Introduction to World Religions

Religion has always been part of the human experience, with the power to shape everything from individual lives to the course of history itself. How do different faiths answer the profound questions of human existence? How does religion influence politics, culture, art? What are different ways to understand religion? Whether or not we count ourselves as part of a religious tradition, religious literacy is vital for thoughtfully and knowledgeably encountering the world around us.

In this course, students will explore the basic teachings and practices of several major faith traditions, including Judaism, Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, Christianity, Islam, and Sikhism. While it is impossible to learn about even a single religion comprehensively within one semester, the course will provide starting points upon which students can build their understanding, always keeping in mind the great diversity contained within each of the faiths. Students will read from foundational texts, discuss beliefs and rituals, learn about historical developments, and consider current varieties of religious expression and experience. There will be a particular focus on the American religious landscape so that, by the end of the course, the students will have gained a greater knowledge about the plurality of religious beliefs around them.

This course is taught from a nonjudgmental and academic point of view and will involve both lecture and discussion.

Live Classes: Tuesdays, 3:00 to 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time, from August 20th to December 17th. Students are expected to attend the majority of live sessions, although a recording will be made available if an absence is necessary.

Student Expectations: Students will need to read or watch assigned materials in preparation for the live classes and then participate actively in the class discussions. They will submit written responses to assigned prompts that are designed to help build understanding of some core practices and beliefs within each faith; these will be submitted through email. They will also be required to complete three short projects: (1) a wise person interview, (2) a research project on the religious landscape of the student’s community, and (3) a final short presentation on an approved topic of the student’s choice.

Student Support: The instructor is available by email.

Feedback/Assessment: Feedback will be provided on written responses and other substantial assignments. A narrative evaluation will be provided at the end of the course, with a letter grade option available upon request.

Materials/Supplies: The readings and videos for this course will be available online and will include passages from primary source texts, materials from Harvard University’s Pluralism Project, and articles provided by the instructor.

Prerequisites: Students should be able to read at a strong seventh-grade level and write in organized, thoughtful paragraphs. Additionally, students should be able to participate respectfully in discussions and be comfortable using the microphone and appearing on video during class.

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