Bard College Catalogue

The Bard College Catalogue contains detailed descriptions of the College's undergraduate programs and courses, curriculum, admission and financial aid procedures, student activities and services, history, campus facilities, affiliated institutions including graduate programs, and faculty and administration.

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Bard College Catalogue 2013-14

Bard College Catalogue 2013-14



Richard H. Davis (director), Alan Avery-Peck, Bruce Chilton, Irfana Hashmi, David Nelson, Jacob Neusner, Kristin Scheible


Religious ideas and practices have been crucial in shaping distinctive human societies throughout history, and they continue to exercise critical influence in the world of the 21st century. We study the various phenomena we call “religion” for many reasons: for their intrinsic interest; to understand how particular religious expressions may reinforce or challenge their own social and historical settings; and to consider how they may also challenge our own understandings of the world. At Bard, religion offerings are organized within three primary approaches to the study of religious phenomena: interpretive, historical, and theoretical. (For detailed descriptions of these categories, see the Religion Program website.)


Students wishing to moderate into the Religion Program should, by the semester of Moderation, complete four religion courses, with at least one course in each of the three approaches mentioned above. Stu­dents considering the religion major are strongly encouraged to explore several of the five religious traditions of the world offered in the Bard curriculum: Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism. 

Graduation requirements in religion include at least eight courses in the Religion Program, in addition to the Senior Project and the Religion Colloquium. Majors are encouraged as well to take courses relevant to the study of religion offered by other programs, such as anthropology, sociology, psychology, theology, literature, historical studies, philosophy, gender and sexuality studies, and others. Courses outside the program that centrally involve religious issues or texts may, in consultation with the adviser, be counted as religion courses. Two courses are required for all moderands:  Seminar: Sacred Pursuits (Religion 269) and Religion Colloquium

Students are expected to study a language relevant to the particular religion or area of study upon which they intend to focus for their Senior Project. Relevant languages taught at Bard include Arabic, Chinese, Greek, Hebrew, Japanese, Latin, and Sanskrit.  

The Senior Project in the Religion Program will ideally be the culmination of the student’s investigation of religion at Bard and should reflect a sustained analysis of a carefully defined topic in the critical study of religion. 

Recent Senior Projects in Religion

“A Debate between St. Irenaeus of Lyon and the Gnostic Valentinus”
“Home and Renunciation: Opposing Goals in Theravada Buddhist Thought”
“Musaylima the False Prophet: An Analysis of the Narrative and Hadith Sources of Musaylima the Liar in Early Islamic History”
“Tamayura: Tohoku Shamanism and the Japanese Religious Time-Space”


Buddhist Thought and Practice
Religion 103
cross-listed: asian studies
A study of the basic categories of philosophy and practice in Buddhism, a pan-Asian religious tradition of remarkable diversity and expansive geographical and chronological scope. The course maintains a historical perspective but is structured mainly along thematic lines according to the traditional concepts of the “Three Jewels (or Refuges)”: Buddha (teacher, exemplar, enlightened being), Dharma (doctrine), and Sangha (community), and the “Three Trainings”: Shila (ethics), Samadhi (meditation), and Prajna (wisdom). Readings include primary sources in translation and historical and ethnographic studies.

Introduction to Islam
Religion 106
cross-listed: mes, theology
Is Islam in 7th-century Arabia the same religion as Islam in 21st-century Michigan? Does West African Islamic mysticism differ from South Asian Islamic mysticism? This course answers these and related questions by introducing Islamic religious systems in a global context. Themes include conceptions of prophecy, ritual practice, and development of Islamic theology and jurisprudence, among others, and texts include the Qur’an, traditions of the prophet Muhammad, philosophical treatises, mystical guidebooks, reform literature, and contemporary educational manuals.

The Hebrew Bible: Origin and Context
Religion 111
cross-listed: Jewish studies, theology
This course surveys the text, meaning, historical background, and ancient Near Eastern literary and cultural context of the Hebrew Bible, and provides a crucial introduction to all further studies of the three Abrahamic faiths. It examines the interplay between history and myth, the various forms and purposes of biblical law, the phenomenon of biblical prophecy, and the diverse literary genres that are found within the Bible.

Introduction to the New Testament
Religion 114
cross-listed: theology
This theology course, which provides an overview of the New Testament, is open to students without prior knowledge of the Bible. Topics covered include the historical and political issues of the New Testament, with special attention given to its major themes. The diversity of the different books is also considered.

Hindu Religious Traditions
Religion 117
cross-listed: asian studies
Students read from mythic and epic literature and become familiar with the gods, goddesses, and heroes that have been central to Hindu religious practice. A range of social and devotional paths taken by Hindus is explored, as are the paths of action, devotion, and wisdom (karma, bhakti, and jnana). The class also considers modern ethnographic accounts of how the tradition is lived, both in India and the United States, with a special eye to the construction of sacred space through temples and pilgrimage.

