Offered occasionally by visitors or resident faculty. Course content varies.
The Religion and Culture seminar will begin with a consideration of the evolutionary roots of human culture as such and of the types of human concern that find expression in religions. The main texts used for this will be Merlin Donald, Origins of the modern mind : three stages in the evolution of culture and cognition, Rene Girard, Violence and the Sacred, and James Q. Wilson, The Moral Sense. Next we will consider sociological theories of religion and culture represented by Peter Berger, The Sacred Canopy, and Clifford Geertz, "Religion as a Cultural System." From there we will proceed to a theory of cultural development in modernity based on developmental psychology as worked out in Robert Kegan, In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life. The next part of the course will look at the history of religion in the light of these considerations, drawing on historical studies tracing western religious history from ancient to modern times. A concluding discussion will take up the role of "literature" as a modern cultural category and the way in which it has developed in relation to the relative decline of religion in some modern societies.
Student learning goals
General method of instruction
Seminar: discussion of texts and presentation of student papers. Students will be asked to write short response papers weekly on each set of readings. At the end of the quarter they will turn in a longer paper (about 15-25 pages) on a topic growing out of the readings and class discussions.
A general acquaintance with more than one tradition of culture would be helpful. Students who can do so would probably find it helpful to read some of the texts in advance, especially since the reading load will be a bit heavy.
Class assignments and grading
Weeks 1-2 Merlin Donald, Origins of the modern mind : three stages in the evolution of culture and cognition Week 3 Rene Girard, Violence and the Sacred Week 4 James Q. Wilson, The Moral Sense Week 5 Peter Berger, The Sacred Canopy (part 1: "Systematic Elements"); Clifford Geertz, "Religion as a Cultural System" Week 6 Robert Kegan, In Over Our Heads Week 7 William Clebsch, Christianity in European History Week 8 Berger, The Sacred Canopy (part 2: "Historical Elements") and S.N. Eisenstadt, "The Protestant Ethic Thesis" Week 9 "Terry Eagleton, "The Rise of Engish" (in Literary Theory: An Introduction) Week10 Concluding discussions and presentation of papers.
Student papers 70%. Class participation 30%.