Thursday, August 31, 2017

Making up Buddhism

In "Buddhist Modernism" today we explored two resources which give a sense of the great diversity of modern Buddhist lives. One is the collection Figures of Buddhist Modernity in Asia, with sixty-six vignettes about 20th and early 21st century Buddhists clearing their own path in a changing world. The other, more US-focused, is the Buddhist magazine Tricyle, though it includes articles from around the world, too. One of the articles in it current print issue is an interview with a young Pure Land priest in Tokyo whose other job is as a make-up artist. An interesting story in its own right - he came out last year - but there's more. Before Kodo Nishimura returned to Japan to do his monastic training, he got a degree in Fine Arts right here, at Parsons!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Cultish behavior

It was time, again, for Jonathan Z. Smith's influential article on the Jonestown mass suicide, which he argued was a skandalon for the study and public discussion of religion in America. Academics, the media and religious leaders in near unison distanced themselves from People's Temple with the shabbiest of claims - it wasn't religion, wasn't Christianity. A "cult" was of no concern to them, certainly not something they're answerable for, definitely not something they might learn something from! Smith argued that unless and until scholars of religion, at least, took Jonestown seriously, we've no business claiming to be scholars. Under the humanistic banner of nothing human is foreign to me, we should engage every human phenomenon with equal care, attentive perhaps especially to those which are written off as marginal, extreme, less than human - like those dispatched by the word "cult." The media, too, should be in the business of challenging such dehumanization. If there was a greater skandalon than Jonestown, he writes, it was the New York Times Op-Ed page printing a piece by Billy Graham, pronouncing Jim Jones "demonic" and his church unChristian.

Are there analogs today to the dehumanization of the People's Temple memvers disowned by the "religious"? I found a provocative possibility. In the last 20 minutes of class I shared two recent Op-Ed pieces, one from the Los Angeles Times, one from the Times which gave Graham a platform.

The first was the essay LATimes cartoonist David Horsey wrote to accompany this cartoon. Many since Charlottesville have wondered that the support for the president among his mostly Evangelical religious council, and the 80% of white Evangelicals who voted for him, seems undiminished by his spiraling turpitude. Horsey's article is called "Worldly Politics, not Heavenly Powers, Inspire Evangelicals to Stick with Trump," and cites studies to the effect that, contrary to what their leaders may believe and say, rank and file white Evangelicals voted for Trump not because of abortion and the Supreme Court, but for the same reason as other white folks finding their economic position imperiled. Horsey grew up in the Free Methodist Church, and manages to hold on to a positive view of Evangelicals by convincing himself that the Trump-supporters aren't actually Evangelical, or at least weren't voting for him for religious reasons. The distressing phenomenon is not Christian at all but traceable to nationalists, atheists and pagans!:

I should note that a significant number of evangelicals do not see the Trump agenda as synonymous with God’s agenda. They are politically engaged in defending the poor and protecting the Earth and finding ways to positively express the highest Gospel values in our fractured society. It appears, though, that far more of them have diluted their faith with a ramped-up nationalism and a libertarian economic philosophy that is far closer to atheist Ayn Rand than to Jesus Christ. Like pagan priests looking for signs in goat entrails, their preachers sift obscure lines from the Old Testament as a means of validating their political opinions.

This is very interesting, coming from what we call the religious left, but even more interesting was a piece from the right, in the Gray Lady herself - our Billy Graham Op-Ed redux. Earlier this month, "conservative Christian" Rod Dreher distanced himself from the Trump-supporting Evangelicals, with as much relief as alarm finding them to be not Christian after all, but lost to the "self-centered, consumerist culture" of secular modernity. Poor Trumpians, nobody takes you religiously seriously; you're as confused and bamboozled - and undeserving of our sympathy - as members of a cult. Your sense of spiritual crisis, of God acting through manifestly imperfect vehicles in a battle for the soul of His favored nation, your fear and trembling before the mysterium tremendum of divine intervention are written off as rationalizations or delusions. Other Christians, left and right, wash their hands of you.

