Spain, glassware from Egypt and the Near East, and textiles from India and the East, to list a few. These imported objects were used to create and maintain status by elites within society, yet they were not accepted without contention. Many Roman authors lamented the deleterious nature of luxury on the customs of Roman society. In this course, we will explore what constituted “luxury” in the Roman world and discuss how this impacted status and identity. Why did some people celebrate luxury and others deplore it? We will examine the material remains of villas, frescoes, and other items at the heart of luxury alongside the writings of ancient authors who have commented on these matters. In combining these sources of evidence, we will discuss the social, economic, and political consequences of Rome’s love-hate relationship with luxury and discuss comparisons in modern society.

HIS395H5: Topics in History:
Indigenous Peoples and Immigrants in Canada (B. Gettler)

This course examines the intertwined social, cultural, economic, and political histories of Indigenous peoples and immigrants in Canada. It explores the influence on lived experience of a wide variety of phenomena and ideas including community, place, indigeneity, ethnicity, gender, colonialism, empire, and mobility from the distant to the present.

HIS395H5: Topics in History:
The Rwandan Genocide: History, Violence, and Identity (J. MacArthur)

This course examines the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. History was, and is, the contested terrain on which Rwandans themselves and those outside have understood, justified or explained away the widespread violence and popular participation witnessed during this horrific period. This course will situate the 1994 genocide within a larger historical framework to allow students to engage not only with broader historical questions around the nature of precolonial polities, the impact of colonialism, and the crises of postcolonial state building but also with how these pasts were mobilized in the context of the genocide and its aftermath. Through a close examination of primary sources and historical arguments, this course will explore the themes of history and memory, violence and trauma, identity and belonging, justice and reconciliation.

HIS493H5: Topics in Global History:
Doing Digital History (B. Gettler)

How have Web 2.0 technologies changed the practice of history? Students learn by doing in this course: researching and writing for the digital medium; learning about the theory and practice of digital history; experimenting with new technologies; and creating a digital history project. Canadian history, especially the experience of Indigenous peoples, will provide the questions and material to which we will apply digital methodologies.

HIS494H5: Advanced Topics in the History of the Americas:
Race in American Material Culture (C. Dingwall)

By looking at toys, photographs, clothing, haircare, interior decor, city streets, and other everyday objects and spaces, this course will explore how and why people and institutions have used material culture to reproduce, transform, and challenge ideologies of race in the United States from the colonial era to the present day. In addition to vigorous class discussion and regular reading assignments, students will be expected to compose a research essay on an object that illuminates the themes of the course.

RLG360H5: Topics in South Asian Religions:
Sufi and Bhakti Devotional Literatures (S. Bhatt)

The course studies the literature of the Sufi and Bhakti tradition from South Asia, mainly from the north of the South Asian subcontinent. The South Asian region has been very active in producing Sufi and Bhakti saints who have written literature of world class stature. This mystical thought that has been present for almost thousand years in Indian subcontinent is a unique blend of Islamic tradition that has come with the introduction of Islam and that of the indigenous Hindu tradition. This unique mix has resulted in a literature that calls references from both Hindu and Islamic history and mythology. The students will be required to read Sufi and Bhakti literary pieces in English translation, and analyse and discuss them. Audio-visual inputs will also be used to show the students manifestation of Sufi and Bhakti tradition and literature in the modern day society of South Asia. 

RLG370H5- Topics in Buddhism:
Indian Buddhist Legends in Translation: Stories from the Heavenly Histories (J. Tatelman)

This course will introduce students to the Indian Avadāna literature—stories that, for the ancient and mediaeval Buddhists of Souith Asia, fulfilled similar social functions to our modern novels, movies and TV dramas. These diverse stories, some of them inspired by actual historical figures, chronicle the careers of exemplary individuals in the tradition, ranging from rich businessmen to learned outcastes, and from autocratic kings to scheming brahmins. While all the stories promote and glorify the Buddhist teachings, each one in its own way also dramatizes ordinary life in ancient South Asia. We will read translations of five to eight representative stories from a fourth-century anthology called The Heavenly Histories (Divyāvadāna). Students will be graded on short “response” essays to each of the stories, on their commentary on others students’ contributions, and on their active contributions to classroom and small group discussion.

