Our Programs

2017-18 Courses

On Foot: Cultural Histories of Walking

CCR199H1 Fall 2017, Thursdays 9:00 — 12:00

This fall-semester first-year course explores how historical, cultural, and spatial contexts shape practices of walking. Students will analyze representations of walking in literature, religion, philosophy, and art, and investigate connections between walking, thinking, and writing. Topics include knowing place and landscape through movement, religious and secular walking pilgrimages, literary representations of nature walks, orienteering and recreational hiking, urban walking tours, and the many aesthetic, political and social uses of walking. We will focus in particular on routes around Toronto, exploring indigenous footpaths such as the Davenport trail and the Humber Portage. Coursework will combine required reading and writing with substantial periods of time walking outside, and students will be required to keep a walking journal throughout the semester.

Wild Water I & II

RLG239H1 Fall 2017 and RLG239H2 Winter 2018, Mondays 3:00 — 5:00 and occasional weekend dates for travel

This two part series of second-year courses focuses on rivers as sites of cultural contact, religious experience, and natural destruction. We will investigate the power of rivers to nourish whole cultures, reshape landscapes, and devastate the peoples who depend on them. While the course material ranges over great ranges of time and space, we will focus particular attention on the canoe. No object is more intimately tied up in the complexities of Canadian identity than this masterpiece of stone-age engineering. Vehicle of exploration, trade, friendship, war, and ultimately oppression and appropriation, its thick cultural resonances have made it a symbol of multiple heritages. We examine the cultures of rivers and canoes through historical, literary, anthropological, and practical exploration. Read more about this course.

Religion and the City

RLG308H1-S Winter 2018, Thursdays 11:00-1:00

The course focuses on the role of religion in the genesis and development of cities, as well as the ways urbanization and immigration have transformed religious organizations and identities. Various methodologies, including ethnography, social and cultural history, and textual analysis will be considered. In some years, course projects will focus on mapping the changing significance and presence of particular religions in Toronto.

Waste Not, Want Not: Stories of Wastefulness in Religion and Society

ENV382H1S Special Topics in the Environment, Winter 2018,  Tuesdays 2:00-4:00

Do religions have environmental ethics? This course will explore religious approaches to environmental ethics within three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Religious environmentalists have used teachings from the Hebrew Bible, New Testament and Quran as exemplars of sustainability. Others, however, claim that these texts teach domination, anthropocentrism and hierarchical values. Among other texts, this course will look at sources from the Hebrew Bible, New Testament, Talmud, Quran, Hadith, medieval commentaries and modern sources. We will study environmental movements within these faiths and how values are translated into lived religion. Our understanding will be augmented through field trips where we will explore how environmental teachings are being interpreted within faith communities.

Hacking History

HIS455Y Fall and Winter, Tuesdays 10-1

This year-long course examines the relationships among academic history, digital media, and community formation using a variety of texts and methods; it culminates in an intensive semester-long digital storytelling project focused on community engagement. The intellectual focus of the first semester is two-fold: first, on the history of the public sphere and second, on the politics of “engaged” scholarship. At the same time, students will be exposed to techniques of multimedia and nonlinear storytelling. The second semester revolves around a group project undertaken in concert with a community organization. Working closely with their community partners, students will build a digital archive or storytelling framework using multimedia and/or social networking technologies. The fundamental aim of the course is to expand the reach of historical scholarship outside of the academy, and to develop modes of historical research compatible with community engagement.

Religion in the Public Sphere Service-Learning Internship

RLG427HS Winter 2018

The Religion in the Public Sphere Service-Learning Course is an upper-year course for majors and specialists in the study of religion, and other qualified undergraduates. In their University-arranged placements, students experience first-hand how religion enters the public sphere in such areas as non-profit organizations, education, public policy, and health care. This course provides students with the opportunity to engage in public service that allows them to observe the dynamics of religious diversity in the public sphere. Goals of this public service are to have students participate in the process of developing policy, communications, and programming in public, professional settings where religion is a focus (or at least an element) of the work at hand. Students critically reflect on their experience of working with professionals and their “clients” in public settings where religious diversity is at play.

