Topics in Comparative Religions [CRN 27403]

Discipline: Philosophy and Religious Studies
Instructor: Haberman
Credits: 3
Day: B
Start: 13:40
End: 15:00
Field Work: Day 1 | March 1, 2017 | India
Prerequisites: One (1) religions of the West course OR one (1) religions of the East course, OR one (1) issues in the study of religion course Download Syllabus

Subtitle: “Matter Matters: A Reconsideration of Idolatry and Anthropomorphism”

This course involves historical investigation of the related concepts of idolatry and anthropomorphism in the interpretation of religions, especially as they relate to human interaction with embodied forms of divinity.  Discourses about idolatry dominated virtually every intellectual movement in the early modern period.  The concept of idolatry is embedded as a favored interpretive strategy in the very foundation of the comparative study of religion that emerged from the religious conflicts of the 16th century.  Anthropomorphism has drawn scholarly attention for a long time, but until recently the great majority of this attention has been unreservedly negative.  This course tracks efforts to reevaluate these interpretive approaches in the study of religion to present-day reconsiderations of the worship of religious objects found, for example, in Asian and African religions.

Field Work

Country: India
Day: 1
Date: March 1, 2017

This field class will involve a visit to several Hindu temples near Cochin, India to observe the central temple act of murti-puja, or worship of embodied forms of divinity, and to talk with temple priests and worshipers about this practice. This will provide an opportunity to gather information that will be used to assess the appropriateness of interpretive strategies connected with the concept of idolatry for understanding and explaining this ritual practice. Students will be required to submit a 2-3 page field journal entry about this trip, demonstrating their knowledge of Hindu temple religious practices near Cochin and serious reflection on interpretive issues related to this class.

Learning objectives:
1. Experience the inside of a variety of Hindu temples
2. Observe the worship of embodied forms of divinity (murti-puja)
3. Learn more about this practice from conversations with Hindu worshippers