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

Religious Studies Portal

Or view as a table.

A Brief Introduction to Japanese Religions I

Over the course of this module, we will cover the basics of Japanese religious history. Particular areas of focus will be Shintō 神道 tradition and various forms of Japanese Buddhism, shamanism, and Shugendō 修験道. Time permitting (unlikely) we can also touch upon Japanese New Religions and/or Japanese Christianity.
Precepted by Dr. Robert Steed

A Brief Introduction to Japanese Religions II

Picking up from where we left off in the first module, we will continue to explore the basics of Japanese religious history.
Precepted by Dr. Robert Steed

A Careful Reading of The Mountain of Silence

Kyriacos Markides's classic exploration of Eastern Orthodox thought and mysticism rewards slow, careful, contemplative reading and discussion. Various aspects of Orthodox mysticism and religious practice are addressed in a series of conversations that the author has with "Father Maximos," a priest and monk trained in the spiritual atmosphere of Mt. Athos. Please join us as we use this text as a gateway into understanding Orthodox and more generally sacramental forms of Christian thought and practice, all in a friendly, non-partisan, and open group setting.
Precepted by Dr. Robert Steed

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 Dr. Larry Swain

Advanced Old English: Beowulf II

Let's continue reading and translating Beowulf 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 another month of study.
Precepted by Dr. 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 道德經 Part II

We will continue onwards with our intensive reading and discussion of the text from wherever we end in "An Intensive Reading of the Tao Te Ching/Daode jing 道德經".
Precepted by Dr. Robert Steed

An Intensive Reading of the Tao Te Ching/Daode jing 道德經

"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 Dr. Robert Steed

A Sip of Tea and Tea Culture

In this module we will explore the cultural history of tea production, tea consumption, and tea-related cultural forms and practices. Primary focus will be on Asia, with side-expeditions to other parts of the world. White, green, Oolong, red (black), the Silk Road, tea bricks, tea ceremonies, tea-and-Zen, tea as world commodity, tea as entheogen---we can explore all of this and more!
Precepted by Dr. Robert Steed

Bible as Literature: The Gospels in the Their Contexts

This module considers the gospels in their contexts; addressing their genre, the communities to whom they are addressed, their origins, early tradition and legend about how they came to be, comparisons of their literatures to other Hellenistic and Near Eastern ones, the synoptic problem, and related issues.
Precepted by Dr. Larry Swain

Book Club: Dune Messiah

By Shai-Hulud, let’s read Dune Messiah!

In this one-month module, we will read and discuss the second Dune novel, Dune Messiah. Paul Atreides has avenged his father and created a new interstellar empire—but at what cost?

Though considerably shorter, the follow-up to Dune is even more intricate and complex. We will explore themes like hero cults, history, politics and religious violence, as Paul’s vision leads him into a trap of his own making.

Whether you are a new or continuing student in our Dune book club, all are welcome to join this class. Connect with book lovers, compare to the adaptations, and share your insights.

Let the spice flow!
Precepted by Dr. Julian Barr

Chinese History for Fans of Chinese Media

If you are a fan of any form of Chinese popular media such as CDramas, films, wuxia pian (martial arts films and novels) and so on, you will almost certainly find yourself exposed to a wide array of different historical settings and contexts. In this module we will explore those moments and periods in the history of China that often appear as settings or references in Chinese popular media as a way to broaden and deepen our understanding and enjoyment of it.
Precepted by Dr. Robert Steed

C.S. Lewis' The Four Loves and Greek Philosophy

What is love? This is the question C.S. Lewis explored in his classic book, The Four Loves. Over four weeks, we will read and discuss The Four Loves as a class, exploring his four classifications and their philosophical underpinnings. Comparing and contrasting Lewis with short excerpts from Plato's Symposium and Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, we will explore the themes of affection, friendship, eros and charity.
Precepted by Dr. Julian Barr

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 Dr. Robert Steed

Demons and Exorcism in History

This module explores the practice of exorcism, from ancient Egypt and the Near East through antiquity and into Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. We will look at spells, rituals, and practitioners as well as the causes of possession, demons, and curses.
Precepted by Shawn Gaffney