Himalayan Borderlands

RLG401H Summer 2017

This intensive upper-year course involves a three-week trip to Sikkim, Northern India, in May, with preliminary readings, writing assignments, and several meetings between February and April, plus a final project due in June. The international portion of the course includes trekking to moderately high altitude in the eastern Himalaya. Most travel expenses are covered. Students must submit an application for acceptance into the course.

Past Programs

Encounters in Sikkim

With a group of students we traveled to Sikkim, in Northeast India, to study local histories and pilgrimage practices in the Himalaya. Many of the region’s mountains, lakes, forests, rivers, and caves are associated with Buddhist and other histories and as such are important pilgrimage sites for local peoples. After visiting Buddhist monasteries in Darjeeling and Gangtok, including our project’s host monastery Lingdum, we traveled throughout West Sikkim to visit a series landscape features, such as caves, rocks and lakes, that are historically attested in Tibetan texts and that are present-day  pilgrimage sites for Sikkimese people.

Hacking History

Hacking History is a course in the History Department that enlivens critical research skills and technology training through sustained collaborative partnerships with local community organizations. Operating as engaged public historians alongside their community partners in the creation of a website or online archive, students in this course find – often for the first time in their lives – that their work really matters to a broad public. Abstract questions about authority, ethics, and the use of the past suddenly become real. To complete their projects, students learn about the history of digital media and their place in the development of the public sphere, and they study the history and politics of “engaged” and “public” scholarship. They also acquire technical skills such as the fundamentals of HTML and Javascript, as well as just enough PHP to work with the WordPress Content Management System.

Religion in the City

The course in the Department for the Study of Religion focuses on the role of religion in the genesis and development of cities, as well as the ways urbanization and immigration have transformed religious organizations and identities. Various methodologies, including ethnography, social and cultural history, and textual analysis will be considered. In some years, course projects focus on mapping the changing significance and presence of particular religions in Toronto. Read about such an example.

Disposition: A Role Playing Game

Disposition is a role-playing exercise that was first implemented in a year-long Introduction to Buddhism course. Students began the year assigned a character (e.g., scholar, ritualist, farmer, trader, doctor), and as a class they imagined themselves to be living together in a Buddhist village in the Himalaya. Periodically events would occur in the village (hailstorm, epidemic illness, the visit of a religious figure, the building of a monastic library, New Year festivals, etc.) and students were asked to do research on how their character might realistically react to such events, and then write an essay in the voice of their character, posted on a blog.  A subsequent version of this project in another course engaged students in an imaginary medieval pilgrimage trek across the Himalaya.

Practicing Oral History

Inspired by Digital Humanities models of working collaboratively on research projects uniting students and community members, Matt Price and Frances Garrett taught two courses that engaged students in the practice of oral history using a range of new media technologies. Students learned how to plan, record, edit and analyze an oral history and prepare it for online presentation; they engaged in the hands-on practice of original research in history and religious studies; they gained practical skills in the collaborative use of various information technologies, including Zotero, Drupal, HTML, CSS and Javascript; and they learned and practiced skills in project planning and management, and in collaborative critical thinking, brain-storming, negotiation, delegation of tasks, and writing as part of a team. The final project of creating websites for their oral history projects required students to learn the basics of HTML, CSS, and a modest amount of Javascript.

Mapping Buddhist Sites

Mapping Buddhist Sites was run in a year-long Introduction to Buddhism course. In this course, undergraduate Field Teams developed partnerships with diverse Toronto communities as they conducted research on Buddhist institutions and practices in the area. Students created a web portal for the study of these religious centres, integrating research papers, ethnographic studies, images and other media. Students were divided into 22 Field Teams, each team visiting a religious site in Toronto to gather the data and write a descriptive analysis of the site and its religious community.