Religion 300W: Rituals and Myths in World Religions

Spring 2003

MWF 10:30 to 11:35pm
322 Chapman Hall

Office Hours: Mon. 4:05-5:00pm
Tues. & Thurs. 2-4pm


David R. Bains
325 Chapman Hall
phone: 726-2879

Purpose of Course:

This thematic introduction to world religions focuses on rituals and myths in order to explore both how various religious traditions seek to order human life and how modern scholars have attempted to understand religions. This semester the course will focus on aspects of Native American religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam, and a variety of indigenous religions.


Students will be able to:

1.) explain the beliefs and practices of different religious traditions

2.) analyze the similarities and differences between religious traditions

3.) interpret religious myths and rituals in light of various theoretical perspectives

4.) evaluate the usefulness of different theoretical perspectives through comparison

Required Textbooks: (available at the Samford University Bookstore)

Bell, Catherine. Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. ISBN 0195110528

Dimmit, Cornelia, and J.A.B. Van Buitenen, eds. Classical Hindu Mythology: A Reader in the Sanskrit Puranas. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1978. ISBN 0877221227

Eliade, Mircea. The Myth of the Eternal Return, or Cosmos and History. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1954. ISBN 0691017778

Huyler, Stephen P. Meeting God: Elements of Hindu Devotion. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-300-08905-8

Martin, Joel W. Sacred Revolt: The Muskogees' Struggle for a New World. Boston: Beacon Press, 1991. ISBN 0807054038

Renard, John. Seven Doors to Islam: Spirituality and the Religious Life of Muslims. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996. ISBN 0-520-20417-4

Reynolds, Frank E., and Jason A. Carbine, eds. The Life of Buddhism. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000. ISBN 0520223373

Turner, Victor W. The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure: New York: Aldine de Gruyter, 1969. ISBN 0202011909

A few additional articles on reserve or in a packet.

Students will also be required to tour Desire and Devotion Art from India, Nepal, and Tibet, Exhibition at the Birmingham Museum of Art, Opens March 9 (paid admission)

Academic Integrity:

Students are expected to observe high standards of intellectual integrity. (See page 96 in the Student Handbook.) 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 = 95-100%

B+ = 88-91%

B- = 82-84%

C = 74-77%

D+ = 66-69%

A- = 92-94%

B = 85-87%

C+ = 78-81%

C- = 70-73%

D = 63-65%

D- = 60-62%

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.


One in-class mid-term examination 20%
One in-class final exam 30%
Essays (4-5pp) on readings (approx. 3), participation, quizzes 30%
Research essay from list of topics 20%


Specific assignments will be given over the course of the semester. The dates for the various units may change. Every effort will be made to have the mid-term on the day announced.

Unit I: Introduction to Myth and Ritual (Jan. 29 - Feb. 12)

Preliminary definitions, Creation Narratives, Religion of early nineteenth-century Native Americans in the Southeast, myth and ritual in the "Red Stick" revolt

Jan. 31: Martin, pp. xi-45. Shamanism video

Feb. 3: Genesis 1-3; 12:1-25:11, Classical Hindu Mythology, 30-36.

Feb. 5-12 Martin, 46-186

Unit II: Two Classic Interpretations of Religion (Feb. 14 - 26)

Feb. 14-19 Eliade

Feb. 21-26 Turner

Unit III: Buddhist Life and Practice (Feb. 28-Mar. 19)

Typology and Characteristics of Ritual: Bell, Part II, 91-170

March 5: Introduction to Buddhism: Life of Buddhism, ix-20.

March 7-19 Life of Buddhism

March 21: Mid Term Exam

Unit IV: Myth, Image, and Ritual in South Asia Religion (March 31-April 18).

Classical Hindu Mythology

Huyler, Meeting God

Desire and Devotion Art from India, Nepal, and Tibet, Exhibition at the Birmingham Museum of Art, March 9- May 25, 2003

The catalogue for this exhibition is on reserve for this course:

Pal, Pratapaditya. Desire and Devotion: Art from India, Nepal, and Tibet in the John and Berthe Ford Collection. London: Philip Wilson Publishers, 2001.

Unit V: Islamic Spirituality and Ritual (April 23-May 2)

Unit VI: Ritual Theory (May 5-14)


Research Essay:

A paper of approximately 10 pages that uses scholarly theories of myth and ritual to analyze religious texts or practices. There are two basic forms your paper can take:

1.) Focus on a theoretical approach. An examination of the qualities of the ideas of a theorist or theoretical approach. This is best approached by focusing on controversies arising from their writings or by exploring the strengths and weaknesses or their approach for answering certain questions or interpreting certain phenomena.
Part I of Bell, Ritual provides an excellent overview of the different theoretical approaches to the study of ritual.
For those interested in biography, Mircea Eliade is a particularly influential and controversial figure in the study of religion.

2.) Focus on a religious phenomenon. An interpretation of a particular religious text or practice that draws on several theoretical perspectives. This could include:

processural analyses or rituals in American life (e.g., coming of age, community initiation, social crises, marriage, death, government inaugruation)

Myths of civil religion (narratives of America's origin, destiny, identity)

Mythic / religious structure in popular film and ritual

Islam, esp. Sufi Practice and Mysticism

Hinduism, esp. Pilgrimage


Native American Religion

Research essay time table:

Research Problems & Bibliography: April 2 (10% of essay grade, based mainly on bibliography)

Problem requirements: You should identify two or more problems within the same topic. A problem is question that you can answer through research.

How did Romanian Facism affect Mircea Eliade's theory of religion?

What does a Turnerian processural analysis tell us about fraternity initiation?

Is Buddhist meditation worship?

Bibliography requirements. (These are bare minimums)

Papers focused on a religious practice or text:

Primary sources (ritual texts, mythic texts, ethnographic accounts, your own original observation, autobiographical accounts)

Secondary sources that help you place the ritual in its religious tradition (at least 3)

Secondary sources that bring a theoretical/comparative perspective to bear on the topic (at least 3)

Papers focused on theory:

Primary sources: by the theorists you are studying.

Secondary sources: about the theorist / tradition you are studying (at least 3)

Revised Problem & Bibliography: April 14 (10% of essay grade)

Draft due for peer group: April 28. You will be divided into groups of 4-5 students. You will be responsible for reading and commenting on each other's papers and for meeting as a group with the instructor to discuss your writing.

Final draft: May 12 (80% of essay grade)


In beginning your research on any topic in this course, do not neglect The Encyclopedia of Religion, ed. Mircea Eliade, 16 vols (New York: Macmillan, 1986) and other reference works in David Library.