Earendel Sprang Up From The Ocean's Cup: The Poetic Corpus of J.R.R. Tolkien

Philologist, Professor, Parent, Friend, Author, Scholar, and Father of Fantasy. Tolkien was all of these things and more, but throughout his whole life (and in all these roles) he was also a poet. Tolkien's poetry often gets short shrift, as it is the first thing skipped by the amateur reader of The Lord of the Rings. Yet poetry was also the vehicle by which Tolkien first expressed his creative impulses, his love for his wife, and even his very first foray into the world of Middle-earth. With the new Collected Poems of Tolkien released in September, join us on our own journey through the poetic works of the man behind the legendarium. From his earliest "Earendel" poem to the structure of Quenya poetry, we will discuss the meaning and the structure behind his poetry in a masterclass that will introduce students to the elements of poetic scansion and apply those principles to the developing skills and interests of the author of the century over a span of more than sixty years.
Precepted by Patrick Lyon

Egyptian Book of the Dead

This module would be an introduction to the Egyptian Book of the Dead without presuming a knowledge of Egyptian Hieroglyphs. We would read about and discuss the origins, transmission, context, and look closely at some different examples.
Precepted by Shawn Gaffney

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 蟲師

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 Dr. Robert Steed

Exploring Romance of the Three Kingdoms 三國演義

Considered to be one the major classics of pre-modern Chinese literature, Romance of the Three Kingdoms focuses on a story of political and military struggle featuring an impressive array of characters, many of whom have become touchstones of Chinese cultural heritage and artistic interest. This novel has spawned a wide arrange of operas, stories, video game series, musical compositions, television and web series, as well as garnering much academic attention since it was first published in the 14th century. Join us as we read, discuss, analyze, and place in its cultural and historical contexts this major work of Chinese historical fiction.
Precepted by Dr. Robert Steed

Exploring Sei Shonagon's The Pillow Book 枕草子

Sei Shōnagon 清少納言 is a major writer of the Heian period (794-1185) whose Makura no Sōshi 枕草子 (The Pillow Book) has intrigued and delighted reading audiences for centuries. Colorful, witty, incisive, charming, thoughtful, melancholy, poetic---these qualities and more characterize this diary of the famous lady of the court. Join us as we read this text in-depth and place it within the frame of the flow of Japanese culture and history.
Precepted by Dr. Robert Steed

Exploring The Analects 論語 of Confucius

In western internet memes, lots of sayings are attributed to Confucius. He did not say most of them. In this module we will engage in a slow reading and interpretation of The Analects , our primary source for Confucius's discourses and dialogues. Your preceptor will also situate this text in currents of historical thought from Warring States China and larger Confucian tradition. Once we are done, you will have gained many skills, including a decent ability to distinguish "Confucius" the meme-able quote machine from the Confucius of the Analects and Chinese historical tradition.
Precepted by Dr. Robert Steed

Hieroglyphs Reading Module: Book of the Dead

This module allows those who have completed the hieroglyphs reading module an opportunity to further explore the Egyptian language and glyphs. We will slowly read a small selection of "spells" from the Book of the Dead and discuss them and their context.
Precepted by Shawn Gaffney

Intermediate Latin Translation: The Vulgate Psalms

Designed for students who have completed an introductory Latin textbook and wish to explore real Latin texts at a gentle pace, this class will walk students through a selection of Psalms from the Latin Vulgate, adapting the quantity of texts and homework to meet the needs of the enrolled students. We will parse passages and read the psalms clause by clause, moving somewhat slowly to allow ample time for grammatical review as students test different translation techniques and absorb new abbreviations, grammatical quirks, and irregular or new forms.

