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, 2018–19

Bard College Catalogue, 2018–19



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

  • “Guru Nanak: Life, Lessons, and Relevancy”
  • “The Holy Ghoul and Lalla: Bhakti and Medieval Poetic”
  • “Image of Yoga: Instagram, Identity, and Western Imagination”
  • “What Is to Be Done? Contesting Modernity in Sayyid Qutb and Ali Shariati’s Islamic Revival”


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

Religion 103
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
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
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
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
Religion 111
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.

The Bible
Religion 112
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 the texts—as compositions that took shape over time—has been increasingly appreciated. This seminar involves understanding the social histories of Israel and the early church as they shaped biblical texts. It also attends to the various meanings inherent within the scriptures.

Hindu Religious Traditions
Religion 117
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.

Introduction to Christianity
Religion 118
The purpose of this seminar is to enable us to understand how Christianity developed through systemic changes, and to read selected authors against the background of that evolution.

Reading Religious Texts
Religion 124
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.

Jewish Thought and Practice
Religion 128
This course uses the study of Jewish ritual practice as a lens through which to examine the diverse and complex system of belief and thought that is at the heart of Judaism. Through close reading of both biblical and rabbinic texts, the class pays special attention to how the rabbinic revolution following the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE altered the way of life that seems to be portrayed in the Hebrew Bible.

Jewish Magic
Religion 135
Despite conceiving of itself as a monotheism deeply opposed to magic and witchcraft, Judaism boasts a robust tradition of incantations and magical practices. This course employs different tools drawn from the study of religion, anthropology, sociology, and gender to make sense of the widespread and diverse magical traditions of a supposedly antimagical religion.

Religion 140 / Classics 140
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
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.”

Asian Humanities Seminar
Religion 209
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.

Digital Dharma: Buddhism and New Media
Religion 211
Today, many Buddhist teachers and institutions use digital technologies to reach huge followings and disseminate Buddhist texts, practical and ethical instructions, and iconic imagery to students across the globe. Students analyze the history and use of Buddhist text and images, how Buddhist teachers are using new technologies to instruct students and attract new disciples, how social media platforms shape teachers’ messages, and the social and political risks and benefits of digital expressions of Buddhism. Prerequisite: one previous course in Buddhist studies.

Devotion and Poetry in India
Religion 228
Bhakti means “participation in” or “devotion to” God. From 700 CE to 1700 CE, 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
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
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, Hasidic homilies, Maimonides, Herzl, Levi, Ozick, and Ginsberg.

Liberation and Theology
Religion 235
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.

Introduction to Sufism
Religion 236
A survey of the concepts, themes, and varieties of expression within the traditions of Sufism. The course explores the foundations of Sufism within Islamic and mystical forms of thought and practice, as well as the interplay between Sufi thought and literary forms, including narrative and lyric poetry, through the writings of Rumi, the Persian mystic poet and teacher.

Contemporary Islam
Religion 237
This course examines how Muslims have shaped and reacted to contemporary global experience. Various modalities of Muslim life are explored, including intellectual and political reactions to modernity, war, and empire; and aesthetic production in the fields of literature, film, and music. Students interrogate the ways that traditional practices of or related to Islam have confronted or accommodated contemporary trends around issues of justice, gender, freedom, and equality.

Midrashic Imagination
Religion 239
An introduction to Midrash, a classic type of Jewish literature produced in Palestine and Mesopotamia from around 200 CE to 800 CE. Despite its antiquity and position within a relatively unknown literary tradition, the form, content, and imaginative world of Midrash have proven strangely compelling to contemporary readers. In the 1980s and 1990s, scholars claimed to have found within Midrashic hermeneutics approaches that recall developments in comparative literature, such as deconstruction and intertextuality.

Collaboration with West Point: Equality
Religion 240
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. This project includes parallel seminar courses at both institutions, using common materials, as well as four joint sessions.

Hinduism in the Epics
Religion 242
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
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 the way scholars of religion might approach any system means the analysis benefits not only practitioners but also those who wish to understand how the world’s largest religion has grown, evolved, and shaped the sensibilities of its adherents.

Women and Religion in Classical Judaism 
Religion 256
An examination of the religious life of Jewish women in Palestine and Mesopotamia during late antiquity, Judaism’s formative period. The class grapples with the methodological challenges involved in reconstructing female religious experience in a patriarchal society, from which little material or literary culture produced by women has survived. Readings (in translation) from the Talmud, Hebrew liturgical poetry, synagogue inscriptions and art, Greek writers like Philo of Alexandria and Josephus, and more.

Gender and Sexuality in Judaism
Religion 257
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 274
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
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.

From Reformation to Alt Right
Religion 316
The Reformation set in motion movements in Europe and America associated with the rise of democracy, belief in the primacy of human rights, and a passion for freedom of conscience. Yet in the five centuries since Martin Luther proposed his Ninety-Five Theses, Evangelical Christianity has also been partnered with fascist and white supremacist movements. This course, part of the Courage to Be series, traces the tangled developments, religious and political, that have led to radically different versions of Protestantism.

Sacred Pursuits
Religion 317
This course, required for all religion majors, introduces theories and methods relevant to the academic study of religion. Course readings include both historical and contemporary studies that demonstrate a variety of approaches to interrogating religion as an object of study. Central themes include religious experience, ritual experience, modernity, ritual practice, gender, tradition, and secularism.

Meditations, Perceptions, Words: Poetry in Buddhist Literature
Religion 327
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.

At Home in the World: Buddhist Conceptions of History, Geography, and Collective Identity
Religion 330
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
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
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 340
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).

How to Die Well: Buddhist Approaches to Death and Dying
Religion 349
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
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.

Sanctuary: Theology and Social Action
Religion 358
Sanctuary has played a pivotal role in recent discussions about immigration to the United States. But the application of the practice and concept of sanctuary applies to a much wider spectrum of activity within the history of many religions. The purpose of the course is to investigate the roots of sanctuary, and to engage with its practice within the local community in fields such as education, medicine, work, and environment, as well as immigration.

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.