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Course Syllabus for the School of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences on the San Rafael

Campus of Dominican University of California

Vision Quest, Religion 1178/3178: The World's Religions (3 units), fall 2014
Class place and time: Guzman 301, Tuesday and Thursday, 1:40-2:55, August 26-December 4.
On Tuesday, September 9, there will be a field trip, leaving at approximately 12:45. There will
be no class on November 26, the day before Thanksgiving. The final examination period will
be scheduled by the registrar.
No course prerequisites
Instructor: Dr. Scott G. Sinclair (415) 257-1385 scott.sinclair@dominican.edu
Office hour: Angelico 325, Monday and Tuesday 9:30 A.M. 10:30 A.M.
Course description: After a brief look at prehistoric/primal religion, we will survey the world's
great religious traditions, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Confucianism,
and Taoism, accenting both their commonalities and their distinctiveness. By means of the
survey, we will also study humankind's ultimate and enduring questions--the nature of reality
and the meaning and end of human life. The course will conclude with a brief consideration
of whether there are multiple paths to Ultimate Reality or only one or none.
Student learning outcomes: Students will demonstrate
1) a knowledge of the major doctrines and practices of Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism,
Christianity, Confucianism, and Taoism,
2) an awareness of what aspects of these religions are helpful in the student's own quest for
This course fulfills the 3 unit requirement in the cross-cultural study of religion.
Texts: Huston Smith, The World's Religions; Philip Novak, The World's Wisdom: Sacred
Texts of the World's Religions.
Academic honesty: Students are expected to adhere to the Academic Honesty Honor Code
stated in the Catalog
(see http://www.dominican.edu/academics/catalog). Students should especially note that
long, unacknowledged quotations constitute plagiarism and will be reported.
Diversity: The material of this course is inherently diverse. It deals with different religions
which arose in different times and places and together constitute the major part of the
spiritual heritage of humanity as a whole.
Assessment: There will be seven brief multiple-choice tests, one on each of the major sections
of the course: primal religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Christianity, and
Confucianism and Taoism. In addition, each student will write eight 2-3 page reflection
papers, one on each of the religions (or some important aspect of each of the religions) listed
above, plus a final paper on how this course has changed the student's attitude toward
religion. Each of the eight 2-3 page papers on the various religions will briefly and accurately

summarize and analyze the religion (or some important aspect of it) and state how the
religion (or aspect of it) is relevant to the student's life and quest for meaning. While it is
acceptable to write papers that contend that a religion (or some aspect of it) is irrelevant or
even damaging to the student, the instructor would normally prefer positive reflections. The
paper on each religion is to be handed in within one week of the completion of the classes on
that religion. The reflection paper on how the course has changed the students attitude
toward religion is due the last day of class, December 4. Of course, all papers are to be well
organized and in correct, concise English.
All students will attend at least 8 hours of worship/meditation in a religious
tradition which they are not presently practicing and write a 2-3 page reflection
paper on their experience and make a brief oral report during the final
examination period. The paper is due by November 20. If more than one
member of the class has attended the same worship/meditation sessions, the
attendees can make their oral report as a group. The members of the group
should consult one another prior to the presentation and determine what each
person will share. Failure to make the oral report will result in the loss of a third
of a letter in the course grade.
Grading: An A indicates mastery of the material, and the lowest "A-" indicates a knowledge
of approximately 90% of the content of the course; a B indicates a good knowledge of the
course material, and the lowest straight B indicates a knowledge of approximately 80% of
the material; a B- indicates an adequate knowledge of the course material; a C indicates a
fair to poor knowledge of the material. Grades lower than a "C-" show that the student either
has not completed a substantial portion of the assignments or has learned virtually nothing.
To determine the course grade, the instructor will add up the points earned for the tests (25
points each; 175 total), for the reflection papers on each religion (10 points each; 80 total), for
the reflection paper on the 8 hours of worship/meditation (25 points), and for attendance (2
points for each class session attended or each excused absence (58 points). In accordance
with his Christian faith, the instructor reserves the right to show mercy at the lower end of the
grading scale to students who are studying diligently or are having medical or family
Student behavior: It is expected that students will attend class regularly, arrive on time, and
keep up with their work. It is particularly important that students study the lecture notes
after each class session. To prevent distracting the class, students should refrain from talking
during lecture and should turn off all cell phones and beepers before the class begins.
Policy for late assignments and missed examinations: Students who have excused absences
will take tests as soon as possible afterward. Students who miss tests without good reason will
receive a zero. Students who cannot complete papers on time should speak to the instructor.
For accommodation of documented disabilities, students may consult the Office of Disability
Services in Bertrand by going there directly or by e-mail at disabilityservices@dominican.edu
or by phoning (415) 257-0187.
This syllabus is subject to change. The instructor will announce all changes.

Some Religious Services on Campus

All of these meet in or near the Chapel in Edgehill and can be used to fulfill the required 8
hours of religious practice. Of course, there are numerous events off campus in nearly every
possible religious tradition somewhere in the Bay Area.
Zen, Dharma Eye Meditation: Mondays at 6:30 P.M., Thursdays at 6:30 A.M. There is
a special orientation for new comers on the first Monday of the month.
Vippassana Meditation: Wednesdays at 7:00 P.M.
Catholic: Sundays at 7:30 P.M.
Protestant: Brothers and Sisters in Christ, Wednesday 8:30 P.M.
Quaker: Sundays at 10:00 A.M.
Muslim/Non-Muslim Dialogues: October 2 and November 3 noon to 1:30.
Sufi gatherings: September 18, October 9 and November 20, 8:00 P.M. 10:00.

Jewish: September 25 (Rosh Hashana) 10:00 A.M. 1:00 P.M.; September 26 (Rosh
Hashana) 10:00 A.M. 1:00 P.M.; October 3 (Kol Nidre) 6:00 P.M. 8:00 P.M.; October 4
(Yom Kippur) 10:00 A.M. 1:00 P.M.

Tentative Class Schedule

Tuesday, August 26

Lecture: What Is Religion? Religion and the Crisis of Modernity

Thursday, August 28

Lecture: Religion Prior to the Invention of Writing

Tuesday, September 2

Guest Lecture from Arthur Scott on Native American Spirituality

Thursday, September 4

Religion in Early Agricultural Societies; the Rise of Axial

Assignment: 2-3 page reflection paper on primal religion.

Tuesday, September 9
Field Trip to Muir Woods and Nativity Greek Orthodox Church;
meet at 12:45 in the Conlan Gymnasium Parking Lot
Thursday, September 11

Lecture: Hinduism 1; brief test on previously covered material.

Tuesday, September 16

Lecture: Hinduism 2

Thursday, September 18 Lecture: Guest Speaker: Prabha Duneja, Why I Am a Hindu

Assignment: 2-3 page reflection paper on Hinduism
Tuesday, September 23

Lecture: Hinduism 3

Thursday, September 25

Lecture: Buddhism 1; brief test on Hinduism

Tuesday, September 30

Lecture: Buddhism 2

Thursday, October 2

Lecture: Buddhism 3

Tuesday, October 7

Guest Speaker: Lee de Barros, Why I Am a Buddhist

Assignment: 2-3 page reflection paper on Buddhism

Thursday, October 9

Lecture: Islam 1; brief test on Buddhism

Tuesday, October 14

Lecture: Islam 2

Thursday, October 16

Lecture: Islam 3

Tuesday, October 21

Guest Speaker: Nahid Angha, Why I Am a Muslim

Assignment: 2-3 page reflection paper on Islam

Thursday, October 23

Lecture: Judaism 1; brief test on Islam

Tuesday, October 28

Lecture: Judaism 2

Thursday, October 30
Tuesday, November 4

Lecture: Judaism 3
Guest Speaker: Henry Schreibman, Why I Am a Jew
Assignment: 2-3 page reflection paper on Judaism

Thursday, November 6

Lecture: Christianity 1; brief test on Judaism

Tuesday, November 11

Lecture: Christianity 2

Thursday, November 13

Lecture: Christianity 3

Tuesday, November 18

Sinclair, Why I Am a Christian

Assignment: 2-3 page reflection paper on Christianity

Thursday, November 20

Lecture: Confucianism and Taoism 1; brief test on Christianity

Tuesday, November 25

Lecture: Confucianism and Taoism 2

(no class on Thanksgiving)

Tuesday, December 2

Lecture: Confucianism and Taoism 3

Assignment: 2-3 page reflection on Confucianism and Taoism

Thursday, December 4

Lecture: Exclusivism Versus Pluralism in Religion; brief test on

Confucianism and Taoism;
Assignment: 2-3 page reflection paper on how this course has
changed your attitude toward religion.

