Religion has always been with us. Throughout history, it has expressed the deepest questions humans can ask, and it has taken a central place in the lives of virtually all civilizations and cultures. We find religion and its influence everywhere, on television, in film, in popular music, legislation, in our towns and neighborhoods. It motivates our behavior and how we treat other people. We discover religion at the center of global issues, war, and cultural conflict. We see religion in the lives of the people we know, and in ourselves, as we live out and wrestle with our own beliefs and values. Religion is powerful and persistent. It provokes commitment, expression, action, and debate. It is also adaptable in important ways. For many, contemporary religion even has room for skepticism, science, and the secular, which allows it to keep going strong in our rapidly changing world. For anyone who wants to be informed about the world around them, religion is a key to understanding our human world.

This course, Introduction to World Religions, introduces five major religious traditions—Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam through examination of their historical development, practices, rituals, and worldviews.

The goal is to introduce and sensitize students to religious ideas, personages and groups. There is no intent to influence anyone towards or away from a particular religion but to develop students’ awareness of religion’s intersection with many aspects of humanity—ethics, politics, science, etc. The course, therefore, will look at a set of topics that are critically significant in understanding all religions: history that changed & reformed religion, the ethical and moral teachings that lead to “behavioral logic” among its followers, the values and philosophical approaches developed by adherents to understand the world and its inhabitants, the roles played by a religion’s founders and leaders and their influence in shaping economics, politics, science, and culture.

This course will examine the dynamic relationship between religion and American culture, past, present and future. Here, current and popular attitudes concerning American values and religious expression face tough scrutiny especially when it comes to issues and ramifications for religious minorities in this country. Expect to investigate questions about your own awareness of this interaction such as:

  • How religion SHAPES and is SHAPED BY American life.
  • How we ENCOUNTER some specific minority religions today.
  • How Americans of all beliefs and faiths interact to ENHANCE a more reflective pluralism.

Religion is, for the majority of humans, an important part of their lives and for many religious people at the center of their belief and practice is the feeling that there is something that exists that is greater than their individual consciousness. The Religious Experience emerges as a way for religious individuals to orient themselves towards their goal of confirming, connecting to and communicating with this “greater thing” and to do so religious people use stuff. People, objects, texts, spaces, time and food aid them in their goal. This course will look at the many varied ways people experience the sacred in their lives, it focuses on the question of what it means to be religious and how we experience the sacred.

This course will investigate the various forms of Buddhism and Buddhist ritual practices beginning with Buddhism’s origin in India and continuing with its transmission throughout Asia and the West. Through careful examination of a variety of Buddhist literatures and practices from Sri Lanka, Tibet, and China, we will examine the multiple ways in which the Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions have interpreted Buddhist teachings.

The course will locate the Buddha and Buddhism in historical context (from ancient origin to modern day practices), understand its periodical developments (major branches, their transmission to South/East Asia and the West), and define and discuss key Buddhist concepts, terms, values, philosophy and practices and how they change over time.

Students will learn about Buddhist metaphysics and its philosophy (the Middle Way, the Mind Only, Emptiness, etc.) through which the Buddhist understanding of the world and life is expressed. Students will learn about the doctrines of eternal and annihilationist views and skepticism, as well Buddhist responses to these doctrines through analysis of Five Aggregates, Interdependent Origination, Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, and Nirvana.

Students will also explore how Buddhism has influenced art and architecture over its history. The art of a Tibetan Mandala, Tanka paintings, painted palm leaf manuscripts, wide-ranging architectural styles, and/or monuments will closely be examined to understand the ontological expressions represented in these media and built forms, along with the Buddhist artistic imaginings of heaven and hell.

This course satisfies an upper division elective for the U of U Asian Studies Major & Minor.

Asian religious traditions, especially those of India, Tibet, China and Japan, are rich in the study of metaphysics, literature, esoteric, ethics and moral teaching. Instead of rehearsing these particular traditions chronologically, this course pays close attention to the human search for self-understanding and self-explanation, addressing questions such as - Who are we? What is the cosmos? What happens to us after death, Who is God? and How should we behave?

Students will investigate theories of self, notions of karma and samsara, ontology, soteriology, yogic discipline, devotion, epistemological skepticism, moral relativism and familial duties presented by religions in South and East Asia. In addition to secondary sources, a few selected primary sources will be examined in order to understand how Asian philosophies and theories are described.

We will also explore historical, cultural, and social contexts, which were shaped and reshaped by religious institutions and cultures throughout history, and reflect upon their significance to contemporary issues like war, peace, gender, religious identity, and religious tradition.