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.

Bard College Catalogue 2016-17

Bard College Catalogue 2016-17



Bruce Chilton (director), David Nelson, Richard H. Davis, Shai Secunda, Tehseen Thaver, Dominique Townsend


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 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 program’s 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 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

  • “Locating Nepali History in the Last Asal Hindustan
  • “Patriarchy and the Power of Myth: Exploring the Significance of a Matriarchal Prehistory”
  • “Sangha and State: An Examination of Sinhalese-Buddhist Nationalism in Postcolonial Sri Lanka”
  • “Seeds and the Sacred: The Role of Ritual and Myth in Pawnee Agriculture”


The following descriptions represent a sampling of courses from the past four years.

Buddhist Thought and Practice
Religion 103
cross-listed: asian studies, theology
aiwanese nuns who incorporate business management classes into their traditional Buddhist seminary curriculum, a seventh-century Chinese empress who claimed to be none other than the buddha of the future, wandering monks in the forests of northern Thailand: these examples are indicative of the diversity found within Buddhism. There are also themes and recurring patterns that tie the various periods and cultural settings together. This course examines concepts at the heart of Buddhist psychology and philosophy, as well as Buddhist practices and institutions.

Introduction to Judaism
Religion 104
cross-listed: jewish studies, theology
Diverse Judaic religious systems (“Judaisms”) have flourished in various times and places. This course sets forth a method for describing, analyzing, and interpreting Judaic religious systems and for comparing one such system with another. It emphasizes the formative history of Rabbinic Judaism in ancient and medieval times, and modern developments out of that Judaism, as well as Judaic systems competing with it, including Reform, Orthodox, Conservative, Zionism, and the American Judaism of Holocaust and Redemption.

Introduction to Islam
Religion 106
cross-listed: mes, theology
An examination of the intellectual and lived traditions of Islam. In addition to early Muslim political history, this course familiarizes students with the major disciplines in Islam, including the Qur’an, Hadith, Islamic law, Islamic philosophy, and Sufism. The concluding segments investigate contemporary Muslim reform movements, Muslim modernism, and Islamism. The course also provides a theoretical foundation in larger conceptual questions pertinent to the academic study of religion and the humanities.

Religions of the World
Religion 108
cross-listed: asian studies, theology
This course looks at the major religions of the world as they developed over the course of history, utilizing comparative and historic approaches. The class considers the formative ideas and practices of Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; and explores some of the roles religious ideas and institutions have played in political power struggles from the time of Alexander the Great to the present.

The Hebrew Bible: Origin and Context
Religion 111
cross-listed: Jewish studies, theology
Students consider the text, meaning, historical background, and ancient Near Eastern literary and cultural context of the Hebrew Bible. The course examines the interplay between history and myth, 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.

History of Early India
Religion 121
cross-listed: asian studies, historical studies
An overview of the early history and culture of South Asia, from its earliest urban civilization in the Indus Valley (2500–1800 b.c.e.) to the classical period of the Gupta dynasty in northern India (300–550 c.e.). While tracing this chronological history, the course addresses key issues and debates within Indian history: social hierarchy and the development of caste society, the status of women, the roles of religious specialists in the political order, and the ideology and practice of kingship.

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.

Religion 133
Pilgrimage as a unifying theme in religious identity is a focus of this course. As a religious arena in which multiple cultural patterns converge, pilgrimage in its various forms played a role in shaping trade and commerce, geographic consciousness, centers of political power, and artistic forms. The class also examines “ritual pilgrimages,” such as the Catholic Santiago de Compostela, identity-building tours to Israel for Jewish youth, the Islamic Hajj to Mecca, and the Shikoku pilgrimage circuit in Japan, among others.

Religion 140 / Classics 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 / Classics 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.”

Jewish Thought and Practice
Religion 145
cross-listed: jewish studies
This in-depth study of Jewish religious life explores the process by which the historical transition period of the first few centuries of the Common Era produced a substantially new religious system (quite unlike that described in the Bible), which later generations think of simply as “Judaism.” The course examines Jewish ritual practice, with special attention paid to how the absence of a Temple cult led to a new system of religious practice, new canon of Jewish literature, and new philosophical positions that came to characterize “Rabbinic” Judaism.

