NES 6557

Course information provided by the Courses of Study 2017-2018.

How and why do landscapes come to inspire the religious imagination? And how do sensory landscapes, more specifically-territories of sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell-inform, inflect, and engage the religious imagination? When and why do religious practices, rituals, traditions, and beliefs inhabit particular landscapes? This seminar treats these questions by focusing on a particular landscape-the "desert," both imagined and real-as it has shaped religious ascetic practice. Biblical notions of howling desert wastelands and subsequent ideas about deserts inhabited by terrifying and grotesque demons; paradise, a garden where angels' wings whir and pure light shines; valleys of rattling dry bones, sinews, and skins that breathe with new life; heavens clanging with the sound of war between seven-headed dragons and angels; demons coming in the forms of roaring lions and hissing serpents-the religious imaginary is shaped in striking ways by sensory landscapes. We will read widely from desert Christian monastic literatures, mostly from late ancient Egypt, to explore both the historical development of monasticism in Christianity and examine why the monastic impulse seems so closely tied to the "desert." In addition to reading saints lives, we will read early monastic rules, the desert fathers, and we will draw from archaeological sources to examine the varieties of ascetic practices in the deserts of late ancient Egypt, Gaza, Sinai, Palestine, and Syria. Throughout the course we will explore ancient and modern ideas about "wilderness" and we will explore parallels between ancient Near Eastern literatures and their nineteenth- and twentieth-century parallels in the American frontier and environmental literatures.

When Offered Fall.

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  • 17283NES 6557  SEM 101