2016-2017 Graduate Courses

Note: This is an archive. View current courses.


Course registration begins August 15.

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DSR Course Timetable

DSR Course Descriptions


Method and Theory in the Study of Religion

Fall: John Marshall, Tuesday 10-1, UC255

Spring: Amira Mittermaier, Tuesday 10-1, JHB317


The seminar is the core course of the Department’s doctoral program. It is required of, and limited to, all first year Ph.D. students of the Department. The purpose of the course is to provide doctoral students with a general understanding of the study of religion through constructive engagement with a number of fundamental challenges–theoretical and methodological–that commonly confront researchers in the field. Among the foundational themes to be explored: the ontological specificity of religious phenomena; the peculiarities of religious language, discourse, and worldviews; the varieties of religious institutionalization; the historical transformation and social “embeddedness” of religions; the embodiment of religion; and the constitution of religious selves or actors. To facilitate our seminar engagements with problems of theory, concept-formation, methods, data, and explanation, a number of major interpretive controversies in the study of religion will also be featured.


The MA Method and Theory Group

John Marshall

Wednesday 12-2


The M.A. Workshop Group is required of all first year M.A students of the Department. M.A. students will meet every week during the first term in a seminar course designed to provide rigorous training in method and theory in the study of religion. Topics considered include: historical development of religious studies, significance and application of interdisciplinary methodologies, key theorists and theoretical controversies.


Directed Reading
RLG1502H Directed Reading


Independent Study Courses
Undertaken in Any Term with Approval

With the approval of the Associate Director, and, in the case of a doctoral student, with the approval of the student’s Advisory Committee as well, a student may construct an independent study course of Directed Reading with a professor who agrees to supervise the work.Normally no more than one full year or two half year courses of this type are permitted in a degree program. These courses may be undertaken during any term, including the summer.
Reading Course Form.


RLG 2000Y
Major MA Research Paper


Prepared Under Direction of a Professor

Major research paper (at least 50 pages) on a topic relevant to the study of religion, prepared under the direction of a professor. By January 30 of the year in which they intend to write the paper, students should identify their topic and secure the approval of the professor who will direct their work on the paper.


Religion and Liberalism

Bart Scott

Thursday 10-12, JHB 214


It is sometimes said that there is a close symbiosis between neoliberal economic policies and the increased cultural prominence of religion since the 1970s: religion is the necessary supplement to the restrained neoliberal state; it organizes and supports society from below. To gain critical traction on this apparent symbiosis, this graduate seminar looks to the longer history of liberalism, asking how liberal political thought in its multiple forms has intersected with religion since the early modern period. Through a multidisciplinary approach that draws on intellectual history, political theory, and cultural studies, we will ask how shifts in institutional and media practice inflected the histories of religion and liberalism alike. Readings will focus primarily on the British liberal and neoliberal tradition, from Locke to Thatcher, although with attention to that tradition’s connections to both the Continent and the colonies. The seminar thus aims not only to provide students with thorough grounding in the history of a notoriously slippery term; it also complicates the standard history of liberalism by demonstrating its inseparability from the history of empire.


Natural Law in Judaism

David Novak

Thursday 9-12, JHB317


This course deals with the question of natural law in the Jewish and Christians traditions. The question for these traditions is: How can a religious tradition, rooted as it is in a particular divine revelation to a particular community, advocate moral norms for all human beings, especially for those who are not part of their tradition and do not want to be part of it? Over and above such texts as the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Talmud, authors such as Philo, Augustine, Maimonides, Aquinas, Albo, and Grotius will be read and discussed. In the second semester, we will also be reading and discussing some more modern Jewish and Christian natural law thinkers. Regular seminar participation plus a 15-20 page term paper each semester are the course requirements.


