Religion, Morality, & the Law: An Introduction to Political Disagreement (Fall 2016)
If the 2016 U.S. presidential election has taught us anything, it is that there may be no limit to the degree of disagreement possible within a liberal democracy. Insofar as diversity of perspectives is a feature of liberal democracy, rather than a bug, such disagreement is not necessarily alarming. Yet this year has also made clear that how we choose to respondto these divisions can have significant implications for the stability of the public order, civil society, and even our personal relationships. This course will help you understand our current predicament by introducing you to various theories about the nature of political disagreement. Drawing on literature from religion, philosophy, anthropology, and psychology, we will explore the many forms of normative disagreement that shape political disagreement (religious, moral, legal, etc.) and work to understand the relationship between each. This course will also help you to think about how we should respond to this disagreement, both politically and personally. We will think, along with Rawls, about how we should organize “a stable and just society of free and equal citizens profoundly divided by reasonable though incompatible religious, philosophical, and moral doctrines.” And we will then ask what these arrangements might entail for our obligations as citizens within a liberal democracy. Finally, because this course is designed to be as practical as it is theoretical, we will spend just as much time working together to build the skills and dispositions necessary to actually meet those obligations. More specifically, you will be regularly asked to encounter and respond to those who disagree with you to help you develop 1) respect for political adversaries, 2) a desire to offer them fair terms of cooperation, and 3) the skills necessary to engage in successful democratic deliberation.
Religion, Morality, and the Law (Spring 2015)
We all use moral language and make decisions about how we should behave on a regular basis. But what, exactly, do we mean when we draw such conclusions? Is moral goodness a feature of the world that we can discover through empirical observation, like gravity? And if not, what does it mean to say that a moral claim is “true”? If moral claims can be true or false, what are we to make of those who sincerely disagree with our moral conclusions? How would we try to convince them that they are mistaken? This course is designed to help students think through a variety of answers to these meta-ethical questions, paying close attention to the role that religion plays in each. In so doing, they will be prepared to interrogate the widely held, but poorly articulated, view that morality “depends upon” religion in some important way. Likewise, we will explore the legal implications of these conversations to prepare students to interrogate contemporary positions about the proper function of law in a world where there is deep disagreement about moral and religious truth.
One Nation Under God? Religion and Law in the United States (Spring 2014)
The U.S. Constitution ensures that the government will never make a law that prohibits the "free exercise" of religion, nor make any law "respecting an establishment of religion." We like to think that these prohibitions, often referred to as the "Separation of Church and State," ensure that the United States will be tolerant of all ways of life. Yet, what happens when a person wants to practice a religion that requires him or her to break the law? What should we do if a religion requires its members to smoke illegal substances, reject public education, or engage in animal sacrifices? Is it ever OK to limit a person's religious liberty for the sake of a greater good? In this course, students will be asked to reconstruct, compare, and critically evaluate arguments about these issues. Toward that end, they will read major Supreme Court decisions on church-state relationships, arguments about the nature of the First Amendment and the history of First Amendment jurisprudence, and speculation about how current cases before the Court might be decided.
Sex at Rice: The Good, the Bad, and the Awkward (Fall 2013)
At its broadest level, this course is designed to help Rice students think critically about the way they have conceptualized sexuality and, more importantly, the ethical norms governing their practices in this domain. We will begin by reading empirical studies of contemporary American college students at a variety of institutions; in the process, students will be encouraged to compare the norms and practices at these institutions to those that prevail at Rice. We will then move on to discussions of the historical and cultural diversity of sexual norms, with special emphasis placed on their distinct philosophical and religious foundations. In the end, students will be asked to critically evaluate the attitudes and norms that prevail at Rice in terms of an individual sexual ethic they have constructed in response to our reading and discussions. Issues covered include (but are not limited to): The Rice Purity Test, NOD, Theme Parties, Hooking-Up, Pornography, Objectification, The Body, Sexual Dress, Gender, Same-Sex Relationships, Dating, and Marriage.
Comparative Religion (Summer 2013)
This course is an introduction to the comparative study of religion, focusing on the three major Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Special attention will be devoted to the historical development of each tradition within and around the Mediterranean, but we will also spend time discussing basic doctrines and dominant practices. Comparative by design, this course encourages students to understand and appreciate the common lineages of these traditions, as well as their radical divergences.
