Religious Studies Minor

‘Religion’ encompasses vast fields of human experience, aspiration, knowledge, and community that are as essential to our understanding today as ever. Intrinsically transdisciplinary, Religious Studies has been one of the most exciting fields of study in the human sciences over the past forty years, having an impact well beyond its formal boundaries.

At Habib, Religious Studies is regarded as an essential component of a liberal arts education. Intersecting with philosophy in Hikma in the Habib Core – in the latter’s pursuit and reading of Islam as what one recent scholar has called a ‘philosophical religion’ – it sits near the apex of the Habib Liberal Core Forms of Thought under Philosophical Thought, a categorial placement that attempts to revolutionise our approach to the study and teaching of Islam in particular, as well as its relation to its ambient religious traditions.

The minor will feature a range of courses in comparative religion, theory and methods in the study of religion, textual analysis, and specialized topics in religious studies. The aim of the minor is to introduce students to multiple ways of approaching world religious traditions, and the ways in which these traditions have been shaped by historical, political, and social realities. Students will appreciate the plurality and richness of religious expression throughout history, and the modes in which religious traditions continuously interact.

Specific emphasis will be placed on the shaping of the Abrahamic faiths and the religions of South and Central Asia, especially on the myriad of Islamic traditions. Students will explore the ways in which South Asian religions have interfaced with modernity, and the ways in which the forces of modernity have played a part in the construction of ‘religion’, and vice versa. Courses will cover a range of topics, including notions of religious reform and revival, the impact of colonial governmental technologies, and the fluidity of religious encounters. The courses will further interrogate and problematize well-entrenched binaries, like lived and textual religion, folk and literary or urban religions traditions, heterodoxy and orthodoxy, and mysticism and legal traditions.

The minor will evolve a truly comparative, interdisciplinary, postcolonial approach to Religious Studies that will make it distinctive. It is an organic outgrowth of Habib’s unique Comparative Liberal Studies program, and reflects its vision and pedagogical approach.

Courses composing the minor ask students to interrogate European-language and non- European-language sources, ranging from theological and juristic texts to hagiographies and colonial sources. Each course challenges students to consider how religious texts, beliefs, and practices have shaped our contemporary world.

Given its intrinsically transdisciplinary nature, Religious Studies bears within itself the potential to exercise and cultivate the entire range of cognitive qualities associated with the human sciences – from complexity, to rigour, to the ability to recognise contingency and imagine alternatives, systematic analysis of social and ideational phenomena, as well as sensitivity to change and transformation in the midst of continuity, to a facility for analogical and philosophical reasoning, critical and synthetic power, as well as the power of conceptual innovation – make Religious Studies compelling for both graduate school across the human and social sciences, as well as for employers across a range of sectors of the economy.

Learning Outcomes of the Minor in Religious Studies

Students with a minor in Religious Studies will be able to:

  • apply methods from several key disciplines in the social sciences and the humanities in the study of religion. For instance, they will be able to deploy methods in social history and anthropology to explore conceptions of lived religion;
  • question notions of ‘mainstream’ religion, religious essentialism, and the immutability of religious traditions and their underlying moral frameworks, and even the very conception a “religious domain”;
  • employ comparative approaches to understand the ways in which world religious traditions have influenced and shaped each other;
  • understand the heightened role of religion in identity formation in the modern period.
  • trace how belief and practice, and the very category of religion and the religious domain have been refashioned through encounters with ‘modernity’ and its by-products, like the nation state and the printing press;
  • explore the role of religious institutions throughout history, and the dramatic transformations in these roles particularly from the 19th century to present;
  • analyse how religion is deployed as a means for political and social mobilization;
  • explore the interface between religious, institutions, texts, ideas, and practice;
  • critically reflect on the historical roots of contemporary conflicts that are popularly seen to be rooted in religious difference; and
  • critically read texts (both primary and secondary sources in European and non-European languages), conduct anthropological research, and construct cogent arguments that resonate with diverse audiences.

Religious Studies Minor Requirements

  • A minimum of 20 credit hours is required.
  • The 200-level course, The Making of Modern World Religions, is required.
  • A minimum of two courses at the upper (300 or 400) level are required.

Students may choose to do an upper-level independent study, over one or two semesters. Its topic and plan of studies must be drawn up in consultation with the faculty member supervising the study and approved by the program’s Board of Studies. Independent studies must be approved, and the Office of the Registrar notified by submission of the approved Independent Study form, no later than the end of the Add/Drop course period of the semester, in which the study is to be undertaken.