Reading Religious Texts
Religion 124
cross-listed: asian studies, theology
This course offers an introduction to some of the primary texts of the major world religions, and to the strategies adopted in reading them by both believers and scholars. It focuses on two genres of religious writing: narratives of the foundation of a religious community and lyric expressions of devotion to a deity. Traditional commentarial and hermeneutical methods employed within each religious tradition are examined, along with current methods of academic historians of religion.

Science and Religion: The Case of Evolution
Religion 128
cross-listed: biology, eus, sts
This team-taught course examines the long-standing tension between Christian fundamentalism and scientific theories about the origin of the universe, the origin of life, and biological evolution. Readings from the Book of Genesis, Philo of Alexandria, Archbishop Ussher, Malthus, Lamarck, and Darwin. Topics discussed include contemporary reactions to the publication of the Origin of Species; the birth of American fundamentalism in 1911 and its influence on the controversy, including the Scopes trial; and the “modern synthesis” of genetics and evolutionary theory. 

Islam and Islamics
Religion 131
cross-listed: mes, theology
Muslims and non-Muslims use the terms of Islam and Islamics interchangeably. Do these terms address the same entities, or do they have different meanings? What is Islam as a religion? What really makes a thing Islamic, and what does not? To answer these questions, this course examines classical sources of Islam, the Qur’an and the Prophetic tradition, and their interpretations by various groups of people. Students also review current debates involving the nature of Islamics.

Religion 140 
cross-listed: asian studies, classical studies
Sanskrit is the language of ancient India, the language in which such works as the Bhagavad Gita, the great Hindu epics Mahabharata and Ramayana, and the Upanishads were written. In this course students learn the grammar and syntax of classical Sanskrit and acquire a working vocabulary.

Sanskrit II
Religion 141
cross-listed: asian studies, classical studies
This course continues the study of Sanskrit foundations begun in Religion 140, and introduces readings of Sanskrit texts in the original. The readings include selections from the Indian epic Mahabharata. Students also continue their recitation practice, to gain an appreciation of the aural quality of the “perfected language.”

Filming Saint Paul
Religion 145
cross-listed: theology
Paul has been reviled and revered throughout Western history. A visionary thinker who combined stoicism, Judaism, and nascent Christian theology, he transformed all of them in the mix. This seminar examines how Paul might be represented visually, on film. The producers of Rabbi Paul have made their screenplay available for student use.

Asian Humanities Seminar
Religion 152
cross-listed: asian studies
This course examines classic texts in three primary Asian cultures: India, China, and Japan. Works may include the teachings of the Buddha, Confucius, and Chuang-tzu; epics (the Ramayana); the poetry of Kalidasa and Basho; and the Japanese Tale of Genji. By engaging with these great works, students explore some of the ways Asian thinkers have dealt with ­fundamental issues pertaining to self, society, and the cosmos. This writing-intensive course is intended as an entry into Asian studies.

Classics of Judaism
Religion 175
cross-listed: Jewish studies
In this course, students explore how writing serves as a medium for preserving and handing on religious experience in the life of an ongoing religious community. Particular focus is on the Torah—both the written Torah, also known as the Five Books of Moses or the Pentateuch—and its oral counterpart, called “the memorized Torah,” which also includes such nonscriptural writings as the Mishnah, Talmud, and Midrash.

Working Theologies
Religion 201 / Theology 201
An introduction to the principal world religions, indigenous religions (which flourish in one location mainly, or only), and new religions (those that have coalesced in the past century or so). The presentation of the topics follows a single outline, so that comparisons between and among religious traditions are facilitated. Primary reading is Professor Jacob Neusner’s textbook on comparative religion.

Trading Places
Religion 215
cross-listed: Jewish studies, theology
At the beginning of the Common Era, Judaism presented a view of God that competed seriously with various philosophical schools for the loyalty of educated people in the Greco-Roman world. Christianity appeared to be a marginal sect. Later, the Talmud emerged as the model of Judaism, and the creeds defined the limits and core of Christianity. Christianity was the principal religion of the empire, and Judaism was seen as an anomaly, its traditions grounded in custom rather than reflection.

Society and Renunciation in Hinduism
Religion 218
cross-listed: asian studies, theology
This course focuses on the tension between world-affirming values of society and world-negating values of asceticism and, to a degree, monasticism. While social life and asceticism are seemingly at odds with one another, the class investigates whether these two modes of living are, in fact, opposites. Following an exploration of normative codes of conduct, ritual and worship, art and architecture, the class turns to “left-handed” or impure religious practices and asceticism.

