Spring 2023

DESR students are required to take three courses. Two of these comprise the core curriculum, and one is an elective selected from a list of courses offered by the DESR faculty.


STRELIG 200: Methods in the Study of Religion

Methods in the Study of Religion is an introduction to methodological best practices in the Study of Religion from the perspectives of different fields. It is made up of multiple modules that combine the study of primary sources with exemplary methodological approaches. These approaches include but are not limited to: anthropological theories of religion and society, historical genealogies of categories of religion and the secular, theology and Church history, sociological approaches to issues like religious organization and conflict, religion and science, religious literature and Biblical hermeneutics, as well as particular religious histories.

STRELIG 201: Histories of the Study of Religion

Histories of the Study of Religion is an introduction to the history and development of the field of “Religious Studies” as an intellectual space for the study of a sometimes historicized, sometimes naturalized phenomenon called “religion.” Since the narration of any history of the study of religion serves to circumscribe a particular set of phenomena as “religious,” this course does not isolate a canonical history of the field. Instead, it progresses in a roughly diachronic manner, through a number of thematic threads representing the development of different domains of the study of religion.


Additionally, students must complete one elective course from a list of pre-approved graduate courses on religion. In some instances, students may petition for other, relevant courses to be counted towards their elective requirement. If a course is offered for variable units, students must enroll at the maximum possible unit value. Potential elective courses will vary depending on faculty teaching plans in a given semester.


Core Courses

Debates in Ancient South Asia History and Religion (STRELIG 200)
Luther J Obrock
Mondays, 4 pm – 6:59 pm, Dwinelle 87
Class #: 30789

The course develops a sensitivity to historiographical and theoretical problems in the study of ancient South Asian religion through a careful investigation of historical continuity and disjunction in the history of religious practices and ideas, the emergence of political forms (especially the “state”), and the relationship between discourse and power. It will be of interest to students of religion, history, literature, and archaeology of premodern India.

This course seeks to familiarize the advanced student of South Asia with debates surrounding the basic concepts of the study of ancient India. Beginning with the Vedic corpus and the development of renunciatory religions, we will look at the rise of the Magadhan empire and its successor states and look at the rise of religious movements, court culture, and political structures—from classic studies to revisionist positions. This course will give students the tools to contextualize their own studies and further theorize their own interventions in ongoing academic discussions.

By the end of this course, the student will have gained an in-depth familiarity with theoretical approaches to the study of the history of religions in South Asia as well as developed a working bibliography of important interventions in the field. This will provide the basis for further graduate level work, field examinations, and dissertation writing.

Forming Perception Poetically: Analogy, Allegory, Symbolism (STRELIG 200)
Niklaus E Largier
Thursdays, 3 pm – 5:59 pm, Dwinelle 282
Class #: 31807/31792

Notions of analogy, allegory, and symbolism refer to rhetorical devices and practices, forms of poetic language, and modes of forming perception and knowledge. Often understood in opposition to conceptual thought, they are connected with premodern epistemological orders, magical or mythical relations to things and the world, and to a series of modern movements from Romanticism to Symbolism, Surrealism, and Magical Realism. In this seminar, we will make an attempt to understand the basic aspects of analogy, allegory, and symbolism, moving from modes of allegorical reading in Late Antiquity to medieval practices of the imagination, Renaissance notions of magic and symbolism, and Baroque emblematic thought, to modern and modernist engagements with the symbolic. Each session will focus on one particular primary text. A syllabus, including a selection of theoretical texts, will be available in early January.

The Invention of Religion in Early Modern Europe (STRELIG 201)
Ethan H Shagan
Mondays, 2 pm – 3:59 pm, Dwinelle 3335
Class #: 33218

Since the work of Talal Asad in the 1990s, scholars have endlessly repeated the claim that the analytical category of “religion” was invented in early modern Europe. This assertion is demonstrably false; “religion” has been invented many times, and the modern category continues to evolve. But it does identify an important truth: early modern Europe was a time and place of enormous cultural flux in which competing conceptions of religion were canvassed and power in the world was reorganized around conflicting visions of the human relationship with the divine. This class examines the changing meanings of religion from the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries in a series of fraught cultural context: the Renaissance encounter with “paganism”; the expulsion of Jews and Muslims from Iberia; the European encounter with the New World; the Reformation’s fragmentation of Western Christianity into multiple “religions”; the theory and practice of religious toleration; the Enlightenment’s shaping of religion as an object of study; and European attempts to understand and control the religions of Asia. We will read both secondary scholarship and primary sources.

Open to graduate students, and to advanced undergraduates by permission of instructor.

