"Rel 111: "Understanding Religious Experience and Expression"

Note | Week: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16
Click the number to see the classes and assignments for that week.

Students are recommended NOT to print out this syllabus as the contents may change during the semester. However, if you really need a print copy click these links for a pdf version of the schedule (5 pages) and a pdf version of the syllabus (17 pages).

Fall 2015

Religion 111 will meet on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 2:00 - 3:00 in Patterson Hall 105.

Office Hours: I will be available in Patterson Hall 336 Monday and Friday from 10:30 until 1:30,
and Tuesday and Thursday from 10:00 until 11:00. Other times by arrangement.

The schedule of assignments, quizzes, etc. remains negotiable until Friday of week 9. Changes must be made before this date.

Week 1 - Introduction: the Academic Study of Religion

Mon. 8/31 Introduction to the course: the class description, D2L, textbook and handouts.
A brief introduction to the academic study of religion.

Assignment: Your constant and ongoing assignment is to take notes on the material discussed in class. These notes will be indispensable in both answering the quiz questions and in preparing the written work for your papers. The instructor might ask to look at your notes randomly at any time and points will be subtracted if they are inadequate.

(Note that required readings from the textbook are shown in blue. Other readings, usually provided as handouts on D2L or online, are shown in red--although they turn blue after you have visited them).

Wed. 9/2 The Problem of Definition: terms and categories of the study as themselves providing models of religion.
Read Kripal (1-7): "Prehistory, Preparation, Perspective" see the study guide.

Fri. 9/4 Read Kripal (9-27): "Comparative Practices in Global History" and see this study guide. Polytheism and Monotheism.
An introduction to the idea of "Dimensional Models" of religion and the "phenomenology" of religion (and take some notes on both of them!).

Read Bryan Rennie, "Heterophenomenology as Self-Knowledge" (Handout on the D2L page) over the weekend (it would be a good idea to get a start on Geertz's article, too).

Week 2 - The Academic Study of Religion, continued.

Mon. 9/7 Heterophenomenology and the Study of Religion.
Assignment: Keep taking notes!

Wed. 9/9 Religious narratives as models of human experience. Clifford Geertz on Religion as "model of" and "model for" human life (Handout on the D2L page). Water symbolism and creation.

Fri. 9/11 Read Kripal (27-40 and see the study guide): Comparative Practices of Monotheism: Early Islam, ... of Asia: Hinduism, Sikhism, and in China.

Week 3 - Religious Traditions: The Oral Traditions
See BigMyth.com for many of the world's traditional oral myths.

Portrait of James Holy Eagle, Oglala, Sioux, at age 102 (1992), from The Native Americans: an Illustrated History, 
Betty and Ian Ballantine (eds.), Turner Publishing Inc. Read Kripal (43-58): "Western Origins and History of the Modern Practice" and the Native American myth, "The Story of Jumping Mouse." 

Mon. 9/14 First short quiz.
Religious Narrative: The Story of Jumping Mouse.

Wed. 9/16 Read Kripal (58-74): "Colonialism and the Modern Births of Spirituality and Fundamentalism."

Fri. 9/18 First Essay Exam: (Defining Religion, Studying Religion, Oral Traditions--and how are we doing so far?)

Nandewar, Bulurru Australian Aboriginal Art by Wendy Pawley

Week 4 - Hinduism. Make sure you know the basic geography of India. See Maps of India

In fact, make sure you know the location of all of the countries involved.
See these maps (1) & (2).

Sri Venkateshwara--Patron diety of the Hindu 
Temple in Pittsburgh

There will be a trip to the Sri Venkateswara temple in Penn Hills, Pittsburgh on Wednesday, September 23rd, leaving from the Patterson Hall car park about 4:30 and returning about 9:00 PM. Students are asked to dress respectfully.

Varnasramadharma - the blessed rage for order.

Mon. 9/21 Read Kripal (76-88): "The Skill of Reflexivity and Some Key Categories."
The Vedas and Varnashramadharma. The valid aims and stages of life.
You are still taking notes, aren't you?

Wed. 9/23 Read Kripal (89-102): "Working Definitions and Their Histories."

Fri. 9/25 Read Kripal (103-125): "The Uncertainty Principle: The Insider-Outsider Problem & Comparative Acts."
An Introduction to the BhagavadGita in the Mahabharata.

Week 5 - Hinduism, Continued. Introduction to Buddhism.

Mon. 9/28 Read Kripal (125-141): "Patterns in Ritual."
The Hindu Yogas.

Wed. 9/30 A discussion of Rajayoga: How can "heterophenomenology" be applied to Hinduism? Especially to Rajayoga?

Fri. 10/2 Read Kripal (143-154): "Religion, Nature, and Science."
The Buddhadharma - challenging tradition.
The Life of the Buddha (Powerpoint Handout on the D2L page).

Week 6 - Buddhism continued.

Mon. 10/5 Read Kripal (154-174): "New Directions: Space Exploration, Dark Green Religion, and Popular Culture."
The Three Buddhist Canons and Buddhism in China. Be prepared to discuss the material from Kripal.

Wed. 10/7 Read Kripal (177-192): "Sex and the Bodies of Religion."
Discussion: Is Theravada Buddhism a "religion?" 

Fri. 10/9 Video: Footprints of the Buddha.
Take notes. The Instructor might ask to look at yours.

Week 7 - Chinese Religion

Mon. 10/12 Second Short Quiz (Oral Traditions, Hinduism and Buddhism).
Chinese Religion
See these maps (1) & (2).
San Chiao - Unity and Diversity.
Read Kripal (192-206): "Super Sexualities."
See also this note on transliteration and this map of China during the Han period.
The San Chiao; China's three traditions (Powerpoint Handout on the D2L page) and See this website for Classical Chinese Scriptures.

