Course Home:
Eastern Religions

Western Religions

Syllabus & Assignments:
Eastern Religions

Western Religions

Resources:
Eastern Religions

Western Religions

Religions of the World

Dear Student,

Welcome to "The World's Religions"!

The academic study of religion challenges you to develop the qualities of openness, honesty, critical intelligence, careful reading and listening, and critical tolerance:

  • Openness means that, as a student of religion, you should welcome evidence that you might be wrong.

  • Honesty means that you recognize and understand your biases and are constantly mindful of them.

  • Critical intelligence means analyzing and synthesizing information. It means that arguments supporting a particular conclusion are carefully examined for logical consistency and evidence is examined for reliability. The ability and willingness to question is crucial in the search for truth.

  • Careful reading and listening means to read and listen for hidden meaning. But it also means to not read more into a statement than is implied.

  • Critical tolerance seeks to balance sympathetic understanding with critical intelligence. This is not an easy balancing act. As Anne Landers once wrote: "Donít be so open minded that your brains fall out."

source: Ways of Being Religious by Gary E. Kessler, pp. 4-6 (Mayfield Publishing):

The balancing act:

           Donít question religion                                           Donít blindly accept religion
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
without acceptance                      /\                              with question
 /  \

 

These are the points by which your work will be judged. Keep them in mind and apply them in your work and you should do well in this class.

A Word about attitude:

In the academic study of religion it is important to step back from your personal beliefs and assumptions in order to judge the issues in as unbiased, open minded and objective a way as possible. Try to put aside all negative as well as positive preconceptions. This does not mean you are to abandon your personal beliefs but you should understand that the classroom is not the place for belief which is not critically examined and which does not take other points of view into consideration.

An open and inquisitive mind is your greatest asset as you pursue your work in this class. The most important thing you can learn in this class is tolerance, respect and appreciation for beliefs and opinions that might differ from your own. Please do not assume that religions other than your own are wrong. I expect you to at least make an effort to be open minded and willing to consider the value and possible validity of new and different ideas - thatís what education is all about!

 

How to do well in this class:

Your overall performance in this class and on each assignment will be evaluated in three main areas:

  • Knowledge and understanding of the subject matter
  • Attitude toward the subject matter
  • Ability to think about the subject matter for yourself

Your knowledge and understanding of the subject matter is only part of what you will be graded on. The other part of your grade will be based on your sincere openness to and appreciation of the different religions we will study. Your ability to analyze the facts presented, draw conclusions and make comparisons and connections will also be a determining factor in evaluating your performance in this class.

I consider typical performance on assignments to be "B" work. Do better than expected (impress me) and you can get "A"s. A lack of effort or quality is likely to receive a grade of "C" or even "D". The surest way to jeopardize your final grade it to not do some of the assignments.

The following criteria are used in determining "A" level work:

Positive, appreciative attitude toward religion in general and toward religions other than your own in particular. "If you canít say anything nice donít say anything at all." At the least, balance your negative, critical observations with positive ones. I take this very seriously. A failure to appreciate faiths other than your own, to be overly critical of them, is a serious offense and will seriously affect your grade. (Remember "the most important thing you can learn in this class" [see "A word about Attitude" above]) Negativity will earn you no more than a "C"

Depth, creativity and originality of thought on the issues in question. Think for yourself. Try to avoid using rhetoric or standard doctrine. While I ask you to avoid being overly critical when it comes to faiths other than your own, I encourage you to take a critical eye toward your own faith (particularly if you have never done so before). Simply "parroting" back what you read and hear will earn you no more than a "C". "A"s are reserved for truly original thinking.

Before you go on, check out these learning resources

Your Instructor,
Laura Ellen Shulman

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Created by Laura Ellen Shulman 
Last updated: March 2003