Welcome to SPACE, our adult continuing education program which offers interactive monthly courses for personal enrichment! Learn more here.

Religious Studies Portal

Advanced Old English: Beowulf I

Spend the time reading and translating in a relaxed manner with friends! This beautiful, moving, narrative poem is a joy to work with and I hope you will join me for a month of study.
Precepted by Larry Swain.

Ancient Egyptian Mages

An examination of who used magic in Egypt, with an emphasis on characters within literary genres and known professions. This includes the story of Khufu, the Nubian sorcerers, the use of Shabtis, and later stories, including Lucian and the inspiration for Fantasia. This also includes priests, healers, and professional magic users. What do we know about fictional and nonfictional magic users? How and why did they practice? What areas did they work in?
Precepted by Shawn Gaffney.

An Intensive Reading of the Tao Te Ching (Daode jing)

"The Way that can be talked about is not the lasting Way": so begins this classic text of world literature and Chinese philosophical and religious thought. The Tao Te Ching has been read, interpreted, and applied in a variety of ways throughout Chinese and world history. We'll do a close reading as well as explore the larger commentarial tradition surrounding it, using it as a gateway to explore further dimensions of East Asian culture and to spark conversations within the class.
Precepted by Robert Steed.

Buddhism 1: Introduction to Early Buddhism

In this module we will explore the formation and development of early Buddhist traditions, focusing on the life of the historical Buddha, the Deer Park Dharma Discourse, the formation of the Sangha (Buddhist monastic community), and the foundational teachings of the Four Noble Truths, the Three Marks of Existence, and the Chain of Dependent Origination.
Precepted by Robert Steed.

Buddhism 2: Introduction to Mahayana Buddhism

Building on the "Introduction to Early Buddhism" module, we will explore the development of Mahayana Buddhist traditions, focusing especially on Madhyamika and Yogacara trends, the Zen and Pure Land Schools, the Heart Sutra, the Lotus Sutra, and interactions with Chinese religio-philosophical systems, especially Daoism, and the fascinating culture of the Dunhuang caves.
Precepted by Robert Steed.

Buddhism 3: Introduction to Vajrayana Buddhism

Building on the previous two Intro to Buddhism modules in this sequence, we will explore the colorful and varied forms of Vajrayana Buddhism, focusing especially on developments in Tibet, but not ignoring the larger world of esoteric Buddhism. The various sects, arts such as the creation of sand mandalas, ritual practices, and various forms of teaching will all be explored.
Precepted by Robert Steed.

Daoism: The School of the Way

In this class we will explore some of the major texts and movements within historical Daoism, especially Laozi, Zhuangzi, and Daoist alchemy and long-life practices. We will also examine how some of these Daoist concepts are incorporated by Ursula K. Le Guin into her speculative fiction.
Precepted by Robert Steed.

Discovering, Understanding, and Loving Haiku

Known as the shortest form of poetry in the world, haiku overwhelm us with their beautiful imagery and evoke incredible emotions. Join preceptors Robert Steed and Pilar Barrera in this module where we’ll explore the historical, religious and cultural background of haiku, read and analyze a variety of haiku by different authors, and play with haiku as you’ll have the opportunity to write your own!
Precepted by Pilar Barrera and Robert Steed.

Egyptian Demons

Introduction to the non-god, non-human, entities in ancient Egypt. Demons were guardians, messengers, and performed other duties, usually as intermediaries between the gods and men. We will consider the category of “demon”, their roles, descriptions, and how they changed over time in the Egyptian worldview. How were demons viewed and why were they necessary? How did they relate to other cultures? What became of Egyptian Demons in later periods?
Precepted by Shawn Gaffney.

Exploring Mushi Shi

We will watch and discuss Mushi Shi, paying special attention to aspects of Japanese religion and culture which are woven into the fabric of the story. The class will be discussion-oriented, framed by preceptor commentary. This is a beautifully designed series that rewards slow and relaxed contemplation.
Precepted by Robert Steed.

Introduction to Ancient Magic 1

An introduction to magic in the ancient world provides a short survey of the earliest known magical texts and objects, including the Pyramid texts, Sumerian exorcism spells, and objects used in different apotropaic rituals. Divination and other forms of magic will be included as well. What was the earliest magic? What did it do and how did it work? Who practiced magic? How was magic related to religion?
Precepted by Shawn Gaffney.

