Sacred Experiences in World Religions Syllabus

August 1, 2009

August 1, 2009

Prof. Mark A. Toole Telephone: Office: (336) 841-9323 ​Cell / Home (303) 813-9113
Course Description
This introductory course will explore the phenomenon of religion as found within numerous historical and cultural contexts. Topics that will be covered include definitions and possible meanings of the term “religion,” understandings and expressions of “the sacred,” ritual activity, the social character of religion, the problem of evil, religion & morality, and the quest for liberation / salvation. Although no single religious tradition will be treated comprehensively, materials from the following traditions will be selected to better examine the aforementioned thematic issues that animate the religious dimension of the human experience: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Shinto, Jainism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. We will be working with secondary scholarship (i.e. explanations and descriptions of religious phenomena), English translations of the respective tradition’s primary texts, as well as some films to examine many of the consistent characteristics that form what we call religion.

Goals for the course / Learning Outcomes
By the end of this course you should…
•have some critical understanding of what “religion” is taken to be.
•have developed more skills for thinking critically about the phenomenon of religion.
•have an understanding of some of the questions posed in the study of religion.
•have developed a basic grasp of the terminology employed in the study of religion.
•have a basic understanding of many different types of religious expression.
•have acquired the skills to begin persuasively communicating interpretations of religious expression.
•have developed a richer understanding of the central features and characteristics that animate at least one particular religious tradition.

5 Interpretation / Response papers (4pts each)​​ - 20 points ​(20% of final grade)
Classmate Interview - 5 points (5% of final grade)
Media Journal Project​​​​​ - 15 points ​(15% of final grade)
Midterm Thought Experiments​​​​ - 20 points​ (20% of final grade)
Single Tradition Project - 20 points ​(20% of final grade)
Final Examination - 10 points (10% of final points)
Attendance & Participation​​​​ - 10 points​ (10% of final grade)

Required Books
1. Cunningham, Lawrence S & John Kelsay. The Sacred Quest: An Invitation to the Study of Religion. 4th edition. (Pearson Prentice Hall, 2006) ISBN 0-13-192377-3

2. Urubshurow, Victoria Kennick. Introducing World Religions.
(Routledge, 2008) ISBN 0-415-77270-2

* Indicates required photocopied readings on reserve at Smith Library
Course Schedule and Outline
“R” = reading assignments that should have been completed for that week
It should be noted that this schedule is subject to change as the course progresses. Any changes (topics for the week, reading assignments, films) will be announced during preceding class periods.

Week One: August 25th & 27th​​​
Introduction & Toward a Definition of Religion
R: ​The Sacred Quest by Cunningham & Kelsay (henceforth referred to as SQ), Introduction & Chap. 1 (pp. 1-26); Introducing World Religions by Urubshurow (henceforth referred to as IWR) Preface & Chap 1 (pp. xviii-19)
• Introduction to the format of the course, readings, scope of our study, etc.
• Review syllabus, expectations, grading policy, etc.
• Question of what is “religion”?

Week Two: August 30th, September 1st & 3rd
The Nature of the Sacred
Due: Classmate Interview - August 30th
R:​ SQ, Chap. 2 (pp. 27-38); IWR, “Judaic Tradition” (pp. 61-64), “Christian Tradition” (pp. 93-95), “Islamic Tradition” (pp. 129-131), “Buddhist Tradition” (pp. 193-196), “Hindu Tradition” (pp. 230-235), “Chinese Traditions” (pp. 287-291), “Shintō Tradition” (pp. 322-325)​

Week Three: September 6th, 8th & 10th ​​
The Appearance of the Sacred
R:​ SQ, Chap. 3 (pp. 39-57); IWR, “Mecca: the Holy City” (pp. 153-154), “Encountering the divine through pilgrimage” (pp. 253-254), “Visiting a Shintō shrine” (342-343)
• Sacred Space – Case Study “Sacred Places”

Week Four: September 13th, 15th & 17th ​
R:​ IWR, “Exceptional Players” & “Historical Players” (pp. 48-54, 64-79, 132-147, 236-247, 291-305)
• People – Case Study “Naked in Ashes”

Week Five: September 20th, 22nd & 24th ​​
The Language of the Sacred
Due:​ First Interpretation / Response Paper - Sept 20th
R: SQ, Chap. 4 (pp. 58-75); IWR, “Judaic Texture” (pp. 79-83), “Christian Texture” (pp. 114-120), “Islamic Texture” (pp. 147-152)

Week Six: September 27th, 29th & October 1st
R:​ IWR, “Buddhist Texture” (pp. 213-222), “Hindu Texture” (pp. 247-253), “Sikh Texture” (pp. 277-281), “The Religious Texture of Chinese Traditions” (pp. 305-313)
• Text – Case Study “Secrets of the Koran”

Week Seven: October 4th, 6th & 8th ​​​
R:​ SQ, Chap. 5 (pp. 76-90); IWR, “Zoroastrian Performance” (pp. 56-59), “Judaic Performance” (pp. 83-89), “Islamic Performance” (pp. 154-160)
• Pilgrimage – Case Study “Islam Rising – Hajj: The Pilgrimage”

Week Eight: October 11th, 13th & 15th ​​​​
Due:​ Second Interpretation Paper - Oct 11th & Midterm Thought Experiments - Oct 13th
R:​ IWR, “Buddhist Performance” (pp. 222-225), “Hindu Performance” (pp. 253-258), “Shinto Performance” (pp. 341-343)​
• Practices – Case Study “Doing Time, Doing Vipassana”

Mid-Semester Break​ Oct 16th – 24th

Week Nine: October 25th, 27th & 29th​​​
Sacred Communities
R:​ SQ, Chap. 6 (pp. 91-107); *Daniel L. Pals, “Emile Durkheim: The Social as Sacred,” in Introducing Religion: Readings from the Classic Theorists, (pp. 99-116)
• Religious Community – Case Study “Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus”

Week Ten: November 1st, 3rd & 5th ​​​
Due: Third Interpretation / Response Paper - Nov 1
Research Workshop at Smith Library
• Religious Community – Case Study “Devil’s Playground”

Week Eleven: ​November 8th, 10th & 12th ​​
The Problem of Evil
R:​ SQ, Chap. 7 (pp. 108-124)

Week Twelve: November 15th, 17th & 19th​​
Religion & Morality
R:​ SQ, Chap. 8 (pp. 125-141); IWR, “The Challenge of Religion” (pp. 346-353)
• Rules of Behavior / Ethics – Case Study “Hell House”

Week Thirteen: November 22nd​
Due:​ Media Journal Project / Blog - completed Nov 22nd & Fourth Interpretation / Response Paper - Nov 22
R:​ *Paul Gwynne, “Ethics,” in World Religions in Practice: A Comparative Introduction (pp. 87-113)
• Evangelizing – Case Study “Jesus Camp”

Thanksgiving Holiday Break Nov 24th - 28th

Week Fourteen: November 29th, December 1st & 3rd ​
The Quest for Salvation
R:​ SQ, Chap. 9 (pp. 142-158); *Kristin Johnston Largen, “Liberation, Salvation, Enlightenment: An Exercise in Comparative Soteriology,” (pp. 263-274)
• Death / Rebirth – Case Study “To the Land of Bliss”

Week Fifteen: December 6th & 8th
Due:​ Single Tradition Project - December 8th & Fifth Interpretation /Response Paper - Dec 8th

Final Exam: ​(Consult exam schedule)

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