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Semester: Not Offered
Faculty: Timothy Nelson
Despite the greatly exaggerated proclamations of its demise over the last century, religion persists as a powerful force in the world. The goal of the course is to identify and analyze the roles which individual faith and organized religion play in the public realm and to equip students with the necessary tools to effectively relate to religiously motivated actors. The most important of these is simply to understand the powerful motivations, perspectives, identities, commitments, and resources which each faith tradition continues to provide to the majority of the world's population. In this course we are concerned with the public face of religion, or the relationship of faith communities to those outside of their boundaries. Three of the major public roles of religion -- as citizen, as neighbor, and as prophet -- are the ones which concern us here. Religion as Citizen - Faith traditions generally transcend borders, yet religious organizations and individuals all exist within particular nation states and civil societies. Recognizing the diversity of relations between these religious groups and states is an important step to understanding public religious action more generally. Religion as Neighbor - Religious organizations are often engaged in providing families and communities with material resources and social services. We will observe how these activities occur at the level of the individual believer (charitable giving, volunteer work), the organizational level (congregational outreach, faith-based organizations), as well as the transnational work of religious NGOs and other actors. Religion as Prophet - Finally, we look at religion in its most controversial role as a social movement which seeks to remake the world in accordance with its particular visions of morality, peace, justice, equality, and other transcendentally-derived values. Here we will seek to understand the circumstances under which religion becomes politicized, as well as how the faithful are mobilized to join particular movements. Because of the wide diversity of religious expressions, even within the larger faith traditions, the extraordinary complexities of religion's intersection with ethnic and national identities, legacies of power and exploitation (colonialism, slavery, etc.), and its varied relations with state authority, the focus of the course will be limited to three regions: the United States, Europe, and the Middle East.
Also offered by the Divinity School as HDS 2803, but not offered in 2013-14.