Religious Studies 701: Issues in the Study of Religions (Fall 2020)

This online syllabus/course website is posted at and is also accessible by way of my home page (see below) or by way of the Department of Religious Studies website. It will be updated periodically, and students in the seminar are asked to consult it regularly during the semester. Communication about this course will be via email - so please be sure to keep me up to date about your email addresses. Some course components will involve logging onto the Avenue to Learn site for this course.

Virtual Class Meetings: Wednesdays, 2:30-4:30 p.m. (Zoom)

INSTRUCTOR:  Professor Dana Hollander, Department of Religious Studies,*,

*in your email messages, please let me know how I can reach you by phone.
Office Hours: beginning September 23: Wednesdays, 5-6 p.m. (Zoom/Skype/phone - details to be communicated)

☛ JUMP TO WEEKLY SCHEDULE: September / October / November / December

COURSE DESCRIPTION. Religious Studies 701 - "Issues in the Study of Religions" is required of all students completing a graduate (MA or PhD) degree in Religious Studies at McMaster. It offers a forum for the discussion of issues central to the field of religion, and for the exploration of recent developments.

COURSE MATERIALS: Details on how to obtain each reading will be communicated in class and by email.

Detail from a mural in Highland Park, Los Angeles. Photo used with permission.

updated December 2, 2020


Grades will be based on Participation/Presentation(s) 45%, Final Paper 55%.

Week 1 (Sept. 16) - Introductions, Planning Meeting

You will receive an email from me by September 11 letting you know what we are doing the first week.

Week 2 (Sept. 23) - Methodological Directives and Dilemmas, and What Is Theory?

William E. Arnal, "On the Definition of Religion" (2000/2013), from Arnal/McCutcheon, The Sacred Is the Profane. The Political Nature of "Religion" (2013)

selection from Daniel Boyarin, Judaism. The Genealogy of a Modern Notion (2019), chap. 1: "The Terms of the Debate,"

selection from Russell T. McCutcheon, Critics Not Caretakers. Redescribing the Public Study of Religion (2001)

---, Studying Religion: An Introduction (2019), chap. 2

James S. Bielo, Anthropology of Religion: The Basics (2015), pp. 1-8

Kieran Healy, "Social Theory Through Complaining" (syllabus, 2013)

excerpt from SAGE Encyclopedia of Qualitative Research Methods (2008) s.v. "Theory"

Week 3 (Sept. 30) - The University and Academic Disciplines

Bill Readings, The University in Ruins (1996): chap. 4

Immanuel Kant, The Conflict of the Faculties (1798), trans. Mary J. Gregor, in Kant, Religion and Rational Theology, ed. Wood/Di Giovianni: 247-52, 255-56, 262-64

Background: Allen W. Wood, "General Introduction" to Kant, Religion and Rational Theology; Mike Higton, "Berlin," chap. 3 of A Theology of Higher Education (2012), esp. 61-67 top.

Roger I. Simon, "The University: A Place to Think?" (2001)

Mark C. Taylor, "End the University as We Know It," New York Times, April 27, 2009

Adam Kotsko, "Higher Education in the Age of Coronavirus. Not Persuasion, But Power: Against 'Making the Case,'" Boston Review, May 6, 2020

Wilhelm Dilthey, Introduction to the Human Sciences (1883): 56 ("The sciences which take sociohistorical reality as their subject...") - 70 middle; feel free to skim 62 ("Let us now introduce...") - 66 top (end of ch. 2). Optional Background: Preface, 47-52.

Week 4 (Oct. 7) - Origins and Conceptions of "Religious Studies" and of "Religion," Part 1

F. Max Müller, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion (1882), Lecture 1: "The Perception of the Infinite."

Wilhelm Dilthey, The Formation of the Historical World in the Human Sciences (1910): skim 213-18 top; read 213 ("3. The Life-Nexus") - 219; skim 219-25; read 226-41 top.

Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method (1960), trans. Weinsheimer/Marshall (2nd rev. ed., Continuum Books, 2004): 274-78 (section break), 279 ¶2-284, 285 ¶2, 299 ("The Principle of Wirkungsgeschichte")-301, 303¶3 - 306 top (end of the chapter)

Anna Sun, "A Sociological Consideration of Prayer and Agency," TDR: The Drama Review, vol. 60, no. 4 (Winter 2016) (T232)

Further Background:

John Hinnells (ed.), Routledge Companion to the Study of Religion, 2nd ed. (2010): skim chapters by Sharpe, Alles, and Allen.

R. Lanier Anderson, "The Debate Over the Geisteswissenschaften in German Philosophy" in Cambridge History of Philosophy 1870-1945, ed. Thomas Baldwin (2003)

Week 5 (Oct. 14) - Origins and Conceptions of "Religious Studies" and of "Religion," Part 2

Brent Nongbri, Before Religion: A History of a Modern Concept (2013): intro., chaps 1 and 6, conclusion

William Arnal, "The Origins of Christianity Within, and Without, 'Religion': A Case Study," chap. 8 of Arnal/McCutcheon, The Sacred is the Profane (2013)

Gregory Schopen, "Archaeology and Protestant Presuppositions in the Study of Indian Buddhism," History of Religions, vol. 31, no. 1 (August 1991).

Final Paper Assignment will be posted this week


Tomoko Masuzawa, The Invention of World Religions (2005)

Kristian Peterson's interview with Arnal and McCutcheon on their book The Sacred is the Profane for the New Books Network, June 27, 2014.

Week 6 (Oct. 23, 2:30-4:30) - Anthropology and the "Insider/Outsider Problem"

Russell T. McCutcheon, Introduction to Part 1 of The Insider/Outsider Problem (1999), pp. 15-22,

Clifford Geertz, excerpt from "Religion as a Cultural System" (1966) in Theories of Religion, ed. Kunin, pp. 207-28.

---, "'From the Native's Point of View': On the Nature of Anthropological Understanding" (1974) in McCutcheon, The Insider/Outsider Problem

Talal Asad, "The Construction of Religion as an Anthropological Category" [1983/1993], in Genealogies of Religion

Jonathan Z. Smith, "The Devil in Mr. Jones" (1982), in McCutcheon, The Insider/Outsider Problem

selection from Bielo, Anthropology of Religion: The Basics

Week 7 (Oct. 28) - Identity and Differences

Jeffrey Nealon and Susan Searls Giroux, The Theory Toolbox, 2nd ed. (2012), chap. 10: "Differences"

Kwame Anthony Appiah, The Ethics of Identity (2005), chap. 4: "The Trouble with Culture"

Adele Reinhartz, "The Vanishing Jews of Antiquity," Marginalia Review of Books (June 24, 2014)

Annette Yoshiko Reed, "Ioudaios Before and After 'Religion,'" in "Jew and Judean: A Forum on Politics and Historiography in the Translation of Ancient Texts," Marginalia Review of Books (August 24, 2014)

Amy-Jill Levine, "Christian Privilege, Christian Fragility, and the Gospel of John," from Adele Reinhartz (ed.), The Gospel of John and Jewish-Christian Relations (2018)

Ann Taves, "Negotiating the Boundaries in Theological and Religious Studies" (2012)


Kwame Anthony Appiah, "Mistaken Identities." The Reith Lectures (2016)

Friday, Oct. 30, 1:00 p.m. - Paper Proposal and Participation Self-Assessment due to Dr. Hollander

No Meeting on November 4 (individual meetings on papers)

Weeks 8-9 (Nov. 11, 18) - Feminism, Gender, Sexuality

Lisbeth Mikaelsson, "Gendering the History of Religions" from Antes et al. (eds), New Approaches to the Study of Religion (2004), vol. 1.