Final examination period will be as scheduled by the registrar. Instead of a traditional final,
students will make oral reports on their experience of participating in at least 8 hours of
religious activities.

Lecture Notes on the World's Religions and Course Assignments

by Scott Sinclair
What is Religion? Religion and the Crisis of Modernity
Discussion: What is religion, and how do I feel about it?
I. It is generally easier to recognize something (e.g., a dog) than to define it.
II. The reason is that most things have a series of characteristics, and no one characteristic is
sufficient to determine what the thing is.
III. In the case of religion these characteristics include
A. Religion has to do with someone's "ultimate concern" (Tillich).
B. Religion has to do with a "higher power."
C. Religion is primarily communal.
D. Religion includes
1. Beliefs
2. Actions
3. Experiences.
IV. There are many different definitions of religion, and perhaps none of them is totally
V. For the purposes of this course, I tentatively offer the following definition: A religion is a
community which has common beliefs about a higher power based on shared experiences and
responds with appropriate actions. Through its beliefs, experiences, and actions the
community expects to obtain blessings.
VI. We will now examine the elements of this definition and comment on how they help us
distinguish various types of religions.
A. Here "ultimate concern" means what someone considers to be the most important
thing either in one's own life or in the universe.
1. We can say, "Baseball is his religion."
2. But we also say that religion is not about what is trivial but about what is
fundamental, about the meaning of life.
B. Some comments on "higher power":
1. In general there are two basic concepts of a higher power in world religion.
a. The higher power is personal, i.e., S/He understands, feels, etc. If the
higher power is personal, a religion is "theistic" (from Greek "theos"=
b. The higher power is impersonal, i.e., consists of universal laws (e.g.,
2. In either case, the power is "higher" because it greatly exceeds humans in
a. Strength
b. Wisdom
c. And/or morality
C. Some comments on beliefs and actions:
1. Some religions (e.g., Christianity) especially emphasize the importance of
belief. To be a member of these religions, one must believe certain things. We
call such religions "orthodox" (Greek: "right opinion").

2. Other religions (e.g., Hinduism) allow a great diversity of belief but dictate
how one acts. We call such religions "orthoprax" (Greek: "right action").
3. Of course, some religions place approximately equal weight on right belief
and correct action. Islam may serve as an example.
4. We can classify religious actions in at least two categories
a. Ritual, i.e., symbolic acts to reverence the higher power or to
participate in it.
b. Morality, i.e., a religious code dictating how one treats others.
D. Some comments on religious experience.
1. Religious experience is very diverse and generally reflects the special beliefs
and actions of a particular community.
2. Nevertheless, two experiences are common and cross-cultural.
a. The experience of the "holy" (Otto). A person experiences her/his
extreme inferiority to the higher power and responds with fear and
reverence. In the presence of the vastness, might, and virtue of the higher
power one feels intensely small, weak, and unworthy.
b. The experience of unity. A person experiences being one with the
higher power and responds with peace and joy. This experience has two
alternate forms:
1). Communion: One feels embraced and filled with a higher
power which remains distinct from oneself.
2). Identity: One recognizes that one's true self is the higher
3. Despite the diversity of religious experience, religion in general tends to move
people away from being centered in themselves toward being centered in
something else (God, nothingness, etc.). This recentering energizes and fosters
generosity and compassion.
4. Religious experience is not primarily empirical (i.e., gained by observing
something objectively through the five senses).
5. Instead, religious experience is primarily participatory (experiencing
something by being part of it).
6. Much religious experience involves perceiving an energy or a presence
(analogous to picking up the vibes in a room).
E. Some comments on blessings obtained through religion.
1. There are at least three types of blessings that people gain or, at least, hope to
gain through religion.
a. Immediate tangible blessings, e.g., riches, health.
b. Inner blessings, e.g., peace, joy, meaning.
c. Benefits after death.
2. Religions differ over whether the expected blessings come primarily through
belief or through experience or through rewards for actions.
VII. One the basis of the definition given above, we can distinguish religion from magic,
philosophy, and science.
A. "Magic" involves gaining control over various forces. Hence, to the extent that
magic succeeds in manipulating spirits, these spirits are inferior to the magician and,
therefore, are not a "higher" power.
B. Philosophy is the quest for an intellectual understanding of the meaning of life. The

quest necessarily includes a critical examination of the evidence. Religion may include
a philosophy but must, by definition, include much more.
C. Natural science is the attempt to explain things through natural causation, and
social science is the attempt to explain things through social causation. Hence,
1. The natural and social sciences can explain certain things about religion (i.e.,
those things that have natural and social causes).
2. Or validate or call into question certain claims made by a religion (e.g., how
the world came into existence).
3. Nevertheless, religion has a different object: a "higher power" which is
neither natural nor social but transcendent.
VIII. In trying to understand the relationship between different disciplines, such as science
and religion, I believe that epistemological pluralism is helpful. Epistemological pluralism is
the belief that different fields require different methodologies and that the higher the object
being studied the more passive and receptive the observer must be. Thus,
A. If we are studying something much lower than ourselves (e.g., a rock), we learn
about it by manipulation. E.g., we crush the rock and pour acid on it.
B. If we are studying things that are equal to ourselves (e.g., another human being), we
must enter into dialog.
C. If we are studying things that are more spiritual than we are (e.g., a god), we must
allow them to speak to us. Hence, we must
1. Cultivate an inner silence to hear more acutely.
2. Put ourselves in contexts in which the Ultimate is most likely to speak.
IX. In this course we will study the major religious traditions in the world today.
A. We will begin with a brief consideration of earlier religion.
B. Then we will go on to deal with the largest and most influential contemporary
C. We will
1. Look at how each religion originated.
2. Study its classical form.
3. Consider how someone in the contemporary Bay Area would appropriate that
form today. In this section we will have guest speakers.
D. We will also deal with how each religion can (or might) deal with the crisis of
1. All of the religions we will be studying originated over a thousand years ago.
2. Each of them had certain ancient assumptions about
a. The physical universe, including
1). How it originated
2). How it is structured (often with the earth in the center)
b. The ideal structure of society, often including
1). Restricted roles for women
2). A view that homosexuality is unnatural.
3. Each of them had an idealized vision of its own past.
4. Modern cosmology has arrived at startling conclusions about the origin of the
universe and life on earth, and of the evolution of human beings. These new
conclusions conflict with and disprove the cosmologies of earlier eras.
5. Modern "scientific" history has arrived at relatively objective reconstructions
of "what actually happened" in human communities. These reconstructions