Religion 209
A canon of mystical literature from the Middle Ages has emerged in discussion, but the purpose of mysticism was laid out before that time, and has continued to be refined since then. This seminar locates mysticism as the outcome of neo-Platonic and Gnostic traditions from late antiquity, and analyzes its revival during the 20th century.

Archaeology of the Bible
Religion 212
cross-listed: jewish studies
In two senses, the Bible has been an object of excavation. Artifacts and archaeological investigations have played a major part in the reconstruction of the meanings involved, while the depth of texts—as compositions that took shape over time—has been increasingly appreciated. This seminar looks at the social histories of Israel and the early Church as they shaped the biblical texts, and attends to the variety of meanings inherent within the Scriptures.

Saint Paul 
Religion 224
cross-listed: theology
Paul, a visionary thinker who combined Stoicism, Judaism, and nascent Christian theology, transforming all of them in the mix, has been reviled and revered throughout Western history. One of the most frustrating and tantalizing figures in our intellectual tradition, he tried to change every group he joined and every idea he embraced, emerging as an innovator and radical ideologue who synthesized the popular philosophy of the Greco-Roman world and his passionate Judaism into a new hybrid—what the world calls Christianity.

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.

Religion and Culture in Iran
Religion 230
cross-listed: gis, mes
An introduction to the religious and cultural diversity of Iran, both historically and in the contemporary moment. Topics discussed include the history of Islam in Iran, the emergence and eventual consolidation of Shi’ism and Shi’i practices, sacred spaces and rituals of shrine visitation, travel narratives and Persian poetry, the 1979 revolution, and religious institutions of education and learning. Various forms of art and literature are also explored; texts include primary sources in translation and films drawn from the burgeoning Iranian cinema industry.

Ethical Dilemmas in Science, Medicine, and Technology from a Jewish Perspective
Religion 234
cross-listed: jewish studies, philosophy 
Continuing advances in science and technology raise ethical issues that would have been wholly alien to premodern thinkers. Issues surrounding the beginning and the end of life, genetic engineering, stem cell research, and environmental degradation present us with unprecedented ethical challenges. This course examines a range of issues, specifically through the lens of Jewish ethical texts and traditions.

Liberation and Theology
Religion 235
cross-listed: theology
The theme of liberation contributed to movements of national and class revolution in several parts of the Western hemisphere after Vatican II. Despite a systematic effort during the pontificate of John Paul II to silence them, liberation theologians have persisted, and their approach has been embraced on an interfaith basis. This seminar engages both the thought and the practice of liberation theology.

Intolerance: Political Animals and Their Prey
Religion 240
cross-listed: human rights, theology
This collaborative seminar between Bard and the United States Military Academy at West Point culminates in a conference at the College. The course extends the work of an earlier project, “Can War Be Just?” (2012), published as Just War in Religion and Politics by the University Press of America (2013). The new collaboration investigates the issue of intolerance along many lines, including anthropological, ethical, historical, philosophical, political, and religious.

Hindu Mythology
Religion 241
cross-listed: asian studies, classical studies
In their stories of the deeds of gods and goddesses, Hindus created an endlessly variegated alternative world, designed to delight listeners, affirm or criticize existing Indian society, and offer ways for Hindu audiences to participate devotionally in that other world. Course readings consist of primary sources in translation as well as some secondary studies of the myths of particular deities. The class also looks at how new versions of these stories are transmitted in contemporary India, in graphic and visual form.

Gender and Sexuality in Muslim Socieities 
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.

Christianity’s Evolution
Religion 247
Recent developments in the critical study of theology include paradigms of how religious systems function. For the purpose of comparative study, religious systems are approached along the lines of ritual, meaning, and ethics. A theoretical approach that assesses Christianity as scholars of religion might approach any system means the analysis benefits not only practitioners, but also all those who wish to understand how the world’s largest religion has grown, evolved, and shaped the sensibilities of its adherents.

