2022/23 Fall/Winter - History of Religions: Topic Courses

RLG330H5F - Topics in Judaism: Vice and Virtue in Biblical Traditions (S. Metso)

This course examines the formation and development of ancient Jewish literary traditions, centering around the complicated characteristics of various figures (such as Eve, Abraham, and Job) in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and in early Jewish interpretive writings: the apocrypha, pseudepigrapha, and Dead Sea Scrolls. Through a close reading and analysis of texts, students will gain familiarity with questions pertaining to the emergence and transmission of oral and literary traditions in the ancient Near East, historical and cultural milieus of ancient Jewish writers, and interpretive emphases of various ancient Jewish communities during the time of the emergence of both rabbinic Judaism and early Christianity.


RLG370H5S - Topics in Buddhism: Buddhism and the Body (K. Geddes)

In this course we start from the assertion that religious experience is intrinsically tied to embodied experience. We will then explore Buddhist ideas of the body: what makes bodies fit for veneration, monastic life, and liberation. We will look at the hyper-masculine form of the Buddha from the early Pāli canon to other figures like manly monks, ghastly nuns, virtuous mothers, tantric practitioners, and other more abstracted forms of the body in the form of gifts and relics. Throughout this course we will read primary texts in translation in conjunction with key secondary sources to form our own opinions about different conceptions of gender, the body, and embodied religion in Buddhism.


RLG388H5F - Special Topics: Indigenous Orality (D. Danard)

The course will explore Indigenous orality through interconnected themes and engages both philosophical issues of Indigenous orality and practical issues of gathering and recording of Indigenous orality. We will examine central issues of history, tradition, culture/language, and identity in Indigenous narrative memory and the interconnectedness of relationships, which maintain and act as a vessel for orality. The course will examine the interactions between classical Indigenous orality and modernity, and between orality and written texts. The notion of “text” will also be expanded to included reading the land and other icons of memory such as the “pictographs, petroglyphs, notched sticks and wampums [that] were the primary Native texts of Algonkian ideographic literacy” (Battiste, 1986, p. 2) as a site and doorway of Indigenous memory.


RLG388H5S - Special Topics: Buddhism and Ritual (R. Saruya)

How does ritual play a role in the inclusion and exclusion of certain individuals or groups of people? How can we use theories of play and ritual to understand the lives of child renunciants? In this course we will examine the concept of ritual through various themes in writings and in films centered on Theravada Buddhism, which is primarily practiced in parts of Southeast Asia (Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia) and Sri Lanka. Each week we will discuss the ways in which ritual inscribes and informs different cultures, and how we can use theories of ritual to interpret different phenomena. 


RLG401H5S - Advanced Topics in Religion and the Literary, Visual, and Performing Arts: Religion and Stories (K. Derry)

Stories are central to sacred texts and to creating meaning generally. In this course we will examine multiple ways in which it is possible to think about connections between religion and stories. The form and content of these stories can vary widely. They can be about almost anything, and may come from religious traditions or anywhere else. They may also be in any kind of media — books, films, video games, graphic novels, podcasts, etc. Students will choose which stories they want to look at and how they want to look at them.


RLG440H5F - Advanced Topics in Christianity: Women Mystics in the Christian Tradition (L. Moncion)

Mysticism—the experience of union and/or communication with the ultimate reality—is present in all of the world’s religions; its influence can also be found in the idea of being “spiritual but not religious”, as well as in the growing popularity of meditation apps and mystical retreats. In the history of Christianity, women have played a fundamental role in developing the mystical tradition. This course will focus on women mystics from antiquity to the twentieth century, with an emphasis on the “flowering” of female mysticism in the later Middle Ages. Through reading and discussion of texts by and about Christian women mystics, we will examine how female mystical writers presented themselves, as well as how they were presented and understood in their historical contexts. 


RLG460H5F - Advanced Topics in South Asian Religions: The Authority of Sacred Texts in Vedic and Buddhist Traditions (A. Graheli)

Throughout the history of South Asian religions, authors have proposed various models of language acquisition to explain the process of learning natural languages. As in today's models of language acquisition, ancient Indian models relied on a presupposition of innate skills inherent in human beings, as well as on culturally-learned competences. These models, however, efficiently describe the acquisition of secular languages but falter when it comes to religious languages, because the referents of religious scriptures are typically spiritual entities, beyond the grasp of senses and reason. The problem of learning the language of religious scriptures was famously raised by Buddhist skeptics who tried to undercut the very authority of the Veda.

In this course we will scrutinize the Buddhist argument against the congruity of Vedic language, the defence of the Veda by its major exegetes, and the related dilemma between a literal and a figurative interpretation of scriptures. The topic carries huge significance because of its impact on the very possibility of rational theology, in India and abroad.