What's happening in the Department of Religious Studies?
Prof. Clearwater’s new course American Indians and the Urban Diaspora, a first-year seminar in the CSP program, led students on a survey of American Indian Studies with particular attention the contemporary situation where more than 70% of Native Americans live in urban areas. For these urban Indians, music (such as native hip-hop), art, theatre cultural events, political protests, and religious ceremonies serve to strengthen and unify the native community to persist in their cultural expression and resist assimilation.
To highlight these expressions in the city of Los Angeles, students in the class took field trips to a pow wow and to the murals at Indian Alley in downtown LA. On campus, the class hosted a public presentation by Pamela Peters on reclaiming representations of Indians in film and media in her documentary film following a group of urban Indians in Los Angeles. Peters also guided the field trip to Indian Alley where she has worked with local artists to document the murals being created there. Students then integrated what they learned into their final research projects on contemporary resistance movements in Native America. (Special thanks to the CCBL, LA Encounters, and Remsen-Bird for funding these enhancements to the course.)
In the Fall, Prof. Upson-Saia again teamed up with Prof. Lehr (Economics) and Prof. Morrissey (Philosophy) to teach their 8-unit CSP course, Health and Humanity. This interdisciplinary course brought together the tools of History, Economics, and Philosophy to analyze conceptst of health and various practices of medicine. Specifically, students learned how notions of health and well-being and institutions of medicine are culturally and historically bound, how they participate in a broad network of economic priorities and transactions, and how they are philosophically grounded in conceptions of morality, science, and humanity.
The students who enrolled in this course in Spring 2013--graduating this Spring!--represent some of the very best at Occidental, using the skills they cultivated in Health & Humanity to pursue a wide variety of pursuits on and off campus: Some have interned or volunteered at the City of Hope cancer research hospital, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and hospice facilities. Others have been awarded prestigious honors, such as a Fletcher Science Scholar to study neural stem cells, a Stauffer Research Fellowship, and a Luce China Environment Grant. Finally, many of our students have participated in Oxy’s competitive summer research program.
Top image: Oxy students and pow wow. Bottom image: Indian Alley, Los Angeles (Photo credit: Pamela Peters)
The Religious Studies department was honored to have Dr. Peter Anthony Mena in the department from Spring 2014-Spring 2015 as our Mellon Fellow. Dr. Mena taught a range of courses, including Women, Gender, and Christianity in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages; Chican@ Religious Identities; Religious Violence from Antiquity to the First Crusades; Mapping Religious Identity: Place, Race, and Empire; and History of Christianity, and quickly earned a reputation for being a smart and inspiring instructor. Dr. Mena has accepted a tenure-track position at Phillips Theological Seminary (in Tulsa, OK) as the first Latin@ member of the faculty. We are grateful to have had this time with a bright and promising scholar and wish him the very best in the next stage of his academic career.
Prof. Upson-Saia was a Mellon Faculty Fellow (in association with the Center for Digital Liberal Arts), which enabled her to re-tool her RELS 290: New Testament Apocrypha course. Students in the course used Zotero, a bibliographic reference tool, to complete in-depth research and to build a collaborative library of resources on non-canonical texts of early Christianity. Course discussions on archival research and historical methods were tethered to students’ use of various features of Zotero. Students reported that the course has set them up for success in Senior Comps research.
We are immensely proud of our major, Hannah Hall '14, who was awarded the Hasting Center's prestigious Emily Murray Student Fellowship Award, which allowed her to conduct independent research in residence at the Center in January. Hannah spent the time working on her comprehensive project on access and barriers to health care within the Latino/a community.
We are also delighted to report that our rising senior, Shira Barlas ‘15, has has been accepted to attend the semi-annual program, “Buddhism in China—Connecting with the Source Program,” sponsored by the Chinese Buddhist Woodenfish Project during the month of August. The program offers opportunities for direct exploration and engagement with important historical centers of Chinese Buddhism and culture. It is both a prestigious and intensive program offered to faculty, graduate students, and advanced undergraduates, and takes place at Huadingjiang Temple on Mt. Tiantai in Zhejiang province in coastal China.
In spring 2014, the Department was pleased to host Dr. Jacqueline Hidalgo, Assistant Professor of Latina/o Studies and Religion at Williams College. Her talk, entitled “We are Aztlán”: Writing Scriptures, Writing Utopia in El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán”, analyzed how El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán, written in Denver in 1969, became the first key text of the Chican@ civil rights movement to deploy the mythical Aztec homeland of Aztlán, namely locating Chican@s as a people by renaming the southwestern U.S. as Aztlán. The writing and reading of El Plan works to disrupt the contemporary time and space of California by imagining a place that has existed, does exist, and will exist, a place that is located and bounded within a newly written "scripture". Using Chicana feminist and LGBTQ activists and thinkers, such as Gloria Anzaldúa and Cherríe Moraga, Professor Hidalgo argues that El Plan serves as an ambivalent, and simultaneously powerful, homing device.