The analogy isn't perfect, of course, and my act of imaginative identification probably seemed no more than an academic exercise, but it struck a chord. Students agreed there's nobody everyone piles on like the Evangelicals who "should know better than" to support Trump. This shaming does them no good, nor is it good for the self-righteous rest of us.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Empty promises

Time for another tangerine dream, this one part of the opener of "Buddhist modernism." As in earlier iterations, tangerines were distributed for mindful consumption, with prompts from Thich Nhat Hanh. A sweet moment of shared silence and concentration led to a gentle discussion of awareness, interdependence, self-care, diet and even commensality. How nice to discover that simply attending to things we already do can show us our connectedness, our reality. How delicious to find the whole interconnected world in the tangerine in the palm of our hand...

But of course I couldn't leave it at that. We turned next to Bertolt Brecht's poem "The Buddha's parable of the burning house" (you can find it, in German and English, here), an expression of dejection at the impotence of political art to get people to join the revolution. It's presented as an analogy with the Buddha who wasn't able to get people to flee a burning house,

... Lately I saw a house. It was burning. The flame
Licked at its roof. I went up close and observed
That there were people still inside. I opened the door and called
Out to them that the roof was ablaze, so exhorting them
To leave at once. But those people
Seemed in no hurry. One of them
When the heat was already scorching his eyebrows
Asked me what it was like outside, whether it wasn’t raining
Whether the wind wasn’t blowing perhaps, whether there was
Another house for them, and more of this kind. Without answering
I went out again. These people here, I thought
Need to burn to death before they stop asking questions.
Truly, friends 
Unless a man feels the ground so hot underfoot that he’d gladly 
Exchange it for any other, sooner than stay, to him 
I have nothing to say. Thus Gautama the Buddha. 

But we too, no longer concerned with the art of submission 
Rather with that of not submitting, and putting forward 
Various proposals of an earthly nature, and beseeching men to shake off 
Their human tormentors, we too believe that to those 
Who in face of the approaching bomber squadrons of Capital 
Go on asking too long 
How we propose to do this, and how we envisage that 
And what will become of their savings and Sunday trousers 
After the revolution 
We have nothing much to say.

Only one student was familiar with Brecht, so we had a quick summary of his critique of most art as simply helping people dull their sense of the pain and unfairness of the world with periodic, safely quarantined catharses. I didn't have to spell out that safely quarantined catharsis pretty neatly describes the promise of many a lay Buddhist retreat. What I said was: what if that tangerine in your hand is a lit hand grenade?

But rather than drive the point home, I told them about the Buddha's actual parable of the burning house in the Lotus Sutra, presumably Brecht's source (though how he found it is hard to trace). As you may recall, the Buddha doesn't throw up his hands at the children's refusal to heed his warnings. (Brecht has elided this with the "questions inconducive to edification" from the Milindipañha.) Rather, he lures them from the house with elaborate promises of amazing chariots for their pleasure. As they emerge, the house explodes behind them. Belatedly - but just in time - they realize what danger they had been in, and even as they find only one chariot (the "great vehicle" of the Mahayana) they appreciate the sagacity of the Buddha in tempting them out with the promise of an array of different vehicles, the only thing that will have got them out.

Will the real Buddhism please stand up?

Monday, August 28, 2017

Walk Among the Giants

Another academic year, another rendition of "Theorizing Religion"!

As for the last few years I presented the academic study of religion as a subset (if one of privileged self-awareness) of the broader "religion-making" of our modern society.

But to mark what's really new this year - the "world religions" MOOCs, to ensure there is fresh academic knowledge of the richness and complexity of particular traditions in the mix as we theorize - I wore one of my favorite teeshirts. I think we've done the walking part really well these past years, especially through engagement with the literature of "lived religion." Religions aren't monolithic systems, their members living out their every stipulation (or not), but living congeries of practices, relationships, institutions, communities, with each part articulating (if not always consciously) its own particular pattern of participation over time. Yet at times it seemed that we were walking through a miniature landscape, or perhaps a landscape of bonzai trees, as if religious people were in some way larger than the traditions and practices from which and with which they assembled their particular walk. This year should be different... we'll see in what ways!

Friday, August 25, 2017

Tram wires cross northern skies

It's taken over a year (in part because we had a long Netflix hiatus) but we've finished watching the BBC's
"Wallander." Once you get over the oddity of hearing British actors playing Swedes (and a theme song originally about Fitzroy), Henning Mankell's detective stories play out well, and title character Kurt Wallander, is played by Sir Kennth Branagh in an extraordinary, raw, reckless, vulnerable, tender - and in the final, devastating, episode - heartbreaking way.