often give a far less orthodox and less flattering version of how the great
religions originated and grew and why.
6. In the United States and much of the industrialized world there is an
increasing emphasis on the equality of all persons and the need to accept
diversity. This modern perspective often clashes with the ancient (religious)
view that sees certain groups and lifestyles as superior.
7. Consequently, a modern Bay Area disciple of one of the great religious
traditions must revise the faith to take these recent developments into account.
8. In addition, until modern times most people did not have much contact with,
or even knowledge about, many of the great religious traditions that they
themselves did not hold.
9. This lack of knowledge fostered the belief that
a. Other traditions were the product of superstition and ignorance.
b. Only through one's own tradition could one achieve full salvation.
10. In modern times due to such things as worldwide travel and the Internet, it
is difficult to avoid meeting representatives of other faiths and being confronted
with what these faiths teach.
11. Consequently, each religious tradition must figure out why it is distinctive
and why someone should prefer its path to some other.
12. As we enter into dialog with representatives of the various great religions,
we can ask them why they have chosen a particular path and how they respond
to the claims of other religions.
13. In light of their answers we must struggle with the question of what spiritual
path we will follow and why.
E. An additional problem of modernity for religion is consumerism.
1. Before modern times the vast majority of people could not gain much wealth
by their own efforts.
2. Religion was popular partly because
a. It assured people that wealth was relatively unimportant and gaining
material possessions must not become the primary goal in life.
b. It often claimed that religious devotion could lead to material
3. In modern times most people in industrial countries gained the possibility of
having what historically was unprecedented material abundance.
4. But to gain that abundance people normally had to make it the primary goal
of life. Note the tremendous amount of time most people today spend working.
5. Consequently, people have less need of and less time for religion, and
religious observance has decreased in industrial countries, such as Western
Europe, the United States, and Japan.
F. Nevertheless, industrialization paradoxically may be increasing the need for
religion, since the constant drive for greater material goods is fueling the ecological
crisis. Humans now need to learn how to live with less, and religion teaches us that we
IX. A final modern development that may well contribute to a resurgence of religion is neardeath experiences.
A. Many of the high religions claim to be the path to having a better existence after

B. As science increasingly showed the dependence of life on physiological processes,

there was increasing reason to be skeptical about the possibility of life after death.
C. Now that modern medical technology often can revive people who are clinically
dead (i.e., their heart stopped beating), we have numerous accounts of people leaving
their bodies and going to another realm.
D. These experiences are intensely religious. Typically they include
1. Meeting one's own departed relatives and friends in a place of joy and peace.
2. Meeting a loving being of light.
3. Seeing the deeds of one's past life and regretting one's sins and rejoicing over
one's good deeds.
E. Skeptics dismiss these experiences as being solely due to a dying brain.
F. Nevertheless, it is striking that
1. These experiences are intellectually coherent.
2. Sometimes these experiences occur when the subject's brain waves are flat,
and, presumably, the brain has no mental activity.
3. People who have an out-of-body experience are normally convinced that they
were "seeing" something that was real.
4. Occasionally, during out-of-body experiences people learn things that can
later be verified as accurate.
5. These experiences lead people to abandon selfish lifestyles and to have
greater devotion to serving God and others.
6. For the content of this course, it is especially significant that these
experiences normally lead to an awareness of the goodness of various religions,
rather than the claim that only one religion has any value.
G. I personally believe that out-of-body experiences do involve contact with Ultimate
Spiritual Reality and suspect that this conclusion will become widespread and will lead
to greater focus on religion in the future.
Reading assignment: Andrew J. Dell'Olio, "Do Near Death Experiences Provide
a Rational Basis for Belief in Life After Death?"
Discussion: Reaction to Dell'Olio's article. Do you believe near death experiences give us a
genuine glimpse into life after death? If so, what are the implications for religion and our
present lives?
Some (Personal) Speculations on Religion Prior to the Rise of Agriculture and Invention of
I. The problem of reconstructing religion prior to the invention of writing.
A. The vast majority of human history occurred before the invention of writing.
1. Homo sapiens appeared perhaps 200,000 years ago.
2. Writing began about 3,000 B.C.E. and only slowly spread.
B. To reconstruct ancient religion before writing we must rely on
1. Deductions from material remains (e.g., cave paintings and burials).
2. Non-literate ("primitive") societies today.
3. Imagination.
C. All of these are of questionable reliability.

1. Material remains admit differing interpretations. For example, a burial

which includes various objects used during the deceased's life may imply some
belief in an afterlife but does not have to.
2. It is not clear to what degree the religion of a "primitive" people in recorded
history reflects religion in the prehistoric period.
a. It is tempting to assume that the religion of a surviving
(technologically) primitive people and, especially, the common features of
the various religions of surviving primitive peoples are fundamentally
similar to prehistoric religions.
1). The later primitives may have preserved ancient religious belief
and practice.
2). The later primitives are in a similar situation as prehistoric
humans (e.g., they live as hunter gatherers with handmade tools)
and, therefore, should have a similar religion.
b. Nevertheless, these assumptions are questionable
1). All religion evolves, and we have to assume that the religion
practiced by primitive people in recorded history has evolved
greatly from some much earlier period.
2). Later primitive people have had contact with a more
technologically advanced culture. (Otherwise we would not know
about them except through archaeological remains!). And this
contact may have influenced religion.
D. Our ability to imagine a culture very different from our own is limited.
E. We must also recognize that primordial religion was undoubtedly very diverse, with
great variations between different groups, different geographical areas, and different
II. Nevertheless, the following can be said
A. Primal religion was typically
1. The particular religion of a small group. Note that hunter-gather
communities are no more than a couple dozen people. Note too that beliefs and
religious ceremonies were corporate.
2. Tied to particular places. The hunger-gatherers reacted spiritually to the
special features of the landscapes that they knew.
3. Based on oral tradition.
4. Did not distinguish between the sacred and the secular. All things were in the
sphere of the sacred.
5. Did not have the same sense of the distinction between past and present that
we do.
a. In general, human time is both linear and cyclical (note the recurring
patterns of the seasons and the "seasons" of life).
b. Presumably, before the invention of writing people's sense of linear
time was less, since there was no way to record history.
c. In addition, all societies seem to have ceremonies that allow people to
re-experience foundational events. Note Fourth of July celebrations.
And these ceremonies must have been especially powerful when there
was less sense of linear time.
d. Among the primitive peoples of Australia we see the phenomenon of

"dreaming" in which a person is transported to the past or perhaps better

in which the past appears in the present.
B. Prehistoric religion was based on two assumptions
1. The natural world is analogous to the human and human beings are part of it.
Note that humans understand on the basis our own experience.
2. The testimony of the elders about the past is reliable. Of course, since the
elders lived before us, this assumption is logical.
3. Life is good, except when the original harmony of the world breaks down.
Note that
a. Of course, hunter-gatherers did not know any other lifestyle.
b. Hunter-gatherer life involved relatively little work.
c. But, naturally, there were various crises (sickness, drought, etc.).
C. On the basis of these assumptions prehistoric people probably believed
1. Most things (especially if they move) are alive
2. These living things have thoughts and feelings
3. What human beings do can please or displease these living things.
4. Humans need the help of many of these things. Therefore, we must figure
out how to live in harmony with them, gain power from them, and, if need be,
placate or manipulate them.
5. We discover how to please them by
a. Observing how the natural world behaves in response to what we do.
For example, did it rain after we asked the rain spirit for help?
b. Reflecting on what pleases or displeases humans.
c. Listening to the traditions of the elders. Hence, primordial religion
gave prestige to the old, since they were the source of the wisdom from
the past.
D. Accordingly, prehistoric religion probably included the following:
1. The belief that there are "spirits" in most natural phenomena
(mountains, springs, etc.).
2. Various rituals (prayers, incantations, offerings, etc.) to manipulate or
supplicate these spirits and various taboos (not going certain places; not
eating certain foods, etc.) to avoid offending them. These rituals and
taboos varied from culture to culture.
3. A creation story which explained how the present universe came into
existence. The story would normally include some divine agency. This
a. Explained why things are as they are
b. Implied how things ought to be.
4. A sense that pervading the natural world is some kind of unifying force
which we can see in everything.
5. The primary purpose of "religious" activity was to keep the universe
from losing its original wholeness or to help the universe return to it.
6. Religious "experiences" in which the spirits of the natural world
entered into human beings and transformed them.
E. On the basis of the above it is clear that prehistoric "religion" was in fact a
combination of what I have labeled above as science, magic, and religion.
1. Some of primitive "religion" was based on empirical observation and

reason and, thus, should be called primitive "science."

