palms and rooftops at Stanford

Rooftops and palms, Stanford. Photo credit: Linda A. Cicero

 

All Courses

Spring
This course surveys major religious traditions of the world. Through examination of a variety of materials, including scriptures and other spiritual writings, religious objects and artifacts, and modern documentary and film, we explore Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Jainism as rich historical and living traditions.
Winter
Temples, prayer beads, icons, robes, books, relics, candles and incense, scarves and hats, sacred food and holy water; objects of all sorts play a prominent role in all religions, evoking a wide range of emotional responses, from reverence, solace and even ecstasy, to fear, hostility and violence. What is it about these things that makes them so powerful? Is it beliefs and doctrines that inspire particular attitudes towards certain objects, or is it the other way around? Many see a tension or even contradiction between religion and material pursuits and argue that the true religious life is a life without things. But is such a life even possible? This course adopts a comparative approach, drawing on a variety of traditions to examine the place of images, food, clothing, ritual objects, architecture and relics in religious thought and practice. Materials for the course include scholarship, scripture, images and at least one museum visit.
Autumn
The world today is in the midst of a major ecological crisis that is manifested in extreme weather events, loss of biodiversity, depletion of fisheries, pollution of air, water, and soil, prolonged draughts, and mass extinction of species. Since the 1970s world religions grappled with the religious significance of the environmental crisis, examining their own scriptures, rituals and ethics in order to articulate religious responses to the ecological crisis. This course explores how certain religions--Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism--have addressed the ecological crisis for the past fifty years. Preserving the distinctiveness of each religious tradition, this seminar examines: the issue of religion as the cause of the environmental crisis; the resources for ecological responses within each tradition; the emergence of new religious ecologies and ecological theologies; the contribution of world religions to environmental ethics; and the degree to which the environmental crisis has functioned--and will function--as the basis of inter-faith collaboration. We will work to develop a shared vocabulary in environmental humanities, and special attention will be given to the contribution of religion to animal studies, ecofeminism, religion and the science of ecology, and the interplay between faith, scholarship and activism.
Winter
An overview of major themes and historical developments in 5000 years of Chinese religion from early evidence of religious belief in Neolithic burial sites to religion in China today. In this course, we will try as much as possible to appreciate Chinese religion from the Chinese perspective, paying particular attention to original texts in translation in an attempt to discern the logic of Chinese religion and the role it has played in the course of Chinese history. To a greater extent perhaps than any other civilization, the Chinese have left behind a continuous body of written documents and other artifacts relating to religion stretching over thousands of years, providing a wealth of material for studying the place of religion in history and society. We will cover a range of traditions, from Buddhism and Daoism to Falun Gong, practices such as divination, fengshui and ancestor worship, and historical events from the formation of the first Chinese empire to the fall of the Qing dynasty and the Cultural Revolution. Each class will include a short lecture and discussion. Together we will read a variety of philosophical, literary, and historical pieces in translation, supplemented by ethnographic videos, archaeology and maps.
Winter
What do Buddhists mean when they argue that there is "no self?" What about their claim that everything is "empty?" Is their theory of karma a type of "fatalism" (that everything is just a matter of predetermined fate)? Does Buddhism really teach that we are all connected with one another? This course aims to answer these questions, and many others related to Buddhist philosophy. We will begin by exploring the central philosophical arguments attributed to the historical Buddha, and study the major philosophical traditions of Buddhism and the debates between them over the issues of metaphysics (what is really real?), ethics (what should we do?), and epistemology (what and how do we know?). We will also learn about the problems and significance of the modern interpretations of Buddhist philosophy. Through these discussions, we will attempt to critically appreciate both the universality and the particularity of the Buddhist ways of thinking.
Autumn
Buddhism has figured in the Western imagination as a "rational religion," a "philosophy" that is mostly compatible with science. While the notion of Buddhism as "scientific" is both controversial and open to exaggeration, in the last few decades, this positive image has helped to facilitate direct encounters between Buddhism and science in multiple settings--dialogues between scientists and Buddhist scholars on key topics such as mindfulness, collaborative presentations and workshops at academic conferences, scientific research on contemplative practices, and so forth. This course explores the many facets of the encounter between Buddhism and science. It aims to do so through discussion and debate of relevant scientific papers, traditional Buddhist literature, science and technology studies (STS), and anthropological literature. Topics to be addressed include, among others, the encounter between Buddhism and psychology; the study of Buddhist contemplative practices in the laboratory; the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program and the "Mindful Revolution"; the creation of a Buddhist "science of happiness"; Buddhism and technology; and Buddhism, science, and the idea of secularism.