Note: Students who took this module in 2023 are welcome to repeat it; the 2024 module will feature different psalms than its predecessor.
Precepted by Dr. Faith Acker

Introduction to Ancient Magic 1 First in the Series

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 Continuing Series

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 Continuing Series

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

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 Dr. Robert Steed

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 Dr. Robert Steed

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 Dr. Robert Steed

Inventing the Holy Grail: Chretien de Troyes's complete “Perceval"

The story of the Holy Grail that was sought by King Arthur’s knights begins with this tale: Chretien de Troyes’s “Perceval, or the Story of the Grail.” This coming-of-age story follows the adventures of Perceval, as he moves from rustic ignorance of his own identity into full-fledged knighthood. As series of mistakes, triumphs, and misadventures leads him almost (but not quite) to the discovery of that most holy of relics. His journey of spiritual understanding, like the quest for the Holy Grail itself, remains incomplete as Chretien’s unfinished romance breaks off in mid-sentence. This course, however, continues Perceval’s story through the numerous continuations of additions by which different authors brought to the tale within a century of its first appearance.

Note on Text: While most of Prof. Daley’s courses are flexible with regard to edition, in this case there is only one English translation that provides the complete text of Chretien’s “Perceval,” and all of the surviving translations: Nigel Bryant’s The Complete Story of the Grail, listed below.
Precepted by Dr. Liam Daley

Japanese History for Fans of Japanese Media

In this module we will cover a general overview of major periods, events, and personages that often crop up in Japanese films, dramas, anime, and manga. For example, are you a fan of the manga and drama series Jin? When Dr. Jin finds himself in the Edo period, do you want to know more about that historical context? This module should help with that and much more! Join us for a light and fun overview of Japanese history useful for engaging with Japanese media more deeply.
Precepted by Dr. Robert Steed

Latin: Augustine's Confessions

Augustine of Hippo is one of the most important thinkers and writers not only of his age but all subsequent ages as well. The Confessions was the first of its kind as an examination of a human being's interior life and thoughts. On the surface level it is a text about Augustine's journey to Christianity. On a deeper level it is an examination in psychology. And we get to read it in Latin!!
Precepted by Dr. Larry Swain

Latin: The Vulgate Gospel of Matthew

The Gospel of Matthew through most of Church History was the most cited and the most commented on. This module reads that gospel in Latin and discusses important points of influence that various periods of Christian thought pondered. Along the way students will be introduced to other issues such as the history of the Bible in Latin, textual criticism and transmission, classical and medieval book culture, and artistic representations of important scenes.
Precepted by Dr. Larry Swain

Magic: Grimoires 1

In this module we will use Owen Davie’s Grimoires: a History of Magic Books as a guide to look at a number of different texts, focusing on Late Antiquity to Early Modern books. We will discuss where the books were used, by whom, and how some were related to one another. We will also look at how the books were spread and received, as well as, when possible, some details about individual books. Because of the breadth of the subject we will not have time to delve too deeply into the texts themselves.
Precepted by Shawn Gaffney

Magic: Grimoires 2

In this module we will look more deeply into one or more texts on magic. Using modern translations and publications, we will focus on one or two texts, read and discuss them. This may include the Testament of Solomon, Picatrix, or the Liber Razielis Archangeli, or another text depending on the interest of the participants.

Note: While this is the natural follow-up class to the first Grimoires Module, it can be taken without taking the first Grimoires class.
Precepted by Shawn Gaffney

Magic: Islamic Magic and Occultism

We will explore the early period of Islamic magic and secret knowledge. We will look at various categories of magic, from astrology to talisman magic. Our sources will draw on recent scholarly publications as well as translations of medieval texts.
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.

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 Dr. Robert Steed

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 Dr. 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 Dr. Faith Acker

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 Dr. Robert Steed

The Life and Legend of St Nicholas

Who was the real historical figure behind Santa Claus? In this module, we will read aloud the earliest biographical sources about fourth century bishop, St Nicholas of Myra. Your preceptor will facilitate discussions of Nicholas' historical context and examine the development of his legend. Together, we will examine Byzantine stories of Nicholas' benefaction and miracles, his role as patron saint of seafarers, students and merchants (among others), and how he came to embody the tradition of gift-giving in Christendom. A wonderful end-of-year treat!
Precepted by Dr. Julian Barr

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 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 Dr. Anna Milon

Viking Hogwarts: The World Of Old Norse Sorcery Series of 3

This is the Landing Page for Prof. Irina Manea's Viking Hogwarts series exploring The World of Old Norse Sorcery.