2. Some of primitive "religion" included gaining control of the spirits and
should be called "magic."
3. Some of primitive "religion" involved reverencing the spirits and,
therefore, was genuine religion as previously defined.
III. The relevance of prehistoric religion and of religion of hunter-gatherer societies today:
A. For the most part, the beliefs and taboos of "primitive" religion seem hopelessly
outdated now.
B. To some extent we can appreciate these outdated religions as at least
1. Producing a structure of meaning for another culture.
2. And group solidarity.
C. Nevertheless, a crisis in contemporary society is the degradation of the natural
world due to a (religious?) assumption that nature has no intrinsic value.
D. A reappropriation of the "primitive" belief that the natural world has inherent
spiritual worth may be necessary if humans are to continue to prosper.
E. Moreover, remnants of these religions subsist in us.
1. In human evolution "nothing is ever [completely] lost" (Bellah).
2. If human beings for thousands of years believed in spirits inhabiting the
natural world and honored them with ritual and taboo, something of that insight
or superstition must abide in us all.
Visual presentation: Prehistoric cave paintings.
Discussion: Does nature have intrinsic value? If we assume that it does not, will we be able to
avoid environmental disaster? If nature does have intrinsic value, what gives it that value?
Reading assignment on primal religion: Smith, chapter 9; Novak, chapter 8.
Native American Religion
I. Probably the historical religions that come closest to prehistoric religion are those of
technologically primitive societies which have survived into modern times.
II. Native Americans have some of those religions.
III. Of course, the religions of Native Americans are especially relevant to California, since
there are Indian tribes here.
Guest Speaker: Arthur Scott, "Why I Believe in Native American Religion"
Religion in the Early Agricultural Societies
I. With the rise of agriculture, human societies
A. Settled down. (Most hunter gatherers were nomadic).
B. Built larger settlements, culminating in ancient cities. Note that agriculture allowed
for a much larger population.
C. Often invented writing. Writing first developed to keep track of inventories,
including food. In time, however, rituals and myths were recorded. Consequently, our
knowledge of religion becomes much greater and more reliable.
D. Became hierarchical.

1. The larger settlements required specialization and often mass mobilization

(for communal irrigation, defense, etc.).
2. Leadership was needed to supervise.
3. Naturally, the leaders acted to gain increasing power and privileges for
E. Became oppressive to many.
1. Hunter-gatherer societies were relatively egalitarian.
2. With the rise of large, complex hierarchical societies, those on the bottom of
the social pyramids were subject to gross exploitation (e.g., slavery).
II. Religion evolved to fit these new circumstances.
A. Religion became grander and more elaborate. In many cultures there were huge
temples and magnificent ceremonies.
B. A professional class of ritual specialists ("priests") arose. Note, however, that
priests also studied what we have labeled science (e.g., the movement of the sun) and
magic (how to manipulate the spirits).
C. Religion tended to legitimize the hierarchical social structure and teach that those
on the bottom owed unquestioning obedience to the elite.
D. Religion especially gave a special spiritual status to the king. He was a god or at
least descended from a god and was the link between the divine realm and the human
one. Important religious rituals either were for the benefit of the king or could only be
performed by him.
E. Religion focused on worshiping the Gods (Bellah). Note that earlier religion focused
on beings which fall short of the power and universality of what we label gods, and
worship was not yet part of religion.
F. Religion depicted the divine realm as mirroring the human. Thus, typically, there
would be
1. A King/Queen of the Gods
2. A divine cabinet in which different deities had different specialties. There
would be a god of the sea, a goddess of love, etc.
3. Lesser deities which might be the older spirits of pre-literate religion.
G. The high gods now had a special dwelling place (on a high mountain, above the
stars, etc.) apart from the environment in which people lived. Nevertheless, the gods
also appeared on earth and lived in sacred precincts (e.g., a temple).
H. The gods acted with a mixture of justice and arbitrariness.
1. On the one hand, since the gods upheld the human hierarchy and sustained
the universe (both natural and social), they mandated justice (at least as the
hierarchical society understood it).
2. On the other hand, since the forces that the gods controlled (e.g., the rain)
were often arbitrary, the gods could act immorally.
I. Religion reflected on the problem of death, and came to various conclusions about
the afterlife.
1. Some religion (e.g., in Mesopotamia) concluded that there was no afterlife for
humans. Note Gilgamesh.
2. Other religion (e.g., in Egypt) concluded that the deceased continued to be
conscious as long as the physical body remained intact.
3. Still other religion taught that the soul left the body and went elsewhere
(either into another living thing on earth or to a different realm).

III. Sacrifices
A. A major part of early agricultural religion was sacrifices of animals, agricultural
produce, and even human beings.
B. Such sacrifices seem to be based on the assumption
1. The gods, like human beings, need to eat and enjoy good food.
2. The gods will reward us for providing it.
IV. Much of religious lore existed as stories about the gods. These stories
A. Often pictured the gods as acting like humans
B. Were not necessarily consistent (since logic had not yet been invented).
V. The rise of the axial religions
A. By definition, an "axial" religion
1. Has a more consistent morality than "primitive" religion. In an axial religion
a. The divine principle (whether personal or impersonal) is wholly just.
b. Requires humans to be just.
2. Is more universal.
a. In primitive religion a god may be only the god of the tribe or of a
specific phenomenon (e.g., the wind). The gods can even fight with one
b. In an axial religion, there is some kind of unifying divine being or
3. Is concerned with overcoming the ego. All the axial religions focus on
overcoming a narrow focus on our selfish and superficial selves.
B. The origin of the axial religion seems linked to at least some of the following
1. A quest for a religion in which there was a just order which in turn required
justice on earth. This quest was at least in part a response to the oppression in
the agricultural societies.
2. A search for some underlying spiritual unity to human existence.
3. An awareness that the forces of nature are not divine.
4. The appearance of critical/logical thinking (Bellah).
C. Frequently, axial religions originated through individuals who were critical of the
social structures and unexamined beliefs of their time.
D. Axial religions emerged in at least four different areas, and each area had a different
1. In Greece the emphasis was on using reason to critique traditional religion
and find a better spiritual path. Consequently, what emerged was primarily
philosophy, and we will not deal with Greece in this course. But we should note
that classical Christianity made use of Greek philosophy.
2. In the Middle East there were the following emphases:
a. Social justice. Middle Eastern axial religions strove to transform social
systems and make them righteous.
b. Militant aniconic monotheism. Middle Eastern religion insisted on
the worship of only one God and forbade making images of him.
c. Exclusiveness. The Middle Eastern religions stressed that their path
was the only valid path and condemned "Paganism" (which was most of
pre-axial religion).
d. Sin. The violation of ethical norms was a betrayal of a personal
relationship with God and was offensive to him.

