This page is still under construction and is liable to change
Spring 2016

Texts Course Description Grading
Schedule The Term Paper Guided Reading

THIS ENTIRE WEBPAGE IS REQUIRED READING. Read it carefully and thoroughly.
Jeffrey Brodd, Layne Little, Brad Nystrom, Robert Platzner, Richard Shek, and Erin Stiles, Invitation to Western Religions.
ISBN-13: 978-0190211271. ISBN-10: 019021127X. New York: Oxford University Press, First Edition, 2015. See the Companion Website.

Karen Armstrong, A History of God. New York, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994.
The Bible. (Any version will do but I recommend the New Revised Standard Version, especially the Oxford Annotated Bible. Alternatively the New American Bible is also recommended.)
John H. Hayes, Introduction to the Bible.
Bruce Metzger and Michael Coogan (eds.), The Oxford Companion to the Bible.
Mary Boyce, Zoroastrians: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices.
Paul Kriwaczek, In Search of Zarathustra.
The Qu'ran (Koran).
Gershom Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism.
Luther Martin, Hellenistic Religion.
Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad, The Contemporary Islamic Revival.
Lindsay Jones (ed.), The Macmillan Encyclopedia of Religion (second edition).
John Hinnells, A New Handbook of Living Religions.

This course will be a study of the histories, narratives, rituals, and scriptures of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and other traditions from the Middle East, America, and Africa, with special attention to Judaism and Islam in the twentieth century. The course will be divided into eight sections:
(1) Approaching the Study of World Religions;

(2) Indigenous Religions of North America;

(3) Indigenous Religions of Africa;

(4) Zoroastrianism;

(5) Judaism;

(6) Christianity;

(7) Islam;
(8) New Religious Movements.


Religion Major (World Religions Track) Mission Statement.

The program in World Religions aims to provide students with an understanding of religion in most of its various historically significant forms. This major provides a valuable perspective for understanding the significance of religion in the context of both world events and individual human life. It requires an appreciation of the role of religion in other educational areas such as sociology, psychology, history, and literature. Its mission is to provide students with a reliable, detailed, but broad exposure to a variety of foreign cultures across human history while requiring them to consider and analyze critically the implications and entailments of religious expression and behavior within those cultures. Reliable information from geography, social and political history, and current events as well as from a wide variety of cultural studies and sacred scriptures must be analyzed in order to achieve these ends.

Religion Major (World Religions Track) Outcomes

  • To acquire knowledge of the History of Religions, of global human Culture, and of the Natural World.
  • To acquire intellectual and practical skills, including critical and creative thinking, research and analysis, and written and oral communication skills.
  • To become practiced in integrative learning, including the synthesis and application of knowledge from a variety of sources and skills from a variety of disciplinary approaches to unfamiliar and complex situations.
  • To acquire a greater understanding of all people, including ourselves, as individuals in a culture comparable with all other human cultures.

Course (REL 116, Religions from The Middle East) Outcomes

The general aims of this course are, primarily, to acquire a reliable knowledge of the history of those religions that originated in the Middle East and to critically consider and understand the implications of that data. However, in order to do so students must acquire an understanding of the current context of Religions in the Western world--the religions among which the Middle-eastern traditions now find themselves and to which they can be compared, knowledge of which can bring considerable insight into the now-dominant monotheistic traditions. The basic research skills of the academic study of religion must thus be acquired and practiced as tools for the construction of relevant and durable opinions about the material. Third, the skills required to communicate those opinions clearly and persuasively will be practiced.

So-the acquisition, the analysis, the assessment, and the articulation of information will all be practiced and evaluated.

All student work should be well-researched, well-reasoned, and well-written.

