RS 138B Catholic Practices & Global Cultures


Professor Ann Taves                                                                               Spring 2008                                                 TR 12:30-1:45, HSSB 3041

Office: HSSB 3085                                                         Reader: Robert Borneman         

Office Hours: Tu/Th 2:00-3:00


Course Description: An examination of the ways in which Catholic spirituality and religious practice have been shaped historically by the encounter with various cultures and traditions, e.g., classical Greek, Old Saxon (German), Chinese, Central African, Haitian, Nahua (Mexican), Lakota Sioux, and South Asian. 


The course is structured around eight historical case studies in which Christianity was translated from one language and culture into another.  In each case, we will engage both secondary literature about the process and primary practice-related texts that emerged out of the process of translation.  The following questions will structure our investigation of each of the cases:

  • Who were the various parties to the engagement in question?
  • What was their relationship to one another and to the context in which the engagement took place?
  • What did each of the parties bring to the engagement culturally and religiously?
  • How did what they brought to the engagement effect the nature of the interaction?
    • Out of the wealth of things from their culture/tradition that could have been highlighted, what was highlighted in the interaction in question?   Why that? 
    • What concepts were central to the translation from one culture to the other?
    • What is considered true and authentic by whom and for what reason?
    • How does the nature of the engagement look different from different standpoints within and between traditions and cultures?


Course Goals:  The primary goal of the course is to analyze and understand how the practice of Catholic Christianity has been shaped historically through inter-cultural and inter-religious engagement.  The design of the course assumes that the best way to get at this historically is through a close reading of texts and other cultural products generated by these encounters from the vantage points of the various cultures and traditions involved.  The course requirements are intended to develop your ability to analyze secondary materials in light of the course questions, to read primary texts closely in light of a range of secondary materials, and to present your ideas clearly and cogently. 


Course Requirements:

1)      Preparation for class and participation in class discussions.  To prepare for class, please write a 1-2 page paper outlining answers to the questions (listed above) in light of the background reading for each case study starting with the Saxon Savior (for a total of six short papers).  These papers will be due in class each Tuesday, beginning with Week 3.  The six papers by non-specialists (see #2) will be worth 5 points (0-2 = no credit, 3 = satisfactory, 4 = good, 5 = excellent).  You may revise and resubmit one paper for an improved score.

2)      Participation in a team of specialists.  While everyone will read and discuss all of the cases, you will be asked to probe one of the cases more deeply and serve as a member of a team of specialists the week we discuss the case you have explored in more depth.  The team of specialists will be responsible for the supplementary readings for their case.  The team presentation will include a 2-3 page paper on the questions plus brief reports on related topics.  These paper presentations will be assigned a letter grade.  The teams will meet with the instructor as a group or via email on the Friday before class to discuss the draft of their paper. 

3)      A 10-page final paper analyzing primary materials.  You may use the primary materials assigned for the case in which you specialized as the basis for your final paper or you may propose a paper using different primary materials from that cultural context.  (Although I expect that most of you will focus on one of the cultural contexts that we discuss in class, I am open to proposals for considering related processes in different cultures in which you may have a strong interest.) The paper may address the questions listed above in more depth or it may focus on a particular issue of interest to you.  I will ask you to turn in a proposal for your paper on or before May 22nd.



Short papers – 30% (six papers x 5 points)

Class presentation and related paper(s) – 25%

Final paper – 45%


Book Order

Justo Gonzalez, Church History: An Essential Guide.  RECOMMENDED for those with little background in the history of Christianity.  Order from Amazon.

Werner Jaeger, Early Christianity and Greek Paideia (Belknap, 2003).

G. Ronald Murphy, S.J. The Saxon Savior: The Germanic Transformation of the Gospel in the Ninth-Century Heliand (Oxford, 1989).

John K. Thornton, The Kongolese Saint Anthony (Cambridge, 1998).

Louise Burkhart, Holy Wednesday (Penn, 1996)

Damian Costello, Black Elk: Colonialism and Lakota Catholicism (Orbis, 2005).

READER, available from Grafikart, 6550 Pardall Road, Isla Vista (968-3575). REQUIRED.


Course Outline and Reading Assignments

4/01 (1.1) Introduction


Greek (4th century)

4/03 (1.2) Lecture and discussion of Jaeger, Early Christianity and Greek Paideia, 3-67, 68-102.

4/08 (2.1) Analysis of Gregory of Nyssa, Life of Moses, Book I: 1-22 and Exodus 1-3.

4/10 (2.2) Analysis of Gregory of Nyssa, Life of Moses, Book II: 1-41 in conjunction with O’Meara, Plotinus, pp. 100-13.


Saxon (9th century)

4/15 (3.1) Discussion of Murphy, The Saxon Savior, pp. 11-117.

4/17 (3.2) Analysis of Heliand, songs 16-19 and Matthew 5-6.  


Chinese (late 16th/early 17th centuries)

4/22 (4.1) Discussion of the introduction to Matteo Ricci, The True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven, 2-53. 

4/24 (4.2) Analysis of Ricci, The True Meaning, #16-20 (pp. 64-67), #445-468 (pp. 363-377), in relation to excerpts from the Spiritual Exercises and the Analects of Confucius. 


Kongolese (late 17th/early 18th centuries)

4/29 (5.1) Discussion of John Thornton, The Kongolese Saint Anthony.