3. India by contrast
a. Focused on inner transformation
b. Accepted polytheism and artistic representations of the many deities.
c. Believed in inclusiveness. The religions of India integrated most of
pre-axial religion into a new system.
d. Condemned not sin but ignorance. The violation of ethical norms did
not so much offend the gods as work against impersonal laws (karma).
Hence, the punishment was automatic, and it was foolish to do wrong.
4. In China there was the sense that people should have at least two axial
religions, Confucianism and Taoism which complement each other.
a. Confucianism focused on social ethics and conformity to norms.
b. Taoism focused on mysticism and doing what seems natural.
c. The normal person attempted to combine both paths and with the
arrival of Buddhism added a third.
Brief test on material covered so far.
Assignment: 2-3 page reflection paper on primal religion or out-of-body (near
death) experiences

Reading assignment for Hinduism: Smith, chapter 2 and Novak, chapter 1.

A key quote: "The Vedas are varied and the traditions are varied. One is not a sage if his view
is not varied" (from the Mahabharata).
I. The label "Hinduism," like the word "India," ultimately is derived from the "Indus" River
which approximately marks the western border of the subcontinent of South Asia (i.e., what
today includes India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Bhutan).
II. The term "Hinduism" was originally used only by outsiders and even today is not fully
accepted by "Hindus." Many Hindus prefer calling their religion "Sanatana Dharma" (Eternal
III. "Hinduism" described the mass of diverse religious traditions in the Indian subcontinent
except for those traditions which originated elsewhere (especially, Christianity and Islam) or
which, like Buddhism and Sikhism, had special beliefs and practices which clearly contrasted
with the larger religious environment.
IV. Accordingly, Hinduism is in many ways a family of religions and perhaps should be seen
as a culture.
V. Nevertheless, despite the great diversity, at least most Hindu groups would agree that
A. There are many valid religious paths, and different persons need different ones.

B. At death the soul (atman) leaves the body.

C. Normally, the soul will reincarnate into another body and have a new life followed
by a new death.
D. What kind of reincarnation the soul has depends on how the person acted in the
previous life. A person who has lived virtuously will have a better reincarnation than
one who has not. The force which translates moral action into appropriate
reincarnations is called Karma (literally, "action").
E. The goal of human existence is to escape from endless rounds of reincarnations
(samsara) and achieve "liberation" ("moksha"). Depending on the school of Hinduism
this liberation may consist of complete communion with or full identity with the
Ultimate (which may be personal or impersonal).
F. One escapes from samsara by some combination of
1. Religious ritual
2. Theological knowledge
3. Love for a deity
4. Meditation which produces profound experiences
5. Good deeds towards humans and animals.
6. Asceticism which extinguishes desire.
VI. There is also a common feeling to Hinduism. This feeling includes
A. Tolerance of different beliefs.
1. Especially Western religions have insisted on orthodoxy (i.e., holding the
official doctrines of a faith).
a. Typically, Western religions taught that heretics would suffer in the
world to come.
b. Often Western religions even persecuted people in this present world
who were heretical.
2. Hinduism has always taught that different paths lead to salvation, and
persecuting people for what they believe is unknown in the history of India.
What intolerance there has been in India has been due to
a. Objections to how people behaved (e.g., Muslims eating beef; cows are
sacred to Hindus).
b. Nationalism. In contemporary India right wing politicians use
Hinduism to promote narrow patriotism.
B. A relatively optimistic view of human life. To use Huston Smith's summary,
Hinduism teaches, "You can have what you want." Typically, Hinduism downplays
suffering. As we shall see, Buddhism which originated out of Hinduism, would have a
different emphasis.
C. Lack of an authoritative founder.
1. All of the other religions we will study later this semester can name some
person who produced (or, at least, to whom is attributed) a definitive doctrine or
discipline which the religion honors. Thus, as we will see, Asian religions have
Siddhartha, Confucius, and Lao Tzu, and Western religions have Moses, Jesus,
and Muhammed.
2. Hinduism has no authoritative founder, and this lack contributes both to the
diversity and the relative tolerance of the tradition.
VII. Because it is so diverse and never had a central authority to impose orthodoxy, Hinduism
can be seen an a religion consisting of historical layers.

A. Each period of Hinduism adds something new.

B. But the religious beliefs and practices of the previous periods persist.
VIII. Hence, we will attempt to survey the diversity of Hinduism by going through the major
canonical texts chronologically and noting the religious developments that each text inspired
and how the religion of each text continues today.
IX. The Vedas are a large collection of diverse documents and at least in theory are the most
sacred scriptures in Hinduism.
X. The Hinduism of the Vedic Hymns.
A. The first section of the Vedas (literally, "knowledge") is the Rig Veda, a mass of
hymns which accompanied sacrifices, including animal sacrifices, offered to various
B. These hymns are very ancient but were written down later.
1. The composition of the hymns took place as early as the second millennium
B.C.E. and continued for many centuries.
2. Originally, the hymns were memorized by the priestly caste (Brahmins) and
passed down orally.
3. They were recorded in writing only much later.
C. The hymns honor various gods representing different forces of nature. For
example, we have hymns to Indra, god of thunder and rain, Agni god of fire, Vayu, god
of wind, and Varuna, god of the waters, and Sarasvati, goddess of learning and art.
D. The hymns with their attendant sacrifices were intended to secure such worldly
blessings as wealth and victory in battle.
XI. The Vedic Hymns occupy a paradoxical place in Hinduism.
A. On the one hand, they remain theoretically the most sacred and authoritative of the
Hindu scriptures.
B. On the other hand, they play a far smaller role in actual religious practice. One may
especially note that the gods whom the Vedas primarily celebrate (e.g., Indra) later
became only minor members of the huge Hindu pantheon.
C. The practice of animal sacrifice continues only as a minor element in Hinduism.
D. Nevertheless, the tradition of worshiping many gods and goddesses remains the
core of most Hindu devotion.
XII. The Upanishads
A. The Upanishads form the last section of the Vedas and were written from the
seventh century B.C.E onward.
B. Like the other Vedas the Upanishads have great canonical authority.
C. The Upanishads are philosophic texts.
D. In them we find the basic ideas of much of subsequent Hinduism. These include
1. There is an Ultimate Reality (Brahman) which surpasses even the (other)
gods and sustains and pervades all things and is beyond description.
2. That supreme reality cannot be perceived through the senses.
3. It also forms the deepest layer of our own being and as such is called the
atman (soul). Note that the atman is neither the physical body nor the mind nor
even what the West calls the unconscious.
4. The Atman never changes or dies.
5. Instead, it passes from one incarnation to the next.
6. When we turn our gaze inward and discover the atman, we obtain liberation
from the otherwise endless round of reincarnation and achieve a state of bliss.

