GLS 592: World Religions, Post 9-11
Instructor: James Brewster
Author-historian Huston Smith says “if we take the world’s enduring religions at their best, we discover the distilled wisdom of the human race.” Unfortunately, these days, there are great tensions among the earth-religions. This course is a survey of the major faiths, including history, figures, beliefs, worship and ethics, updated with special references to the causes of religious fundamentalism, fanaticism and corresponding problems.
- The study and appreciation of world religions has changed dramatically since 9-11. Any analysis of the faiths of the world must include the causes and results of frictions among the adherents of the major religions.
- An in-depth study of world religions is academically sound. The history and beliefs of the various faiths are well researched. Yet it must also be recognized that the study of other cultures’ religious experience may be hindered by our own perceptions.
- Therefore, it is necessary to examine our approach to these religions. Respect of the history and beliefs of others is absolutely essential. It is a key word and attitude in our study of world religions.
- The primary beliefs/experiences of these faiths will be naturally compared and contrasted. Yet, in no way, is the successful completion of this course dependant upon the evaluation of the integrity or effectiveness of any religion.
- The student’s own personal religious beliefs and practices will not affect an evaluation of the grading of the course. These are private matters and of no concern in the academic purposes of the class.
- The special, unique history of religion in the United States needs highlighting if we are to appreciate and understand the beliefs of others in different cultures.
Bowker, John, World Religions (London, UK Publishers, 1997) ISBN 13: 978-0-7566-1772-1
ISBN 10: 0-7566-1772-3
Smith, Huston, The World’s Religions (New York City, HarperSanFrancisco, 1991)
ISBN (cloth): 0-06-250790-0 ISBN (paperback) 0-06-250811-3
SESSION ONE: Introductory Materials
Review of the Syllabus, course assumption and outline
“Our Perspective: Religious History in the U.S.” (Lecture discussion by Dr. Brewster)
The Mayflower Compact defines the Puritan Experiment
The Myth of colonial religious freedom—Christian theocracies in New England
Constitutional crisis about Church and State
Christian fundamentalism defined, and North Carolinian Blue Laws discussed.
Introductory materials: When Religions Become Evil: Five Warning Signs (Charles Kimball)
SESSION TWO: Judaism
An Overview of Judaism, based on Huston Smith’s analysis
Post-9-11 concern: The historic challenges of idolatry: Egypt and the Promised Land.
The origins of Holy War Theology in the Old Testament
Instructor: Reviewing Chapter 1, Kimball, “Is Religion the Problem?”
SESSION THREE: Christianity
Discussion includes similarities and differences between Judaism and the emerging Christian religion.
Post 9-11 concern: Karen Armstrong, author of The Battle for God, analyzing the
historic animosity between Christians, Jews and Moslems.
Instructor: Reviewing Chapter 2, Kimball, “Absolute Truth Claims”
SESSION FOUR: Islam
The role of Mohammed. The Significance of the Qur’an. A comparison of the contents related to Judeo-Christian scripture
The prophetic “complaints” in the Qur’an regarding Judaism and Christianity.
Additional emphasis: The role of mysticism, e.g. in Islam, Sufism, and the poet Rumi
Video presentation: Rumi (emphasis on whirling dervishes)
Post 9-11 concern: UNC criticized for mandating students to read the Qur’an;
“Flushing the Koran (sic): Christian conservatism vs. Islam.
Bill Moyer’s report: “Faith and Reason” (Video) The reward for killing Novelist Salman Rushdie, accused of blasphemy against Islam.
Instructor: Reviewing Chapter 3, Kimball, “Blind Obedience”
SESSION FIVE: Hinduism
The literature of ancient Hinduism is vast; its rituals and festivals are complicated,
and its art extraordinary. An examination of the four paths to religious enlightenment
and the various ways to God. The stages of life will be illustrated by a video presentation from the BBC.
Resource: “Spiritual India: The Fourth Stage” (BBC TV Video, 30 minutes)
A retired newspaper editor considers becoming an Hindu holy man.
Instructor: Reviewing Chapter 4, Kimball, “Establishing the Ideal Time”
SESSION SIX : Buddhism
In the 5th century B.C.E., Gautama Buddha discovered meditation as an escape
from the suffering of the world. An eightfold path provides a blueprint for the religious life.
Resource: Video: Tantric Buddhism,
Video: Bill Moyers: World Religions with Huston Smith, section on Buddhism
Instructor: Reviewing Chapter 5, Kimball, “The End Justifies Any Means”
SESSION SEVEN: Confucianism
An almost entirely different approach to religion can be found in China with the
teachings of Kung Fu-tzu (known to us usually as Confucius). The “divine” as
we have learned in Hinduism and Buddhism seems almost unknown in a culture
where the values of family and community provide the link to a transcendent
Instructor: Reviewing Chapter 6, Kimball, “Declaring Holy War”
SESSION EIGHT: Taoism
Mysticism and political philosophy are mixed in “Taoism,” the “way” advocated by Lao Tzu.
Additional Resource: Video: the practice and importance of yoga, as described
by Huston Smith.
Instructor: Reviewing Chapter 7, Kimball, “An Inclusive Faith Rooted in a Tradition”
SESSION NINE: Primal Religions
Resource: Video: “Haida Gwai” People of the Islands (PBS, Nature, 1990, 40 minutes) Description of religion and nature in the Port Charlotte Islands, British Columbia, Canada
Video: Bill Moyers: Interview with Chief Oren Lyons, Onondaga Nation, American
Discussion: Post 9-11 concern: What to do now re: inter-religious conflict.
Last Update: November 24, 2010