Windscreen frost

Meanwhile, back in Australia, winter's not quite letting go!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Second wind

I've finished my suite of New School history talks, each with its own pleasures. All were versions of a new take, which puts the problem of The New School's relationship to Parsons front and center. Yes, the problem, and as a problem. How can we tell a story about so hybrid an object as TNS? When Parsons merged with The New School in 1970, one is 74 years old, the other 51 - a late marriage. And it took another four decades for the merger really to be accepted, even celebrated. (I trot out Michael Walzer's understanding of the message in the forty years the people of Israel had to spend wandering the desert between the leeks and onions of Egypt and the milk and honey of Canaan: it takes two generations for a culture to change.)

The New School which loudly touts design thinking, liberal arts, performance and civic engagement as obvious and necessary partners is actually only in its first decade - though we bring to bear over a century of complicated legacies. The temptation is to tell a story in which the 51, 74 and 73 years the New School, Parsons and the Mannes School of Music (respectively) spent doing their own thing were all pointing toward their ultimate fusion and synergy, but it may be truer to see that synergy as entirely retrospective, and fueled by the momentum of these distinct pasts. What's happening here now is happening here now.

Above are the notes I took when I began today's talk (to new full-time faculty) asking them what they knew of New School history. Sure enough, we got a myth about The New School (founded by exiles from the Frankfurt School in the 1930s), a factoid about Parsons (someone named Chase in the 1890s), some interesting early New School theater history (Strasberg and an early Stanislavksy production of The Cherry Orchard)... and wasn't New School mainly about continuing education?

The 1919 story, and my rhapsodies about "arts as social research" in the 1920s and 1930s, were new to everyone. I offered them as a "better myth" than the ones focused on academic freedom and social science - better for us as we try to make sense of our current hybrid existence. People seemed to appreciate the rawness of the story, its contingency, its open-endedness. For new faculty, as for incoming students, it's an invitation not just to be part of some already defined thing, but to help realize the potentialities of our chaotic wealth of legacies as they finally commingle.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Nothing by blue skies...

Back at school means back on my office floor, a favored place to read.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Eclipse smiles

But here's my favorite view of the eclipse (from a friend in Tallahassee; another friend in Rancho Santa Fe posted similar ones) - and I missed it, busy as I was looking and not looking skyward! While we were swamped with warnings about the danger of the eclipse to the human eye, there were countless projections underfoot, twinkling harmless under every tree in giddy profusion... There's some kind of lesson in that, I sense, though I can't quite find the words for it.


It was the "Great American Eclipse" today, a silly and inauspicious name (perhaps American Greatness has always only ever been the interference pattern of objects we orbit and are orbited by). You can see it in the crescent-shaped green lens flare of my iPhone camera above, close to the 74% obscuring which was the most we got in New York (14:49 EST). But more fun, and safer, was seeing it through the pinhole viewer I made from a meter-long mailing tube: here are the shape near the start (13:51) and near the end (14:54) of the moon's transit across the sun:
Funny story: between taking these pictures from a 4th floor classroom, I went up to the 8th floor balcony where New School administrators and others were passing around some free eclipse glasses. I brought my bazooka-shaped thing, and it eventually grabbed everyone's attention. What is that thing? How does it work? You made it? I don't see anything - wait, now I see it, cool!!! Did anyone notice that it wasn't just a person from the liberal arts college - not the design school - who'd made his own device, but the Religious Studies person who'd brought a telescope?

Saturday, August 19, 2017


The ever-spot-on Tom Toles. (His caricature of the prez is all hairpiece, low brow and pouty-mouth.) Looking forward to the eclipse being over!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Rain tapestries

 My office windows aren't the soundest, but rain can be very pretty.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Wednesday, August 16, 2017


As our prez continues to undermine  the moral fabric of our culture and government, I found respite in doing something constructive: the double pleasure not just of making something tasty but of successfully recreating something you enjoyed in a restaurant! (The internet helped too, of course.)