Free electives (but not program required courses) in the major programs may be used to fulfil minor requirements.

Students may count a course towards both the Religious Studies minor and a liberal core requirement.

Course Descriptions

CLS/ Religious Studies 100: Introduction to Buddhism
This course is an introduction to Buddhism providing the students with the opportunity to explore this rich tradition focusing on the Gandhara period, Tibetan, Chinese and Japanese Buddhism. Special attention will be placed on the role Buddhism has played in the arts.

CLS/ Religious Studies 101: Learning about “Others”: An Introduction to the Academic Study of Religion
Religion is an inescapable and constant feature of human society – religious and religio-political conflicts are ongoing around the world, often because one tradition views the other as being strange, ridiculous, or even blasphemous. This course will introduce students to both Western and Arabic thinkers who have reflected on the importance and impact of religion in our communities, cultures, and our political development. Students will be exposed to theorists from al-Farabi through Marx, Ataturk through Derrida, and will be challenged to reflect both upon how they define religion itself, and about the challenges of researching their own and other traditions in a critical yet respectful way. Students who complete this class will not only have a sense of the development of Religious Studies as a discipline, they will be well prepared for future classes and independent research projects on topics relating to religious minorities, World Religions, and the relationship between religion and politics.

CLS/Religious Studies 200: The Making of Modern World Religions
As a requirement for the History and Religious Studies minors within CLS, this course provides students with an introduction to five world religions (Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam) from the perspective of theology, history, and lived religion. Students will explore how the processes of modernity since the 19th century have refashioned these faith traditions.

The course opens with a survey of theories and methods in the study of religion, from the 19th century to the present. Student will interrogate how the categories of religion, belief, and praxis have been approached from the perspective of several key disciplines in the social sciences, theology, and the humanities – ranging from the works of Tyler and Frazer, Eliade, Marx, and Freud to post-colonial theorists. The course further explores, from a historical perspective, the question of how religion interfaces with modernity; questioning the degree to which modernity has played a part in the construction of religion, and vice versa. The course then turns to the politics of comparison, by looking at transformations in the study of comparative religion, as it has emerged from Western European colonial and missionary projects to the present day. Students will consider the evolution of epistemological frameworks for comparative religious inquiry, and their limitations.

Broad themes include religion in the public sphere; religion and identity-making; imperialism, nationalism and globalization; hybridity, creativity, and oppositional religion in colonial encounters; colonial governmental technologies; fundamentalism and scripturalism; tensions between lived religion and text; inter-cultural contact zones; notions of reform and revival; religion and spectacle; notions of pluralism; competing universalisms; notions of homogeneity and heterogeneity.

CLS/Religious Studies 201: Hikmah 1
Ranging across philosophy, literature, history, law and the arts, Hikma I is an encompassing survey of Islamicate thought that seeks to give a sense of the historical and philosophical complexity and depth of the tradition, with significant reference to the region of South Asia. In the module on ‘Religion & Modernity’ in Core 102, and subsequently in our historical survey of socio-religious as well as nationalist reform and revivalist movements in the colonial period in Core 201, we studied the dramatic transformation and discursive constitution of ‘religion’ and ‘culture’ in the colonial-modern period. Both regionally, as well as in the global modern generally, ‘Islam’ and its cultures and societies, have also become particularly sensitive and difficult regions of the discursive landscape.

In recognition of this urgent conceptual difficulty in approaching Islamic phenomena and thought, this course is designed around 14 key themes, corresponding to core sciences within a typical pre-modern Muslim scholastic syllabus.

The course begins with the medieval spiritual bildungsroman by Ibn Tufayl – Hayy Ibn Yaqzan – that conveys the philosophical depth and passion for knowledge, in all its plurality, that is chartered in the tradition as the means for the thoughtful self-cultivation of the human. Next, students are introduced to the philosophy of education in the premodern Muslim world, and the place of various disciplines in the maktab (primary school), madrasa (institution for education in the ‘outer’ sciences), and khaniqah (institution for advanced education in the ‘inner’ sciences of the soul) curricula.

