REL 590.001

Capstone Grad Seminar (Required)

R | 1:30-3:20

PRH 210

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This required seminar is devoted to the topic of origins, i.e., the manner in which either the recent or the distant past is used to authorize contemporary forms of social life. Complicating how scholars talk about the past and the often foundational role that competing representations of the past play in the present requires a shift in viewpoint, constantly examining the discourse on origins rather than on the purported origins themselves. Using contemporary scholarship to develop this critical posture toward origins, and illustrating it via a series of recent films (on such topics as authenticity, narrativity, and nostalgia), the course concludes by inviting students to apply this critical shift to better understand an ongoing and at times heated debate in contemporary US culture and politics.

Russell T. McCutcheon

Marjoe Gortner at a tent revival
Books are available at the SUPe Store and online through vendors such as


Students are expected to obtain a copy of the 4 small required books for the course; the articles will be provided as PDFs.


– Jean Baudrillard, The Gulf War Did Not Take Place (Indiana UP, 1991 [1995])
– Russell T. McCutcheon (ed.), Fabricating Origins (Equinox 2015)
– Salman Rushdie, The Wizard of Oz (British Film Institute, 2001)
– Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (Beacon Press, 1995)


– Aaron W. Hughes and Russell T. McCutcheon, “Origin,” in Religion in 50 Words: A Critical Vocabulary, 181-186. Routledge, 2021.
– Bruce Lincoln, “Mythic Narrative in and Cultural Diversity in American Society,” in Myth and Method, 163-176. University of Virginia Press, 1996.
– Russell T. McCutcheon, “Magic of the Melancholy: Shifting Gears in the Study of Religion,” in Fabricating Religion: Fanfare for the Common e.g., 141-160. Walter de Gruyter, 2018.
– J. Hillis Miller, “Narrative,” in Critical Terms for Literary Study, 66-79. University of Chicago Press, 1995.
– Brian Sponner, “Weavers and Dealers: The Authenticity of an Oriental Carpet,” in The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective, 195-235. Cambridge University Press, 1986.
– Hayden White, “Value of Narrativity in the Representation or Reality,” Critical Inquiry 7/1 (1980): 5–27.
– Vaia Touna, “Traditioning Acts of Identification: The Case of Greek ‘Traditional’ Villages,” in Fabrications of the Greek Past: Religion, Tradition, and the Making of Modern Identities, 116-139. Brill, 2017.