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Amer Latif

The study of religion at Marlboro College is viewed as an inherently interdisciplinary endeavor. The students are therefore encouraged to take courses in all the fields of study offered at Marlboro. While a text-based study of the Bible, for example, might utilize tools of literary and historical criticism, the study of religious rites and ritual will greatly benefit from the insights provided by theories of performance generated in the dramatic arts. The investigation of religious worldviews as coherent systems would benefit from a background in logic and mathematics, while courses in sociology will enable the student to understand the role religious ideas play in ordering and structuring societies.

Introductory and intermediate religious studies courses offered at Marlboro, through the use of historical, sociological, ethnographical, theological and philosophical materials, are designed to clarify the interdisciplinary nature of religious studies. Advanced courses in religious studies are designed to foster a deeper engagement with the subject matter by focusing on a specific theme, such as mystical theology, or a particular religious figure, such as Jalaluddin Rumi.

My own research areas include Qur’anic studies, Sufism and Islamic philosophy. Marlboro’s religion program is particularly strong in Islamic studies and supports textual study for students with advanced language proficiency in Arabic, Persian, Urdu and Punjabi.

Areas of Interest for Plan-level Work:

  • Comparative study of religions
  • Literary theory
  • Hermeneutics
  • Function of myth and imagination in the construction of identity
  • The relationship between cosmology and spiritual psychology
  • Spiritual pedagogy
  • Intersection of religious law and ethics
  • Performative aspects of religious texts
  • Translation studies

Starting Points (Basic and Introductory Courses)

This course is an introduction to the scriptures of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Some of the topics to be covered include: the history of development and canonization, the role and function of these scriptures within Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities, major theological themes and various approaches to reading and interpreting these texts that have been employed in the past and in current critical scholarship. Prerequisite: None    Introductory | Credits: 4

This course offers a survey of biblical texts with an emphasis on close readings of selected passages. Portions of each class will be modeled after the monastic practice of lectio divina—a meditative tradition of engaging scripture through close, contemplative readings. Some class time will also be devoted to discussion-based exploration of the texts, allowing students to engage with the Bible on a literary and philosophical level. Each class will culminate by applying the practice of lectio divina to a non-scriptural text: a poem, piece of prose or an excerpt from a philosophical text. One of the goals of this course is to arrive at an enriched understanding of our reading methods through applying contemplative techniques to the process of literary analysis. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 2

This course is an introduction to the fundamental teachings presented in the foundational texts of Islam and elaborated in Islamic ritual, arts and literature. Our aim, through studying the Qur’an and the life and teachings of the prophet Muhammad, is to grasp the internal logic of the Islamic worldview and the vocabulary used to articulate the vision of Islam. This work will provide the basis for examining the divergence within later Muslim interpretations concerning questions of theology, human development and perfection, leadership and the organization of communities. This course is a pre-requisite for Introduction to Sufism. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 4

This class introduces students to the academic study of religion by examining the basic teachings of Hinduism and Buddhism concerning the nature of the world, the human being, causes of human suffering and the means whereby this suffering can be overcome. Special attention will be paid to the role of myths and their interpretation by different schools of Hindu and Buddhist thought and practice. Prerequisite: None Introductory | Credits: 4

This course examines inner aspects of religious faith and practice usually classified under the term mysticism. We will study examples from the Christian, Islamic and Yogic traditions, and some of the questions we will explore include: How do mystics define and describe their own endeavors? What are the techniques and disciplines employed in achieving the goals of this inner quest? If mysticism is seen as a path, then what is the nature of the inner path(s) and what kinds of challenges does it present to the seeker? And finally, what is the nature of mystical experience and is language sufficient to express realities that mystics claim to experience? Prerequisite: None    Introductory | Credits: 4