Chop and sauté: onion, celery; red pepper, garlic; tomato paste; tomato; eggplant; let cool with capers, golden raisins, olives, vinegar.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Lerner's permit

It was back to familiar turf today, the first of three talks I'm giving on New School history as orientation activities for the new school year begin. Today was super early: I was presenting as part of training for the student fellows who will help with orientation of new students, the first of whom (some international students) arrive Thursday. Academic year 2017-2018 itself doesn't start for another thirteen days!

Of course I can't give the same talk twice (it's hard enough giving it once) so today's was a turbo-charged version of the talk I've given over the years to the first year fellows - also peers who assist incoming students in the transition to college - at Lang. But this was different. Lang students are only a part, not even the biggest part, of the incoming class. Most of the new students - and conceivably most of the Orientation Fellows - are Parsons students. So I couldn't just tell the usual story, where the New School starts up in 1919, has mishaps and adventures of various kinds with adults, artists and refugees before eventually being jolted into its final form by the body blow of the merger with Parsons from 1970! So I told a messier, truer story, where what makes us new now, what (ideally) makes our newness more than mere novelty-seeking, is the fact that we bring together quite disparate legacies which have only recently begun cross-pollinating. The progenitor to Parsons started in 1896! The New School, I extemporized, is the "umbrella," the framework for pedagogical exploration and innovation, but the family is bigger and more complicated than that.
Since these were students I was talking to, I also wound up emphasizing the contributions students have always made to this experiment. Before showing the always popular student updatings of the Orozco mural's now stodgy-seeming "Table of Universal Brotherhood" I talked about Gerda Lerner, whom we celebrate for having taught the first college course on women in American history in 1962. Our promotional story makes it seem like we reliably generate pathbreaking courses decade after decade from some central inspiration but the real story's more complicated, and more inspiring. Lerner's course was a trial balloon, and cancelled for low enrollment the first year it was offered - but The New School was willing to give it a second try, and then it flew. No central vision here, but an infrastructure for experimentation, and an awareness that change takes time. As important was knowing that Lerner was at the time a student here, completing her BA!

Monday, August 14, 2017

If the best is the enemy of the good, evil is the enemy of the wrong

A president shouldn't have to say "racism is evil." Indeed, saying it - not to mention two days after a racist rally set out to produce terror and mayhem, and generated the nation's first vehicular terrorist attack on a crowd of innocents - suggests he doesn't believe it. That's a word we reserve for the worst things, and this president clearly doesn't think racial thinking is one of the worst things.

"Evil" (as you know, this is something I've thought a lot about for a long time) names an outside threat, claiming for the namer a higher ground by fiat, an absolute purity. It arrests thought, silences opposition and undermes the possibility of engaging the vilified by anything but violent means.

Besides, this nano-president (I quite like that phrase used on "Morning Joe") depletes language by only ever using superlatives. He doesn't engage the middling world where we, and our moral reasoning, live. Reaching for hyperbole is what he does where others think.

Do you think he could just say "racism is wrong" - bringing it within the range of things that people like us might be implicated in, wittingly or unwittingly beholden to, might need to examine our hearts and lives for, might need to change our lives to address - and mean it? Make it a moral question, nor something safely metaphysical? Rejecting such moral reflection and self-awareness seems central to his political brand, and is central to his threat to our democratic culture.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Confronting white supremacy

It shouldn't need saying but it clearly does. White supremacy is America's besetting sin. It doesn't go away when denied but only goes deeper. It's deepened by suggesting parity between people bearing torches and Confederate and Nazi flags and those who show up to pray and protest in response. It's strengthened by the moral failure of a White House which normalizes domestic terrorism as part of some sort of long-term culture war, one where the white guys in polo shirts with tiki torches and Nazi slogans are just standing their ground... Shame. And sorrow. And resolve. We people who think we are white made this monster, as it has made us; it's our moral task to confront it. 

