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

Samford University, Department of Religion, Fall 2005

Mon., Wed., Fri. 10:30-11:35am, 322 Chapman Hall


David R. Bains, Associate Professor
  325 Chapman Hall, phone: 726-2879, email:
Office Hours:  Mon., Wed., Fri., 8:30-10:30am.  Please make appointments for other times.


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 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.

The Koran. Translated by N.J. Dawood and Thomas Wyatt. New York: Penguin, 1999.

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

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: (see schedule for due dates)

Two mid-term examinations 20% each.

Final examination 25%

Sample study guides from previous semesters are available on WebCT.  Updated study guides will be provided at least a week prior to each exam.

Religious current events essay 5%

Research paper 20%

Short assignments, class discussion, class attendance, visit to a worship service or other event  10%  Several short assignments related to the readings will be given during the semester.  I may also give a few unannounced quizzes.

News Discussions:  At the beginning of term, each student is responsible for posting a news story to a discussion list on WebCT.  This should done by 5pm the day before the class meets.  A sample posting will be available on the WebCT site.  Detailed instructions will be provided.

Event visit: With the class or on your own you will need to visit an event sponsored by religious group being studied in this course.  These visits should occur while we are studying the tradition you visit.

A two-page written report is due within one week of your visit.  The report should include the specific name of the community or worship center you visited, the service or event, and the date and time of your visit.  You should also briefly describe what you observed and your reaction to it.

Participation: 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.  You should come to every class with questions about what you didn't understand and about the implications of what you did understand.

You may be called on for these questions, or asked to write them down and submit them.

General guidelines for grading class participation:

A = Strong attendence, active participation in class discussions (showing interest in topic or issues and familiarity with assigned materials), and demonstrable leadership (somehow making a positive difference in the class dynamic).

B = Strong attendance and active participation in class discussions (showing interest in topic or issues and familiarity with assigned materials).

C =  Good attendance and attentiveness.

0 = Unattentiveness in class.


Academic Integrity:

"Students upon enrollment, enter into voluntary association with Samford University.  They must be willing to observe high standards of intellectual integrity; they must respect knowledge and practice academic honesty.  Those who cheat on an examination or class assignment are not only academically dishonest, but also completely deficient in the scholarly maturity necessary to college study.  Those detected in dishonesty are subject to severe punishment.  The more dependence on cheating, the more inevitable becomes ultimate failure, often accompanied by public disgrace.  Any act to obtain an unfair academic advantage is considered dishonest." Samford University Catalog 2004-2005, p. 36.


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 may not be turned in after the day they are due without prior arrangement.


Samford University complies with Section 304 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disablities Act.  Students with disabilities who seek accommodations must make their requests by contacting Disability Support Services on the lower level of Pittman Hall or call  726-4078 or 726-2105.  A faculty member will grant reasonable accommodations only upon written notification from Disability Support Services.


Inclusive Language

"Language—how it is used and what it implies—plays a crucial role in Samford University’s mission to "nurture persons." Because verbal constructions create realities, inclusive language can uphold or affirm those whom we seek to nurture, while exclusive language can damage or defeat them. We therefore actively seek a discourse in our university community that supports the equal dignity and participation of men and women; we seek to avoid verbal constructions that diminish the equal dignity of all persons. It is an affirmative—and affirming—part of our mission to educate students, staff and faculty in the creation of a community of equality and respect through language." Samford University Catalog 2004-2005, p. 2.

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


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 responsibility to keep up with where we are and to stay ahead.  I'll try to announce what you should read for the next class.  Key terms are provided in some units.  Other key terms will be provided in class or online.


Introduction:  What are religions? August 29-August 31

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 Sept. 2-Sept. 9

Periods of Christian History: Formative, Classical, Medieval, Modern, Postmodern

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

Christian Theologies of Religions—all readings in packet

McDermott, Gerald R. Can Evangelicals Learn from World Religions: Jesus, Revelation & Religious Traditions. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000.  Pp. 72-78, 110-119.

Barth, Karl. "Karl Barth on Christianity and Religion" in Christian Theology Reader. Edited Alister E. McGrath. (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2001). Pp. 577,578.

Rahner, Karl. "Karl Rahner on Christianity and the Non-Christian Religions" in Christian Theology Reader. Edited Alister E. McGrath. (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2001). Pp. 579-583.

Hick, John.  "John Hick on Complementary Pluralism" in Christian Theology Reader. Edited Alister E. McGrath. (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2001). Pp. 591-595.

Heim, Mark S.  " Dreams Fulfilled: The Pluralism of Religious Ends: "  Christian Century. (17 January, 2001). Pp. 14-19.

Heim, Mark S.  " God's Diversity: A Trinitarian view of religious pluralism: " Christian Century. (24 January, 2001). Pp. 14-18.

Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal. "Truth and Tolerance" Christian Belief in World Religions. Translated Henry Taylor. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004). Pp 95-99, 106-109.


Key Terms: classical 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.

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


Unit II: Judaism Sept. 12-23

Class Visit to Shabbat service TBA

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

Selection from Talmud (handout)


September 16--Religious Current Events Essay Due

September 16—Class will meet in Hodges Chapel at 10:45am for
Religion Department Lecture
by David W. Bebbington, professor of history, University of Stirling (Scotland), "The Struggle for the Soul of Texas: Revival at Washington-on-the-Brazos, 1841."

Judaism and Modernity—WRT, pp. 155-163

in packet Pittsburg Platform (1885)

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 26


Unit III:  Islam—Sept. 28-Oct. 19

Introduction to Islam—WRT pp. 181-188

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

Koran, Suras 1, 19, 67-114 (for first day's reading)

Koran, Suras 2-5, 24, 33 (for second day's reading)

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

Law and Practice—WRT pp. 205-224

Islam in AmericaWRT pp. 252-260

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

October 13, 7:30pm Reid Chapel, Davis Lecture by Fawaz Gerges, author of The Far Enemy Why Jihad Went Global (Cambridge University Press, 2005)—ATTENDENCE REQUIRED

Responses to Colonial Encounters with the West—WRT pp. 224-252

Additional articles to be provided


Unit IV:  Hinduism and South Asia Oct. 21-Nov. 14

Introduction to Hinduism—WRT, pp. 273-279

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—Nov. 2


Devotional Hinduism—WRT, pp. 290-300

Bhagavad Gita ** see my note on this translation

Philosophical Hinduism—WRT, pp. 301-305

South Asian Religion 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

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

Contemporary Hindu practice—WRT, pp. 319-323—[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. 16-Dec. 7

Introduction to Buddhism—WRT, pp. 353-357

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

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

Nhat Hanh, Creating True 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


Conclusion: Dec. 9


Final Exam--Monday, Dec. 12, 10:30am