Comparing Religion

Reid Locklin

Wednesday 5-7, Carr106


Few methods have been more foundational to the scholarly study of religion, or more subject to searching criticism, than the practice of comparison. This seminar offers an advanced introduction to comparative method in the contemporary academy by means of a close study of 4-6 significant comparative projects published in the last decade. Examples will be drawn from different sub-disciplines of Religion, including but not limited to ritual studies, philosophy of religion, comparative theology and/or ethnography.


Law & Religion: Critical Conversations

Pamela Klassen

Wednesday 4-6pm, JHB318


Combining legal, anthropological, historical, and religious studies analysis, this course goes beyond questions of how law regulates religion to examine how law shapes and understands religion and how religion undergirds, challenges, and exposes the character of law. The course attends to questions of sovereignty, colonialism, secularism, religious and legal ritual, and public debate and deliberation. When possible, the course will be co-taught by faculty in religious studies and in law.


Historiography of Religion

Jennifer Harris

Wednesday 10-12, JHB317


A seminar that examines theories of historical writing through two lenses, by exploring:

  1. the ways historians have examined religious traditions
  2. the ways scholars of religion have employed historical categories


RLG2072HS/ RLG422H1S
Kant’s Theory of Religion

James DiCenso

Wednesday 3-5, JHB317


An advanced study of Immanuel Kant’s interpretation of religion, as developed in major writings such as Critique of Practical Reason and Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason. Emphasizes rational ethical criteria as the basis for analyzing the doctrines, symbols, and institutions of historical religions.


Fieldwork in Religious Studies

Amira Mittermaier

Monday 3-5, JHB317


This course is designed for MA and PhD students in religious studies whose research involves fieldwork. It addresses current debates about the ethnographic enterprise, as well as practical issues, such as research design, ethical matters, interview techniques, and writing field notes. The course focuses on ethnographic research on religion.


Christianity in the Ancient Near East

Kyle Smith

Monday 10-12, JHB214


The historical study of Christianity traditionally begins in the eastern Mediterranean and then turns westwards, focusing on the historical and theological development of Christianity in its Greek and Latin contexts. But such an approach paints an extremely partial picture of the development and spread of Christianity in late antiquity and the early medieval period more broadly—one that, for example, completely omits the rich heritage of Christianity in the Syriac tradition. A dialect of Palestinian Aramaic, Syriac was, for several centuries, the preeminent Christian literary language from the Syrian countryside through Mesopotamia to the Iranian plateau. In addition to surveying (in English translation) the unique biblical, theological, liturgical, hagiographical, and historiographical contributions of Syriac-speaking Christians and their literatures from the first centuries of the Common Era up to the early Islamic period, this course will focus on the importance of Syriac and Syriac Christianity as a bridge linking Rome with Persia and Byzantium with Baghdad. As such, some time, too, will be spent examining the history of Christianity in upper Egypt, Ethiopia, and the Arabian Peninsula. This course should thus be of interest to graduate students in a variety of fields, including biblical studies and Christian origins, Christianity in late antiquity, Sasanian/Zoroastrian studies, and early Islam.


Social History of the Jesus Movement

John Kloppenborg

Wednesday 9-12, LA340


Focus on the social setting of the early Jesus movement in Roman Palestine and in the cities of the Eastern Empire.Topics will include: rank and legal status; age and population structure; patronalia and clientalia; family structure; marriage and divorce; forms of association outside the family; slavery and manumission; loyalty to the empire and forms of resistance; legal and social issues concerning women; taxation; the structure of the economy, and how these issues are variously reflected in documents of the early Jesus movement. Open to qualified graduate students and advanced undergraduate students. Graduate students will be expected to read primary texts in the original languages; knowledge of Greek is essential; knowledge of a modern research language (French, German, or Italian) is necessary.



Ann Jervis

Thursday 2-4


Seminar designed to enlarge students’ understanding of Paul, of scholarship on Paul, and the letter he wrote to the Galatians. This course is designed both to deepen knowledge about Paul, Pauline scholarship and Galatians; and to sharpen students’ research abilities and to provide an opportunity to prepare a trial thesis proposal. Teaching methods include lectures and seminar leadership. Evaluation is based on class presentations and a final project.