Friday, August 11, 2017

More kora

Perhaps I'm the only new yatri willing to supplement, perhaps supplant, my own Kailas kora experience with those of others. But how beautiful to keep discovering more, like this view, taken from the point, on the first day of the (three-day clockwise) kora, where you're closest to Kailas itself, shot by a non-PRC Chinese guy - his photo essay, "Kailash kora: washing away a lifetime's bad karma," is written in traditional characters: 岡仁波齊 轉山 . 洗盡一生的罪業 . Nice to be reminded that the part of the kora's sense of epic significance is the great variety of mountain formations you encounter on your way, including some that are so strangely shaped as to pretty much force you to tell some sort of story about them. This traveler has a good eye for these, and had great luck with weather and light. His 4.5 minute kora is worth a try.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

New yatris

My latest piece on Kailas (so far there have been a few talks, one five minutes long, and another soon to appear in a volume of photographs one of our party took last year) is going to be rather playfully structured. Its subject is people (including me) for whom Kailash, and the trip there and around it, don't have a set, given meaning, as arguably they do for those Tibetans who come circumambulate, and those Saivites who come seek darshan of the god. The experiences of these people - new yatris, I might call us - are worth considering, I argue, because there are more and more of us, and because negotiating between the needs and desires of the more fixed and the more exploratory visitors will be an increasing challenge as Kailash becomes a more accessible world religions tourist site.

This point is a little different from that of Alex McKay, who laments the 20th century framing of Kailas by "world-religions" discourse. It functioned before, as most sites in the Himalaya did, in much more local ways, defined by idiosyncratic "renunciates" and existing well beyond the reach of organized systems of ritual and scripture. The idea that Hindus and Buddhists have since time immemorial been making their way there is itself part of this modern framing, McKay argues. (It seems some think his argument exaggerated and wilfully ignorant of local-language literatures. I found my way to the new yatris - I originally called them "yatris of the future" - in part as a way of referring to McKay's historicizing without pretending to be able to assess it.)

Whoever the yatris of the past were, and of more distant pasts, more and more of the yatris of the future will be different from them. Even those who hail from the Hindu and Tibetan world will be engaged in something new, and understood in new terms (perhaps including heritage, nature, spirituality). But those from farther afield, from China, Russia, the West... we are the most uncontroversially new yatris. While some of us may be devotés of one of the historic traditions for which Kailash is important, most will be coming to a place known to have great spiritual significance for many other people. "You are trekkers," I will never forget a South Indian man in a red duffle coat passing me at Dolma La saying as he looked down from his pony, "we are pilgrims."

The "mountain sacred to four religions" description names the trekker's awareness, and I'm coming to think that only really means something for the new yatris. Old yatris encountered people from other traditions, sure; that's common enough across Asia. A few of them might have triangulated from this (the way Bernbaum thinks encountering different religious accounts of a place refreshes our depth experience of its "sacred mystery") but most were presumably some kind of uninterested inclusivist: others rightly sensed there was something going on here but didn't get the whole picture. There was nothing to learn from their misconception. (You wouldn't make the arduous trip just to find out if something was really going on there, if Shiva really had his abode there, if it really was the crystal palace of Denchog!) (On the other hand, this didn't mean the misconceptions of others were dangerous and needed rooting out, just uninteresting.)

The new yatri is a pluralist - which in many cases (as Tomoko Masuzawa forcefully argued) is universalism under another name, but might (also) include all manner of seeker openness. Each of the different takes on the mountain seems potentially significant, even if none of them can be taken as final. (The closest to final might be what each person gets from their encounter with the mountain.) The experiences of other yatris, new and old, are an object of fascination. Old yatris arrived with manuals telling them what a properly primed mind and heart would be permitted to perceive. The new yatri knows there are many manuals. She might think minds and hearts can be primed to perceive different realities, but hasn't come in search of only one of these realities.

Now have I any evidence for my claims, and especially for the gross generalization that all these "new yatris" have structurally similar experiences? Not a lot. But also not just nothing (or nothing but my own inchoate gut feelings). Since returning from my second kora last year I've watched more than my share of videos and read more than my share of accounts of other new yatris. With faux modesty I'll say I'm just discussing those which I found most interesting, but they should add up - as they have for me - to a vivid sketch of this emerging breed.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Eyes on the street

The flowers in our window box are comparing notes with the blooming Japanese pagoda/Chinese scholar trees down the street. Let's hope all beings keep watch over errant humanity in this frightening moment.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Rainy day

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Kailas again

(Photo from here)

I've recently read the account of a very special circumambulation of Kailash in 2006, the first (perhaps only) one performed by a western person doing full body prostrations. (The idea came not from her US teachers but from dakinis, she tells us.) It took her twenty-eight arduous but not lonely days, poignantly recorded in her diary. This is from Day 4, an expression of her hunger for the cosmic love which she ultimately finds everywhere - even in herself:

Two young women from Taiwan stopped, one in particular had so many questions, and the other one was quiet but attentive and kind. The one with questions asked if I was a Buddhist. I paused and said, "I'm everything." "That's a good sentence," she said.

