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 2017-18

Bard College Catalogue 2017-18



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


At Bard, the study of religion is undertaken as an interdisciplinary examination of various ways in which religion operates in and affects life. Courses in the program approach religion through multiple questions and perspectives, including the study of scripture, the performance of religion in everyday life, intersections of religion and politics, religion and material culture, and the evolution of concepts like tradition, modernity, and secularism. Moderation in religion equips students in the key methods and approaches in the humanities and social sciences while also familiarizing them with central doctrines, practices, and narratives of major religious traditions.


Students are required to take three courses in religion prior to Moderation, and three elective courses in religion thereafter. In total, courses must be taken in at least three of the religious traditions offered in the Bard curriculum: Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism. After Moderation, enrollment in Sacred Pursuits is required of juniors, while seniors must enroll in Religion Colloquium both semesters in addition to the Senior Project.

Requirements for concentration in the program include any two courses in religion prior to Moderation, and two elective courses in religion thereafter. In total, courses must be taken in at least two different religious traditions.

Students are encouraged to take courses relevant to the study of religion offered by other programs, such as anthropology, sociology, psychology, theology, literature, historical studies, philosophy, and gender and sexuality studies. Courses outside the program that centrally involve religious issues or texts may, in consultation with the adviser, be counted as religion courses. Students are also 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

  • “From Ritual Purification to Mutilation: A Case Study of Evolving Discourses on Female Circumcision”
  • “Old-Time Quiet in a Breathless Age: Faith, Virtue, and the Strength of the Social Gospel at Trinity-Pawling School”
  • “A Story of Sacred Spaces: Tracing the Development of Early Buddhism through the Practice of Pilgrimage”
  • “Uninhibited: Redefining and Relocating Rudolf Otto’s Dichotomous ‘Holy’”


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

Buddhist Thought and Practice
Religion 103
cross-listed: asian studies, theology
For more than 2,500 years Buddhist thought and practice have revolved around the problem of suffering and the possibility of liberation. Across diverse cultural landscapes, Buddhism comprises a wide array of philosophical perspectives, ethical values, social hierarchies, and ritual technologies. This course offers an introduction to Buddhism’s foundational themes, practices, and worldviews within the framework of religious studies.

Creating Judaism
Religion 104
cross-listed: jewish studies, mes
For millennia, Jewish communities have flourished around the globe and a dizzying variety of Jewish traditions have developed in these different places and during different times. This course introduces foundational practices, ideas, and expressions of Judaism while grappling both with its inner diversity and its sense of dissimilarity from surrounding non-Jewish communities. The course considers the history of rabbinic Judaism in ancient and medieval times, Hassidism, the Haskala (Jewish Enlightenment), modern European and American denominations, Zionism, and contemporary “cultural” Judaism.

Religion 106
cross-listed: gis, mes
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.

Meditations, Perceptions, Words: Poetry in Buddhist Literature
Religion 128
cross-listed: asian studies
This seminar explores poetry from Buddhist cultures, including Indian, Chinese, Japanese, and Tibetan literary traditions. The focus is on poems that are emblematic of Buddhist themes, such as impermanence, interdependence, perception of the present moment, renunciation, and empathy. Students also read poems from Christian, Hindu, Jewish, and Islamic traditions to situate Buddhist poetry within a wider context of religious literature.

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.

Asian Humanities Seminar
Religion 209
cross-listed: asian studies
A survey of canonical philosophical, religious, and literary texts from China, India, Tibet, and Japan from the fourth century b.c.e. to the 18th century. Across this reach of time and space, the course explores how these works formulate conceptions of self, society, and the good life. By focusing on Asian traditions, students develop an understanding of the diversity of world thought and literature.

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.

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.

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.

Great Jewish Books
Religion 234
cross-listed: jewish studies, literature
Since the Middle Ages, Jews have been known as a people of the book—though what that means depends on period, place, and perspective. This course investigates some 20 “great” Jewish books, from antiquity to the postmodern; considers relevant theoretical issues of canon and intertextuality; and asks whether we can or should conceive of a Jewish textuality. Works/authors studied include biblical books, rabbinic texts, Iberian poetry, Hassidic homilies, Maimonides, Herzl, Levi, Ozick, and Ginsburg.

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.

Collaboration with West Point: Equality
Religion 240
cross-listed: theology
The theme of the third collaborative academic project between Bard and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point was the meaning and nature of equality—for individuals, communities, societies, and nations. The topic of equality reaches into every area of human culture, from local politics to jurisprudence, literature, the military profession, and religious institutions. Problems focused on equality contrast what should be and what can be with what is. This project includes parallel seminar courses at both institutions, using common materials, as well as four joint sessions.

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.

Hinduism in the Epics
Religion 242
cross-listed: asian studies, classical studies
The Indian epics have long been one of the major ways that the teachings of the Hindu tradition are transmitted. 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, the course examines the various ways these texts have been retold and performed.

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.

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.

Religion 274
cross-listed: theology
Recent study of the material and cultural contexts of ancient Israel has advanced critical understanding of Jesus, but the religious context of Jesus and his movement has received less attention. This course investigates Jesus, not just as a product of first-century Galilee, but also as a committed Israelite, and analyzes the visionary disciplines that lie at the heart of his announcement of the divine kingdom, his therapeutic arts, and his parabolic actions and sayings, as well as his death and resurrection.

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.

At 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 334
cross-listed: medieval studies, mes
The class explores Qur’anic text and different translations, 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?.

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).

Religion 340
cross-listed: jewish studies, mes
Even more than the Bible, the Talmud has traditionally been the nerve center of the classical Jewish canon. While the Talmud was composed during a specific period (third to seventh century) and place (Sasanian Mesopotamia), it has been read in many contexts since, from Baghdad to Bard. Often classified as a work of law, it is perhaps best described based on what it does: unrelenting interpretive and intertextual weaving. This course tackles the Talmud and Talmudic process through close readings of sample passages (in translation).

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.

How to Die Well: Buddhist Approaches to Death and Dying
Religion 349
cross-listed: asian studies, philosophy
Many Buddhist practices are designed to help people approach the process of dying in a pragmatic and beneficial manner. Students critically analyze texts and practices associated with intermediary states of consciousness, including dreaming and the “in-between” states surrounding death; accounts of those who claim to have died and come back to life; Buddhist hospice practices; and texts that usher the recently deceased toward a good rebirth. Prerequisite: at least one prior Buddhist studies course.

Yoga: From Ancient India to the Hudson Valley
Religion 355
cross-listed: asian studies, philosophy
Yoga originated in ancient India as a loose set of ascetic practices for spiritual seekers who had renounced worldly life. Today, yoga has become a popular form of exercise, practiced by some 36 million Americans. This seminar tracks the early development and modern transformations of yoga, and addresses topics such as Hindu and Buddhist forms of meditation, the growth of new forms of tantric yoga in medieval India, early Western perceptions of exotic yogis, and the culture and economy of yoga in the contemporary United States.

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.