5/01 (5.2) Analysis of the Salve Regina and Salve Antoniana (Thornton, 215-20)


Haitian (16th century to present; primary text is recent)

5/06 (6.1) Discussion of the relationship between Vodoo and Catholicism in Haiti.

Karen McCarthy Brown, “Afro-Carribbean Spirituality: A Haitian Case Study,” in Michel and Bellegarde-Smith, Invisible Powers: (2006), 1-26.

Hein Vanhee, “Central African Popular Christianity and the Making of Haitian Vodou Religion,” in Linda Heywood, Central Africans and Cultural Transformations in the American Diaspora (Cambridge, 2002), 243-64.

Terry Rey, “Kongolese Catholic Influences on Haitian Popular Catholicism,” in Heywood, 265-88.

5/08 (6.2) Analysis of the story of Marie-Carmel at Mass in Elizabeth McAlister, “The Madonna of 115th Street Revisited: Vodou and Haitian Catholicism in the Age of Transnationalism.”


Nahua / Mexican (16th century)

5/13 (7.1) Louise Burkhart, Holy Wednesday: A Nahua Drama from Colonial Mexico, introduction, pp. 1-100.

5/15 (7.2) Analysis of the Holy Wednesday play, lines 45-103 (pp. 134-63), plus commentary on lines 46-84 (pp. 211-44).


Lakota (late 19th/20th centuries)

5/20 (8.1) Damian Costello, Black Elk: Colonialism and Lakota Catholicism, 1-90.

5/22 (8.2) Analysis of Black Elk’s vision (Costello, 91-132; DeMallie, Sixth Grandfather, 111-42).



Indian / Hindu (late 19th/20th centuries)

5/27 (9.1) Lipner, The Writings of Brahmabandhab Upadhyay, xiv-xlvi.

5/29 (9.2) Analysis of selections from Upadhyay’s writings, I: 1-27, 125-38, 213-17.


Catholicism and Cultures Post-Vatican II (post-1960s)

6/03 (10.1) Jacques Dupuis, S.J., Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism (Orbis, 2001), 366-84.

“Dialogue between Konig and Dupuis, July 16, 2003,” National Catholic Reporter, March 21, 2008.

6/05 (10.2) Wrap-up

Supplementary Readings

  • Books are on regular reserve.
  • Articles and entries from the Encyclopedia of Religion, 2nd ed. (2005) [ER2] are on electronic reserve (ERes).  Access ERes at  Course Number = RELI 138B. ERes Password = lima


Greek Culture:

  • Mahherbe & Ferguson, “Introduction” to Gregory of Nyssa/Life of Moses, 1-23.
  • Dominic O’Meara, Plotinus: An Introduction to the Enneads.
  • “Plato” and “Platonism,” in ER2.
  • David L. Balas, Metousia theou: Man’s Participation in God’s Perfections according to Saint Gregory of Nyssa, 110-120 (on LM II: 22-25).


Old Saxon Culture:

  • “Germanic Religion: An Overview,” ER2.
  • “Germanic Religious Customs,” Appendix 1 in Murphy, The Heliand, 199-200.
  • “Germanic Social Ties & Personal Loyalty,” Appendix 2, 201-203.
  • “Magic in the Heliand,” Appendix 3, 205-219.
  • James E. Cathey, ed. Hêliand: Text and Commentary.  This is the critical edition of the text with appendices that will help you decipher the Old Saxon.
  • Russell, The Germanization of Early Medieval Christianity, 134-214.


 Chinese Culture:

  • “Confucianism: History of Study,” ER2.
  • Paul Rule, K'ung-tzu or Confucius?: the Jesuit interpretation of Confucianism (1986).


Kongolese Culture:

  • John K. Thornton, “Religious and Ceremonial Life in the Kongo and Mbundu Areas, 1500-1700,” in Linda Heywood, Central Africans and Cultural Transformations in the American Diaspora, pp. 71-90.
  • John K. Thornton, “The Development of an African Catholic Church in the Kingdom of Kongo, 1491-1750,” Journal of African History 25 (1984): 147-67.


Haitian Culture:

  • Leslie Desmangles, The Faces of the Gods: Vodou and Roman Catholicism in Haiti (North Carolina, 1992).
  • Donald J. Cosentino, The Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou (California, 1996).


Nahual/Mexican Culture:

  • David Carrasco, “The Religion of the Aztecs,” in Religions of Mesoamerica, pp. 58-91.
  • Jaime Lara, City, Temples, Stage: Eschatological Architecture and Liturgical Theatrics in New Spain (Notre Dame, 2004).
  • Jaime Lara, “The Sacramental Sun: Solar Eucharistic Worship in Colonial Latin America,” in Gomez and Casarella, eds, El Cuerpo de Cristo (1998), 261-91. 


Lakota Culture

  • DeMallie, The Sixth Grandfather.
  • “Lakota Traditional Religion,” ER2.


Indian / Hindu Culture:

  • “Vedānta,” ER2.
  • “Śańkara,” ER2.
  • G. Gispert-Sauch, S.J., “The Sanskrit Hymns of Brahmabandhab Upadhyay,” Religion and Society 19 (1972).
  • Mathew Schmalz, “Ad Experimentum: The Paradoxes of Indian Catholic Inculturation,” in Barnes, ed. Theology and the Social Sciences, 161-180.

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