Beliefs about what a human being is—and isn’t—lie at the root of all religious traditions and also of secular ideologies. This course explores the ways that different religious and cultural communities have conceptualized human nature, and how those understandings are reflected in diverse forms of personal identity and ways of organizing public life. Readings will include historic and contemporary texts, and case studies from places including India, Nepal, and the USA. We will structure our inquiries around three thematic questions: (1) How do religious beliefs and practices shape the way that individuals and societies understand what it is to be human? (2) How do these beliefs manifest in seemingly unrelated areas of life such as personal aspirations, gender ideals, social structures, political institutions, and economic ideologies? (3) How do we know what we know about these things—i.e., what theories and methods do scholars use to understand other societies and also their own? This course also involves an experiential component that allows students to undertake original research.