In this state there is no distinction of subject and object. Instead, as in

dreamless sleep, we know perfect peace.
7. To be able to turn our gaze inward and discover the atman, we must purify
ourselves by moral action, by abandonment of sensual desire, and by various
spiritual exercises (e.g., by chanting "Om"). The spiritual exercises came to be
known as raja yoga. Note: "yoga" literally means "discipline" (cf. "yoke").
Hinduism has various yogas. What in the West we call "yoga" (i.e., control of the
body) is actually Hatha yoga and in Indian tradition is the lowest yoga and was
developed to facilitate meditation.
XIII. The continuing philosophy of (Advaita) Vedanta.
A. Building on the insights of the Upanishads, Shankara (c. 780 C.E.-820) produced
the philosophy that in the West is known as "Vedanta."
B. Actually, "Vedanta" literally means only the end of the Vedas and is a synonym for
the Upanishads as a whole.
C. According to Shankara's philosophy, the entire universe is essentially
undifferentiated. Everything is Brahman/atman.
D. The idea that there is difference is due to superficial perception.
E. We may compare the universe to waves and the sea. To superficial perception the
waves seem to exist as something separate, but to a more profound perception they are
simply part of the sea.
F. We come to perceive the unity of all things through intellectual analysis and
psychological exercises. This path came to have the name "junana yoga."
G. Through this path we achieve liberation.
H. Vedanta has been popular with intellectuals in the West as well as in the East.
I. However, because of its inherent difficulty, the juana path has never been the most
widely practiced form of Hinduism.
XIV. The epic tradition
A. Hinduism has two great epics:
1. The Ramayana centers on the Prince Rama's struggle for his due.
a. In the earlier section of the epic Rama
1). Is unjustly denied accession to the throne of his native
2). Then a demon kidnaps his wife.
b. In the remainder of the epic all is set right.
1). Rama with the help of monkeys kills the demon and regains his
2). He then ascends the throne and rules justly.
2. The Mahabharata primarily concerns a great war between two rival and
related families for the throne of India, one side good and the other, evil. A
theme is the tragic conflict between the ethical duty of non-violence and the
political necessity of violence to subdue the forces of evil.
B. While theoretically the epics have less authority than the Vedas, the Ramayana and
the Mahabharata are more popular and have more influence at least in the religion of
the common people.
XV. The Bhagavad Gita
A. In the midst of the Mahabharata there is a separate section devoted to theology.
B. This section is called the Bhagavad Gita ("Song of the Lord") and was added to the

Mahabharata perhaps around 100 B.C.E. and is often published as a separate book.
C. The section is a long conversation between the great warrior Arjuna and his chariot
driver Krishna who reveals that he is in fact the God Krishna.
D. Krishna in his discourses
1. Affirms the doctrines about the atman, reincarnation, the need for liberation
that already appear in the Upanishads (see above) and stresses that junana yoga
(theological knowledge) and raja yoga (meditation) are valid paths.
2. Two things are new, however:
a. First Krishna is no longer the impersonal Brahman.
1). To be sure Krishna reveals in a dazzling theophany that he is
the origin, sustainer, and destroyer of all things, the essence of the
entire universe.
2). But Krishna is a loving God who whenever the world falls into
moral decadence comes to earth in a new incarnation to bring
b. Second Krishna reveals two new paths to liberation.
1). Karma yoga. One can find liberation by detached moral action.
a). One must do one's social duty regardless of its cost or
b). And one must not be attached to being successful in
accomplishing specific goals or receiving some other
reward (e.g., praise).
c). Through this combination of ethical action and lack of
attachment, one obtains a tranquil mind and overcomes the
karmic forces which would otherwise lead to another
2). Bhakti yoga. One can also find liberation through love for
Krishna and acts of sincere devotion. In response to our love,
Krishna will nullify the forces of karma which otherwise would
lead to future reincarnations.
3). Perhaps though it is better to see these two paths as
complementary: One is able to engage in detached action by
lovingly dedicating everything one does to Krishna.
E. The Gita may be the supreme masterpiece of Hindu literature.
F. It may also be the single most influential Hindu text. Certainly the majority of
devout Hindus follow a path which combines doing one's social duty and having a
loving devotion to one or more Hindu deities.
XVI. The Caste System
A. As we noted above, a fundamental doctrine of Hinduism in that one's present deeds
determine how one is reincarnated after death, with good deeds leading to a better
reincarnation and bad deeds leading to a worse one.
B. Consequently, one is born into a particular social group not by accident but as the
just recompense for one's moral behavior in previous lives.
C. On the basis of the above, classical Hinduism argued that all people should accept
their social status and perform its obligations in the hope of a better reincarnation in
the future.
D. Of course, classical Hinduism thereby endorsed a hierarchical system with

privileges for those on the top and privations for those on the bottom. In classical
Hinduism there were four major castes (social classes) as well as people who had no
1. The highest caste was the Brahmins, who were the priests, and were
responsible for teaching the Vedas and officiating at the required sacrifices.
2. The next highest caste was the Ksatriyas, who were the political rulers and
the military. They were responsible for protecting society and teaching and
studying the Vedas.
3. The next highest case was the Vaishyas who were the merchants and farmers
(in modern terms, the entrepreneurs). They were responsible for the prosperity
of society and for studying the Vedas.
4. The lowest of the castes were the Shudras who were to serve the other castes
and did not have the privilege of studying the Vedas.
5. Beneath even the Shudras were those who did not belong to any caste and
were the untouchables. Often they had professions that were ritually defiling
(e.g., dealing with dead bodies).
E. In practice, however, the social system was even more complicated with thousands
of endogamous subcastes each of which had different occupations and social standing.
F. Throughout the history of Hinduism the caste system has been constant.
1. The castes already appear (once) in the Vedic hymns and are linked to the
creation of the world.
2. The caste system received its classical formulation in the Law Code of Manu
which perhaps originated in the first century of the common era.
3. And even today castes are very important in rural India.
G. Nevertheless, the caste system has been controversial.
1. Reformers within India from Siddhartha (the Buddha) in the fifth century
B.C.E. to Ghandi in the twentieth C.E. have attacked it.
2. Outsiders have used it to dismiss Hinduism as backward and inhumane.
3. Especially in the cities, caste is disappearing, and Indian law has declared
that no one is "untouchable."
H. It is difficult to evaluate the caste system fairly.
1. In defense of the caste system one can say
a. All societies have social classes, and the traditional Indian system was,
if anything, less oppressive than that of most cultures (including the
United States which allowed slavery until 1865!).
b. People have different gifts, and it is appropriate for there to be
different strata of society with different obligations and privileges.
2. But it must be noted that the caste system in practice was oppressive.
a. It prevented people born into a lower caste from exercising higher
social roles, even when such persons manifestly had the necessary gifts.
b. It taught people in the lower castes (and, especially, the untouchables)
to feel inferior.
c. It justified social privilege on the basis of birth rather than on the basis
of merit. Of course, an orthodox Hindu would reply that one's birth is a
reflection of previous merit!
d. And for the lower castes it made the road to ultimate salvation seem
almost hopelessly long.

XVII. The stages of life.

A. Beginning at least with the Law Code of Manu (perhaps first century C.E.), males of
upper castes were supposed to pass through four stages of spiritual life.
1. In the first stage one was a student and studied the sacred texts under the
guidance of a spiritual teacher (guru).
2. In the second stage one got married, raised a family, and worked for a living.
By doing these things one repaid a debt to society.
3. In the third stage one retired to a life of material simplicity, spiritual study,
and inner tranquility.
4. In the fourth stage one gave up all material and social attachments by
becoming a celibate, homeless wanderer.
B. There probably was never a time when many people actually went through the third
and fourth stages, and restricting the process to upper caste males certainly seems
arbitrary today.
C. However, the ideal of dividing life into successive periods of education, career, and
retirement to cultivate the spiritual remains attractive to many people, including me.
XVIII. The eras of the cosmos. Hinduism teaches
A. The cosmos goes through an endless series of long cycles.
B. Each cycle consists of a series of ages.
C. In any particular cycle each succeeding age becomes more corrupt and brief, but
even the briefest cycles last many thousands of years.
D. Finally, the universe is destroyed, and, afterward a new universe comes into
E. At present we are in the last (and worst) age of a cycle.
F. In the decadent period in which we are presently living we must adjust religious
demands to make them realistic.
XIX. Devotion to particular deities.
A. Hinduism has many important deities, and in theory the number of divine beings
reaches into the millions.
B. The myriad deities come from retaining the gods and goddesses of different historic
periods and geographic locales and allowing deities to have multiple manifestations.
C. Each important deity has her/his own mythological stories, temples, and festivals.
D. Much of the material about the various gods and goddesses is recorded in books
known as the Puranas ("old" stories) which originated beginning around 300 B.C.E.
E. Many educated Hindus regard all of the various deities as manifestations of the one
spiritual reality and hold that different types of human beings need different concrete
representations of the transcendent.
F. In any case, various Hindus devote themselves to particular deities.
G. Here are some of the most important and popular:
1. Vishnu and Krishna
a. Vishnu is especially the preserver of the universe.
b. He descends in various ages and various forms to destroy evil and
establish goodness.
c. Two of his most famous manifestations (avatars) were as Rama (in the
epic described above) and as Krishna.
d. Krishna has a colorful life, including a mischievous infancy, a heroic
boyhood in which he slays demons, and an adolescence filled with many