CLS/religious Studies 202: Introduction to the Aesthetic Traditions of Islam
The aim of this course is to provide students with an introduction to the aesthetics behind the
various artistic traditions of the Islamic world as well as its arts of living. The objective of this
course is to introduce students to aesthetic criticism and the ability to engage critically with various forms of art within their context. Essay writing and analytic skills be among the skills acquired by the students during this course. The various artistic traditions that will be presented will include calligraphy, architecture, painting, music, theatre, literature, the arts of the table, fashion, martial arts and the beautification of the body

CLS/Religious Studies 203: Modern Middle East
This course provides an introduction to the complex political, economic, and social changes that have created and shaped the Middle East from the mid-18th century to present, covering the region from Iran to North Africa. In addition to contextualizing current events, the course also introduces students to historiographic debates and methodology, interpretive frameworks, and critical analysis of primary and secondary sources. Lectures and readings also bring the history of the Middle East in dialogue with surrounding regions.

This course treats both the ‘Middle East’ and ‘modernity’ as problematic and contested terms, and problematizes civilizational rise and decline paradigms. Instead, students are encouraged to explore the possibility of multiple indigenous modernities within the Middle East, and to consider the vast array of internal responses to colonialism and western notions of modernity emerging from this region.

CLS/Religious Studies 204: The Intellectual History of Esoteric Traditions in Islam and related faiths
This course builds upon the trajectory of Hikma 1 and Hikma 2. It explores the various practitioner methods traditionally used in Oriental and Islamic philosophy and spirituality, which are today mostly lost to us due to Modernity. It will, as opposed to the Hikma courses that dwell on theory and metaphysics, demonstrate to the student the actual methods of attaining the various ‘truths’ so keenly articulated in the Core. The course will provide the student in-depth knowledge of old esoteric practices, starting from their earliest evolution at the dawn of human civilization, and later as found in medieval texts by known thinkers, including al-Biruni, amongst others. Content will occasionally be complemented by the dying contemporary knowledge of these sciences-components of which have nevertheless persevered in this part of the world. The course will examine the various uses of esoteric sciences in our tradition, including in architecture and medicine. It will help the student to understand and come to terms with the richness and plurality of Islamic spirituality hands on, and to learn to appreciate it as a modern-as opposed to instinctively rejecting it. Our modern rejection of our lost esoteric heritage is one of the reasons youth are driven to revivalist puritanical trends in modern Islam, which eventually lead to militancy.

CLS/Religious Studies 205: Christianity before and after Modernity
This course would be a religious studies companion to Prof. Naqvi’s “What is Modernity” and would explore the Christian Tradition in its various forms (Catholic and Eastern) before the rise of Modernity. Emphasis will be placed on the roots of Modernity in Protestantism and the effects of Modernity on both Catholicism and Orthodoxy especially the French and Russian revolutions and the responses to these by both churches. Key concepts of the Christian tradition will be addressed as well as the fundamental role Catholicism, Orthodoxy and Protestantism have placed in shaping much of the arts and literature as well as political concepts we are so familiar with today.

CLS/Religious Studies 300: Hikmah II
Whereas Hikma I focused on clearing the epistemological and philosophical ground to approach the history of Islamic thought, Hikma II directly engages primary texts and artifacts from the tradition, especially of a philosophical character.

CLS/Religious Studies 301: Sacred Geographies: A Fieldwork based course in Historical Methodologies
Las Bela, Baluchistan, remains understudied, despite its pivotal location between Iran, Kalat, and Sindh, and Bela’s role as the capital city of a state, which not long ago encompassed Karachi. The recent opening of this region provides a unique opportunity to make academic forays into Bela. This course seeks to expand inter-disciplinary horizons, with the aim of designing a cross-departmental course where students can participate and design various aspects of a field-based study

CLS/Religious Studies 400: Translation, Comparative Religion, and Comparative Concepts of Truth and Power
In the West, translations of the Bible into vernaculars were closely related to the rise of modern nations. Why was this not the case with the translation history of Buddhist scriptures? How does monotheism impact the Christian understanding of language/ interpretation/ translation, and how does the latter in turn produce a Christian mode of imagined community which plays an unstable and ambiguous role in colonialism? To what extent do the Christian concepts of the “sacred,” authenticity, authority, canonization, and civic religion account for the divergence of its translation theory and practice from those of Buddhism? By comparing the two traditions, this project will also draw attention to how the coupling of translatio studii and translatio imperii is a mere historical and cultural contingent.