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'Unruly Voices' to Greek religion: what faculty are teaching this fall

November 15, 2012

Editor's Note: Teaching a class? Let us know about it. The following is the second installment of an ongoing look into some of the unique classes being taught at ASU. The series will resume next semester, just after the start of the Spring 2013 semester. 

Beyond the basic introductory college courses, there are many unique classes offered to students each semester, by a diverse array of faculty who are all experts in their fields. Here, we take a look at some of the interesting course topics from the fall 2012 semester.

SLC 394 - Ancient Greek Religion

In the Greek world, religion was pervasive – virtually every activity had a religious dimension – and yet there are no holy books, only rudimentary religious organizations, and no confessions of faith. In Michael Tueller’s "Ancient Greek Religion" class, students take a closer look at this world very different than our own.

“With so many boundary markers removed, a student who learns about Greek religion discovers a great many more vantage points from which to examine the world, both ancient and modern,” explains Tueller. “In that way, it provides a valuable mind-opening experience even to those who will go on to careers quite unrelated to it.”

One of the highlights of the semester is when students get to learn how to sacrifice an ox. Tueller is quick to add, however, that the ox is actually a two-foot tall plush cow, “but it’s still a pretty bloody scene.”

AFH/WST 364 - Unruly Voices: Black Women and Cultural Narratives

Angelita Reyes offers a dynamic class titled, "Unruly Voices: Black Women and Cultural Narratives."

“The overall course theme is defined, in part, by the “unruly voices” of Black women,” says Reyes. “These women were heralded by twentieth-century feminists [because they] were heroic in thinking and stepping outside of gender roles defined by a patriarchal society – they took dangerous risks and were imprisoned, murdered, whipped, or harassed in their resistance to prescribed gender expectations.”

The class covers the historical periods of pre-emancipation and Reconstruction through post-World War I and the era of the Harlem Renaissance.

“The course offers interdisciplinary readings that illustrate poignant cultural historical issues of slavery, marriage, and the quest for new freedoms,” explains Reyes. “Students are reminded that African American women embraced a certain moral, spiritual, and legal imperative influenced by slavery, the aftermath of Reconstruction, and the hope of new generations.”

CHI 394 – The Chinese Bible: The Dao De Jing

At just 5,000 words, the Dao De Jing (Tao-te Ching) is one of the shortest religious books in the world. It is also the most widely translated, after the Christian Bible. In Stephen Bokenkamp’s class, students learn how different writers throughout the ages – in China, Europe, and the U.S. – interpreted this single text, making the course one that Bokenkamp describes to colleagues as “stealth hermeneutics.”

“We start with the earliest excavated manuscripts of the Dao De Jing, dating to about 300 BCE and read traditional Chinese Daoist, Buddhist, and Confucian interpretations – mostly in my own translation,” says Bokenkamp.  “Finally, we come to the earliest English translations and end with the English ‘translations’ by those who know no Chinese at all, Stephen Mitchell, Wayne Dyer, and Ursula LeGuin.”

REL 394 - Religion, Violence & America

In John Carlson’s "Religion, Violence & America" class, students think critically about concepts that have contributed in significant and varied ways to America’s history, national identity, and place in the world.

“Many people think of the United States as a religious nation. A good many others might describe it as a violent nation as well. Is there a connection?” Carlson asks. “And if so, what is the nature of the relationship between religion and violence in the American context?”

The topics covered by the course curriculum include “militant abolitionist John Brown’s fraught moral legacy for America, how the biblical story of the Amalekites has been used to stigmatize and persecute American Indians, Catholics, and Mormons, and how covenantal thinking among U.S. political leaders shaped the moral rhetoric of World War I and the Cold War,” says Carlson. Over the course of the semester, he encourages his students to understand and assess the domestic and international importance of various creeds, ideals, principles, and practices commonly associated with America.

ENG 465 - Indigenous Americans in Film

“This course focuses on historic and contemporary constructs of Indigenous peoples in Hollywood films and video,” says Laura Tohe.

In the first half of the semester, students cover the rise of imagining Indians within the context of European Primitivism that led to the construct of the “Noble Savage” and various stereotypes of Indigenous peoples.

“Selected films include silent films, John Ford’s early westerns, and revisionist films, such as Little Big Man,” says Tohe. In the second half, contemporary Indigenous American filmmakers challenge those constructs through self-definition and cultural sovereignty in their films, including Smoke Signals and Whale Rider. 

“By showing these parallel images, I hope students will come away with an educated perspective on how these films can be political, cultural, social, artistic, and entertaining,” explains Tohe.

ARS/FRE 494 - Haiti: History and Culture

Markus Cruse’s recent research on Haiti and the 2010 earthquake formed the framework for his course offering this semester, "Haiti: History and Culture."

“The course touches on many issues relevant to research and study at ASU, including human rights, sustainability, globalization, social engagement, borders and colonization, and transdisciplinarity,” Cruse says. “Haitian history and culture are important subjects for several reasons. It is one of the most extraordinary examples of cultural fusion in the world.”

Students cover a variety of topics in his class, from Haitian history and religious practice to art and literature, concluding with a discussion of how the country is recovering from the 2010 earthquake. “I enjoy teaching the class because it allows the students and me to explore fascinating topics, from revolution to sustainability to folklore.”

JUS 394 - Race, Space, and the Production of Inequality

Wendy Cheng considers her "Race, Space, and the Production of Inequality" a great opportunity for students to think critically about the relationship between race and space, and how this shows up in the everyday landscapes around us.

“We talk about how both ideas about space and practices related to land and property have been critical to establishing contemporary racial inequality and continuing segregation, and how these have affected different racial and ethnic groups in distinct ways,” she says.

Cheng’s favorite part of the class comes in the second half of the semester, when “students do group projects in which they go to sites in Maricopa County and write about them in relationship to course ideas.” Students compile their work into a blog, titled, A People’s Guide to Maricopa County

“This is an opportunity for them to explore the local area and bring in their own expertise, and I've had students be really original and just uncover amazing sites and important histories that are virtually unknown,” Cheng says.