Religion 301 W: WORLD RELIGIONS: Traditions in the Modern World

Samford University, Department of Religion, Fall 2003

Mon., Wed., Fri. 9:15 to 10:20am, 320 Chapman Hall

course website:

David R. Bains, Assistant Professor
325 Chapman Hall, phone: 726-2879, email:
Office Hours: Mon. 4:05-5:00pm, Tues. & Thurs. 2-4pm. If you cannot meet during these times, please let me know and we can set up an alternative.

Course Description:

Investigates the beliefs and practices of major world religions. Special attention is given to formative periods in their history and to their place in the modern world.

Learning Objectives:

The student will be able to:

  1. explain core beliefs and practices of major world religions.
  2. demonstrate how these beliefs and practices have been shaped and reshaped by the cultural context in which the religion has developed.
  3. show how the religious tradition has continued to develop and change in the modern and post-modern world.

Required Texts: (In roughly the order they will be read.)

Esposito, John L., Darrell J. Fasching, and Todd Lewis. World Religions Today. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Eck, Diana. A New Religious America : How a Christian Country Has Now Become the World's Most Religiously Diverse Nation. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001.

Al-Qur'an: A Contemporary Translation. Translated by Ahmed Ali. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988.

Malcolm X and Alex Haley. The Autobiography of Malcolm X. New York: Ballentine Books, 1965.

Lincoln, Bruce. Holy Terrors: Thinking about Religion after September 11. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.

The Bhagavad-Gita. Translated by Barbara Stoler Miller. New York: Bantam Books, 1986.

Nhat Hanh, Thich. Being Peace. Berkeley, Calif.: Parallax Press, 1988.

reading packet

Course Requirements:

Two mid-term examinations 20% each for a total of 40%. Study guides will be provided at least a week prior to each exam. Sample study guides from previous semesters may be available on the course web page. Exams will include objective questions, detailed term identifications, and essays.

Final examination 25% Same format as the mid-terms.

Research paper 15% On a topic of your choosing related to the course. See below for more detail.

Visit to a worship service or other event sponsored by a religious group being studied in this course 5%. See list on course web page for some suggestions. These visits should occur while we are studying the tradition you visit. You must turn in a 2 page report on your visit.

Short assignments, class discussion, class attendance. 15% Several short assignments related to the readings will be given during the semester. I may also give a few quizzes. These are not necessarily indicated on the syllabus.
Class time will be devoted to lecture, discussion, and some group activities. In order to participate in discussion, you must do the assigned reading. If you are not prepared for discussion, your grade will suffer. I don't expect you to understand everything you read; that is after all one of the reasons to discuss it. You should come to every class, however, with questions about what you didn't understand and about the implications of what you did understand.

Academic Integrity:

Students are expected to observe high standards of intellectual integrity. See the relevant section of the Student Handbook and the University Catalogue. Study groups are encouraged, but all work submitted in this class must be your own. Suspected lapses in academic integrity will be investigated and adjudicated in accordance with the University's values policy.

For information on the format of papers and citations see my handout "Guidelines for Essays in Religion."

Attendance and Grading / Department of Religion:

Roll will be taken each day. In a MWF class a student may miss six classes without penalty. After the seventh absence your final grade will be reduced one letter grade. After the ninth absence the student will receive an FA for the course. Three tardies count as one absence. If you come in after your name is called, you will need to notify your professor at the end of the class period, or else the tardy will become an absence. The Department of Religion grading scale is:

A= 100%-95%, A- = 94%-92%

B+ = 91%-88%, B = 87% - 85%, B- = 84%-82%

C+ = 81% - 78%, C = 77%-74%, C- = 73% - 70%

D+ = 69% - 66%, D = 65% - 63%, D- = 62% -60%

F = below 59%

Papers that are turned in after the set due date will be penalized one full letter grade for each week that they are late.

Samford University complies with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Students with disabilities who seek accommodations must make their request by contacting Disability Support Services located in Counseling Services on the lower level

of Pittman Hall, or call 726-4078. A faculty member will grant reasonable accommodations only upon written notification from Disability Support Services.

Research Paper: A 11-14 page paper is due on December 1. This paper should explore a modern or contemporary movement (i.e., eighteenth to twenty-first century) leader, or issue within one of the religions we have studied. Possible topics include but are not limited to:

Whatever topic you choose, you should focus on a particular movement or individual, or perhaps on a few different individuals with diverging issues on some view point. For example, if you are interested in Islamic Fundamentalism, you should focus on a particular group like the Jamaat-i-Islami in Indonesia, or a particular figure such as Sayyid Qutb.