Good Sex: Sexuality, Religion, and the Ethics of Physical Intimacy (Spring 2013)
This course examines the often intimate connection between religion and sexuality, focusing on the ways religious teachings have influenced cultural norms governing both sexual practice and the formation of sexual identity. We will begin by reading empirical studies of contemporary American college students; in the process, you will be encouraged to think critically about the way these students (along with you and your peers) have conceptualized the relationship between religious belief, sexual practice, and sexual identity. We then move on to discussions of the historical and philosophical foundations of our contemporary discourse about these matters. Finally, we will spend the remainder of our time reading the constructive theological arguments of various Christian, Jewish, and Muslim authors. Issues covered include (but are not limited to): dating, marriage, same-sex relationships, divorce, pornography, gender, and the body.
One Nation Under God? Religion and Politics in the United States (Fall 2012)
Focusing on the political rhetoric of the 2012 U.S. presidential campaign, this course will ask you to develop and defend your own position about the proper relationship between religion and politics in a religiously pluralistic society. To what extent should it matter that Mitt Romney is a Mormon? Is it appropriate for Barack Obama to cite verses from the Christian New Testament in his speeches? Should we, or should we not, vote for a particular policy on the basis of our religious convictions alone? To help you answer these questions, we will read wide variety of philosophical and theological arguments, as well as a good amount of history and constitutional law.
Religion and Politics (Spring 2012)
This course will introduce students to the various ways religion has influenced (and been influenced by) politics throughout history and across cultures. To do so, this course will address five specific issues, 1) How religion has influenced the most prominent theories about the nature and function of government; 2) The various ways individuals have conceptualized the relationship between religion and law; 3) The role religion has played in elections and political participation, more generally; 4) How religions have instigated, justified, and/or challenged the use of military force to wage war; and 5) The historical and ideological relationship between religion and terror.
Islam (Spring 2011; Spring 2012)
This course offers a thorough introduction to the history, beliefs, and practices of Islam. Beginning with the cultural and religious context from which this tradition arose, the course goes on to explore the life of the prophet Muhammad, the teachings of the Qur’an, central doctrines and rituals, and the diversity of global Islam. Finally, we will examine the relationship between Islam and modernity, as well as the way that Islam and Muslims are perceived in post-9/11 America.
Religion and Sexuality (Spring 2011; Fall 2011)
This course examines the often intimate connection between religion and sexuality. Emphasis will be placed on the ways a variety of religious traditions have both imagined and constructed human sexuality, with special attention to creativity and reproduction, rites of passage, ritual behavior and sexual conduct, the sexual act(s), eroticism and the mystical path, sex and gender roles (especially marriage), and sexual orientation. The course will conclude with a consideration of a contemporary issue (e.g., abortion or same-sex marriage) that is at the intersection of religion and sexuality.
Comparative Religious Ethics (Spring 2011; Fall 2011)
In this course students will be introduced to the sources and patterns of moral reasoning within a variety of historical religious traditions. Though we will compare the diversity of approaches within and across these traditions, special attention will also be devoted to a comparison of these religious patterns of moral reasoning with secular moral philosophy. to facilitate these comparisons, we will discus a wide range of arguments from each tradition about a handful of moral problems (e.g., sexuality, war, the environment, etc.).
Introduction to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (Fall 2010-Spring 2012)
This course offers an introduction to the major religions of the West (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) that focuses on their historical development, grounding concepts, and dominant practices. Special attention will be devoted to the common lineage of these traditions and the radical divergences between them, leading up to a consideration of the religious divisions that trouble our world today. Selected readings from primary sources, audio-visual material, and site visits will provide vital data for the course.
Approaches to the Study of Religion (Spring 2010)
What is religion? What important theories have emerged about the origins of religion? This course explores a variety of academic approaches to the study of religion, emphasizing the methodologies of religious studies as an autonomous discipline. The course will focus on the studies of scholars of religion as well as those framed by psychologists, sociologists, and scholars from other disciplines.
Religious Ethics (Fall 2009)
An introduction to the sources and patterns of moral reasoning within the traditions of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism, by comparing arguments from each tradition on issues of sexuality and the ethics of war and peace.
Islam (Fall 2009)
This course examines the history of Islam, the teachings of different philosophical schools, and the literature of Islamic societies. The roots of the religious tradition as well as its development in different cultural contexts will be examined. Students will read texts drawn from Middle Eastern, Asian, European, and North American Muslim sources.
Religious Ethics and Moral Problems (Fall 2006; Spring 2007; Spring 2008)
This course is an introduction to the study of religious ethics. As such, students will be introduced to the sources and patterns of moral reasoning within the historical traditions of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism. Comparative by design, this course encourages students to understand and appreciate the similarities and differences between and within these moral traditions. Focusing on two broad moral problems (sexuality and justified killing), students will be introduced to a wide range of religious arguments about homosexuality, gender equality, capital punishment, and the ethics of warfare.