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Master of Arts in History and Philosophy of Religion

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  • Objectives
    The aim of the program is to enable students to learn to see religious phenomena in a broad perspective which will include a general understanding of the historical development of at least two traditions. In addition, the expectation is that students will acquire a sophisticated understanding of the variety of approaches to the comparative study of religion. This broad background should prepare students to know how to begin to approach any new manifestation of religious life and thought that they might want to study. Students who wish to go on to do advanced study in particular religious traditions are advised to begin language study as soon as possible. Language credits are not considered as part of the M.A. program unless they are advanced language studies doing analyses of textual materials.
  • Academic Title
    Master of Arts in History and Philosophy of Religion
  • Course description
    RELI 629Z/1 Apocalypticism and Gnosis
    (Xlisted 498O with professor’s permission only)
    This course will be divided into three parts. The first part will be a study of the development of the concepts of messianism, apocalypticism and eschatology as they are understood in selected texts from the Hebrew Scriptures (with a special focus on the prophets of the Exile), the Apocrypha, the Pseudepigrapha, and the Dead Sea Scrolls. We will then explore the development of wisdom/logos/gnosis in a selection of Wisdom texts from Hebrew Scriptures, Philo, the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Gnostic texts of Nag Hammadi and how the development of this concept is related to the concepts of Messiah and apocalypticism. We will conclude with an examination of the above topics as they develop in a selection of early Christian documents.

    RELI 698I/1 Feminist Jewish Philosophy
    Xlisted 498I
    This course will explore contemporary writings by feminist Jewish philosophers who seek to analyze, critique, and reconstruct Jewish life and Jewish texts through philosophy. It will begin by examining the converging currents of modern Jewish philosophy and feminist philosophy which provide a context for their work. Among the philosophers to be examined are: Rachel Adler, Judith Plaskow, Hava Tirosh-Samuelson, and Susan Shapiro. We will investigate and engage these theorists, among others, in their efforts toward reading and repairing sacred texts, retrieving the voice of women in Jewish history, expanding the power of women within contemporary Jewish communities, and engendering Jewish women’s religious lives. Page 2 of 6

    RELI 609/2 Theories of Religion
    This course examines the meaning and purpose of theory as applied to the study of religion. Toward that end, different forms of contemporary theory are investigated and related to the conceptualization of religion as an object of analysis.

    RELI 613L/2 Fundamentalist & Liberal Thought
    RELI 829A/2
    Modern times and modernity have introduced new problems and modes of thought into Islam, along with grave conflict over legitimate responses to these new conditions. This course examines the thought and action of modern so-called fundamentalists such as Abu al-Ala Mawdudi of India-Pakistan, Sayyid Qutb of Egypt, and the jihadists, along with streams of opposing liberal thought, from the Egyptian Muhammad Abduh to the progressive Islam of some North American groups. The roots in the Muslim tradition of different responses will also be examined.

    RELI 614N/2 Advaita Vedanta
    Xlisted PHIL 678B
    Advaita Vedanta is a sophisticated philosophical cum theological school in the Hindu tradition developed by Sankara in the 8th century CE and which is relevant to understand some of the philosophical underpinnings of Hinduism. Sankara developed his philosophy based on the intuitive awareness of an "I" in all humans, which is prior to all conscious experiences. He believed in an ultimate Absolute reality called "Brahman" which he equated to "Consciousness Itself". He also drew parallels to this Brahman Consciousness and to the conscious element in humans called the "Atman". This emphasis on Consciousness alone being the ultimate real in Advaita Vedanta has generated a lot of interest amongst Contemporary philosophers both in the east and in the west engaged in Consciousness studies. This course will examine and critique the metaphysical and epistemological theories advocated by Sankara and some of his followers.
    It will also study some of the polemical literature that Advaita generated in rival schools of philosophy. The class will be structured in a seminar format based on the readings assigned for every week.

    RELI 616E/2 “Scripture” in the Buddhist & Hindu Traditions

    An examination and comparison of the ways in which oral and written religious "texts" have been produced and have found their place within the Buddhist and Hindu traditions. We will trace the development of, and attitudes towards, "scripture" in Hindu and Buddhist South Asia, and in the Buddhism of East Asia. Among the issues we shall investigate are: the creation, canonization and transmission of scriptures; the authority, interpretation, and application of scriptures; and the relation between scripture and ritual and social practice.

    RELI 623C/2 Theories of Sacrifice
    Various accounts and theories of sacrifice will be examined; the focus will be on sacrifice as gift, as ritual and as maintenance.

    RELI 629U/2 Kierkegaard & Buber: The Problem of the “Thou”

    Xlisted PHIL662
    Soren Kierkegaard and Martin Buber are two of the most significant thinkers of the modern period who explored the dynamics of the religious life. In this seminar we will compare some of their central insights, insights that focus on the relationships between the religious person, other persons, and God. We will come to see both the unique strengths and the inherent weaknesses in Kierkegaard’s philosophy of "the single one" and Buber’s writings about the life of dialogue. At the same time, we will seek to place Kierkegaard and Buber into a variety of historical and theoretical contexts in terms of the development of modern Western religious reflection.