There are several deadlines you must meet in writing your paper. Your performance on each of these transitional assignments will affect your grade on the paper.

Oct. 20 Topic and preliminary bibliography

Nov. 3 Thesis statement and complete bibliography

Nov. 21 Draft for peer review

Dec. 1 Final Paper.

FYI: A Few Major Religious Holidays occurring this Semester:

September 10: Mid-Autumn Festival (Chinese Religions)

September 26: Rosh Hashanah (The Jewish New Year, a solemn fast) begins at Sundown

October 5: Yom Kippur (Jewish Day of Atonement) begins at Sundown

October 10: Sukkot (Jewish festival of Booths) begins at Sundown, lasts seven days.

October 25: Diwali (Hindu Festival of Lights)

October 26: Ramadan (Islamic month of fasting during daylight hours) begins at Sundown

November 25: Eid-al-Fitr (Islamic festival at the end of the Ramadan fast) begins at Sundown

Class Schedule:

Dates are given for each unit. We will cover the topics in the order listed. Some topics will take less than a day, some more. It is your responsiblity to keep up with where we are and to stay ahead. I'll try to announce what you should read for the next class. For Wednesday. August 27, you should read all the pages assigned for the "Introduction" (i.e. World Religions Today, pp. 3-35). Key terms are provided in Unit I to guide your reading. I'll aim to add terms for later units to the on-line syllabus.

Readings in brackets ([ ]) are recommended, not required.

Introduction: What are religions? August 25-27

Definitions of religions–WRT, pp. 3-13

Religions as Questions vs. Religions as Answers–WRT, pp. 13-24

Modernity and Postmodernity–WRT, pp. 24-35

Key Terms: premodern, modern, postmodern, religare / religion, via analogia, via negativa, myths of nature, myths of harmony, myths of liberation, myths of history, socialism, fundamentalism, heretical imperative.

Unit I: Christian Encounters with Modernity and with Other Religions August 29 - September 5

Christianity and the Emergence of Modernity–WRT, Ch. 2, esp. pp. 37-45, 50-53, 55-60, 66-75, 80-83, 84-87, 89-100.

Key Terms: supersessionism, Constantinianism, Augustine's two cities, via moderna, devotio moderna, modernity, syncretism, colonialism, postcolonialism

Assignment: Due August 29. In a carefully crafted 2-page essay answer one of the following questions: Question 1 or 3 on p. 105 or "How have the theological claims and political ideologies of Christianity affected its relation to different religions and cultures?" Due in Class.

Christian Theologies of Religions
McDermott, Can Evangelicals [on soteriology] 39-44, [on revelation, most fully 43-119] 61-78, 110-119

Key Terms: unitive pluralist, radical pluralist, inclusivist, restrictivist, natural (general) revelation, special revelation, Melchizedek, revealed type

"Christian America?" Models of cultural responses to religious diversity–WRT, pp. 100-105 and Eck, A New Religious America, [pp. xiii - 25] pp. 26-77.

[For a critical review of Eck see Richard John Neuhaus, "One Nation Under Many Gods," review of Eck, A New Religious America, First Things, 116 (October 2001): 71ff. Available online at]

Key Terms: Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, establishment, tolerance, exclusivism, assimilation, melting pot, pluralism, Johnson-Read Act, Will Herberg, relativism

Assignment: Two good questions about the reading. Guidelines for good questions will be discussed in class.

Unit II: Judaism September 8- September 22

Introduction to Judaism–WRT, pp. 109-110, 120-129

Genesis 17:1-27, Genesis 32:22-32, Deuteronomy 5:1-6:25, Malachi 4:13-16, II Chronicles 36:15-23 Bring a Bible to Class

Rabbinic Judaism–WRT, pp. 129-155

Judaism and Modernity–WRT, pp. 155-163

in packet Pittsburg Platform (1885)

in packet Charles Liebman, "Religion and the Chaos of Modernity: The Case of Contemporary Judaism" in Neusner, Take Judaism for Example: Studies toward the Comparison of Religions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983). Reprinted in Neusner. Judaism in Modern Times. Pp. 93-98.

