273 – Graphic Religion

Ken Koltun-Fromm
Gest 201
Office hours: Monday/Wednesday, 2:15-3:15 pm
610-896-1026 (office); 610-645-8324 (home)

Spring, 2017
Monday/Wednesday, 12:45-2:15
Hall 201


This course will scrutinize multiple visual “texts” (film, photography, graphic novels, and other plastic arts) to uncover the ethical obligations, moral commitments, theological convictions, individual attachments, and communal duties that arise in seeing religion. This visual, religious exposure raises more than moral dilemmas; it also theorizes vision by exploring what it means to see religion in these sorts of ways. We want to think well about a form of visual optics that enlightens both the religious texts and the theories of religion that locate these works as religious. The ethics of religious vision reveals how seeing religion is a normative mode of categorization, boundary maintenance, identification, and preservation. Borders of this kind are not only drawn, they are also seen. We will study these issues by negotiating our own borders of analysis: 1) Idols, Icons, Identity; 2) Trauma, Violence, Community; 3) Seeing Scripture; and 4) Gender, Race, Class.


  • Preparation: Attendance and preparation for class discussions are required and necessary. Students should be fully prepared to engage the course material, and offer reflective comments on the reading assignments and the comments by students in class.
  • Class Presentation: Each student will present reading materials for class discussion twice during the semester. Students should take 10 minutes to, 1) summarize the main argument of the text(s) read for that day’s class, and 2) focus our attention on one particular issue, question, or problem raised by the text(s).
  • Papers: Students will write two five-page papers (due Friday, February 17 and Friday, March 31) that engage the critical, ethical analysis of graphic religion, and a final twelve-fifteen page paper due at the end of finals week that explores a particular ethical issue in religious representation. The first five-page paper may be rewritten and turned in for a revised grade. These papers will encourage close textual and visual analysis, and cover a spectrum of religious expressions and traditions.
  • Films: The Religion department is hosting a religious film series during the semester. Each student in Graphic Religion must view at least two films and write a short 1-2 page response paper that will not be graded. These films replace two classes that I am canceling during the semester. All films will be shown in Gest 101 at 4 pm.
    • Devil’s Playground (February 5)
    • A Serious Man (February 26)
    • Witness (March 19th)
    • When we were Kings (April 2)
    • Go Tigers (April 23)
  • Grading: Student final grades will be based on the above assignments, with significant weight placed on engagement in class discussions. I do not evaluate each task with percentage accuracy (student final papers are not worth, for example, 30% of the class grade), but I instead examine all student work as a piece, and provide a grade that I hope fairly expresses the work and attention rendered to the class assignments, student peers in class, and class participation. This process also allows me to take into account improvement over the course of the semester. I have posted a Grading Rubric for Papers as a reference guide as you write your own papers. All requests for extensions must be first vetted by your academic dean. If your academic dean believes your request is reasonable, the dean will then pass that request onto me for my consideration. Facing too much work is not an excuse for an extension.

    My Policy on Technology in the Classroom

    You must bring all readings to class and be prepared to read, cite, and engage those texts in the class. Some of you may prefer to bring in computers or other technology to access these readings (instead of printing them out as hard copies). For those who wish to use computers or other devices in the classroom, you may not use those devices for anything other than engaging in and committing to the class. When we step into the classroom, we become a community of intellectual learners, and this community requires commitment and attention. If computers or other technical devices interfere with that learning process then I will no longer allow those devices in the classroom. This means that if your use of a computer or similar device prevents you or any of your peers from fully engaging the class, then you will be required to remove your device from class. Only under special conditions, previously discussed with me, may you use a cell phone for communication in the classroom; normally these devices must be turned off or left outside the room. The basic premise is this: when technology enables intellectual commitment to the seminar, then we should use it; when it undermines that commitment, we should leave it alone. Please come and see me if you have concerns about using technology in the classroom.


    Haverford College is committed to supporting the learning process for all students. Please contact me as soon as possible if you are having difficulties in the course. There are also many resources on campus available to you as a student, including the Office of Academic Resources (https://www.haverford.edu/oar/) and the Office of Access and Disability Services (https://www.haverford.edu/access-and-disability-services/). If you think you may need accommodations because of a disability, you should contact Access and Disability Services at hc-ads@haverford.edu. If you have already been approved to receive academic accommodations and would like to request accommodations in this course because of a disability, please meet with me privately at the beginning of the semester (ideally within the first two weeks) with your verification letter.