Successful students in this course will demonstrate their abilities:

  • to acquire reliable knowledge of the history of the major religious traditions of the Western World
  • to consider critically various theories of Western religious history
  • to acquire a critical understanding of Western religions
  • to articulate that understanding
  • to construct relevant, informed, and durable answers to their own questions about the religions of the Western World
  • to articulate and communicate those answers clearly
  • to be prepared to discuss those answers graciously with people of differing opinions

Guided Reading: The assigned reading must be done before the classes and class will involve discussion of the reading as well as explanatory lectures from the professor. Students will be asked to answer guided reading questions questions before class and to be ready to respond to those questions in class. It is part of the Guided Reading Assignments that students should ASK as well as answer questions in class. Make a note of anything that you do not understand and be prepared to raise those questions in class. See the first week's questions, for example.


Grades will be based on a total of 500 possible points:
There will be eight quizzes and eight short (c. 250 words) papers, one on each section of the course. There will be one term paper of approximately 3,000 words, whose topic must be determined by Monday, April 4th. There will be a final examination whose form will be discussed during the course. Attendance to the classes is required, as is participation in class discussions. Attendance and participation will be graded. The grading distribution will be as follows:



Each worth

Total Worth





Short Papers




Term Paper








Attendance and Participation







You must attend classes. Failure to do so might lose up to 20% of your grade points. NO absences are regarded as "excused." If a student misses class because of sickness or bereavement, or for athletic, employment, or other educational purposes this still could damage their progress in the class. All absences will be recorded and after three, all students will have to assure the instructor that their absence was unavoidable, that they have made up for it appropriately, and that their performance in the class has not suffered.

Academic Integrity
(see the Student Handbook)

Westminster College as an institution and I as an individual both pursue a strict policy of academic honesty. Plagiarism: leading your reader or listener to believe that what you have written or said is your own work, when, in fact, it is not, will be treated severely. But always remember that while using someone else's work without declaring your source is dishonest, doing the same thing and citing the source is good scholarship! Books must be cited in the correct bibliographic style (see here) and personal sources can also be cited.
Your instructor reserves the right to use the plagiarism software at

This class will meet as arranged.
I will be available in my office in Patterson Hall 336 from 10:30 until 11:30 MWF, from 1:00 until 2:00 TTh (and at other times by arrangement).

Week: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15
Click the number to see the week.

Week 1: Introduction: Religions in the Modern World.
Trinity Church, New York
Trinity Church, NYC, 1846
Image Courtesy of Brodd, et al,
Invitation to Western Religions

Wed. 1/20 Introduction to the course. Reading: 
Preface and Approaching the Study of World Religions from Invitation to Western Religion
(hereafter IWR) xi - 21. See Guided Reading.

Fri. 1/22 Religions in the Modern World (21 - 29). See Guided Reading.
Here is a useful link for relevant Maps.

Week 2. Indigenous Religions of North America.
Navajo Sand Painting
Navajo Sand Painting
Image Courtesy of Brodd, et al, Invitation to Western Religions

Mon. 1/25 Quiz #1: Invitation to the Study of Western Religion
(see the Quiz Guide on D2L).

Reading: The Teachings and History of Indigenous North American Religion (31 - 48). See Guided Reading.

Wed. 1/27 Reading: Native American Religions as Ways of Life (48 - 57). See Guided Reading.

Fri. 1/29 Quiz #2:  Indigenous Religions of North America.

Week 3. Indigenous Religions of Africa.

Yoruba Sculpture
Yoruba Sculpture
Image Courtesy of Brodd, et al,
Invitation to Western Religions

Mon. 2/1 Reading: The Teachings of Indigenous African Religions (59 - 71). See Guided Reading.

Wed. 2/3 Reading: The History of Indigenous African Religions (71 - 75). See Guided Reading.

Fri. 2/5 Reading: Indigenous African Religions as a Way of Life (75 - 86). See Guided Reading.
Quiz #3: Indigenous Religions of Africa.

Week 4. Zoroastrianism.
The Prophet Zoroaster The Farohar (Winged Disc of Ahura Mazda) and Achaemenid Sphinxes Combined Zoroaster and Farohar. The earliest 'angel?'

Mon. 2/8 Reading: The Teachings of Zoroastrianism (89 - 96). See Guided Reading.