As part of the Jewish Chautauqua Society lecture series (funded by the George and Bessie Meyer Endowment), the Department hosted Dr. Lucas L. Schulte, Adjunct Professor of Religion at University of LaVerne, for two lectures:
- What the Dead Sea Scrolls Can Teach Us About Our Bible(s)
- Archaeology of the Lands of the Bible: Illuminating Nehemiah
As part of the 125th, academic departments were asked to invite a distinguished alum to return to campus to give a lecture. The Religious Studies Department was honored to host a lecture by former Oxy Professor, Dr. Karen King (now at Harvard Divinity School), who has made a splash recently for her work on an ancient papyrus in which Jesus mentions his "wife." View an image of the papyrus, as well as an english translation.
At her talk, Prof. King situated the find within early Christian debates on marriage and sexuality. She argued that, though the most reliable sources for reconstructing the life of the historical Jesus are entirely silent on the question of whether he was married, the earliest literature indicates that his followers were vociferously debating whether life in Christ meant it was better—or even required—to give up marriage and sexual relations altogether, or whether marriage was ordained by God and even necessary for salvation. Finally, she discussed why this little fragment has caused such a stir and what is at stake even in contemporary Christian and scholarly views.
In fall semester, Prof. Laury Silvers (University of Toronto) visited the department to participate in Professor Moazzam-Doulat's seminar on Islamic mysticism and to lecture about her research on the social history of the life of the early pietist Hafsa bint Sirin. Her research is grounded analysis of the efforts of biographers–Sufi biographers and authors in particular–to construct silence and seclusion as the ideal of female piety. This lecture emerges out of her broader social historical analysis of depictions of early pious and Sufi women’s sexuality and bodies in the biographical literature.
In the spring semester, Sara El-Amine '07, who was the National Director for Training for the Obama for America in 2012 and is now the Organizing Director for President Obama's Organizing for America, returned to her alma mater to conduct a lecture and workshop at the invitation of Religious Studies, DWA and Politics departments. In her lecture, Ms. El-Amine described her path from recent graduate, to joining President Obama's 2008 campaign as a volunteer, to her role as one the key figures in two campaigns that revolutionized grass-roots political organizing.
As part of the Jewish Chautauqua Society lecture series (funded by the George and Bessie Meyer Endowment), the Department also hosted the following two speakers:
- Candice Levy (UCLA), "Jewish Concepts of Unjust Suffering in Late Antiquity"
- Lynn R. Kaye (Hebrew Union College), "Jewish Concepts of Time in Late Antiquity"
We are immensely proud of Natalie Malter '13 for winning the Phi Beta Kappa Benjamin Culley Prize, which is awarded to one graduating senior whose initiative and creativity beyond the classroom has notably enhanced the quality of intellectual life at Occidental.
We are also delighted to report that Aralyn Beaumont '14 has had a year of successes. In the Fall, she presented a paper entitled, "You are what you eat: food and identity in Ancient Rome" at the the Second International Conference on Food Studies. The paper was then accepted for publication in the Food Studies journal. In the Spring, she studied in Paris and there interned at L'Atelier Guy Martin. Finally, this summer she got a coveted internship at the hot new journal Lucky Peach.
In 2012-2013, the Religious Studies Department was honored to have Prof. Marko Geslani as our Mellon Fellow. Prof. Geslani--who studies the role of the Vedic priesthood in the development of mainstream Hindu image worship and temple planning; the formation of the royal ritual calendar; and how astrology affected the style and organization of Hindu rituals in teh medieval period--taught the following courses: Introduction to Hinduism, Pilgrimage and Sacred Space in South Asian Religions, and Hindu Ritual Practice. We were privileged to have him in the department and we are proud to send him off to Emory University, where he will be an Asst. Professor in the Department of Religion.
This year, Prof. Upson-Saia again taught her study abroad program, Turkey: Then & Now. The program includes a Fall semester course and a study tour in Turkey over winter break. In the Fall semester course, students acquired a background in the history, culture, and issues of Turkey from antiquity to the present: from the Hittites to the Greco-Romans to the Ottomans to Atatürk’s reform and the modern Republic. Throughout this historical survey, the class concentrated on three themes:
1. Landscape—we explored how the physical geolography (e.g., seaports, mountains, easily traversable routes for trade, etc.), as well as how unique geological formations (e.g., faults, hot springs, etc.), influenced the peoples living in and travelling through Turkey.
2. Layers and exchange—we dissected the manner and nature of interactions between peoples and cultures living in and travelling through Turkey, as well as the way successive generations incorporated and built upon the remnants of their predecessors.
3. Memorialization and Representation—we analyzed the memorials of historical peoples (to understand how they wanted later generations to see and to judge them--such as monuments, grand buildings, official histories--as well as the lasting artifacts that they may or may not have intended to be representations of their society and identity, but have nevertheless remained extant and have become indicative of Anatolian/Turkish identity (such as underground cisterns, cave dwellings of obscure ascetics, arts and crafts). We also considered the difference between the way contemporary Turkish, European, and American scholarship (and media) differently represents the history and issues of Turkey and the stakes underwriting each perspective.
Near the end of the semester, students conducted research projects on an aspect of Turkish history/culture related to their intellectual interests and major curriculum. In Turkey, participants presented their research at a site related to their topic.
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