Fall 130 Syllabus
RS 130: Introduction to Comparative Religion
Fall 2005 Course Syllabus
Click on what you want to see or scroll down: Instructor
InformationDescription & Goals
Texts and MaterialsRequirements and Grades
Instructor: Dr. Roy Lucas
Phone: (606) 337-1340 (my office phone)
office hours: by appointment, but please don't hesitate to ask. If enough
students request them, I'll also be happy to schedule on-line chat sessions;
these sessions are strictly voluntary, and aimed at assisting students who
feel the need for extra help.
Course Description and Goals
This course introduces the comparative study of major world and selected
regional religions with emphasis on analysis of belief, ritual, artistic
expression, and social organization. Eastern and Western religions are
considered. (From KCTCS Catalog)
I have loosely organized this course around William E. Paden's concept of
"religious worlds." We will examine five such religious worlds, with emphasis
Discussing some elements of each religion's belief system. That is, students
will be able to say what some of the things are that each religious community
holds to be true, and how this set of beliefs aids in constructing a unique
religious world for the adherents.
Summarizing and explaining ways in which adherents of each religious world go
about maintaining the reality constructed by the religious world in question.
After this course, you will be able to talk about ways in which religious
communities construct boundaries with similar communities, and how they
respond to changes in their larger socio-cultural environments.
Gaining practice in reading and summarizing primary texts from each religious
tradition. This course will help develop your ability to make sense of ancient
and contemporary sacred and quasi-sacred texts (in English translation), put
them in their historical and cultural context, and discuss them intelligently
with similarly-informed people.
Discussing some of the rituals practiced in each tradition and explain what
they mean. This course will enable you to recognize some of the common
elements in religious rituals from around the world, and to enumerate some of
the unique features of the rituals found in a particular faith tradition.
Discussing how individuals within each tradition experience the sacred. This
course will help you to appreciate the staggering variety in ways of
understanding sacredness and to put written and oral accounts of religious
experience in cultural and historical context.
Discussing ways in which the members of each community organize themselves
into social groups. You will be able to explain who makes decisions and what
some of the controversies within each community are. This will also help you
to discuss ways in which some religious communities hold ideals about the
Texts and Materials
To help us accomplish these course goals, we will read a general textbook on
world religions and an edited anthology of sacred and quasi-sacred texts. There
will also be a few additional readings, which will be available online. Students
should have copies of:
Warren Matthews, World Religions, fourth edition. (Wadsworth, 2004)
Philip Novak (editor), The World's Wisdom: Sacred Texts of the World's
Religions (Harper, 1995).
Students who have not already purchased the books they need for this course
should do so IMMEDIATELY. Failure to procure the needed materials is not a valid
excuse for not doing the assignments before the specified deadlines.
Course Requirements and Grades
There are four major requirements. Each of the four requirements counts 25%
toward your final grade:
The online forums substitute for what would be called "participation" in a
classroom section of this course.
Students are expected to read ALL forum postings carefully. In both the
classroom and online, I use what is sometimes called the "Socratic method"
(named after Socrates, who invented it). This means that I mostly teach by
asking questions and by answering the questions of students. Since it is in
the forums that I do the lion's share of the teaching in online courses,
your active participation and attention is extremely important. It is not
sufficient, in other words, to take a quick look at the forums the day an
assignment is due and make a few quick posts.
Students are expected to post at least twenty items to the forums for the
course (an average of four per lesson). These posts can be questions,
comments, answers to the questions of others, or anything else you like, so
long as they have something to do with the content of the appropriate
The best learning strategy is to spread your posts across all the lessons,
but - to be honest - I'm too lazy to keep track of how evenly dispersed your
posts are. Therefore, I would like for everyone to have a total of at least
20 forum posts for the entire course, and your participation grade will be
based on total posts, not posts for each lesson.
The emphasis here is precisely on participation. That means that any
question or comment - however brief or inane - counts toward the minimum.
The only requirement is that the question/comment must have something to do
with the lesson topic under which it appears.