Devotion and Poetry in India
Religion 228
cross-listed: asian studies
Bhakti means “participation in” or “devotion to” God. From 700 c.e. to 1700 c.e., bhakti poet-saints sang songs and lived lives of intense, emotional devotion to their chosen gods. The songs, legends, and theologies of these saints and the communities they established permeate the religious life of India. This course explores the world of bhakti through its poetry. Topics include bhakti and gender, the interactions of Hindu devotionalism and Islamic Sufism, and the problem of bhakti in 20th-century Indian literature, among others.

Modern Jewish Thought
Religion 229
cross-listed: Jewish studies, philosophy, theology
When an ancient religious tradition like Judaism encounters the radical challenges of modernity, it must rethink all of its basic beliefs and assumptions. This course explores the attempts of key figures of 20th-century Jewish thought to come to terms with such fundamental notions as particularism vs. universalism, the limits of divine authority, and the voluntary nature of religious affiliation and observance in the modern world.

Introduction to Sufism
Religion 236
cross-listed: mes 
Sufism is one of the most important philosophical and theological movements within the world of Islam. While primarily known for their production of mystical poetry and achievement of ecstatic states, Sufis have produced a unified system of belief and interpretation that both transgresses and defines the boundaries of the Islamic religious tradition. This course examines some of the central ideas of Sufism, as well as the historical developments of Sufi orders and their social and political role in Islamic history. 

Hinduism in the Epics
Religion 242
cross-listed: asian studies
The Indian epics have long been one of the major ways that the teachings of the Hindu tradition have been transmitted. In this course students read the Mahabharata (including the Bhagavad Gita) and the Ramayana, with a view to the role of the epics in Hindu ritual and devotional life. In addition, students examine how these texts have been retold and performed in various ways up to the present.

Gender and Islam
Religion 246
cross-listed: gss, human rights, mes
This course examines issues related to the construction of gender and sexuality in the context of Islamic civilization. The first part is concerned with a thematic treatment of issues relating to gender and sexuality in Islamic religious and legal texts. Then students examine how women fared in different Muslim societies of different time periods. Finally, the class discusses the impact of the feminist movement on the Muslim world.

Gender and Sexuality in Judaism
Religion 257
cross-listed: gss, Jewish studies
Traditional Judaism is often seen as a highly patriarchal system in which women have little access to ritual roles or community leadership. Men and women are strictly separated in many social situations; casual physical contact between husband and wife during the latter’s menstrual period is prohibited; and homosexual acts are deemed an “abomination” for which capital punishment is prescribed. This course examines the origins of these practices, and the social, theological, and psychological attitudes that they reflect.

Gender and Buddhism
Religion 261
cross-listed: asian studies, gis, gss
This course examines the sacred images and social realities of women in the Buddhist world. Specifically, it considers the ways in which categories such as “woman,” “feminine,” “gender,” and “nun” have been explained and imagined by Buddhist communities (as well as by academics and feminists) through various historical periods and cultural locations. 

Islamic Ethics in Medieval and Modern Society
Religion 262
cross-listed: human rights, mes
An introduction to Islamic ideals of conduct, character, and community, and to medieval and modern disputes over their interpretation and application. The course investigates the nature of Islamic ethical reasoning by looking at specific issues, such as sexuality and marriage, bioethics, capital punishment, environment, warfare, and human rights. Also considered: the implications of these debates on our understanding of the relationships between law and morality, and the role of religion in public life.

Sacred Pursuits
Religion 269
cross-listed: anthropology
This writing-intensive seminar seeks to develop theoretical self-awareness in the study of religion. Most weeks the class meets for an extra hour-long writing lab, and regular short writing assignments are required. The labs are designed to help with the development, composition, organization, and revision of analytical prose; students learn to use evidence to support an argument and how to interpret and analyze texts. Readings include key theorists in the study of religion.

Mary Magdalene and Her Sacrament
Religion 277
cross-listed: theology
Since the first century c.e., hierarchical authorities have sought to silence Mary Magdalene. However successful they have been, unmistakable signs of her influence remain. This course examines the persistence of her signature sacraments, from the era of medieval hagiographies on through the conspiracy theories of modern revisionists. 

The History of Christian-Muslim Relations
Religion 283
cross-listed: medieval studies
This course provides a historical overview of Christian-Muslim relations by discussing the lives and writings of significant persons against the backdrop of important events and developments, including the exploration of some of the key issues that have divided Christians and Muslims. The course is open to all students interested in religion and history.

Exploring the Intersection Between Religion and Rationality
Religion 286
Scientific thinking about God, religious responses to cosmology and evolution, and the writings of both scientists on religion and religionists on science are explored. The focus is on attempts to learn about religion from science and about science from religion, and on the different methodologies and assumptions of the two disciplines.

