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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

      ScheduleAdministrative Information






Instructor Information

  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

  larger society.

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:

  Forum Participation

    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

    discussion forum.

    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.

  Study guides

    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

    and exams.

    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

    study guides.

  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


Administrative Information

  Prerequisites: None

  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.

  Withdrawal Policy

  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



  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