And by all means please feel free to go beyond the minimum! The minimum
exists to draw out quiet students and encourage them to use the forum. But
the forum is a great place to get help on assignments, raise questions that
occur to you, complain, or whatever else you like.
The only real restrictions are: (1) BE NICE TO OTHER STUDENTS AND OTHER
HUMANS ("Flaming" or downright meanness will not be tolerated) and (2) try
to make sure your posts are relevant to the lesson we're currently studying.
After the deadline has passed for each lesson, the discussion threads under
that topic will be locked. This means that students will not be able to post
things to the Lesson 1 discussion after Lesson 1 deadlines have passed, they
will not be able to post to Lesson 2 after the Lesson 2 deadlines have
passed, and so on. If you feel a pressing need to comment on a particular
lesson after the deadline has passed, you can always do so under the general
I plan to be an active participant in the forum. As mentioned above, I teach
in the classroom by asking questions and answering the questions of
students, and I've found that the Socratic method translates pretty well to
an online format. Please try not to let my participation intimidate you.
One consequence of the Socratic method is that you may be asked to clarify
an answer you give to a question, or to reflect on some other aspect of a
question you've asked. Please understand that I'm not doing this to
embarrass you! Nor does it mean that your post is "wrong" or "incomplete."
In fact, I'm especially likely to pick on students who are showing insight
that I want to encourage!
Students who meet the minimum levels for participation will be awarded the
full 25% for participation; students who fail to meet the minimum will be
awarded some fraction of that 25%.
Weekly short written assignments
Each week on Tuesday - except for the mid-term and final exam weeks - a
short written assignment will be due.
Weekly assignments are brief reflections on some aspect of the course
content, and should not be confused with research papers or formal essays.
Each of them is strictly limited to no more than 300 words. I will not
evaluate excessively long assignments.
Topics for weekly assignments can be found in each of the five lessons.
(Most lessons have three such assignments.)
Again, they are due no later than 11:55 p.m. on Tuesdays. Late weekly
assignments will not be accepted under any circumstances, no matter how
pathetic. Please feel free, though, to turn them in early.
Weekly assignments will be evaluated for content and - to a lesser extent -
There will be a total of fourteen weekly assignments, but this facet of your
grade will be determined by the average of your ten best ones.
We will be focusing on five major world religions in this course: Hinduism,
Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Each of these five religions will
have a study guide associated with it.
I call them "study guides" because I hope they'll help you internalize
important concepts, people, dates, etc. for each of the religions we'll
consider, and this ought to be helpful for you in doing weekly assignments
Each study guide will consist of a series of relatively specific "factual"
questions about the history, doctrine, myths, practices, and social
organization of each religion. In most cases, you will either answer a
question correctly or you will not.
Study guides will therefore be evaluated on their completion and on how many
of the answers given in them are correct.
Study guides are ordinarily due when we complete our discussion of the
religion with which they are associated. There will be substantial penalties
for late study guides.
This facet of your grade will be determined by the average of your four best
Two major exams
There will be two exams: a mid-term over eastern religions and a
comprehensive final exam.
Both will be open-book, and open-note, and you will have a week to complete
each of them.
In both cases, you will be presented with a list of essay questions and
asked to choose two or three of them about which to write.
Exams will be evaluated for factual content, the interpretation of course
readings, and - to a lesser extent - writing.
This facet of your grade will be determined by the average of your two exam
Exams will be due one week after they have been made available. There will
be substantial penalties for late exams. In the case of the final exam, it
will not be possible for me to accept late papers after an absolute deadline
that will be 48 hours before grades are due. The exact date and time of that
absolute deadline will be announced once I know what it is.