This course is a survey of basic religious and philosophical themes of the Hindu tradition. We will explore the schools of Yoga, dualistic Samkhya and non-dual Vedanta while paying special attention to the language of myth and symbol. We will also read accounts of Hindu worship and devotion in order to understand the extent to which religious ritual infuses the daily life of contemporary Hindus. In the second half of the course we will use this foundation to do close readings of The Bhagavad Gita and The Upanishads. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 4

An introduction to religious living through literature, original religious texts and psychology. The assigned readings will cover a few concepts and issues of religious experience, e.g. one and the many, reason and imagination, contextualization. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 4

This course will explore how the body is experienced and used to make sense of the world. We will begin the semester considering a range of issues having to do with the body: the symbolic and metaphorical body, the body in motion, body senses, the gendered body, the body politic, the body at the beginning and end of life, body parts. The final several weeks will be devoted to a consideration of the body understood in ritual contexts. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 4

Pursuing Interests (Intermediate and Thematic Courses)

This course surveys the following intellectual traditions within Islamic civilization: jurisprudence, theology, philosophy and theoretical Sufism. While we will examine the historical circumstances in response to which these traditions grew and developed, the main focus of the course is an investigation of the questions and concerns that have animated the writings produced by representatives of these traditions. These concerns include but are not limited to: the difference between reason and intellect; the nature of language and its implications for interpreting texts; debate regarding the status of knowledge attained through reason as opposed to revelation; what constitutes human perfection. Prerequisite: Introduction to Islam or Bible and Qur’an, or permission of the instructor     Intermediate | Credits: 4

This course examines the process of interpretation with a focus on exploring the assumptions about the nature of the text and the interpreting subject that underlie interpretive practices. Readings will consist of interpretations, modern and pre-modern, of scriptures and dreams with examples taken from various religious traditions. Prerequisite: Permission of the instructor     Intermediate | Credits: 4

Examination of available sources and current methodologies in the study of religion. Required for juniors on Plan in religion. Prerequisite: Plan in religious studies     Advanced |   Credits: 2

Writing seminar for seniors completing their Plan in religious studies. Prerequisite: Seniors on Plan in religious studies     Advanced | Credits: 1

This course examines the life and teachings of Jalaluddin Rumi (d. 1273), one of the most influential Muslim scholars, mystics and teachers in the Persianate Islamic world. We will study the historical and religious context in which Rumi grew up, his family history, his educational background, the writings of figures who played a key role in his transformation into a “friend of God,” and excerpts from his prose and poetry. After attempting to understand Rumi within his own cultural context we will examine the place of Rumi in contemporary American culture where he has become a best-selling poet. Topics to be covered include theology, modes of human knowing, the importance of revelation, relationship between outward observances and the inner path, sanctity, and the relationship between the spiritual guide and the seeker. In the last part of the course we will focus on problems of cultural translation as highlighted by Rumi's current popularity. Prerequisites: Permission of instructor     Advanced | Credits: 4

Good Foundation for Plan

For students wishing to make religion a part of their final Plans, Sources and Methods in the Study of Religion is a required course. This course, taken in the junior year, provides students an opportunity to critically reflect on the various approaches modern scholars have taken in studying religious phenomena. In addition, it also prepares students for the final Plan through introduction to available sources and the practice of research methods. This course provides students with the necessary resources to propose tutorials and to chart a course of study for their final semesters on Plan. In addition, all students completing a Plan in religion are required to participate in a Plan writing seminar throughout their senior year.

Sample Tutorial Topics

  • Place of Suffering in Christian Thought & Practice
  • Theosophy: Modern Western Mysticism
  • Islam and the Sufi Music Tradition
  • Mourning the Loss of God
  • Narrative Structure in the Mahabharata
  • Pilgrimage and the Religious Journey
  • Reading the Mystics
  • God, Gender, and Evangelical Christians
  • Life-Changing Events and Spirituality
  • Mystical Theology
  • Qur’anic and Classical Arabic
  • Understanding Christianity in the USA
  • Writing Feminist Theology
  • Traumatic Combat, Madness and the Soul
  • Women in Islam