Autumn
What happens to Buddhism when the Buddha speaks Chinese? Is the Qur'an still the Qur'an in English? What did Martin Luther do for the German language? We try to answer these and other such questions in this course, which explores the translation of sacred scripture and other religious texts from the earliest times to the present day. Taking a global perspective, and looking at Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism, the course is designed to introduce students to the theory and practice of translation and get them thinking about its broader cultural, aesthetic and political significance. Undergraduates register for 200-level for 5 units. Graduate students register for 300-level for 3-5 units.
Winter
An exploration of the theory and practice of Buddhist meditation from the time of the Buddha to the modern mindfulness boom, with attention to the wide range of techniques developed and their diverse interpretation. Undergraduates register for 200-level for 5 units. Graduate students register for 300-level for 3-5 units.
Winter
Required of all majors and combined majors. The study of religion reflects upon itself. Representative modern and contemporary attempts to "theorize," and thereby understand, the phenomena of religion in anthropology, psychology, sociology, cultural studies, and philosophy. WIM.
Autumn
What happens to Buddhism when the Buddha speaks Chinese? Is the Qur'an still the Qur'an in English? What did Martin Luther do for the German language? We try to answer these and other such questions in this course, which explores the translation of sacred scripture and other religious texts from the earliest times to the present day. Taking a global perspective, and looking at Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism, the course is designed to introduce students to the theory and practice of translation and get them thinking about its broader cultural, aesthetic and political significance. Undergraduates register for 200-level for 5 units. Graduate students register for 300-level for 3-5 units.
Spring
This year the seminar will focus on the twentieth century, perhaps the most vibrant and certainly the most tumultuous period in two thousand years of Chinese Buddhist history. After the collapse of the Qing dynasty in 1911, leading Buddhists proposed a series of radical reforms to the sangha in a frantic effort to adapt to the modern era. External changes forced creative Buddhist responses to imperialism, democratic government, communism, revolution, war and famine. By the end of the Cultural Revolution in the 1970s, it seemed as if reform had come too late, the persecution had been too brutal and too thorough, for Buddhist institutions and ideas to ever play a significant role in China again. But from the 1980s on, Buddhist rituals and practices resurfaced, at first through Buddhist organizations in Taiwan and then, increasingly, on the Mainland. By the end of the century, Buddhist leaders were posed to play a more prominent role than they had for a hundred years. In this course, we will focus on biographies and autobiographies by and about monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen in an attempt to work out from individuals to the wider trends that shaped Chinese Buddhism in the twentieth century. There is now enough material in English for a seminar on the subject, but students who can read Chinese will be encouraged to draw on the growing body of relevant material in Chinese as well.
Winter
Readings in Hindu texts in Sanskrit. Texts will be selected based on student interest. Prerequisite: Sanskrit.
Winter
An exploration of the theory and practice of Buddhist meditation from the time of the Buddha to the modern mindfulness boom, with attention to the wide range of techniques developed and their diverse interpretation. Undergraduates register for 200-level for 5 units. Graduate students register for 300-level for 3-5 units.
Autumn
Introduction to Buddhist literature through reading original texts in Sanskrit. Prerequisite: Sanskrit.
Spring
Independent study in Buddhism. May be repeated for credit. Prerequisite: consent of instructor.
Winter
Independent study in Buddhism. May be repeated for credit. Prerequisite: consent of instructor.
Autumn
Independent study in Buddhism. May be repeated for credit. Prerequisite: consent of instructor.
Autumn
May be repeated for credit. Prerequisite: consent of instructor.
Winter
May be repeated for credit. Prerequisite: consent of instructor.
Spring
May be repeated for credit. Prerequisite: consent of instructor.
Autumn
Second Year Khmer is intended for students who can already speak Khmer at a "survival" level (discuss topics such as home, family, food, traveling, work, health) and have basic knowledge of the writing system (able to read short narratives, simple folk tales; and write letters and other types of information based on personal experience). In this course, the first of a three-quarter sequence, students will learn to discuss topics such as Khmer Buddhism, proverbs, and news media using more formal language and educated vocabulary. They will also learn to read (and write about) increasingly sophisticated texts including folk tales and newspaper articles. Prerequisite: SPECLANG 125C or a placement test.