RLG380H5:Topics in Comparative Religions:
Museums and Material Religion (A. Rao)

This course focuses on how museums display and curate “religion” in their roles as public sites of education and citizenship, and as cultural attractions. By paying close attention to the material artifacts in museums and to the stories that curators tell about these artifacts, we will examine two main sets of questions. First, what difference does it make that artifacts of religious devotion—or artifacts that some communities consider sacred—are at the heart of many museum collections? How does museum staff accommodate communities that continue to imbue these artifacts with religious meaning? Second, what can we learn from thinking about the historical provenance of many museum artifacts, which were often contributed by collectors who were colonial officials and/or Christian missionaries? Today, our public institutions work with very different understandings of the politics of “cultural heritage” and the accommodation of religious difference. Thinking about these differences with historical perspective will help us to think critically about the intersection of religion, nation, materiality, and cultural difference. Through museum visits, course readings, lectures, and interaction with curators from the Royal Ontario Museum, the course will offer a hands-on introduction to the critical study of museums as spaces of religions in the public sphere.

RLG388H5: Special Topics:
The Divine Comedy: A Spiritual Journey (E. Raffaelli)

This course studies the “Divine Comedy” by the Italian poet Dante Alighieri (1265–1321), a poem describing the author’s journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise. The course analyzes the religious themes of the text, highlighting how different religious traditions contributed to the author's shaping of the imaginary structure of the otherworldly spaces he describes.

RLG411H5: Advanced Topics in Religion, Media, and Culture:
Digital Religion (B. Scott)

What happens when religion goes online? In this seminar, we ask not only how digital media shape religion, but also how religion shapes our understanding of the ethereal world of the Internet. Reading media theory, novels, and popular non-fiction alongside Internet sources, students develop a critical vocabulary for thinking about the digital as a component of contemporary life as well as developing research skills

RLG450H5: Advanced Topics in Islam:
Ritual, Material Practice, and the Senses in South Asian Islam (K. Ruffle)

How do South Asian Muslims experience ritual events through the five senses: vision, touch, audition, taste, and smell? In this course we will consider the role of the Indo-Islamic sensorium and the ways in which it has shaped diverse forms of South Asian Islamic (Sunni, Shiʿi, and Sufi) religious ritual and material practice, and sacred space. We will conduct ten case studies of different genres and forms of South Asian Islamic material practices, including the devotional image, the Sufi tomb, the Shiʿi Muharram repertoire of ʿalams and taʿziyas, and the mosque.

RLG470H5: Advanced Topics in Buddhism:
South and Southeast Asian Royalty (C. Emmrich)

This course introduces the Queen of Thailand as modelling for Vogue in the 1960s and her late husband as the author of a Buddhist graphic novel, the Dragon King of Bhutan’s ideology of Gross National Happiness and his signature Ferragamo thunder boots, Tipu Sultan’s sword and the Victorian London shopping list of 19th century Bangkok princesses, the Raja of Manipur as pioneer of early photography and the God-King of Cambodia as actor and director of the 1960s exploitation movie Joie de Vivre, the Sri Lankan kings as landscape architects and British failures to navigate Burmese palace protocol, a Maharani flipping Hinduism and Islam to better handle her divorce case, and the Bhutanese Queen presenting her poems in praise of her husband at the Jaipur Literary festival. In contrast to previous scholarship, which has focussed mainly on the literary and doctrinal cosmologies underlying South and Southeast Asian kingship, such as the “wheel-turning monarch” embodied by king Ashoka, Vishnu or Rama embodied by medieval Hindu rulers, and the ‘visible God’ of Mughal state theology, or academic models such as those elaborated by Frazer, Hocart, and Tambiah, this course will amplify and explode existing rationalisations of kingship with the help of more recent theories of performance, media, fashion, and celebrity culture by reading and analysing sources embedded in textual, material, and visual culture, such as photo albums, publicity footage, diaries, correspondence, authorized biographies, architecture, clothing, and other royal paraphernalia. By asking how concrete historical Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim royal families have performed their king- and queenship thanks to both their piety and their glam-factor, we will try to understand the aesthetics and semiotics of royal pageantry, the material culture of courtly temple ritual, the role of patriarchy, militarism, nationalism, and modernity, the politics of marriage, the intellectual and institutional preoccupations with doctrine, practice, and the royal mission, as well as the interface of religious aura and celebrity culture. Last but not least, we will ask, why is Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim royalty in Southern Asia and beyond still and again a force to be reckoned with?