Wed. 2/10 Reading: The History of Zoroastrianism (97 - 106). See Guided Reading

Fri. 2/12Reading: Zoroastrianism as a Way of Life (106 - 115). See Guided Reading.

Week 5. Zoroastrianism, continued and religions of the Ancient Near East.
Minoan Goddess Mithras Zoroaster

Mon. 2/15 Reading: Other Religions of the Ancient Near East--
Additional reading material for this section of the course is web-based document on Greco-Roman Religions:
The Eleusinian Mysteries and the Mysteries of Dionysus and Orpheus. Additional Reading: See Guided Reading.

Some Religions of the Roman Empire: Mithraism and Gnosticism. Additional Reading: Later Religion of the Greco-Roman Empire. See Guided Reading. Also you can see On Gnosticism and Mithraism for some extra background information.

Wed. 2/17 Reading: Zoroastrian influence on Christianity?
Professor Rennie on Zoroastrianism (handout on D2L). See Guided Reading

Fri. 2/19 Quiz #4: Zoroastrianism and the Ancient Near East.

Week 6. Judaism.

Mon. 2/22 Reading: The Teachings of Judaism (117 - 128). See Guided Reading.

Wed. 2/24 Reading: The History of Judaism (128 - 137). See Guided Reading.

Fri. 2/26 The History of Judaism (137 - 152). See Guided Reading.

Week 7.

Mon. 2/29 Judaism, Discussion: See the class handout on My.Westminster on the Documentary Hypothesis for information on the J, E, P, and D traditions. See Guided Reading.

Wed. 3/2 Reading: Judaism as a Way of Life (152 - 161). See Guided Reading.

Fri. 3/4 Judaism as a Way of Life, Discussion: See here for information on the Hebrew Prophets.

Spring Break March 5th - 13th

Week 8. Judaism, continued .

Mon. 3/14 Reading: Judaism as a Way of Life (161 - 175). See Guided Reading.

Wed. 4/16 Judaism as a Way of Life, Discussion: See Jewish High Holidays on the web. See Guided Reading.

Fri. 3/18 Quiz #5: Judaism.

Week 9. Christianity.

Mon. 3/21 Reading: The Teachings of Christianity (177 - 187). See Guided Reading.

Wed. 3/23 Reading: The Teachings of Christianity (187 - 197). See Guided Reading.

Easter Break March 24th - 28th

Week 10. Christianity, continued.

Tuesday. 3/29 Monday Classes meet Today.
Reading: The History of Christianity (197 - 209). See Guided Reading.

Wed. 3/30 Reading: The History of Christianity (209 - 218). See Guided Reading.

Fri. 4/1 Reading: Christianity as a Way of Life (218 - 232). See Guided Reading.

Week 11. Christianity, continued.

Mon. 4/4 Click here for more information on the priority of the Gospel of Mark and other related information.
The topic of your term paper must be determined and approved by the professor by this date.

Wed. 4/6 Reading: See the handouts for Week Eleven on D2L: on the Christian Liturgy, the seasonal year, the Christian symbol of the fish, and the Sacraments.
See Guided Reading.

Fri. 4/8 Quiz #6: Christianity.

Week 12. Islam.
Circling the Ka'aba
See this website for access to the Qur'an and other Muslim resources and this website for the recitation of the Qu'ran.

Mon. 4/11 Reading: The Teachings of Islam (235 - 254). See Guided Reading.

Wed. 4/13 Reading: The History of Islam (254 - 262). See Guided Reading.

Fri. 4/15 Reading: The History of Islam (262 - 272). See Guided Reading.
You must submit an annotated bibliography for your term paper by today. This should contain at least five appropriate references.

Week 13: Islam, continued.
Mon. 4/18 Reading: Islam as a Way of Life (272 - 281). See Guided Reading.

Wed. 4/20
URAC: No class.

Fri. 4/22
Reading: Islam as a Way of Life (281 - 289). See Guided Reading.

Week 14. Islam, continued.
Mon. 4/25 Islam in the West: 2002--Karen Armstrong on Contemporary Islam in the Western world. (See handouts on D2L.)