THIS IS IMPORTANT: Your exams must be typed in either plain text format or
in Microsoft Word format (NOT Works!!!). The entire exam should be contained
in one file and uploaded to the appropriate drop box. Please see the
accompanying handout "written work guidelines" for details on how to do
Due dates listed here are very strict. For details, click on each topic, or
click on "lessons" in the navigation bar:
LessonTopic and Due Dates
1Hinduism and General Religious Studies Concepts
Weekly assignments due: August 23, August 30, and September 6
Study Guide Due: September 6
Weekly Assignments Due: September 13, September 20, and September 27
Study Guide Due: September 27
Mid-term exam on Eastern religions will be available from
September 27 until October 4
Weekly Assignments Due: October 11 and October 18
Study Guide Due: October 18
Weekly Assignments Due: October 25, November 1, and November 8
Study Guide Due: November 8
Weekly Assignments Due: November 15, November 22, and November 29
Study Guide Due: November 29
Final Exam will be available from
November 29 until December 6
Division: This course is cross-listed in both Humanities and Social Sciences
Division Chairs: Katherine Thomas (Humanities) and Elijah Buell (Social
Phone: (606) 589-2145, ext. 13149 (Thomas) or ext. 13040 (Buell)
Secretaries: Mary Jo Brashears, Humanities (ext. 13148) and Denise Haynes,
Social Sciences (ext. 13012)
Late Work Policy
The due dates listed in the syllabus are very strict. Depending on the
assignment in question, either no late work will be accepted or substantial
penalties will be assessed to late work.
Written Work Policy
Neither plagiarism nor cheating will be tolerated in this course. Evidence of
either will result in a failing grade on the assignment or quiz in question. A
repeat offence will result in a failing grade for the course. FLAGRANT cases
will be referred to the appropriate college authorities.
Students who wish to withdrawal from this course may do so within KCTCS
regulations. Put simply, I will give my permission for withdrawals without too
much of a fight. HOWEVER, YOU SHOULD BE AWARE THAT FAILURE TO COMPLETE
TWO-THIRDS OF THE CREDIT HOURS YOU ATTEMPT MAY RESULT IN LOSS OF FINANCIAL
AID. I assume no responsibility for this eventuality. ONE MORE THING: While I
will not put up too much of a fight if you wish to withdrawal, I would
appreciate it if students who are considering dropping the course would
contact me to discuss the decision; if I can, I'd like to keep you! :)
The general education and specific competencies for this course are as follows:
Writing -- Students will be able to communicate effectively using standard
written English. Students will have the opportunity to develop their writing
competency through a series of written assignments. Essays will be evaluated
for both writing and academic content. They are to be submitted in English.
Analytical Reading -- Students will be able to analyze, summarize and
interpret a variety of reading materials. Students will develop their reading
competency through a reading list that includes some of the world's
acknowledged religious classics. Students' reading ability will be evaluated
through the knowledge they demonstrate in written assignments, essays, and in
Integrated Learning -- Students will be able to think critically and make
connections across the disciplines. Religious studies is an interdisciplinary
field. This course borrows knowledge gained from several disciplines including
anthropology, history, linguistics, literature, and sociology.
Creative Thinking -- Students will be able to elaborate upon knowledge to
create new thoughts, processes and/or products. This course has very limited
commercial applications, but students will be required to develop their own
ideas about the application of concepts in religious studies to the
examination of particular religious texts. These will be expressed and
evaluated through discussions and written assignments. The goal, therefore, is
to increase the store of human knowledge rather than to create marketable
Ethics And Values -- Students will be able to demonstrate an awareness of
ethical considerations in making value choices. Teaching personal ethics and
values is NOT a primary goal of this course. Rather, we will examine ways in
which various religious communities decide ethical questions, and in so doing
we cannot help but clarify our own values. With a little luck, at least some
students will also emerge from this course with greater tolerance and respect
for religious diversity, which is a condition that the instructor regards as a
positive ethical value.
Social Interaction: To demonstrate an awareness of self as an individual, as a
member of a multicultural society and/or as a member of the world community.
Religion is sometimes considered the most basic, most essential aspect of
culture. To a very large extent, cultural diversity IS religious diversity. No
one can be aware of one’s self as an individual in a multicultural world
community without an understanding of the great world religions.
Humanities: To recognize the impact of decisive ideas and events in human
Here, in this course, are the most influential ideas in all of human history.
That statement is not hyperbole. No understanding of the great conversation of
world culture can be complete without an understanding of the great world