Religion and Modernity

pope, people reading scripture

Modernity as a cultural condition colors the perception of religion in varying ways and may be studied from multiple vantage points: geographical locations (Africa, Europe, North America, the Middle East, or Australasia), politico-historical frames (colonialism, caliphate), cultural forms (graffiti, food-ways, music), ideological formulations (democracy, capitalism, socialism), or technologies (artillery cannon, print, cyberspace). What do we mean by ‘modernity’? How do a plethora of modern social imaginaries draw on and contribute to religious sensibilities and religion’s place and function in a rapidly globalizing world? How do religions engage each other in varied cultural, philosophical and historical spaces? These are some of the major questions explored in this track.

By raising foundational questions about the very concept of ‘religion’ as construed in the post-Enlightenment West through encounters, conflicts, resistance and engagement in both global and local venues, we hope to explore questions in which religion, culture and history feature prominently. As a particular kind of disciplinary formation or field of inquiry, Religion (or Religious Studies) is itself a product of one kind of modernity—and serves as a catalyst for other kinds of modernities. In this context, the nature, role and impact of Western modernities in relation to others is an important aspect of inquiry, although it is not the dominant or exclusive set of relations that can be examined. Modernities and innovations emerge at the interstices and intersections of major cultural, technological, political and historical transitions. At stake are questions such as: What is new? Who is the ‘other’? Why and how are the ‘others’ construed? How does modernity affect the human condition? This track assumes that newness and creativity are endemic to the world; thus we assert that multiple modernities exist in specific times, places and expressive forms, with each calling for some kind of critical transformation.

Pursuing graduate study in this track means critical investigations of how religious thought and experiences shape and are shaped by modernity. Neither “religion” nor “modernity” is self-evident or universally held truths and therefore they become interesting objects for critical scrutiny. Students are required to have the problem of “modernity” as a primary and organizing principle for their graduate coursework and research. The track supports interdisciplinary study, a diverse range of methodological approaches (archival, ethnographic, documentary etc), and engagement with varied media (art, material culture, performance, film, for instance).

Co-Conveners: David Morgan and Leela Prasad

Major Field Requirements

  • Course Work
    • 3 advanced courses per semester for at least 2 years
      • Students should select classes in a way that prevents more than 2 major research papers in any semester
    • With modernity as the primary problematic for their coursework and research, students are asked to situate their inquiries by identifying or adopting at least 1 of the following categories:
      • Religions (e.g., Islamic, Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Taoist, etc., including derivative or counter movements)
      • Methods (e.g., historical, philosophical, cultural studies, performance studies, literary studies, theological studies, political theory, etc.)
      • Issues (authority, gender, race, communications, class, poverty, etc.)
      • Locations/Cultures (e.g., the Americas, Muslim societies, various "empires," South Asian cultures, etc.)
    • All in-coming students must take a graduate course dedicated to "Religion & Modernity” in the first year of their coursework
  • Languages
    • Must demonstrate by examination, a reading knowledge of 2 languages beyond English and a language of native competence. The choice of these languages will depend on the focus of the student's work. Otherwise, students will demonstrate reading competence in French and German.
  • Responsible Conduct of Research Training
  • Preliminary Examinations
    • 4-hour major field exam. Some of the readings for this exam will be drawn from the general bibliography in Religion & Modernity
    • 3-hour dissertation-area exam
    • 3-hour internal minor exam
    • 3-hour external minor exam
    • 2-hour oral exam based on all written preliminary exams
  • Dissertation

Inside Minor Requirements

  • 2 courses

Religion and Modernity

Yael Lazar: "Networked Devotion: Hindu Adoption of Digital Media." 2018. Advisor: Leela Prasad

Alex McKinley: "Mountain at a Center of the World." 2018. Advisor: Leela Prasad

Zaid Adhami: "Faith with Doubt: American Muslims, Secularity, and the 'Crisis of Faith.'" 2017. Advisor: Leela Prasad

Eric Chalfant: Practicing Disbelief: Atheist Media in America from the Nineteenth Century to Today." 2016. Advisor: David Morgan

Jennifer Kryszak: “Imaging Church: Visual Practices, Ecclesiology, and the Ministry of Art.” 2014. Advisor: Mary McClintock Fulkerson

Joseph Tucker-Edmonds: “Wayward Christians, Wordly Scriptures: Disarticulating Christianities in the Atlantic Public Sphere.” 2013. Advisor: Mary McClintock Fulkerson