Wed. 10/14 Read Kripal (209-225): "Charisma and the Social Dimensions of Religion."
Introduction to Daoism and Confucianism.

Fri. 10/16 Read Kripal (226-236): "The Miracle and the Saint: Signs of the (Im)possible & The Religious Imagination and Its Paranormal Powers.
Introduction to Chinese Buddhism (and a word about research)

Note that your term paper and MUST be determined by this time.
Please turn in a one paragraph statement of your topic and your thesis.

Week 8 - Chinese Tradition and Religious Imagination

Mon. 10/19 A Video on Chinese Religion.

Wed. 10/21 - Read Kripal (239-253): "The Religious Imagination and its Paranormal Powers"
Further Discussion of Chinese Religions and research and preparation for the second essay exam.

Fri. 10/23 - Second Essay Exam (Questions from Kripal plus Hinduism, Buddhism and Chinese Religion).

Mid-semester Break October 24th - 27th (Saturday to Tuesday)

Week 9 - Religious Imagination, continued.

Wed. 10/28 Read Kripal (253-269): "The Comparative Practices of Popular Culture."

Fri. 10/30 Read Kripal (271-284): "The Final Questions of Souls, Salvation, and the End of All Things."

Week 10 - An Introduction to Judaism: See here for the texts, here for relevant dates, and here for helpful maps.

Mon. 11/2 Read Kripal (284-297): "Traumatic Technologies of the Soul."

Wed. 11/4 Guest Speaker: Jonathan Solomon, a lay member of the Jewish Community in New Castle.

Fri. 11/6 Third Short Quiz
(Chinese Religions, Judaism, Charisma and Imagination).
Read Kripal (299-313): "Putting it All Together Again: Faithful Re-readings."

Week 11 - The History of Religion in the Ancient Mediterranean World.

See these documents on The Greco-Roman Context (Link on the D2L page), Greek and Roman Mysteries, and Mithraism and Gnosticism.

Mon. 11/9 Read Kripal (313-331): "Excluding the Other Religious Worldview."
The Mystery Religions, Mithraism, and Gnosticism.

Wed. 11/11 Zoroastrianism: the religion of the Persian Empire. Read "Zoroastrianism: The Iranian Roots of Christianity" (also available on the D2L Handouts).

Fri. 11/13 More on the Insider/Outsider problem in the study of religion, by Gary Kessler (Handout on the D2L page). See also the article by Kim Knott (Handout on the D2L page).

You are required to turn in a working bibliography for your paper at the end of next week. This must contain at least five properly documented sources, written up in the style required by the notes on the essay.

Week 12 - Introduction to the Study of Christianity.

Mon. 11/16 Read Kripal (335-348): "Rational Re-readings: Masters of Suspicion, Classical and Contemporary."
The Jesus of history and the Christ of faith.
See also the PBS Frontline website From Jesus to Christ.

Wed. 11/18 Christianity in History: the successful spread of the early Church. See "Early Christian Growth.doc" (Handout on the D2L page).
Fourth Short Quiz: Attitudes to pluralism and interested theologies; Mystery Religions, Zoroastrianism, and Early Christianity.

Fri. 11/20 No Class. Prof Rennie will be attending the Annual American Academy of Religion (AAR) Conference in Atlanta.
On-line assignment #1: Read Kripal (348-362): "Postcolonial Theory: The Gaze of Empire."
Consider this: whether you are an "insider" or an "outsider," you came into this course with some assumptions about Christianity and/or Christians. Have your assumptions been confirmed, called into question, or unaffected by the treatments of topics such as "the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith," the spread of Christianity, Christian "denominations" or "branches," and Christian sacraments? Write a response to these questions totaling 1,000 words (you should always cite the specific data on which your responses are based). Your response should be submitted to the dropbox on D2L.

Your working bibliography is also due today (Friday 20th) and should also be submitted to the dropbox on D2L. This must contain at least five properly documented sources, written up in the style required by the notes on the essay.

Week 13 - Christianity concluded.

Mon. 11/23 No Class (AAR). On-line assignment #2: Find out all that you can about The Five Pillars of Islam and Principles of Islamic Theology and try to discover their bases in the sacred texts. See this searchable database.Write about 1,000 words in response and submit your response to the D2L Dropbox before midnight tonight. You can use a graphic medium such as PowerPoint if you prefer.

Thanksgiving Break Wednesday November 25th to Sunday November 29th

Week 14 - Islam.

Mon. 11/30 Read Kripal (365-379): "Reflexive Re-readings: Looking at the Looker."
The History of Islam: The Prophet and the Book. The Caliphate and the origins of the Sunni/Shia division.

Wed. 12/2 Third Essay Exam: (Judaism, Graeco-Roman Religion, and Christianity).

Fri. 12/4 Read Kripal (379-394): "The Filter Thesis: The Door in the Man."
Today is your last chance to have a rough draft of your paper checked.

Week 15- Islam Continued

Mon. 12/7 Read Kripal (397-411): "... and Cosmos."

Wed. 12/9 Dr. Ahmad Abul-Ela, a member of the local Muslim community will visit the class today.

Fri. 12/11 The last class. Comparison, Heterophenomenology, and Islam. Your paper is due in today (submit to the D2L dropbox by 4:30).
Explanation of the Final Examination.
Student Assessments of the course.
I will hand out the take-home final in this class.

The Completed take-home final examination may submitted to the D2L dropbox anytime before the deadline, but you must await a positive response from me that I have received your response before you assume that I have got it, because I will not accept any excuses whatsoever for final exams that have been somehow lost.

The deadline for the take-home final is 4:00 PM on Friday, 18th.
They can be submitted earlier.
Finals period Monday 12/15 to Friday 12/18.
Term ends Friday 12/18.