in packet Seymour Siegel, "The Meaning of Jewish Law in Conservative Judaism" in Siegel with Elliot Gertel, eds. Conservative Judaism and Jewish Law (New York: The Rabbinical Assembly, 1977), pp. xiii-xxvi. Reprinted in Neusner, Judaism in Modern Times. Pp. 115-122

Zionism and the Holocaust–WRT, pp.164-175, 111-119, 175-178

in packet Columbus Platform (1937)

in packet "A Statement of Principles for Reformed Judaism" (1999)

Jacob Neusner, "American Judaism of Holocaust and Redemption," chapter 8 of Judaism in Modern Times. Pp. 206-220.

in packet Ismar Schorsch, "The Sacred Cluster: The Core Values of Conservative Judaism"

[Christian and Jewish Dialogue: National Council of Synagogues and Delegates of the Bishops' Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, Reflections on Covenant and Mission,]

First Mid-Term--September 24

Unit III: Islam Sept. 26 - Oct. 22

Introduction to Islam–WRT pp. 181-188–Eck, 222-239

Muhammad and the Origins of Islam–WRT pp. 188-197

Al-Qur'an, Suras TBA

Spread and Division of Islam–WRT pp. 197-205

Law and Practice–WRT pp. 205-224

Islam in America–WRT pp. 252-260–Eck, pp. 243-251

African American Islam and the Post-Colonial Experience–WRT pp. 251-260–Autobiography of Malcolm X, [the entire book] pp. 129-389

Responses to Colonial Encounters with the West–WRT pp. 224-252; Lincoln, Appendix A, 93-98

Terrorism, Rhetoric and Religious Movements--Lincoln

Unit IV: Hinduism and South Asia October 24 - Nov. 14

Introduction to Hinduism–WRT, pp. 273-279–Eck, New Religions America, pp. 80-94

Vedic Hinduism–WRT, 279-282
in packet Gods of the Rig Veda

in packet Creation accounts, Rig Veda

Axial Age in India: Buddhism, Jainism, and Upanishadic Hinduism–WRT, pp. 282-289, 358-365

in packet "Sixth Prapathaka," Chandogya Upanishad

Second Mid-Term--November 3

Devotional Hinduism–WRT, pp. 290-300

Bhagavad Gita

Philosophical Hinduism–WRT, pp. 301-305

Hinduism in the Islamic Era: The emergence of Sikhism–WRT, pp. 305-311

in packet Guru Nanak, Japji

Hinduism in the Colonial Age–WRT, pp. 311-319

Eck, pp. 94-108

in packet Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekandanda in Beckerledgee, ed. World Religions Reader, pp. 292-296

in packet V. D.Savakar from Beckerledgee

Growth of Hinduism in America–Eck, pp. 108-130

Contemporary Hindu practice–WRT, pp. 319-323–Eck, pp. 130-140–[WRT, pp. 323-335]

Neo-traditionalism and Hindu nationalism–WRT, pp. 335-348–(review WRT, pp. 275-279)

Unit V: Buddhism and East Asian Religions Nov. 17 - Dec. 3

Introduction to Buddhism–WRT, pp. 353-357–Eck, pp. 142-164

The Spread of Buddhism and its Core Teachings–WRT, pp. 358-376

Introduction to Taoism and Confucianism–WRT, pp. 431-438

Confucian Foundations–WRT, pp.439-444

in packet Selections from the Analects

Taoist Foundations–WRT, pp. 444-447

in packet Selections from the Tao Te Ching

Varieties of Mahayana Buddhism–WRT, pp. 376-394–Oxherding Pictures

in packet Selections from Mahayana scriptures from Beckerledgee

Buddhist Practice–WRT, pp. 394-403

Buddhism in the Colonial Era–WRT, pp. 403-410–Eck, pp. 164-190

Contemporary Buddhism–Eck, pp. 191-218–[WRT, pp. 410-421]–WRT, pp. 421-427

Nhat Hanh, Being Peace

in packet Nhat Hanh, "What I would say to Osama Bin Laden" [other articles at]

Development of East Asian Religions, WRT, pp. 447-467

East Asian Religious Practices, WRT, pp. 478-485

[Colonial and Post-Colonial Developments, WRT, pp. 468-478, 485-509]

Conclusion: American Responses to Diversity–Eck, pp. 26-80, 294-396

Final Exam--Wednesday, December 10, 8am [The final exam will be given at the time specified in the Class Schedule for this term. Sometimes I make typos. Double-check me to make sure the date I've given here is right before making any travel plans.]