Introduction to Ancient Magic 2

This class continues into module two where we look specifically the Greco-Roman world, magic in myth and literature, and specific spells and objects in use throughout the classical world, including their relations to Mesopotamia and Egypt. This includes the Greek magical texts. What types of magic did they use? Who practiced them and why?
Precepted by Shawn Gaffney.

Introduction to Ancient Magic 3

Last in the sequence of Ancient Magic is the use of magic in the early Christian world, its relationship with contemporary magic, and related texts. We will explore the origins of this magic, how it was used, and how it evolved over time. We will look at both religious and non-religious magic through a number of examples, both verbal spells and magical items, such as Aramaic incantation bowls.
Precepted by Shawn Gaffney.

Mesopotamian Demons

Demons have played a significant role in ancient cultures beyond just Egypt. Mesopotamia has its own set of liminal entities that reside somewhere between gods and man, with their own responsibilities and roles. This class will explore the features of these beings, including where they are first seen in literature, what roles they play, and what we know about them. Think Pazuzu from the Exorcist.
Precepted by Shawn Gaffney.

Milton's Paradise Lost

John Milton’s seventeenth-century epic, Paradise Lost, provides a masterclass in worldbuilding. After an introduction to Milton, we will begin with Milton’s conception of Hell, which is not in the center of the earth, as Dante has it. We travel next from the depths of the Inferno to the heights of Heaven. After three sessions, we finally arrive in Paradise and meet our first parents, Adam and Eve, who are being stalked by the shapeshifting Satan. A storytelling episode in the center of the epic takes us back to Heaven to observe war between the angels of light and the angels of darkness. When we return to Paradise, however, it is only to watch it fall, and the final session wraps up the epic as we are shown Exile—life after Paradise lost.
Precepted by Jeremy Larson.

Nature and Shinto in Anime

Shinto, usually identified as “the indigenous religious tradition” of Japan, heavily influences the aesthetic and worldview of many anime films and series. Join us as we explore aspects of Shinto practice and how they influence and shape the films Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke, as well as the idiosyncratic but popular series Mushi Shi.
Precepted by Robert Steed.

Participation, Creation, and Poetry: Barfield's Saving the Appearances and Poetic Diction

Owen Barfield, one of C.S. Lewis's closest friends and a core member of the Inklings, was one of the most original thinkers of the 20th century (although he did not think of himself as such). Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry sets forth the core theory of ongoing and evolving participation in creation which forms the core of Barfield's thought. Poetic Diction, a work that influenced not only Lewis but Tolkien as well, applies Barfield's theory to language in particular. In this module we will first read Saving the Appearances and then use that work as a basis for understanding Poetic Diction.
Precepted by Clayton McReynolds.

Plant-based Entheogens, Shapers of History and Consciousness

In this module we will explore the roles that various plant-based entheogens have played, actively and passively, in shaping human consciousness and history. Tea, coffee, chocolate, nutmeg, cannabis, coca, alcohol, opium, pipe-weed (tobacco), and ayahuasca will all be discussed, both in their historical contexts and for their entheogenic properties. Time permitting, we can cover more.
Precepted by Robert Steed.

Reading John Donne’s Holy Sonnets

Renaissance clergyman John Donne was a prolific scholar and poet. His verses follow many different poetical forms and vary widely in tone from the solemn and devout to the seductive and sensual. In this module, we will study Donne’s Holy Sonnets, a sequence of poems that blend meditations on the divine with vivid but sometimes irreverent imagery. Here we will discuss selected sonnets individually and the full collection in some of the different arrangements and forms in which it was read and copied in the seventeenth century. Along the way, we will look at the connotations and complexities of words and particular lines, identify biblical and other allusions, and delight in the language of these complex and thought-provoking Renaissance sonnets.
Precepted by Faith Acker.

Reading Lewis' Ransom Cycle

This is the Landing Page for Prof. Higgins' series exploring Lewis's Ransom Cycle. In this book-club-style series, we will discuss C.S. Lewis’s novels Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength. We’ll track his major themes, talk about the background he assumes, enjoy his secondary world, and perhaps cheerfully debate some of his theological claims. We’ll bring in a few of his other works briefly to see how they contribute to his subcreated universe, and we’ll touch on some points scholars have made to help us read these works more deeply.