Contemporary Islam
Religion 287
cross-listed: human rights, mes
This course interprets contemporary Islamic movements in historical perspective. It studies the history, ideology, and activism of major movements, including the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafiyyah (Wahhabism) movement, and the Islamic Liberation Party. It also looks at the transformation of some of these movements, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, into political parties in many Arab and Islamic countries. The impact of these movements on political stability in their respective countries is also discussed.

Gandhi: Life, Philosophy, and the Strategies of Nonviolence
Religion 332
cross-listed: asian studies, human rights
Mohandas Gandhi was among the most radical, revered, controversial, and influential political and religious figures of the 20th century. His strategies of nonviolent satyagraha were widely and successfully adopted during the Indian independence movement, and have since been adapted by others, with varying degrees of success. This seminar examines Gandhi’s life and the development of his philosophy. The course includes a series of films that provide different perspectives on Gandhi’s legacy, from the hagiographical to the deeply critical.

World Religions in the Hudson Valley
Religion 338
cross-listed: asian studies
This course offers a historical overview of the movements that have shaped the religious diversity of the Hudson Valley, along with excursions to local sites of interest. The influx of Buddhism into the region—for example, the Wappingers Falls stupa and the Zen Mountain Monastery in Mount Tremper—is used as a case study. Students then choose a location and religious tra­dition and produce both a con­tribution to our collective research on area institutions and a critical paper about religious pluralism and diversity.

The Greek Bible
Religion 341
cross-listed: classical studies 
Even before the Hebrew Bible appeared in its present form, the Scriptures of Israel emerged in a Greek translation. The Greek Bible, called the Septuagint after its legendary 70 translators, has been in circulation since the third century b.c.e. Its authority was such that even the rabbis of Mishnah and Talmud considered that binding decisions and teachings could be grounded in the Septuagint. Because Christianity only became a religion distinct from Judaism in the environment of Hellenism, the Bible of the first Christians was the Septuagint, and they added the books we now call the New Testament. This seminar familiarizes students with both the Septuagint and New Testament.

Popular Arts in Modern India
Religion 343 / Art History 343
cross-listed: asian studies
Bright, wide-eyed Hindu deities, in poster form, are ubiquitous in India. These mass-produced chromolithographs, or “god posters,” occupy a central place in the country’s visual landscape but until recently have not received scholarly attention. This seminar explores the world of Indian god posters, considering iconographic features, stylistic developments, political and religious significations, and devotional responses to these commercial prints. The genre is also studied in relation to other modern forms of South Asian visual arts, such as pilgrimage paintings and Bollywood cinema.

Buddhist Ethics
Religion 344
cross-listed: asian studies, gss, human rights
This seminar considers the theoretical structures, patterns of behaviors, and societal norms operative in Buddhist communities of the past and present, East and West. Topics include the shared foundations of Buddhist ethics, canonical formulations and examples from various genres of Buddhist literature, and historical and contemporary accounts of Buddhist behaviors and motivations along several thematic lines. Contemporary issues (human rights, abortion and contraception) are examined in light of Buddhist ethics. Prerequisite: Religion 103 or permission of the instructor.

Theravada Buddhism
Religion 345
cross-listed: asian studies
Theravada Buddhism is the dominant religious orientation in Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Sri Lanka. This course describes the historical, literary, and religious contours of this Buddhist tradition in accordance with such questions as: What makes the Theravada self-evidently valid to the community of the faithful? What is the worldview of the Theravada, including its position in history, its conception of the Buddha, and its principal ethical teachings? What are the main traits of the Theravada today?

Coercion and Responsibility in Islamic and Western Legal and Moral Thought
Religion 347
cross-listed: human rights, mes
Coercion poses moral and legal problems for making judgments about responsibility: How serious must a coercer’s threat be to count as morally or legally exculpatory for the coerced? What is dispositive in a claim of coercion—the subjective perception of the capability of the coercer to follow through on the threat or the objective reality? Is there an element of coercion in the illegal commands of a state-recognized superior? This seminar explores the solutions developed by classical Muslim religious scholars and contemporary Western legal theorists and philosophers to these difficult problems. 

Visions of the Islamic Ethical Life in the Thought of al-Ghazali
Religion 354
cross-listed: mes
Ghazali (d. 1111) is arguably the most influential and famous premodern Muslim intellectual in Islamic history. This seminar considers Ghazali’s social and political context (during the fading of the Sunni caliphate and the rise of Egyptian Ismaili Shiis) and his synthetic vision of what constitutes the Islamic life lived well. The course critically examines the materials out of which Ghazali tried to synthesize the conflicting strands of Islam in his day.

Religion Colloquium
This colloquium, open to all students but required of religion moderands, fosters a community of scholarship among students and faculty interested in the study of religion and features public presentations of independent research. It is designed to encourage interdisciplinary and comparative perspectives on topics of interest.