Course description

RELS 11001-01 Comparative Religious Traditions: Near East

religion, violence, and the nation-state

MWF 11-11:50  Kauke 237

Sarah Mirza         office hours MWF 12-1, or by appointment, Kauke 005


This class will critique approaches to Near Eastern religions and culture particularly through a Religious Studies perspective. It will investigate problems with defining religion both theoretically and through case studies of Near Eastern religions. The course is divided into two portions, starting with approaches and methods, followed by a text-focused portion involving intensive reading of one “religious” book through an investigation into why it was written and what purposes it serves.


The course has a number of inter-related theses, which will also serve as the subject of class readings, discussion, and assignments:

  1. a) Not only is religion constructed, but what matters is who is constructing it and why (to what ends, benefits) and how those constructs are used by others.
  2. b) The way religion is officially constructed impacts its lived reality.
  3. c) At the same time, studying or representing practices as exclusively religious neglects all social, political, and economic dimensions (which are considerable).


We will take Russell T. McCutcheon’s critique of the academic analysis of Quang Duc’s self-immolation in 1963 and the application of this model to books on the Middle East as our theme and end learning objective (your final paper assignment will be a version of this). McCutcheon suggests that we “examine carefully media, government, and scholarly interpretations of other specific historical episodes and demonstrate the ways in which it may have been economically, socially, or politically beneficial for a specifiable group to portray events as essentially and exclusively religious rather than, say, political or military” (Manufacturing Religion p. 176).


Evaluation Criteria:

1) Weekly quizzes: one line questions on the day’s reading, unannounced and once a week

(12 @ 10 points each, with two lowest quiz grades dropped)


If you are absent on a quiz day, it is your responsibility to schedule a make-up quiz with me prior to the next class session. Failure to do so will result in the loss of all points for that quiz. Make-up quizzes will feature different questions from those given in class.


2) Short paper: 45 points

3) Midterm paper: 55 points

4) Final project:

Presentation 15 points

Report 25 points

Total: 240 points