    RELI 670I/2 Food, Sex and Death in Judaism J
    Xlisted RELI 498N
    The common thread that unites food, sex, and death in Judaism is the view that these charged activities (and associated objects), so thoroughly bound up with life itself, have a transcendent dimension through which humans can express and create a relationship with the divine. In this course we will examine practices and attitudes associated with all three in the Jewish tradition and how these practices and attitudes were shaped by the unique cultural contexts in which they were formed.

    RELI 697J/2 Hasidism
    Xlisted 498K
    This course will examine the Judaic religious movement known as Hasidism from its eighteenth century origins to the present. The intellectual history of the movement will be detailed in relation to the development of the Judaic mystical tradition of kabbala. As well, the social dynamics of the movement, both in its original Eastern European environment as well as in contemporary North America and Israel will be analyzed.

    RELI 610/4 Methodological Problems in the Study of Religion
    The purpose of this course is to introduce you to the possibilities (and pitfalls) involved in the academic study of religion. Through a consideration of the work of some classic and more contemporary thinkers in the field, we will explore the various kinds of questions, approaches and techniques that are used in doing "comparative religion," "the history of religions" and "the social-scientific study of religion". A significant part of the course will be the development of practical skills that will allow you to undertake your own research.
    This will also help you gain a better understanding of the diverse sources and evidence for the various interpretive frameworks for understanding religion that we will be examining.

    RELI 614O/4 Hindu Ritual

    This course focuses on interpretation of some of the most enduring and significant forms of practice in the Hindu traditions: sacrifice (yajna), yoga, worship (puja), devotional chanting (bhajan, kirtan), tantric ritual, life-cycle rites (samskara), and special observances (vrata). We will investigate these from a variety of methodological perspectives, becoming acquainted with the field of ritual studies in a South Asian context.

    RELI 616R/4 Great Perfection – Tibetan Buddhism

    Seminar on the Great Perfection in Tibetan Bön and Buddhism
    This seminar will consist in the reading of primary texts in translation from the corpus of meditative texts, philosophical works and practices of the Great Perfection (rdzogs chen). This religious system is considered as the highest teachings of the old school of Nyingma (rnying ma) Buddhism and of the Bön religion. Its history is surrounded with polemics but its teachings, practices and saints have deeply influenced Tibetan culture. The objectve of this course is to understand the system globally from the "insider" view and to supplement it with historical research which has provided new understanding of this religious phenomena.

    RELI 629D/4 History of Zoroastrianism
    Xlisted RELI 313
    Zoroastrianism, though counting no more than a few hundred thousand practitioners today, is one of the most significant traditions in the history of religions, providing a worldview and ethical framework later adopted by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. This course covers the three-thousand year history of Zoroastrianism, from controversies surrounding its origins, its contributions to other religions, its eventual decline and the Zoroastrian diaspora of contemporary times. Readings from the Avesta and other texts will be in English translation.

    RELI 636A/4 Religion & Literature

    Xlisted RELI 498F
    What are the strengths of literary works in understanding religious tradition? In what way can literary texts stand as revisions or re-interpretations of religious texts and belief? This course will apply these questions with regard to a number of religious traditions. Readings will include canonical religious, literary and critical texts. We will consider the way that certain provocative books have created social and political unrest, as well as examining the way that certain thinkers help us understand literary undertakings as expressions of religious modes of thought and creativity.

    RELI 637C/4 Ancient Christianity: Asceticism

    Why did some ancient Christians periodically starve themselves? Why did they run to the desert to sit atop poles, steal themselves away alone in mountainous caves, or reject urban life to reside in austere communities? What solicited the hostility of many Christians toward sexual reproduction and marriage in favor of perpetual virginity and rigorous chastity? This course explores some varieties of ascetic lifestyles and practices in the first-five centuries of Christian history. Through a sampling of different ascetic treatises and communities from the Latin West, Greek East, and the deserts of Egypt and Syria, this course will consider how and why ancient Christian men and women variously disciplined their fleshly bodies in order to become somehow more divine. Central to our investigation will be to expose the connections between ascetic practices, especially fasting and sexual renunciation, and speculations about the nature of God and the possibility of human perfection.

    RELI 665/4 Midrash
    Xlisted RELI 498Y
    In their unique approach to interpreting the Bible in Midrash, the rabbis sought the true meaning of scripture, they incorporated the fantastical, they found deep insight into life, they invented (andrecycled) legend, they embraced multiple and contradictory interpretations, and they made the Bible relevant in their own times.
    In this course we will explore the literary forms and artful techniques of Midrash that make it so fascinating. We will look at the roots of Midrash in biblical interpretation of the late biblical period and the Hellenistic era, trace its development throughout the early rabbinic period, and situate the earliest Midrash in the cultural contexts from which it emerged.

    RELI 699A/4 Women & Religion: Judaism
    Xlisted RELI 381
    This course explores the status and religious roles of women within the Judaic tradition. Its focus is on the practice of the religion, especially the ritual and legal spheres. The relationship between common practice, popular attitudes, and formal legal principles is examined in order to inquire into issues of gender and religion.

    RELI 890/3 Joint Doctoral Seminar

    Theory and Practice of the Study of Religion
    (Joint Doctoral Programme Seminar CONCORDIA / U. LAVAL / UQ)
    This seminar provides a form for students to discuss and apply the theories and methods of the study of religion in the context of the own doctoral interests. Participants present their research in local meetings and inter-university colloquia, while offering critique and aiding the research of others. The seminar facilitates dialogue with alternative approaches and views, while providing practice in scholarly writing and communication.

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