Module 1 we will be critically exploring the sources for such powerful practices, the vocabulary of sorcery, as well as attempting to enter the Viking soul in search of its logic and manifestations through everyday witchcraft, while confronting the great hindrances in the study of an elusive phenomenon.

Module 2 takes a closer look at the most violent practices in Old Norse Sorcery. Beyond domestic practices, sorcerous aggression manifested e.g. through driving the enemy insane, sending spirits to attack, causing misfortune and on a much broader scale on the battlefield. The elements of sorcery buried deep in the often problematic sources might help us better understand the potential mindset of pre-Christian Northern peoples and illuminated the often too tightly defined warrior identity.

Module 3 attempts to integrate the evidence from literary and archaeological sources into a broader context of shamanistic northern religions.
Precepted by Dr. Irina Manea

Viking Hogwarts: The World Of Old Norse Sorcery 1 First in the Series

Whereas figures like Odin, Thor or Freyr dominate the Viking mythical landscape, Norse spirituality goes way beyond the texts of the Poetic Edda. For the Viking mind, spirituality would have infused all aspects of daily life in a fascinating mix of sacred and profane.

Paganism was most likely never a unified system of belief, and may have been much more complex and diverse than our current sources can let us know. Beyond semi-structured beliefs, we also encounter more practical forms actively trying to influence the environment – sorcery, most often referred to as seidr, a collective term to designate soothsaying, divination, healing, controlling weather, battle magic and much more.

In this module we will be critically exploring the sources for such powerful practices, the vocabulary of sorcery, as well as attempting to enter the Viking soul in search of its logic and manifestations through everyday witchcraft, while confronting the great hindrances in the study of an elusive phenomenon.

Why is Odin a god of sorcery? Who performed magic in Viking times? Was it gendered? Was sexuality involved? What did magic reveal, and how was it perceived? Put your name into the goblet of mead and let‘s get started.
Precepted by Dr. Irina Manea

Viking Hogwarts: The World of Old Norse Sorcery 2 Continuing Series

After having discussed the complex phenomenon of seidr magic in module 1, we are going to have a closer look at its most violent practices. Beyond domestic practices, sorcerous aggression manifested e.g. through driving the enemy insane, sending spirits to attack, causing misfortune and on a much broader scale on the battlefield.

A clear projection of supernatural intervention is offered by Odin‘s servants the valkyrjur, but also shapeshifting berserkers caught by ritual frenzy, with powers stemming from Odin himself, “The Terrible” in his sorcerous role. Battle spells also seem to have been preserved as literary remnants with a chance at authenticity derived from ideas in older poems, like ideas about war-fettering, invulnerability or disguise.

These elements of sorcery buried deep in the often problematic sources might help us better understand the potential mindset of pre-Christian Northern peoples and illuminated the often too tightly defined warrior identity.
Precepted by Dr. Irina Manea

Viking Hogwarts: The World Of Old Norse Sorcery 3 Continuing Series

In the third part of the module series on Norse magic, we will attempt to integrate the evidence from literary and archaeological sources into a broader context of shamanistic northern religions.

In the Icelandic sagas in particular, there are indications about the operative magical practices of the Sámi - one famous queen, Gunnhild (the wife of Eric Bloodaxe) is even said to have travelled to the Finns to get sorcerous instruction. In Norse myth, cosmology dwells on the world pillar, the ash tree Yggdrassil, while Odin's horse Sleipnir has the power to cross between worlds.

Shamanism as a means of accessing supernatural forces through ecstasy may have enhanced the Viking mind with challenging ideas about gender, shapeshifting, or violence that are well worth our attention.
Precepted by Dr. Irina Manea

Zen History and Thought: An Overview

In this module we will examine the origins and development of Zen Buddhism from its roots in Mahayana and Daoist thought through its formative years in China and its spread to Korea and Japan. Among other topics, we should have time to cover the Patriarchs of Zen, the Five Houses of Zen, and major figures within the tradition. We will also gesture towards Zen's impact on East Asian arts and culture more generally.
Precepted by Dr. Robert Steed
If you have any questions about the SPACE program, please reach out to [email protected].