Saba Mahmood, "Feminist Theory, Agency and the Liberatory Subject: Some Reflections on the Islamic Revival in Egypt" (2005) in Temenos. Nordic Journal of Comparative Religion 42 (2006) no. 1

Combahee River Collective, "Combahee River Collective Statement" (1977), from Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology, ed. Barbara Smith (2000)

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, "Until Black Women Are Free, None of Us Will Be Free. Barbara Smith and the Black Feminist Visionaries of the Combahee River Collective,", July 20, 2020

Cressida Heyes, "Identity Politics" in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2002/2020)

Sarah Hansen, "Queer Performativity" in Gail Weiss et al. (ed.), 50 Concepts for a Critical Phenomenology (2020)

Judith Butler, "Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory," Theatre Journal 40 no. 4 (December 1988)

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, "Queer Performativity. Henry James's The Art of the Novel," GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian & Gay Studies 1 (1993)

"The Awakening. Women and Power in the Academy," Chronicle of Higher Education (April 1, 2018): Sharon Marcus, "We're Not Even Close"; Wai Chee Dimock, "We Need Another Hashtag"

from "Roundtable: Toward a Transfeminist Religious Studies," ed. Max Strassfeld, Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 34 (2018) no. 1:

  • Max Strassfeld, "Transing Religious Studies" (37-53)

  • Melissa M. Wilcox, "Religion Is Already Transed; Religious Studies Is Not (Yet) Listening" (84-88)

Related Readings and Additional Resources:

Interview with Kecia Ali (Boston University) about her project on gender bias especially in the field of Islamic Studies (July 15, 2020)

Talia Bettcher, "Feminist Perspectives on Trans Issues," in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2009/2014)

Saba Mahmood, Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject (2005)

Melissa M. Wilcox, Queer Nuns: Religion, Activism, and Serious Parody (2018)

Weeks 10-11 (Nov. 25, Dec. 2) - Race, Whiteness, Coloniality, Decolonization

George M. Fredrickson, Racism. A Short History (2002), chaps. 1 and 2

Frantz Fanon, selection from "The Fact of Blackness" (from Black Skin, White Masks [1952])

James Baldwin, selection from The Fire Next Time (1962), and excerpt from interview with Kenneth Clark (1963)

selection from Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me (2015)

George Yancy, "Introduction: Flipping the Script" in Look, a White! Philosophical Essays on Whiteness (2012), pp. 1-14; and "Dear White America" (New York Times, December 24, 2015)

Kihana Miraya Ross, "Call It What It Is: Anti-Blackness" (New York Times, June 4, 2020)

"Postcolonialism" in SAGE Encyclopedia of Qualitative Research Methods (2008)

Nelson Maldonado-Torres, "Race Religion, and Ethics in the Modern/Colonial World," Journal of Religious Ethics 42 (2014), no. 4

Walter Mignolo, "The Concept of Decoloniality" (Open University, August 13, 2014) [video]

Uzma Jamil, "The Obstinate Legacy of Race and Colonialism," in T&T Clark Handbook of Political Theology (2020), ed. Ruben Rosario Rodriguez

Malory Nye, "Decolonizing the Study of Religion," Open Library of Humanities 5 (2019), no. 1.

Related Readings and Additional Resources:

Malory Nye, "Race and Religion: Postcolonial Formations of Power and Whiteness" (2019)

Frank B. Wilderson III, Afropessimism (2020)

Jesse McCarthy, "On Afropessimism," Los Angeles Review of Books

A Conversation Between Frank Wilderson III and Bill Hart (professor of Religious Studies at Macalester College), East Side Freedom Library, Minneapolis.

Black Lives Matter and Anti-Racism Resources, compiled by members of the Inclusivity, Diversity, and Equity Committee at the University of Minnesota School of Nursing

Atalia Omer, "Decolonizing Religion and the Practice of Peace: Two Case Studies From the Postcolonial World," Critical Research on Religion (published online May 2020)

Week 12 (Dec. 9) Normativity

Guest Presenter: Maxwell Kennel

Atalia Omer, "Can a Critic be a Caretaker Too? Religion, Conflict, and Conflict Transformation," Journal of the American Academy of Religion 79 no. 2 (June 2011)

selections from Rainer Forst, Normativity and Power: Analyzing Social Orders of Justification (2015), trans. Ciaran Cronin (2017), chaps. 1 and 2.

December 11 - Final Paper Due (detailed instructions to follow)

Copyright © Dana Hollander