Elective Courses

The following courses satisfy the DESR elective requirement:

Caste, Religion, and Tradition in Indian Society: An Anthropological History
Janaki Bakhle
Thursdays, 2:30 pm – 5 pm, Dwinelle 2231
Class #: 33223/33221

How did Western scholars/missionaries/anthropologists/colonial officials understand the strange world of India they found themselves in from the 17th to the 20th centuries? What was encountered as a “religion” was unrecognizable to them by the terms of a Western understanding: it was not congregational, confessional or pastoral; it did and did not require belief in a deity; it was and was not scriptural and there was no one revealed book; it did not have prophets and the place and nature of “belief” was alien. Yet, this religion, such as it was, inspired deep devoutness and faith, which led (or so they thought) to a culture that was deeply hierarchical. The hierarchy was implemented and maintained in the name of a distinction between peoples that was called caste, it was of putatively ancient origin yet had changed and grown over the millennia with wide regional variations and implementations. The basis for the so-called caste system was both scriptural and not. Furthermore, religion and caste contributed centrally to the understanding of “culture” a term invoked interchangeably with “tradition.”

The divide between caste, religion, and culture, at the same time the difficulty of disaggregating caste, religion, and culture baffled Western scholars and missionaries of the late medieval period, but also later (19th century) colonial officials and anthropologists. For our purpose, it is vital to recognize that knowledge about India was produced by these various gatherers and compilers of information which was turned into knowledge. In this course we begin with a 17th century priest and an account of his activities, and will work our way through a selection of writings on the subject of Indian caste, religion, and culture by a mix of political theorists, sociologists, anthropologists, and historians in order to arrive at an understanding of the interdisciplinary and anthropological history of India.

Public Health and Spirituality
Douglas W Oman
Wednesdays, 12 pm – 1:59 pm, Berkeley Way West 1212
Class #: 30213

This course presents a brief introduction to the emerging field of spirituality and health. We examine scholarly and scientific views of links between spirituality, religion, and health. Topics include highlights and overviews of the rapidly emerging scientific evidence base, public health relevance, collaborations with faith-based organizations, and other practical applications.

Readings in Indian Buddhist Texts
Alexander Von Rospatt
Wednesdays, 2 pm – 4:59 pm, Dwinelle 288
Class #: 30811/30805

This graduate seminar focuses on reading a wide spectrum of Indian Buddhist texts in the Sanskrit (or Pali) original introducing the students to different genres, and different aspects of Indian Buddhism. The students taking the course for two units (rather than four) will be expected to prepare thoroughly every week for the reading of Buddhist texts in the original. They will also be expected to read all related secondary literature that is assigned to supplement the study of the primary source material. In contrast to the students taking the course for four units, they will not be expected to write a term paper or to prepare special presentations for class.

History of Jewish Law and Ritual
Ethan Benjamin Katz, Francesco Spagnolo
Thursdays, 2 pm – 4:59 pm, Off Campus
Class #: 19629/33216

This seminar, specifically designed as the ‘integrative course’ for students pursuing the Designated Emphasis in Jewish Studies, will offer an in-depth introduction to some of the central trends and personalities in modern Jewish historiography. We will read (and read about) the founders of modern Jewish historiography, and then explore some contemporary trends in Jewish scholarship, according to the disciplinary affiliations of the students in the class. Students will need to write a 5000-word article to complete the course, using a bibliography that includes Jewish Studies materials. A subject-relevant seminar paper from another course may be used to fulfill this requirement, subject to approval by Jewish Studies faculty.

This seminar will meet in Room 117 at The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, located at 2121 Allston Way in Berkeley.

The Enigma of Authority
Daena Funahashi
Wednesdays, 10 am – 11:59 am, Social Sciences Building 192
Class #: 31206

What grounds authority? The notion of authority – whether it be epistemological, scientific, political, religious, or divine – is in some ways linked to questions of power, specifically, the power to author and to authorize. But on what basis do we give this power credit?

Authoritative projects have power based upon their capacities to move people without moving, to act upon the individual without acting. How then could we locate and examine this force? What is it that moves us?

In this seminar, we build upon classic texts in anthropology on mana, fetish, and political theology to explore how our submission to the authoritative voice takes place at a level beyond reason.

Death and Dying
Eveline S Chang
Mondays 10 am – 11:59 am, Haviland 4
Class #: 30468

This course explores death and dying from a variety of perspectives: psychological, philosophical, cultural, spiritual, and phenomenological. Emphasis is placed on understanding the experiences of dying persons and their loved ones, as well as the interplay between the process of dying and the process of living. Implications for social work interventions are discussed. This course is both academic and experiential, relying on a wide variety of materials: autobiography, fiction, scholarly and theoretical writings, case examples, films, poetry, and guest lectures.