Words and Worship

Simon Coleman

Tuesday 10-12, JHB214


How are we to analyze the words that Christians use? How might oral forms compare with written ones? And how should we understand the relationships between religious language and ritual action without seeing one as merely derived from the other? This course provides the opportunity both to explore theories of language use and to apply them to forms of verbal discourse ranging from prayers, speaking in tongues, and biblical citations to more informal narratives. Protestant and Catholic attitudes to religious language are examined in ways that sometimes reinforce, something challenge, theological distinctions between the two, and there will be the opportunity for students to bring their own texts for analysis. Some techniques for the analysis of ritual texts are explored, and the advantages and disadvantages of close textual analysis are discussed. Although the focus is on Christianity, the aim is to provide methodological and analytical tools that can also be applied to the study of other religions.


Sanskrit Readings

Ajay Rao

Monday and Thursday 2-4, JHB319


This course will have students read choice pieces of South Asian literature. While tackling a text in simple Sanskrit from a major literary tradition, Buddhist or Hindu, and discussing it’s content and context, students will learn strategies for translating and interpreting Sanskrit literature.


Buddhist Cannon

Amanda Goodman

Tuesday 3-5, JHB319


This course examines the historical development of the Buddhist canon across Asian traditions, including the transmitted Buddhist canons of South, Southeast, and East Asia. The course will explore the central role of the canon within Buddhist institutional history, as well as its centrality in the field of Buddhist studies. In addition, the course will emphasize the role of extra-canonical finds in the study of Buddhist traditions, and provide the basic tools and methods necessary for original research on Buddhist textual traditions across Asia.


Special Topics in Islamic Studies (Religion and the Liberal State: The Case of Islam)

Mohammad Fadel

Tuesday 10:30-12:20, J130

Course begins on September 6.
Students should contact the instructor in advance to obtain the syllabus before the first week.


This seminar will address, as a theoretical matter, the relationship of religion to a liberal state, with particular attention to the writings of John Rawls as set forth in Political Liberalism and leading “religion” cases law from Canada, the United States and the European Court of Human Rights that address the relationship of religion and a liberal constitutional order. The course will also provide an introduction into classical and modern Islamic thought on the State.


Islamicate Material Cultures

Karen Ruffle

Wednesday 3-5, JHB214


This course examines the role of things, practices, circulation, space, and embodiment have played a critical role in shaping material forms of religious culture to reveal the historically contingent nature of trans-local practices in Muslim history. As Muslims settled beyond the Arab core In Iberia, South Asia, China, Iran, and Sub-Saharan Africa, we will focus on issues of repurposing and reuse of objects and space and questions of ownership, gifting and alienability, and the many lives of an object. We will examine such topics as relics, re-use/appropriation of sacred spaces/objects, amulets, and tombs. Primary sources for this course will include the Islamic collection at the Royal Ontario Museum and the Aga Khan Museum.



Kenneth Green

Monday 2-4, UCB203

An introduction to The Guide of the Perplexed by Moses Maimonides, and to some of the basic themes in Jewish philosophical theology and religion. Among topics to be considered through close textual study of the Guide: divine attributes; biblical interpretation; creation versus eternity; prophecy; providence, theodicy, and evil; wisdom and human perfection. Also to be examined are leading modern interpreters of Maimonides.


The Jewish Legal Tradition

Harry Fox

Thursday 12-2, Bancroft 313


This graduate course is designed to deepen the student’s abilities to deal with Jewish legal texts, most particularly the Babylonian Talmud. The significance of philology and relocation criticism in outlining the history of halakha as well as historicist division between Tannaim and Amoraim, Amoraim and Stammaim will be explored. Regnant positions of Rosenthal, HaLivni, Friedman, and others serve as a background to a critique of contemporary scholarship. Judicious use will be made of codes such as Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah and the Rabbi Joseph Caro’s Shulhan Arukh and their super commentaries. The topics explored vary from year to year and student to student and are subject to negotiations dependent on mutual interest. Ability in source languages is a prerequisite.


