Teaching

TEACHING

I have taught at New College of Florida since 2016. Previously, I taught at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire (UWEC), at the University of Virginia (during graduate school), and at the School for International Training (SIT) as director and main lecturer for their Tibetan and Himalayan Studies Program.

These are some of the courses I teach regularly:

COVID-19: An Interdisciplinary Approach to the Pandemic

This Fall, I am coordinating together with my colleague Calin Murgu the course “COVID-19: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Understanding the Pandemic.” The course explores thecurrent COVID-19 crisis from a variety of disciplinary perspectives that include biology, epidemiology, data science, history, politics, economics, sociology, literature, ethics, religion, arts, and more. The course will try to understand the aetiology (causes) and epidemiology (spread) of the virus, the various national and global responses to the pandemic, its dramatic economic and political consequences, the ways in which we gathered data, analyzed it, and visualize it in order to understand the magnitude of the pandemic, the ways in which wealth, class, and race had an effect in the responses to the pandemic, and the way in which information (and misinformation) spread like the virus itself. The course will also explore the history of pandemics (from the black plague of the 14th century, to the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 80s), the rise of the germ theory of disease, the development of public health policies to respond to pandemics, ethical issues surrounding the response to a health crisis, the effects of religion in cultural, and personal responses to the virus, and the way in which art and literature have portrayed pandemics.

Buddhism

Who was the Buddha? Can you become a Buddha? Can there be a religion without God? Do we have a soul? (and what is the soul anyway?) What does it mean to be a Buddhist? Is rebirth possible? This course introduces students to the history, literature, doctrines, and rituals of Buddhism and will try to answer these questions (and more) from a Buddhist perspective. The course readings will emphasize primary sources: a biography of the Buddha fragments from canonical texts, the teachings of a Zen master (prone to yelling at and hitting his students), the life of the Dalai Lama, and the thoughts of a western scientist who decided to become a Tibetan Buddhist monk. These works will be read alongside a textbook and complemented by several films and documentaries about Buddhism.

Tibetan Buddhism

This seminar will explore Tibetan Buddhism as found in Tibet and the Himalayas. We will study the history, texts, doctrines, practices, and rituals of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition as lived and understood by a wide variety of actors: monks living in large monasteries, nuns fighting for full ordination, yogis practicing in solitary mountain caves, individuals performing pilgrimage to sacred places, etc. We will learn about the complex historical relationship between Tibet and China, about the life and the institution of the Dalai Lamas, and about the practice of sky burial. You will also read Buddhist scriptures, meditation manuals, ritual manuals, biographies, autobiographies, hagiographies, poetry, and philosophical treatises. No previous study of Buddhism is presumed, but you will need to have taken a previous course in religious studies or philosophy.

Buddhist Scriptures

The Buddhist scholar Paul Harrison wrote that “there is no such thing as the Buddhist canon.” One of the goals of this tutorial is to explore the meaning and implications of that statement, as well as to survey the richness and diversity of Buddhist scriptures. This tutorial will begin with a discussion of the status and nature of scripture in various religious traditions only to then focus on its unique understanding in the Buddhist context. The rest of the semester will be spent reading important scriptures to each of the major Buddhist traditions such as the Dhammapada, important to the Theravada tradition, the Diamond Sūtra, Heart Sūtra, and the Lotus Sūtra, central to the Mahāyāna tradition, and the Guhyasamāja Tantra and Hevajra Tantra, relevant to the Tantric tradition.

Chinese Religions

This class is a general introduction to the history, doctrines, and practices of the main religions of China, including Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism, popular religious practices and, in more recent times, Islam. In class, we will learn about important Chinese religious concepts such as ancestor cult, Dao (the Way), De (Virtue), Qi, and the Three Teachings, by reading important secondary literature on those topics, as well as some of the most important classics of Chinese literature, such as Confucius’ Analects, the Daodejing, Zhuangzi, the Lotus Sutra, and even the writings of Mao Zedong.

Japanese Religions

This course is an introduction to the study of Japanese religions such as Shinto, Buddhism, as well as various forms of Popular Religion. The class will explore the myths and practices or early Shinto, the impact and transformations of Buddhism in Japan, including the development of unique schools of Zen and Pure Land Buddhism, the relationship between folk practices and institutional religion, the emergence of Nichiren Buddhism, the use of Shinto in the modern era to shape Japanese sense of national identity, and the emergence of new religious movements in Japan. We will also look at the impact that religion has had in art, architecture, performance arts, modern cinema, and even Manga.

