Professor of Comparative Religion
Before coming to Hampshire in 1994, he taught at Clark University and at Harvard University, where for three years he directed undergraduate studies in the comparative study of religion.
He is the author of two books on American Transcendentalism (Emerson's Rhetoric of Revelation and Thoreau's Ecstatic Witness) as well as numerous articles in such areas as American Romanticism, nineteenth-century Unitarianism, Puritan pulpit rhetoric, and early American interest in the religious traditions of South and East Asia.
Together with Robert Meagher, he edited The Epic Voice, the first volume in the Hampshire Studies in the Humanities series.
In the fourth century BCE, Plato already anticipated the popular derogatory conception of myth as an imaginative fabrication--pseudos, "a lie." Throughout Western history, however, and particularly since the rise of Romanticism, thinkers from various disciplines have viewed the stories of antiquity in more constructive terms. What is "myth"? Deliberate falsehood or veiled truth? Is it a term applicable to or recognizable in non-Western cultures also? What is the relationship between myth and history, myth and literature, myth and ideology? These are some of the questions this course is designed to address. Its purpose is to introduce students to three rich bodies of mythology--classical Greek, Norse, and Hindu--and to investigate an array of theoretical approaches to the study of myth, from the fields of anthropology, sociology, the history of religions, philosophy, psychology, and literary theory. Theorists to be considered include: Frazer, Durkheim, Malinowski, Levi-Strauss, Freud, Jung, Campbell, Eliade, Langer, Frye, Doniger, and Barthes.
No issue in the comparative history of religion dramatizes the challenges of cross-cultural study of religious mysticism more than the problem of mysticism. Is the mystic a kind of lone ranger of the soul whose experience reveals and confirms the transcendental unity of all religions, or are the experiences of mystics entirely predetermined by the mystics' respective contexts of history, tradition, language, and culture? What is the relation between the mystic's "interior" experiences and what he or she writes about them? In this course we will undertake a comparative study of "mystical" and scriptural texts representing Christian, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions within the framework of modern and contemporary critical contributions to the history, psychology, and philosophy of mysticism. Among the mystics and texts considered are: The Cloud of Unknowing, Julian of Norwich, Teresa of Avila, selected Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, Mirabai, Ramakrishna, Milarepa, and Dogen.
This course is designed to introduce students to several religious traditions of the world through a selective study of their chief canonical texts. In part our concern will be with fundamental thematic issues: what do these records seek to reveal about the nature of life and death, sin and suffering, the transcendent and the mundane, morality and liberation? In addition, we will address wider questions of meaning, authority, and context. Why do human communities privilege particular expressions as "sacred" or "classic"? How do these traditions understand the origin, nature, and inspiration of these writings? Were these "texts" meant to be written down and seen, or recited and heard? How are scriptural canons formed and by whom interpreted? To help us grapple with these questions we will examine some traditional and scholarly commentaries, but our principal reading in this course will be drawn from the Veda, Bhagavad Gita, Buddhacarita, Lotus Sutra, Confucian Analects, Chuang Tzu, Torah, New Testament, and Qur'an.
Even in its heyday in the 1830's and 40's, the Transcendentalist movement never included more than a few dozen vocal supporters, but it fostered several significant cultural precedents, including a couple of America's first utopian communities (Brook Farm and Fruitlands), an early women's rights manifesto (Fuller's Woman in the Nineteenth Century), the first enthusiastic appropriation of Asian religious ideas, and, in the travel writings of Thoreau, the nation's earliest influential environmentalism. The Transcendentalists also produced some of the richest and most original literature of the nineteenth century. The purpose of this course is two-fold: to explore in depth the principal writings of the Transcendentalists in their distinctive literary, religious, and historical settings; and to examine these texts reflexively for what they may say to us today. While sampling other writings of the period, we will read extensively in the work of three premier literary and cultural figures: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, and Henry David Thoreau. In addition, during the last two weeks of the semester, we will consider selected poetry and prose of the belated Transcendentalist from New York City, Walt Whitman.
The Bible is the foundational book of Western civilization and a classic of world literature. Biblical stories form the bedrock of the scriptural traditions of Christians and Jews, and in a different form, of Muslims as well. Biblical literature has also been foundational to Western art and literature from the medieval period to the present day. For many in the English-speaking world, including poets and artists, the most influential translation of the Bible has been the Authorized Version of 1611, otherwise known as the King James Version, together with its more recent descendants. The main objective of this course is to offer students from a range of backgrounds and with a wide array of academic interests an extended opportunity to familiarize themselves with the most influential books of the Bible as they have been rendered in the tradition of the King James Version. While approaching the Bible primarily from a literary standpoint, we will also consider relevant historical, theological, and moral considerations prompted by this literature, as time permits. Our general approach will be respectful and critical both.
In recent years yoga has achieved unprecedented popularity in American culture as witnessed by the countless yoga classes, institutes, and clinics springing up around the country. Yet to a large degree, the "yoga" encountered in such venues reflects but one aspect of the classical system of yoga-namely, physical postures-and neglects other crucial features of a complex 3,000 year-old tradition that has manifested itself variously over the centuries in the Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain communities. Classically, the purpose of yoga was primarily spiritual-to achieve liberation, enlightenment, or union with god-and only secondarily material and physical. The purpose of this class will be to introduce students to the rich philosophical, religious, and literary heritage of the yoga tradition, from Vedic times to the contemporary period. Among the sources to be considered will be the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, selected Puranas and Tantras, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the Yoga-Vasishtha, and several modern commentaries and scholarly analyses of the yoga tradition.
This course provides an historical overview of the changing religious landscape of the United States from the Puritan Age to the contemporary period through an examination of selected literary and historical representations. We will consider contributions of writers representing a wide range of religious and ethnic communities, as well as such issues as the literary impact of religious values and outlook, biblical texts and traditions, denominational change and conflict, changing conceptions of nature, Native American life-ways, and encounters with traditions of the East. The syllabus for this course is designed with three primary objectives in mind: first, to acquaint students with selected writings, representing various genres, of a range of American writers for whom religious experience, values, and identity have been of crucial concern; second, to chart some of the principal movements of American religious history as they are reflected in these writings; and finally, to provide a sustained opportunity for each student to arrive at his or her own working understanding of the complex and multi-faceted relationship between religious experience and literary expression in the United States at pivotal moments in its history.
Meditation, vision, conversion, mysticism, devotion, ecstasy, prayer: these are just some of the forms through which people of faith around the world have conceived of religious or spiritual meaning. The purpose of this tutorial is to introduce students to the study of world religions through a consideration of several modalities of religious experience as represented in texts variously drawn from Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, and Native American sources. Adopting for our methodological framework a typology of religious psychology suggested by William James, we will examine each of these writings in their respective religious, historical, and literary contexts. Our basic concern will be to understand the problems of representing private, interior, or ineffable experiences in written forms. What can we understand of religious experience from its literary representations? What, for example, is the relationship between religious conversion and an allegory of faith? Is poetry better equipped than narrative for the expression or recreation of meditative experience? In addition to James's The Varieties of Religious Experience, our reading will include Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, Jayadeva's Gitagovinda, Black Elk Speaks, Elie Wiesel's Souls on Fire, the Buddhacarita, the Autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila, The Way of a Pilgrim, and Basho's The Narrow Road to the Deep North.