Readings in Jewish Literature

Terence Donaldson

Tuesday 9-11


A study of selected Jewish literature from the Second Temple period. To provide thematic unity to our reading, we will pay particular attention to issues of Jewish self-definition and identity within the Greco-Roman world, and to the range of Jewish attitudes toward “the nations” and their place in Jewish frames of reference


Newar Religion

Christoph Emmrich

Monday 10-12, JHB319


An academic legend recounts that if you ask a Newar whether he is Hindu or Buddhist the answer is yes. The course deals with the problem of how to study religions which coexist and compete with each other by replacing and replicating practices in a densely populated environment over a very long period of time such as the Kathmandu Valley, thus creating shifting coordinates of religious identification. The course will try to understand these historical processes from the perspective of one specific Nepalese community engaging in unique local forms of Buddhism and Hinduism while trans-regionally employing Indian, Burmese and Tibetan agents. The course will be conducted as a seminar grounded on Newar primary sources in translation, literary and art historical studies as well as recent anthropological research. The required preparatory reading is David Gellner, The Anthropology of Buddhism and Hinduism. Weberian Themes. Delhi: Oxford University Press 2001.


The Vedas

Arti Dhand

Wednesday 12-2, NF8


Advanced study in specialized topics on Hinduism such as Ramayana in Literature: This course explores how this conception is the result of a historical process by examining documentable transformations in the reception of the Ramayana. Our focus will be on the shift in the classification of the Ramayana from the inaugural work of Sanskrit literary culture (adi-kavya) in Sanskrit aesthetics to a work of tradition (smrti) in theological commentaries, the differences between the Ramayanas ideal of divine kingship and medieval theistic approaches to Ramas identification with Visnu, the rise of Rama worship, and the use of Ramas divinity in contemporary political discourse.


Vedanta Through the Ages

Srilata Raman

Thursday 10-12, JHB319


survey of Vedantic thought beginning with the classical commentaries on the Brahmasutras (such as those of Sankara, Ramanuja etc.) and ending with neo-Vedanta in the writings of Dayananda Saraswati, Sri Aurobindo and Radhakrishnan.


RLG 4001H
Directed Reading: TST Seminar

Reading course designators for those who wish to take appropriate, upper level Toronto School of Theology Courses.
Reading Course Form


RLG 4004H

Once General Exams are completed, students in the PhD program are required to participate at least once in the Department for the Study of Religion’s colloquium before undertaking their final oral exams. The colloquium participation is recorded as a credit/non credit on the transcript.


Postsecular Political Thought: Religion, Radicalism, and the Limits of Liberalism

Ruth Marshall

Tuesday 4-6, JHB317


This seminar in theory examines the postsecular as a series of questions opened by the so-called return of religion to public debate, the rise of politicised religious movements, and the limits of liberal democracy’s ability to respond to the challenge of religion and religious otherness. The course will examine the debates on religion’s public, political role as articulated by thinkers such as Habermas, Rawls, Brown, Zizek, et al by focusing on politically radical or revolutionary challenges to liberalism that are grounded upon or draw their inspiration from religious traditions, doctrines and practices. We will focus especially on challenges emerging from the colonial and post-colonial world in response to colonialism and the globalization of liberal democracy and capitalism, from thinkers such as Ghandi, Qutb, Ali Shariati, Gutierrez, recent contributions by postcolonial theorists to a ‘postsecular’ debate that is dominated by Western thought, as well as examining forms of globalized ‘fundamentalist’ thought.

Updated June 22, 2016 (RLG3501 updated, new courselist)

View our archive of past graduate courses.