romances and much flute playing and dancing. Later, as we noted above,
he becomes the revealer of divine wisdom in the Gita.
e. Many Hindus dedicate themselves either to Vishnu or Krishna.
2. Shiva has contradictory aspects being both a creator and (as is better known
in the West) a destroyer. He too has many devotees.
3. The Goddess. The Goddess is a composite of various female deities including
Sarasvati, the goddess of learning and art, Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity
and consort of Vishnu, Parvati, the consort of Shiva and, among other things,
the goddess of marriage, and the fearsome warriors Kali and Durga. Her
devotees often address her as "Mother."
4. A favorite deity is the pudgy Ganesha who has the head of an elephant and
the body of a human. He is revered as the one who eliminates obstacles.
XX. In later Hinduism loving devotion became the dominant spiritual path and sometimes
called into question earlier paths of belief and behavior.
A. Throughout India, and, especially, in the South there were waves of enthusiasm for
having a loving relationship with a god or goddess.
B. This enthusiasm celebrated the joy of love, the agony of separation, and the ecstasy
of reunion.
C. Because of the nature and universality of love, the way of devotion (Bhakti)
1. Clashed with the philosophic claim that the Atman and the Divine are
identical. Love implies communion with another, not the loss of a distinctive
2. Broke down the distinctions of caste. Some of the leaders of devotional
Hinduism came from the lower castes rather than the Brahmins.
D. Loving devotion to various deities remains the most popular form of Hinduism in
India today.
E. It often expresses itself in rituals honoring the images of Hindu deities. For
example, worshipers may place offerings of flowers and food before an image of a god
or goddess in a temple or the image may be carried in public procession.
XXI. Major festivals
A. Because of the diversity of Hinduism it is impossible to describe even the majority
of major festivals, since different deities have their own holy days.
B. The huge number of festivals underlines both Hinduism's great diversity and
generally positive attitude toward life.
C. The following two Hindu festivals are especially important and widely observed.
1. Navaratri. This holiday season takes place in both the spring and the autumn
and continues for ten days. It honors several female deities.
2. Dipavali. The holiday takes place a month later than the autumn Navaratri
and celebrates light and enlightenment and in many places marks the beginning
of a new year.
XXII. Pilgrimage and sacred sites.
A. India has many especially sacred places, and pilgrimages to them form a major part
of Hindu devotion.
B. Nevertheless, the Ganges River and the city of Benares located on it are supremely
holy. Washing in this river or having one's cremated ashes scattered in it contribute to
ultimate liberation.

XXIII. Hindu art.

A. Art--perhaps particularly sculpture--plays a vital role in Hinduism because
1. The most important part of a Hindu temple is the inner sanctuary where the
primary image of the deity being honored dwells.
2. In some sense the Divine inhabits the image.
3. Seeing the image is sacramental and brings intimate contact between the
human and the deity.
B. Hinduism's art reflects the diversity and richness of the religion.
1. Typically, a statue or relief of a particular deity has multiple arms holding
various sacred attributes.
2. The statue will portray one or more scenes from the many episodes of the
deity's life.
3. In a temple there will be many statues or reliefs of various gods and
goddesses, even if the temple itself is dedicated to only one of them.
4. This artistic richness makes tangible Hinduism's basic claim that there are a
nearly infinite number of manifestations of the One Reality.
XXIV. Some Observations about Modern Hinduism
A. A number of important historical events and people have helped shape the culture
of recent India and, therefore, modern Hinduism.
1. Foreign rule.
a. For centuries India was ruled by outside invaders.
1). The Muslims took over in the thirteenth century.
2). And the English took over in the eighteenth.
3). India only became independent after World War II.
b. The centuries of foreign rule had a paradoxical influence on Hinduism.
1). On the one hand, foreign rule strengthened Hinduism's
tendency to see all religions as valid manifestations of a single
divine reality, since Hinduism assimilated the religions of the
2). British rule made Hinduism better known to and more
respected by the West.
c. We can see these tendencies in Ramakrishna (1836-1886).
1). Ramakrishna was a priest who served in a temple dedicated to
the goddess Kali.
2). He had gripping mystical experiences.
3). He taught in an especially forceful way the traditional Hindu
beliefs that
a). All religious paths (including Christianity and Islam)
lead to salvation. Indeed, Ramakrishna himself engaged
both in Christian and Muslim devotion.
b). There is only the One Fundamental Reality, and it
cannot be described in words.
c). We must overcome our attachment to selfishness and
4). Ramakrishna became well known in the West.
d. On the other hand, foreign rule led to Hindu nationalism and,
especially, hatred toward Muslims following the bloody division of British

India into what are now India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh and the
continuing dispute over Kashmir. In religion this nationalism has
sometimes manifested itself as an aggressive intolerance.
2. The example of Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948). Note: Mahatma is a title
meaning "Great Soul."
a. Gandhi led the successful drive for India's independence from
b. He pioneered the tactic of non-violent resistance which included truth
telling and non-cooperation.
c. He also was an ascetic with almost no possessions.
d. He became the most famous Hindu in the world.
e. Ultimately he was martyred.
f. He is rightly seen by Hindus as a supremely holy person.
g. His example of social activism, non-violence, love for all, and
simplicity of life have been a model for Hindus (as well as the rest of the
world) and a recommendation of Hinduism to others.
B. The religious threat of prosperity.
1. In the last few years India has had tremendous economic growth.
2. This growth has brought new wealth to many in urban areas and a new
enthusiasm for devoting one's life to material gain.
3. Consequently, there is the danger that India will experience the loss of
interest in religion that has already become widespread in such industrialized
places as Western Europe and Japan.
C. A preliminary evaluation of Hinduism in the modern world.
1. Hinduism's emphasis that different religious paths lead to the same goal is
very attractive to the modern world as we become a global culture and strive to
respect one another.
2. On the other hand Hinduism's traditional social structure, especially the
caste system, seems increasingly archaic in a world which strives for democracy
and equal opportunity. Today probably the majority of educated Hindus reject
hereditary caste and only maintain that, of course, different professions are
appropriate for people with different gifts.
3. A major theological question is whether the Ultimate Reality can be both
personal and impersonal.
a. It is relatively easy to accept the claim that when different religions
have different names for God, they are referring to the same Reality and
that God rejoices in many different devotional practices.
b. It is harder to believe that the divine can be both personal and
4. Another theological question is whether reincarnation is the best way of
understanding life after death.
a. Reincarnation has attractive features. If we accept reincarnation,
1). We do not have to postulate other realms (heaven, hell, etc.)
which may not exist.
2). We guarantee the sanctity of the natural world, since even
animals may be reincarnations of humans.
3). We also guarantee that everyone will eventually reach

liberation (since they will keep being reincarnated until they do!).
b. Nevertheless, reincarnation has major problems.
1). There are strong reasons to question whether there is
a). Clearly people do not normally remember past lives.
b). Obviously people when they are born need to learn from
scratch (though some learn more rapidly).
2). Reincarnation becomes a justification for a caste system which
prevents many people from exercising their gifts.
Discussion: What are the features of Hinduism that you like or dislike and why? What can
Hinduism contribute to your own search for meaning?
Guest speaker on Hinduism: Prabha Duneja, "Why I Believe in Hinduism"
Brief test on Hinduism
Assignment: 2-3 page reflection paper on Hinduism


Reading assignment for Buddhism: Smith, chapter 3 and Novak, chapter 2.

