SOCS 612
Religion, Science, and Empire

Peter Gottschalk

Course Description

The Age of Discovery not only coincided with the rise of European imperialism, it was abetted by it.  The development of modern science – and of modernity itself – depended in part on the expansion of Western political and economic control across most of the globe and the majority of its inhabitants.  Meanwhile, religion was integral to both the roots of European science and Western encounters of the rest of the world.  This class will explore how the intersections of religion, science, and empire have formed a globalized world with examples of European engagement with the Americas, Middle East, and, particularly, India from the age of Columbus through to today.


Juan Cole, Napoleon’s Egypt: Invading the Middle East

Christopher Columbus, The Four Voyages

Mohandas Gandhi, An Autobiography

Rubyard Kipling, Kim

Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

Edward J. Larson, Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate over Science and Religion


Course Schedule
Week 1 Paradigms

Kuhn, chs. I-XI

Week 2

Pre-modern paradigms and introduction to South Asia

Reader: Genesis
Reader: Richard Grant, “Science and Theology in the Middle Ages”
Reader: Babur, from Baburnama
Reader: Jahangir, from Jahangirnama

Week 3

Voyages beyond the realm of the known

Reader: Delno West & August Kling, “The Piety and Faith of Christopher Columbus”

Week 4

The entwined emergence of scientism, capitalism, and imperialism           

Reader: Marshall Hodgson           
Reader: Susanne Rudolph

Week 5 Invasion and the scientists


Week 6

The traveller’s gaze: the picturesque and “on the spot” painting

Reader: Fanny Parks
On-line: The Daniells

Week 7

Night in the museum: displaying nature and culture

Reader: Timothy Mitchell, “Egypt as the Exhibition”
Reader: Rambramha Sanyal, “The Aquarium” & “Round the Indian Museum”           
RAW paper outline due

Week 8

The Aryan myth and race theory           

Reader: Peter van der Veer
Reader: Susan Bayly
Reader: Herbert Risley, from The People of India

Week 9

The friend to the world           

Film: Jungle Book

Week 10

Gandhi’s body           

Reader: Joseph Alter
Reader: Jawaharlal Nehru

Week 11

Islam and science: incompatible paradigms?           

Reader: Sir Sayyid Ahmed Khan           
Reader: Sayyid Qutb           
Reader: Ayatollah Khomeini

Week 12

Science and religion at home: the Scopes Monkey Trial           

Website: The Creation Museum -

August 4 RAW paper due
Class Participation

This constitutes the most important part of the class because of the opportunity it affords you to discuss the issues that are of concern to you and hear those of others.  Class attendance is mandatory and students are expected to be punctual and participate in discussions.  The class presentation is included in class participation. 

The class presentation: Each student will be responsible for initiating discussion for one class.  S/he will accomplish this through a five-minute (ONLY!) presentation that analyzes any aspect of the day’s reading in the context of previous class readings, lectures, or conversations.  The student will conclude their presentation with a single, insightful question intended to prompt conversation.  No outside readings should be used.  This question must be emailed to the professor at least an hour before the beginning of class.


Two short paper assignments allow students the opportunity to respond to any two sets of readings during the semester.  Answer the question with particular emphasis on analysis (not description) in a paper only two to three pages long.  No quotes are allowed.  Write your name only on the back of the last page and do not bother with a cover page.  No collaboration with any other student, please.

RAW Papers

Each student will write one research, analysis, and writing (RAW) paper (2200-2600 words) on any approved topic that examines a specific example of the societal use of religion to resist some dimension of modernity.  Examples and sources must be other than those we’ve investigated in class.  The topic should be discussed with the teacher before work begins.  Papers allow you an opportunity to explore personal interests and develop writing skills.  These papers must be entirely original, fully footnoted, and include a bibliography.  They are graded for both style and content.  An outline with thesis statement and annotated bibliography of the paper is due on July 16.  Papers are due by August 4.  Students who fail to submit on time their outline, bibliography, or paper will lose points from their final paper grade.  BE SURE THAT YOU UNDERSTAND THE RULES of PLAGIARISM.  PLAGIARISM CAN RESULT IN AN IMMEDIATE FAILING GRADE.  Please write your name only on the back of the last page and do not bother with a cover page.

Basis of Grade

Of the 1000 points which compose a grade, participation constitutes 100 points, class presentation 100 points, reading responses 200 points each, and the RAW paper 400 points. 


Wesleyan University will make reasonable accommodations for persons with documented disabilities.  Students should provide documentation and schedule an appointment with the Office of the Dean of the College at least two weeks before services are needed.  In each class where a student requests academic accommodations, the student must meet with the faculty member teaching the course at least one week prior to the requested accommodation. PLEASE! Do not hesitate to discuss with me your needs for any accommodation.

Honor System

Students are expected to abide by the Honor System in regard to all work and participation in this class.  For details, see