Buddhist Meditation

In this class, we explore the history, doctrines, and practices of a wide variety of Buddhist contemplative systems, from the very early Buddhist meditative practices as found in early scriptures, to the modern Mindfulness movement popular in the United States. The class will also include a small contemplative session in each class (5-10 minutes), and you will be required to practice on your own for a minimum of 5 minutes every day during the semester. The course will ask questions such as what is meditation? What are its main goals? What does meditation can teach us about how the brain works? What can modern neuroscience reveal about the inner workings of meditation?

Hinduism

This course is an introduction to the rich and diverse religious traditions that have been labeled “Hinduism.” Thus, we will explore the history of Hinduism from its very early developments to its present day. We will read important scriptures, such as the Vedas, the Upanishads, and the Bhagavad Gita. We will explore its rituals and festivals. We will discuss Hinduism’s social structure (the caste system), as well as its notions of gender. We will also explore Hinduism from the perspective of those who are not always represented in traditional historical accounts (lower castes, outcasts, women, etc.). During the course, we will also watch several documentaries, movies, and even read some fiction that will allow us by the end of the semester to have a complex and nuanced sense of the history, doctrines, and practices of Hinduism. No previous study of Hinduism is presumed, but you will need to have taken a previous course in religious studies or philosophy.

Religion and Popular Culture

What can the AMC show The Walking Dead and HBO’s True Detective tell us about existential philosophy and the idea that God may be dead? What can the irreverent (and extremely intelligent) humor of South Park tells us about the role of religion in society? How does Paul Thomas Anderson’s movie The Master explore the complex nature of the founder of a new religious movement (and what is the difference between a charlatan and a savior?) How does the recent success of Superhero movies reflect the hopes, fears, and anxieties of a post 9/11 world? What can Tony Soprano (of HBO’s The Sopranos), and Walter White (from AMC’s Breaking Bad) tell us about the dark side of human nature? The main goal of this course is to discuss these and many other important religious and philosophical questions as explored in contemporary popular culture. Popular culture will also be a gateway to our reading of important religious and philosophical works, from the Book of Revelations to Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

Asian Philosophy and Religion

The goal of this course is to introduce students to Asian philosophical thought through the study of classic as well as contemporary philosophical and religious texts from India, China, Tibet, and Japan. The course wants to explore traditional philosophical issues such as the nature of reality, the existence of God, the origin of the universe, the nature of the self, ethics, etc. from a non-Western perspective. Throughout the course, you will read texts like the Upaniṣads, the Bhagavad-gītā, Confucius’ Analects, the Daodejing, Buddhist works by Nagarjuna, Shantideva, and the 14th Dalai Lama, and many others.

Theory and Methods in the Study of Religion

This course will introduce students to the academic study of religion. We will explore topics and themes such as doctrine, ritual, scripture, mysticism, pilgrimage, gender, and myth across various religious traditions, while also introducing methodological approaches to the study of religion, an interdisciplinary enterprise that calls upon a wide range of disciplines, such as anthropology, philosophy, psychology, sociology, and feminist theory. We will examine how some scholars have conceptualized “religion” (and the strengths and weaknesses of their approaches. Case studies will provide insights into how people have understood and explored religion across various historical time periods and cultures.

Introduction to the Study of Religion

This course will introduce students to the academic study of religion. We will explore some of the most important methodological approaches to the study of religion, an interdisciplinary enterprise that calls upon a wide range of disciplines, such as history, anthropology, philosophy, psychology, sociology, and feminist theory. We will examine how some scholars have conceptualized “religion” (and the strengths and weaknesses of their approaches). We will also approach the study of religion through a series of topics and themes (such as myth, scripture, the idea of god, ritual,  death and the afterlife, doctrine, scripture, sexuality, politics, violence, etc.), that will allow you to understand the various ways in which religion shapes human thought and culture. In each of those themes, we will use case studies that will provide insights into how people have understood and explored religion across various historical time periods and cultures. 

God(s)

The belief system of many people around the world is based on the notion (the existence!) of God. This course is an exploration of the history of the idea of God, and Gods, and Goddesses, from its very early emergence in the Paleolithic, to its development in civilizations such a Mesopotamia, and Egypt, to the emergence of the notion of a monotheistic God in the Ancient Near East, to the radical questioning of its existence (Buddhism, Existential Philosophy). The goal of the class is not to prove or disprove the existence of God(s), but to explore the history of the concept. This is a LAC as well as WEC (Writing Enhanced) course. No pre-requisites needed for this class.