MTS Colloquium

Instructor: Amy Erickson, Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible and Director of the MTS Program

The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as we have defined it.

David W. Orr, “What Is Education For?”

The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change ―Audre Lorde

'The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.' – camus…documenting my liberation

An untitled quilt by Rosie Lee Tompkins from 1996 that combines pieces of a dish towel, sections of the American flag and a religious tapestry. 

Credit: UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, Eli Leon Bequest.

Goals of this course

-To understand the limits and problems built into the disciplines of religious studies and theology (the ‘colonial matrix of power’ [Mignolo, 2007]) so as to begin to decolonize our work and ourselves, our methods and our epistemologies (ways of knowing)

-To see, hear, and feel ‘religion’ (what some might call implicit religion or embedded religion) differently, in ways that are lively, curious, and engaging

-To adopt creative approaches to the study of things religious or spiritual in nature in ways that emphasize the crossing of boundaries, embodiment, the sensoria, relationality, and/or attachment to places (land, flora, fauna)

-To depict ‘religion’ differently through writing or through visual or aural expressions or through the development of rituals or practices

To these ends, we’ll be reading, viewing, and listening to a variety of writers, artists, and scholars, some of whom work in the field of religion and many of whom do not. The question before us will be, how might we more deeply engage and re-enliven the study, experience, and practice of what we have traditionally called religion, theology, spirituality, etc.

Over the course of the quarter, we’ll spend some time on the history of the problem baked into the discipline of religious studies and the related disciplines (theology, biblical studies). In other words, we’ll be thinking about the fields’ key assumptions -- the ways that the study of religion and the discipline of theology grew up within colonization and so, even as attempts are made at redress, working within these disciplines requires a healthy degree of skepticism and concerted efforts to create a different approach. Practicing the discipline (being disciplined by the discipline) in traditional ways leads to the re-inscription of the assumptions, hierarchies, and habits that are killing us. That said, our focus will be constructive or generative rather than deconstructive or critical. By reading poetry, delving into good literature, looking at powerful works of art, and seeing our own world differently, we will engage the study of religion and theology in ways that largely ignore the traditional disciplinary boundaries that have defined the field. We’ll talk about how to encounter and analyze religion in the world in more open ways, how to think about and study what interests us (traditionally called methods and approaches or theories and methods), and how to express ourselves in ways that are compelling and accessible to audiences and communities beyond ourselves.

In our search for religion outside houses of worship, we might embrace the sentiment expressed in Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost -- “How will you go about finding that thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you?” she asks, quoting a speaker in Plato’s dialogue, Meno . The answer, Solnit writes, is to practice getting lost; to submit to a kind of “voluptuous surrender.”


Please purchase or borrow:

1. James Baldwin, Go Tell It on the Mountain

2. Mark Doty, The Art of Description or William Zinsser, On Writing Well or Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones

3. One novel. Choose from the following list:

Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko; Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon ; The Overstory by Richard Powers, House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday, K-Ming Chang, Bestiary ; Alexis Wright, Carpentaria ; James McBride, The Good Lord Bird ; Louise Erdrich, Tracks ; Lydia Millet, A Children’s Bible; Jesmyn Ward's Sing, Unburied, Sing ; Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God; Neil Gaiman’s American Gods

You'll be doing a short presentation on your chosen novel in Week 7.

I'll be posting most of the readings in PDF form or in embedded links. However, there are books you might want to purchase if they grab you (see the list of highlights below). I'll be assigning a lot of different readings and asking you to read short sections of a number of books, but I'll also be encouraging you to follow your own 'desire lines' and to read more deeply in texts that you find engaging.

Karen Bray, Grave Attending

Jack Halberstam, The Queer Art of Failure

Robert MacFarlane, Landmarks

Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass

Sara Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life

Ashon T. Crawley, The Lonely Letters

Liz Lerman, Hiking the Horizontal

No late posts. Posting is for conversation, so please don't work to catch up if you miss a forum (ie don't post before Thursday midnight-ish). Just move on and work any missed posts into your participation self evaluation.

Zoom Check-In Sessions

Tues 4:00-5:15p Weeks 2, 5, 8

Course Overview


Course Objectives

33.3% -- Participation (Self Evaluated with Input of Instructor)

33.3% -- Novel Project

33.3% -- Final Project

Jan 05, 2021TueOn the forumsdue by 06:59AM
Jan 08, 2021FriIntroductionsdue by 06:59AM
Jan 12, 2021TueOn teaching, learning, and unlearningdue by 06:59AM
Jan 12, 2021TueZoom Session due by 11:00PM
Jan 15, 2021FriForum 2due by 06:59AM
Jan 19, 2021TueOn looking... because religion is not a thingdue by 06:59AM
Jan 22, 2021FriForum 3due by 06:59AM
Jan 26, 2021TueOn thinking, failing, queering, rebellingdue by 06:59AM
Jan 29, 2021FriForum 4due by 06:59AM
Feb 02, 2021TueOn resisting, relating, feelingdue by 06:59AM
Feb 02, 2021TueZoom Meetingsdue by 10:00PM
Feb 05, 2021FriForum 5due by 06:59AM
Feb 09, 2021TueOn being embodied: race and religiondue by 06:59AM
Feb 12, 2021FriForum 6due by 06:59AM
Feb 18, 2021ThuEncountering implicit religion in literature due by 06:59AM
Feb 19, 2021FriEncountering implicit religion in literature. Forumdue by 06:59AM
Feb 23, 2021TueOn being inter- or even anti-disciplinarydue by 06:59AM
Feb 23, 2021TueZoom Check In Meeting (Tues at 4 MST)due by 10:59PM
Feb 26, 2021FriForum 7due by 06:59AM
Mar 02, 2021TueOn writingdue by 06:59AM
Mar 05, 2021FriForum 8due by 06:59AM
Mar 12, 2021FriFinal projects or papersdue by 06:59AM
Mar 13, 2021SatParticipation self evaluationdue by 06:59AM