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What is Religion? A Four Session Course

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March 29, 2014

Program Locations:

Jefferson Market Library

Saturdays, March 22, 29 April 5, 12    3 pm to 5 pm

This course will serve as an introduction to ways of thinking about the phenomenon of religion.  Questions considered, among others:

  • How can we begin to try to make sense of someone else’s religious experience?  Of one’s own?
  • What questions, if any, are shared by the world’s religions?
  • Is there a built-in human need to believe?
  • What makes a life religious?
  • Can you be religious without belief?
  • What might it mean—as you so often hear these days—to be spiritual but not religious? Who’s to say?

Our inquiry will be centered on a reading of the American psychologist William James’s classic work in the study of religion, The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature. As we make our way through James’s text, we will look closely at some of the “cases” of religion that he offers, including Teresa of Ávila, Saint John of the Cross, al-Ghazālī, Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, and Walt Whitman. With James as both our guide and foil, and through collective reading and lots of conversation, we will try to figure out what we’re talking about when we talk about religion.

Readings will be offered in class.  Copies of The Varieties of Religious Experience available soon at the 2nd floor desk.  Or available as a pdf copy here.  If you would like the readings before the first course, email frankcollerius@nypl.org for the links. 

This course will be presented in the 1st floor program space.

No registration required.

Professor:  Joshua Cohen is a historian of religion. His interests include the interactions between Muslim, Jewish, and Christian cultures in medieval and early modern Spain, the history and practice of mysticism, and the relationships between religion and philosophy and religion and psychoanalysis, among much else. Originally from New York City, he has lived in Morocco and Spain, and received his B.A. from Swarthmore College and M.T.S from Harvard Divinity School.

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  • Audience: Adults

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