Classes Taught

Introduction to Religious Studies

An introduction to the study of religions at the undergraduate level. The course focuses on how religious studies differs from theology, fundamental terms and categories within religious studies, basic approaches and methods in studying of religions, and classic problems, theories, and figures in the field. The course requires no prior background in the study of religion.

Introduction to Religious Studies

An introduction to the study of religions at the undergraduate level. The course focuses on how religious studies differs from theology, fundamental terms and categories within religious studies, basic approaches and methods in studying of religions, and classic problems, theories, and figures in the field. The course requires no prior background in the study of religion.

Christianity: The Basics

The course will cover the following topics: the Bible and other early Christian literature; Jesus and his followers in their historical contexts; the history of Christianity; fundamental Christian beliefs and practices, both orthodox and heretical. Additionally, we will examine varieties of Christianity worldwide and in the United States; the organization of various Christian communities; and the global and local impact of Christianity on cultures, politics, and societies. The course presumes no prior knowledge of or acquaintance with Christianity.

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New Religious Movements

An exploration of New Religious Movements (NRMs), more popularly known as sects, cults, and emerging religions. This course surveys various NRMs and explores theories and concepts relevant to the study of NRMs. Students will consider, among other topics, why people join NRMs; what biases and assumptions factor into defining (new) religions; the many dialectical processes shaping NRMs; legal, social, and political issues relating to NRMs; and the impacts of race, class, and gender identities on NRM dynamics.

African American Religious History

This course examines the religious history of people of African descent in the American colonies and states.  It will focus on the variety and diversity of these religions, and especially between ones transplanted from Africa, those imposed by whites, and religious groups that developed indigenously, noting strands of resemblance and hybridity.  It will explore how religion has shaped black communities and identities in the context of white hegemony and how religion has played a pivotal role for African-American strategies of resistance, liberation, and/or assimilation.

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Religion in North America

A wide-ranging examination of the diverse religious life of North America both in history and today. Attention is given to religion among native peoples,  mainstream groups such as Judaism, Catholicism, and Protestantism, marginal movements such as Scientology and other new religious movements, and  religions among recent immigrants such as Santeria and Vodou. We will also study the intersection of race, ethnicity, gender, and religion. The course will look  at the history of religions in North America, themes that have characterized North American religions, and case studies to create a comprehensive view of  religion from multiple perspectives, including those of traditionally marginalized groups.

Religion and Law

What does the United States Constitution say about the relationship between religion and law, church and state, and religious freedom? Did the Founding  Fathers intend for America to be a Christian nation? How have various Supreme Court justices interpreted the First Amendment’s religion clauses? And what  exactly are the religion clauses? To answer all these questions and more, this course explores the evolving relationship between religion and American law.  Using critical and socio-cultural theory, this course situates dominant legal trends within their larger cultural and historical contexts. This course specifically examines religious minorities who engaged the law to challenge what they perceived as white, Protestant dominance. In the process, they influenced judicial readings of the Constitution’s religion clauses.

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Sex, Drugs, and U.S. Religion

Religious leaders expect nothing but sober living and chaste sexuality, right? The history of American religion suggests otherwise. Focusing largely on marginalized religious groups whose “alternative” views on sexuality and drug use push  them outside mainstream society, this class explores the complex history of drug use, sexuality, and religion throughout American history. In the process, we also explore the evolving legal and cultural climates that either condemn or support  religious drug use and religious views on sexuality. As a result of this analysis, we learn that religious Americans cannot agree on the topics of sex and drugs but  that debates about sex and drugs are perennial aspects of American religious  history. This class begins in colonial America and ends in contemporary America, where national and local politics are forcing dominant religious groups to reconsider their positions on sexuality and drug use.

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Religion and Critical Thought

A critical engagement with major theories and methods in the study of religions. Equal attention is given to both historical-hermeneutical and ethical-critical approaches.

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A History of Satan

In this course, we use the academic perspectives of religious studies, history, and political analyses to understand how people have imagined the devil as a  character, a lived presence, and a political-spiritual threat. Readings will focus primarily on the modern era in the Americas, and, in particular, the United States’  emphasis on the demonic. Students will learn about varied case studies such as the Salem Witch Trials, slave insurrections, Cold War Era  apocalypticism, the Nation of Islam’s figurations of the white devil, the satanic panic in the 1980s, Satanists’  religious freedom court cases, and how contemporary queer performances appropriate and adapt diabolical symbols. Together, we will ask how ideas about the devil, the demonic, and hell have shaped modern politics. A careful consideration of the devil offers new ways to critically analyze the emergence of modern nationalism, forms of racial supremacy, and ideas about sexuality, masculinity, and femininity.

Religion and American Prisons

This is a survey course that explores the relationship between religion, prisons, and crime in American history. We first explore punishment and penology in the early modern era, when the civil government rarely incarcerated people for extended periods of time. We then examine the larger intellectual and theological trends that created political and social spaces for the modern penitentiary, where religious socialization became a staple inside this new institution. For the remainder of the semester, we explore major trends in prison religion, focusing specifically on religion in the era of mass incarceration. Our studies intersect with the study of religion and law, as the relationship between religion and prison is inseparably tethered to legal considerations.

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