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
This course explores issues of gender and sexuality as they have been addressed in a number of Buddhist contexts. After spending the first week focusing on how gender and sexuality have been approached in the modern study of religion, the class addresses early Indian Buddhist attitudes toward gender, Buddhist nuns in varying cultural settings, and a number of gender-related themes that have emerged during the course of Buddhism’s development.

Religion 268
cross-listed: medieval studies, mes
In addition to a close reading of Qur’anic text and a study of different translations, the class explores the history of the Qur’an’s compilation and codification, and its major themes, structure, and literary aspects. Questions addressed include: How does the Qur’an operate within societies and what are its multiple functions? How do modern understandings of “scripture,” “sacrality,” “text,” and “meaning” determine, dominate, and perhaps limit the way we engage with premodern sacred material?

Sacred Pursuits
Religion 269
cross-listed: jewish studies, theology
This seminar is devoted to developing theoretical self-awareness in the study of religion. In order to achieve that end, students read key theorists in the study of religion, apply their insights to case studies, and refine their approaches as necessary.

Science and the Sacred
Religion 286
cross-listed: theology
This course examines issues at the intersection of religion and science. Scientific thinking about God, religious responses to cosmology and evolution, and the writings of scientists on religion and religionists on science are considered. The class focuses on learning about religion from science, and about science from religion, as well as the different methodologies, assumptions, and entailments of the two disciplines.

Religion 309
The Revelation of John has shaped how people in the West see their future. Yet readings of the Apocalypse have produced fundamentally different views of the future. Major teachers in the Christian tradition have championed each of these views, and they have also influenced Jewish and Muslim interpreters. The course looks at these radical differences that remain in reading the Revelation.

GAt Home in the World: Buddhist Conceptions of History, Geography, and Collective Identity
Religion 330
cross-listed: asian studies
Since the death of the Buddha, all Buddhist communities have been separated from the historical Buddha by the passage of time. And except for those forms of Buddhism that continued in northern India before disappearing around the 13th century, all Buddhist communities have been separated from the geographical origin of Buddhism by space. This course looks at how Buddhist communities have attempted to bridge this gap by examining Buddhist conceptions of history, on the one hand, and Buddhist visions of the geographical layout of the world, on the other.

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.

Religion 336
cross-listed: gis, mes
This course examines the mystical tradition of Islam, or Sufism. Topics covered include Sufism and Orientalism, the intellectual and institutional history of Sufism, Sufi textual traditions, Sufi orders and the master-disciple relationship, gender and Sufism, and Sufism and modernity. A major focus is on the close reading of primary texts from multiple intellectual disciplines, time periods, and regions (all in translation).

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.

Legends and Legitimacy in Buddhism
Religion 345
cross-listed: asian studies
This course explores the genre of chronicle (vamsa) as employed in Southeast Asian Theravada Buddhist cultures, with a focus on the relationship between myth and history. How are mythically infused histories conceived, preserved, explained, and employed? What do the “histories” of the founding of kingdoms in Sri Lanka and northern Thailand say about their producers and consumers?

Classical Indian Philosophy
Religion 346
cross-listed: asian studies, philosophy
This seminar explores philosophical developments in ancient and classical India, from the Upanishads through the formation of the three Vedanta schools. Among the topics considered: Indian philosophical discourse as formulated in both orthodox (Hindu) and heterodox (Buddhist, Jain, materialist) schools; and the Bhagavad Gita and its primary commentaries.

Tantric Buddhism
Religion 348
cross-listed: asian studies, theology
An introduction to the principles of tantric ritual that also addresses themes of guru devotion, vows of secrecy, rites of consecration, and visualization practice. In particular, the course guides students in contemplating what it means to imagine oneself a deity as a means of attaining enlightenment. Himalayan art is a fundamental element of the course, and students gain familiarity with online image databases.

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.