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WORLD RELIGIONS: WISDOM AND COMPASSION
Prof. John Cort Fall 2000
This course is an introduction to the study of religion by looking at three of the world's major religious traditions. We will examine both "non-Western" religious traditions (Buddhism and Hinduism) and a "Western" religious tradition (Christianity), but we will see that the study of these traditions challenges any easy distinction between "West" and "non-West." This course is NOT a survey of the religions of the world. Instead, in this course we will begin to consider the ways in which we study religion. What questions do we ask? What materials do we investigate? How do we understand the religious experiences of people of other times and other places? How do we understand our own religious experiences? This course places the academic study of religion firmly within the liberal arts curriculum, and we will be learning what it means to study religion within that context. Our study will be based on the simple observation that human beings have expressed themselves religiously in a great many ways, so much so that there is no single adequate definition for the term "religion." This diversity will be one of the primary themes of this course. Another theme is that we will study religion not so much as something people "think" or "believe" as something that people "assume" and "do." We will explore aspects of the worldviews that underlie and inform the religious lives of Buddhists, Christians, and Hindus. By worldview I refer to the understandings of the cosmos, divinity, the nature of the human individual, and the interworkings of the three. In trying to understand these worldviews, we will be concerned with the following set of questions: What does it mean to live as a Buddhist, Christian, or Hindu? What does one do if one is a Buddhist, Christian, or Hindu? How does being a Buddhist, Christian, or Hindu shape one's life? Human beings are by nature social. We live in society. Culture, defined by the Random House Dictionary as "the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to the next," is what distinguishes human beings from other species. Religion, therefore, as part of cultural experience, is social. Our sense of community is often based on religion. In the Buddhist religious world, we are therefore called upon to cultivate and practice compassion. At the same time, many religious experiences are profoundly personal. Religion is part and parcel of how we "make sense" of the world. Buddhists would say that this is part of the process of cultivating and practicing wisdom. This dynamic interaction between religion as a personal phenomenon and religion as a social, cultural phenomenon will be another theme in this course.
All textbooks, and most selections from the reader, are also on reserve in the library.
William Paden, Religious Worlds (second
Reader of photocopied articles:
John S. Strong (translator), The Experience of Buddhism selections)
Jiyu Kennett, Selling River by the Water (selections)
Sallie King (translator), "Awakening Stories of Zen Buddhist Women"
"What is the Monastic Life?"
Debra Campbell, "The Catholic Earth Mother: Dorothy Day and Women's Power in the Church," in Nancy Auer Falk and Rita M. Gross (editors), Unspoken Worlds: Women's Religious Lives
Edward C. Dimock, Jr., "Doctrine and Practice among the Vaiavas of Bengal," in Milton Singer (editor), Krishna: Myths, Rites, and Attitudes
In class examinations:
Friday, October 6
Monday, November 6
Wednesday, December 6
Christianity fieldwork report (due Wednesday, November 1)
Informed participation and regular written response papers
PROVISIONAL CLASS SCHEDULE
Part I: Developing an approach to the study of religion. Introduction to the study of the world's religions:
some basic issues, approaches, and attitudes. What do we study when we study religion? How do we study religion?
Monday, August 28
Wednesday, August 30
Friday, September 1
Monday, September 4
Wednesday, September 6
Monday, September 11
Wednesday, September 13
First in-class examination
* * * * * * *
Part II: ZEN BUDDHISM
Friday, September 15
Monday, September 18
Wednesday, September 20
Friday, September 22
Monday, September 25
Wednesday, September 27
Friday, September 29
Monday, October 2
Wednesday, October 4
Friday, October 6
* * * * * * *
PART III: CATHOLIC CHRISTIANITY
Monday, October 9
Merton, Wisdom, pp. 3-24
Friday, October 13
Merton, Wisdom, pp. 55-81
Day, Parts I and II
Women's Power in the Church" (in reader)
Day, Part III
Monday, October 23
Wednesday, October 25
Thursday, October 26
Victor Sogen Hori, "Expressing the Unspeakable: The Zen Koan"
Slayter Auditorium, 8:00 p.m.
Wednesday, November 1
Friday, November 3
Monday, November 6
PART IV: HINDUISM
Wednesday, November 8
pp. 13-17, 22-24, 29-49, 54-55, 80-107, 114-116
Yoga, pp. 1-43
start reading Narayan
Monday, November 13
Wednesday, November 15
Friday, November 17
Monday, November 20
Monday, November 27
Wednesday, November 29
Friday, December 1
Monday, December 4
Wednesday, December 6
Friday, December 8
At least once, and sometimes twice, each week throughout the semester you will be responsible for a one- or two-page written paper in response to the required class readings or films. These papers will form a basis for classroom discussion of the material, and so are due in class on the day assigned.
You will be given general directions for each response paper in advance. At the same time, the response papers are an opportunity for you to engage the course material in a way that enables you to achieve greater clarity concerning your own thoughts, and so there is no "right" or "wrong" response.
These assignments will be not be graded for either content or style, but I will make comments on them. If you hand in the paper in class, you will receive a grade of 4. If the paper is late for any reason, except those verified by a written note from Health Services or a Dean, you will receive a grade of 1. Late response papers will be accepted for one week after the due date. If you do not hand in a paper, you will receive a grade of 0. If it is obvious that you have not done the assignment, and are handing in a paper based on nothing but your own ingenuity and imagination, in all likelihood you will receive a 0. If you hand in every response paper on time throughout the semester, your grade for this portion of the course will automatically be an A.
As a favor to me, I ask that you type and double-space
the response papers. This will serve two beneficial functions for you as
well: by typing the papers, you will have an easily accessible record of
your responses from throughout the semester; and you will learn the valuable
skill of being able to compose a paper at the keyboard. Papers that are
handwritten, however, will not be penalized.