This page will be updated to reflect which book in the Cycle is being explored in a given month.
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Reading Lewis' Ransom Cycle:
• Part 1: Exploring C.S. Lewis’s novel Out of the Silent Planet. (Required Text: C.S. Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet)
• Part 2: Exploring C.S. Lewis’s novel Perelandra. (Required Text: C.S. Lewis, Perelandra)
• Part 3: Exploring C.S. Lewis’s novel That Hideous Strength and a few short related texts. (Required Text: C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength)
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NOTE: Students can jump in at any month/part of the Series. There are no prerequisites.

Precepted by Sørina Higgins.

Religion in the Life and Works of J.R.R. Tolkien

Tolkien drew upon a wide range of religious, philosophical, and metaphysical sources in shaping his legendarium, including Greek, Norse, Germanic, and Celtic paganisms, Catholic Christianities, Eastern Orthodox and Jewish mysticisms, various Neo-Platonisms, and western esoteric traditions among others. Join the discussion as we explore in some depth these sources and how Tolkien weaves them into his web of story-telling and world-building.
Precepted by Robert Steed.

The Other in the Ancient Egyptian World

The Egyptians had a complex view of non-Egyptians. They were both threatening enemies but also potential Egyptians. This course will look at how the Egyptians viewed and depicted the other, the role of the other, and the change in many cases, of other to countryman. This will include a survey of art, literature, and magic as it relates to depicting, describing, and affecting the other and how this reinforced the Egyptian identity. Who were the “others” in the Egyptian worldview? How were they to be interacted with? Who where the Egyptians in their own view?
Precepted by Shawn Gaffney.

The Quest for the Holy Grail

Is the Holy Grail a cup, a platter, or a stone? Where did it come from? Is it real? What does it mean to "achieve" the Grail? Is it only a Christian legend? Why has it remained popular and grown in significance over a thousand-year period of European literature? What does Monty Python have to do with the Grail? How did Indiana Jones get involved? What is the connection between the Grail and Tolkien’s legendarium? Where is the ring of Arthur the King? What Lord has such a treasure in his house?
We'll answer these questions and many more in this course, which will follow the evolution of the Grail from brief references in the Bible through Celtic fertility rituals and medieval romance to its varied presentations today. No prior knowledge is needed, and each student will determine their own reading load and selections.
Precepted by Sørina Higgins.

The Witch-cult Hypothesis and Its Afterlives

Imagine a witch. Perhaps, she is a solitary crone, living in a cottage on the outskirts of the village, in equal measures reviled and grudgingly respected by the villagers for her knowledge of midwifery and healing herbs. Perhaps, she is a self-possessed attractive young woman, persecuted by an oppressive authority for her feminist outlook. Perhaps, she is sexually liberated, she conducts strange rituals tied to the land’s fertility, she speaks of the Old Faith as a secret knowledge passed on in secret alongside the official religion. This image of the witch owes much to Margaret Murray’s Witch-cult Hypothesis, an idea that people accused of witchcraft in the medieval and early modern period in the Western world, were the inheritors of a prehistoric fertility cult, which survived as a covert practice alongside Christianity for millennia. Despite being rejected as academically spurious, Murray’s work continues to be incredibly influential for practitioners of modern witchcraft and in popular culture.

In this course, we will take a close look at Murray’s claims, and place them in a historical and cultural context. We will venture outside the academic setting to read witchcraft handbooks and genre fiction, where the witch-cult hypothesis continues its fascinating afterlives.
Precepted by Anna Milon.

Tolkien & Magic

The magic of Middle-earth is a fascinating topic, sparking conversations about its nature, origins, mechanism, and primary-world analogues. Did you know that while Tolkien was writing his fictional language, many of his friends and contemporaries were practicing ceremonial magic? In this class, we’ll look at Elf-magic, Entish powers, prophecy, wizardry, telepathy, the power of the Ring, angelic and constructed languages, words of power, Saruman’s sorcerous voice, immortality, and spiritual ontology. We might even find out what Tolkien thought of his friends who told fortunes and cast spells!
Precepted by Sørina Higgins.

Wisdom Literature: The Book of Job

Let's do a close, detailed, literary reading of the Book of Job in the Bible, taking our time to contemplate each verse, sentence, phrase, and word. What literary techniques does the author use? How is the book structured? What genre conventions does it use or subvert? We will ponder these questions and others as we move slowly and respectfully through this beautiful ancient text.
Precepted by Sørina Higgins.
If you have any questions about the SPACE program, please reach out to [email protected].