Tracey Alysson, Dying & Living in the Arms of Love:
One Woman's Journey Around Mount Kailash (XLibris, 2012), 113

Saturday, August 05, 2017

City on a hill

What's this city? Why, it's the United States of America, in a "3-D" representation of our recent presidential election. Pretty cool, huh! I've been exercised over the way two-dimensional maps misrepresent electoral results (including the simplification of red/blue) for years, and this effort does a pretty good job of addressing the problems. By coding color to the margin of victory it adds some subtlety, but I still prefer maps which try to represent all voters, with a scale of purples. But that might be nostalgia nowadays, as the paucity of pinks and light blues here shows. In the absence of proportional representation (but the presence of gerrymandering), we can only expect less purple.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Ease on down

With a little teamwork, some of us local friends put on our own "rooftop cinema" tonight - one providing the rooftop, another the film, and me the projector. The movie, appropriately enough, was "The Wiz"!

Sound world

The Rubin Museum's "The World is Sound" exhibit makes the whole place into a wondrous sensorium. The central glass and steel staircase, whose six levels recalled the realms of rebirth to Donald Rubin, now resonates with sounds arising and sbsiding, coiling, pooling, ascending:

The centerpiece of the exhibition is Le Corps Sonore (Sound Body), an immersive, site-specific installation composed for the Rubin Museum’s iconic spiral staircase by the pioneering electronic sound artists Éliane Radigue, Laetitia Sonami, and Bob Bielecki. Ambient drone sounds inspired by Buddhist philosophy are “tuned” to the building, and will ascend and descend as visitors wind their way up the staircase. The subtlety and ephemerality of the sounds prepare the listener for understanding a core tenet of Buddhist philosophy, where music is a metaphor for change and impermanence.

The top floor, presided over by an exquisite statue of Milarepa listening, offers an immersive experience of the collective Om synthesizing the chanting of ten thousand visitors (yours truly included) earlier this year. Most captivating are Tibetan Buddhist objects whose lives involve sound which are brought to life - or at least to sound - by visitors' touching the wall next to them (for various sutras and mantras) or standing near them (for musical instruments used in ritual). And then there is this astonishing 19th century musical notation for a Kagyu propitiation ritual.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Buddhism for the times

My other Fall semester class, a first year seminar, covers some familiar territory and some new. It's called "Buddhist Modernism" and promises to explore the ways in which our time may be one of significant innovation among Buddhists - and not just "western Buddhists." One of our key texts will be the wonderful anthology Figures of Buddhist Modernity in Asia, which explodes the idea - not too far beneath the surface of many a western Buddhist innovator - that Asian Buddhism is hidebound and out of date. The "figures" profiled have revived, repositioned and reimagined local and transnational Buddhisms in fascinating ways within the contexts of Asian societies working out their own modernities.

The figure rather cheesily depicted above (pic from here) isn't in the book but he might be in my class: an old friend, who even once taught a course at Lang, now director of a path-breaking center marrying Buddhism and group therapy in Seoul, and the author of best-selling books in Korea and, increasingly, internationally. I hope he can Skype in!

Tuesday, August 01, 2017


I think it's happening - MOOC-enhanced "Theorizing Religion." I've mapped out a way we can spend four weeks (starting week 3) building a class knowledge of actual world religions and presenting our findings, all in a counterpoint with four classes I'll lead about classic theories, each culminating in a close reading of a passage in class. The historical sequence will go Hume (with early comparative religion and its politics), Schleiermacher (with the gendering of the invention of religion and the private sphere) and Feuerbach (a chance to talk about theology, anthropology and the "atheism" of religious experience). The texts discussed will be available to students, but their assigned work for these weeks will be the MOOCs, on which they'll give a report each of the four weeks, before a broader discussion of what religious literacy is, what "world religions" are, and how one extrapolates from knowledge of one tradition to others. I imagine the two threads - growing knowledge of Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity and of the "invention of religion' by modern theorists - might braid nicely as we go.

The first "classic text" students have to prepare for class will be Marx!