Required Texts

Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida
Art Spiegelman, The Complete Maus
Craig Thompson, Blankets (Amazon)
Arnold Eagle, At Home only with God (Amazon)


Fields of Seeing

Week One

  • Wednesday, Jan 18
    • Introduction to course
    • Craig Thompson, Habibi, Sacrifice of Isaac/Ishmael, 47

Week Two

  • Monday, Jan 23 (Ken)
    • W. J. T. Mitchell, “What is an Image,” 7-46
  • Wednesday, Jan 25 (Steve)
    • Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, 3-60

Week Three

  • Monday, Jan 30 (Danielle)
    • Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, 63-119
    • Michael Taussig, I Swear I Saw This, 1-20
  • Wednesday, Feb 1 (Emily)
    • David Morgan, “The Look of the Sacred,” 296-318
    • D. Fox Harrell, Phantasmal Media, 3-66
    • Tzadik Records
  • Thursday, Feb 2
    • Leela Corman visit at 4 PM (Thomas Room 224, Bryn Mawr)
  • Sunday, Feb 5
    • Devil’s Playground (Gest 101 at 4 pm)

Idols, Icons, Identity

Week Four

  • Monday, Feb 6 (Justin)
    • Jamal Elias, Aisha’s Cushion, 1-26, 284-289
    • Diana Eck, Darsan, 3-22
    • Talk about first paper
  • Wednesday, Feb 8 (Francesca)
    • Jean-Luc Marion, The Crossing of the Visible, 19-33, 54-68, 75-87

Week Five

  • Monday, Feb 13 (Daniel)
    • Moshe Halbertal and Avishai Margalit, Idolatry, 1-8, 37-66
  • Wednesday, Feb 15 (Mason)
  • Friday, Feb 17
    • First paper due, 5 pm
      • This paper should examine the issue of representation through a close reading of one of our theoretical texts. You need not look past or beyond that text, but you may use other sources read in class (you could draw upon texts outside our reading list, but you need not do so). You want to explore an issue in representation, and offer a critical reading of it, either focusing on passages within your chosen text (Barthes’ Camera Lucida, for example) or by reading one text or image (say Fox Harrell) through the lens of a theory of representation (say Barthes’ notion of studium–perhaps the notion of studium is a helpful way of understanding Fox Harrell’s notion of phantasm). You want to convince me how to read that text or that issue, and link your claims to your critical reading (you don’t want me to write “how do you know this” on the margins of your paper).

Trauma, Violence, Family, Community

Week Six

    • Monday, Feb 20 (James)
      • Art Spiegelman, Maus, 5-25, 100-106, 159-176, 201, 258-260, 273-277, 293-296
      • Marianne Hirsch, Family Frames, 17-40
    • Wednesday, Feb 22 (Hannah)
      • Arnold Eagle, At Home only with God
      • Other photographic books (?)
    • Sunday, Feb 26
      • A Serious Man (Gest 101 at 4 pm)

Week Seven

  • Monday, Feb 27 (Hannah and Elly)
    • Craig Thompson, Blankets (read as much as you can)
  • Wednesday, March 1 (James and Danielle)
    • The Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi, chs. 1-14
    • Michael Allred, The Golden Plates

Week Eight: Spring Break

Week Nine

  • Monday, March 13
    • Student Projects
  • Wednesday, March 15
    • Student Projects
  • Sunday, March 19
    • Witness (Gest 101 at 4 pm)

Seeing Scripture and the Sacred

Week Ten

  • Monday, March 20 (Mason and Daniel)
    • Christopher De Hamel, The Book: A History of the Bible, 140-165
    • Colleen McDannell, Material Christianity, 67-102
    • Visit to Special Collections, Magill library
  • Wednesday, March 22 (Justin and Elly)
    • R. Crumb, The Book of Genesis Illustrated, chapters 1-22

Week Eleven

  • Monday, March 27
    • No class
  • Wednesday, March 29
    • Michael Berkowitz visit
    • Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” 19-55
    • Michael Berkowitz public talk (4:15)
  • Friday, March 31
    • Second paper due, 5 pm
      • This paper should examine how a primary text represents religion. That text should be one of the following:  Spiegelman’s Maus, Eagle’s At Home Only with God, Thompson’s Blankets, Allred’s Book of Mormon, Crumb’s Genesis, or an illustrated Bible.  You need not look past or beyond that text, but you may use other sources read in class (you could draw upon texts outside our reading list, but you need not do so). You want to explore an issue in religious representation, and offer a critical reading of it. You want to convince me how to read that text/image or that issue, and link your claims to your critical reading (you don’t want me to write “how do you know this” on the margins of your paper).
  • Sunday, April 2
    • When We were Kings (Gest 101 at 4 pm)

Gender, Race, Ethnicity

Week Twelve

  • Monday, April 3 (Francesca)
  • Wednesday, April 5 (Emily)
    • Marie Griffith, Born Again Bodies, 1-21, 110-159

Week Thirteen

Student Readings and Presentations of Final Projects

Week Fourteen

  • Monday, April 17
    • McDannell, “Christian Retailing,” 222-269
  • Wednesday, April 19
    • Primiano, Mother Divine
    • Primiano, Father Divine
  • Sunday, April 23
    • Go Tigers (Gest 101 at 4 pm)

Week Fifteen

  • Monday, April 24
    • Student Presentations
  • Wednesday, April 26
    • Student Presentations
  • Final Papers
    • (Friday May 12th at 12 pm; Saturday May 6th at 5 pm for seniors)