Wed. 4/27 Islam in the West 1972: Seyyed Hossein Nasr on the promise of Sufism.

The logo of the interfaith alliance A Palestinian Muslim faces an Israeli Curfew.
 Picture from Associated Free Press

Fri. 4/29 Quiz #7: Islam.
Today is the last day that you can hand in a draft of your term paper to be checked.

Week 15. New Religious Movements.

Mon. 5/2 Reading: What Is "New" About New Religious Movements?. See Guided Reading.

Wed. 5/4 Reading: The Revival of Esoteric And Neo-Pagan Thought. See Guided Reading.

Fri. 5/6 Quiz #8: New Religious Movements.
Final class. Closing Discussion. Instructions for the final examination.
Today is the deadline for your term paper.

Finals period May 9th through 12th
Monday through Thursday.
The final will be a take home examination that covers the whole semester's work.
All questions will be drawn from the set of questions already posed in the quizzes.
The Completed Take-Home Final Examination is due to be submitted to the D2L Dropbox by 4:30 on Friday May 12th.

Term ends Friday, May 12th.


Students will submit a typewritten or word-processed critical essay of 10-12 pages (double spaced, that is about 3,000 words). This paper is due in on Friday, May 6th.

You are required to obtain the approval of the instructor for your paper topic by Monday, April 4th.

You are required to submit an annotated bibliography for your paper by Friday, April 15th. This should contain at least five appropriate sources with a brief (no more than 50 words) description of the contents of each source. You must have at least as many print sources as you have Internet sources!

Papers cannot be accepted after the due date (Friday, May 6th).

You may hand in a rough draft of your paper to be checked anytime up to Friday April 29th.


These are not reports but argumentative essays: that is to say they are editorialism rather than journalism--your own views are as essential as knowledge of your subject material. The standard of your technical writing as well as your accuracy and argument will be taken into consideration. To that end, here is a short list of common avoidable writing errors which should help you to avoid simple mistakes which will otherwise reduce your grade.

1. Papers must have a title which states the topic of your essay. In order to maintain the focus on Religions from the Middle East as the topic of this course your papers should be entitled "Religions from the Middle East: . . . " with your topic or focus following the colon. Papers must submitted as e-mail attachments.

2. You must have a thesis, argument, and a conclusion. "Thesis" is defined as "a proposition laid down or stated, especially as a theme to be discussed or proved" (Oxford English Dictionary). You must explain to your reader why you believe that your thesis is correct, and clearly state the conclusion of your thought. This is mainly to help you to focus your thoughts.

3. The arguments and research which support your thesis should make the main body of the essay.

4. Source material (books, but don't forget articles in journals and encyclopedias, even newspapers and personal interviews) should be integrated into your argument as evidence, example, or illustration. You MUST document the sources of all quotations, statistical information, and paraphrased material.

5. Your conclusions must be clearly stated. They can be negative as well as positive. Don't worry if you find that your original thesis is insupportable. As long as your conclusion is based on your research negative results areas valuable as positive ones. Just re-write your introduction to reflect your results.

6. You must give a separate list of sources (entitled "References" or "Bibliography" or "Works Cited") at the end of your paper. In alphabetical order give the full name of each author, surname first, then first name, followed by the title of the work. Book and journal titles should be italicized (underlining should be avoided and used only if italics are not available, as in hand- or typewritten manuscripts). Article titles should be in quotation marks. Details of publication must be included. For example:

Batson, C. Daniel and W. Larry Ventis. The Religious Experience. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Ferré, Frederick. "The Definition of Religion." Journal of the American Academy of Religion 38, no.1 (1970): 3-16.

Fieser, James (Ed.), The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy,, July 10th, 1996.
(For Internet sources the minimum required information is author name, URL --that is the "http://filename/etc.htm"--and the date you took it from the Internet. REMEMBER: You must have at least as many print sources as you have Internet sources!

Your bibliography does not count as part of your length (3,000 words as stated above).