A key quote: I take refuge in the Buddha; I take refuge in the dharma; I take refuge in the
sangha (Buddhist prayer). Here the Buddha is especially Siddhartha Gotama; the dharma
is his teaching; and the sangha is the community of monks and nuns which he founded.
I. Buddhism arose as a response to a troubled Hinduism.
A. In the sixth century official Hinduism was decadent and out-of-touch with a
changing society and, especially, with the needs of the poor.
1. The Brahmins, as the priestly caste, were privileged and had little concern for
the problems of those on the bottom of the social pyramid.
2. Traditional Hinduism mostly consisted of empty rituals and baseless
3. Rapid economic change was leading to great wealth for some, while others
lived in miserable conditions, including slavery.
B. As a result, reform movements were arising of which Buddhism was one.
1. Various teachers were gathering small groups of disciples and attempting to
produce a revitalized religion based on asceticism and non-violence.

2. About the same time that the Buddha was beginning his religious reform,
Mahavira was founding the Jains, an important religion in India which
continues today.
II. The life of the Buddha.
A. There are scholarly difficulties in reconstructing the Buddha's life.
1. The Buddha's life was first written down more than a century after his death.
2. By then historical fact and edifying legend had fused.
3. Consequently, some of the basic facts are unclear. We do not even know the
century of the Buddha's birth. Estimates have ranged from the seventh century
B.C.E. to the fifth.
B. In any case, for the purposes of understanding Buddhism, the historical facts about
the Buddha are less important than the traditions about him, since these latter are
what the faithful down through the centuries have cherished.
C. A traditional account of the Buddha's life and death.
1. Siddhartha Gautama, who would one day have the title of the Buddha
(Enlightened One), was born a prince of a kingdom in what is today Nepal. He
was a member of the Sakya clan and, consequently, is also known as
Sakyamuni (Sakya Sage). Tragically he mother died when he was only a few
days old.
2. In connection with his birth various miracles occurred.
3. One of them was a prophecy that he would be either a great ruler or a great
religious savior.
4. To prevent him from choosing the second option, his father kept him from
seeing any suffering.
5. Consequently, for many years Siddhartha lived in a palace enjoying carefree
luxury, and during this period he married and had a son.
6. But then on some outings he caught sight of an old person, a sick person, and
a dead person.
7. He realized that pleasure is passing and that he too would fall prey to
suffering and death.
8. As he meditated on the sad lot of human beings, he briefly experienced
9. He encountered a wandering ascetic who was seeking salvation.
10. Siddhartha fled from the palace and studied first under one religious teacher
and then under another.
11. Although he mastered what each teacher had to offer, he did not find a final
solution to the problem of suffering and death.
12. He tried extreme asceticism and nearly starved to death, but such self-denial
was not spiritually helpful.
13. He remembered his experience of finding peace through meditation and
resolved to meditate until he found the solution to suffering and death.
14. As he meditated, Mara, the deity of death, became alarmed at the prospect
of losing power and tried to distract him.
15. But Siddhartha remained steadfast.
16. When Mara persisted in harassing him, Siddhartha appealed to the Earth
(Goddess) who produced a great earthquake, and Mara fled.
17. Siddhartha attained full enlightenment along with other gifts.

18. For a number of days he enjoyed perfect bliss.

19. He then struggled with the question of whether he should simply continue to
enjoy solitary bliss or whether he should endeavor to help others reach
a. He recognized that reaching enlightenment was difficult, and many
people would not benefit from his assistance.
b. However, he also realized that there were others who would.
20. He decided to preach and walked to a deer park where he brought
enlightenment to the two religious teachers under whom he himself had studied,
and he sent them out to enlighten others.
21. He spent decades preaching publicly and counseling.
22. During those decades he also founded and organized monastic communities
(the sangha).
23. He died as the age of eighty after giving final instructions to his disciples.
24. His body was cremated, and his remains were deposited in eight different
shrines (stupas). Stupas continue to be centers of Buddhist ritual, devotion, and
pilgrimage today.
III. The personality of Siddhartha
A. Despite the legendary accretions in our sources for Siddhartha, one can discern a
distinctive historical personality.
B. One striking feature is that he was a brilliant metaphysician who nevertheless was
practical and respected the limits of what human beings can know.
1. From what he taught it is clear that Siddhartha was one of the most original
and insightful metaphysicians in history. Siddhartha's intellectual achievement
is especially remarkable since it occurred just as logical thinking (as opposed to
mythical thinking) was originating. See below for his analysis of reality.
2. Yet, Siddhartha was not interested in speculation for its own sake.
3. Instead, for him metaphysical analysis was only a tool to discover the
knowledge necessary to help people achieve liberation.
4. Siddhartha insisted that many questions were unanswerable.
5. And that speculating about conundrums is a waste of time and distracts
people from the real task of human life, namely ending suffering.
6. Siddhartha also rejected unquestioning reliance on tradition or ritual. He
taught his followers to accept nothing that could not be verified by their own
C. Siddhartha was also supremely compassionate (even, according to tradition, toward
D. Despite his princely background, he was comfortable with every social class and made
himself available to all.
E. He could see into people's hearts and respond appropriately.
F. He lived with few material possessions but also provided adequately for his bodily
IV. The basic doctrines of Buddhism.
A. Siddhartha and the various branches of the religion he inspired retained much of
their Hindu heritage. Like the Hinduism of the Upanishads, the Buddha and his
spiritual descendants hold that
1. Human beings pass through many rounds of birth, death, and rebirth.

2. The laws of karma operate, i.e., how a person behaved in past lives
determines how s/he will fare in future ones, with good deeds leading to better
reincarnations and bad deeds leading to worse ones.
3. The goal of human existence should be to escape from the cycle of birth and
4. One obtains liberation through moral living, meditation, and the extinction of
5. The universe goes through endless cycles consisting of long ages, and during
the later part of each cycle there is less and less virtue. Then a deity descends to
earth, reestablishes virtue, and inaugurates a new cycle. Subsequent to his
death, Buddhism taught that Siddhartha himself was the Buddha (savior) of the
present age. Buddhists eagerly await the coming of the new Buddha who will
again renew the world.
B. Nevertheless, Siddhartha and his followers broke with Hinduism in several ways.
1. Siddhartha rejected the doctrine of the unchanging atman and instead taught
that the soul is subject to change. Subsequently, the mutability of the soul has
been official Buddhist doctrine, though it is not clear that uneducated Buddhists
understand it.
2. Siddhartha and subsequent Buddhism rejected the ultimacy of the gods and
a. Siddhartha and subsequent Buddhism continued to believe that deities
b. But these no longer were manifestations of the Unchanging Absolute.
c. Instead, the deities were subject to eventual decay, death, and
3. Siddhartha and all subsequent Buddhism rejected the caste system as silly
and oppressive. From the beginning Buddhism taught that in principle all
human beings are spiritual equals.
4. Siddhartha also rejected the rituals of Hinduism, especially, animal sacrifices
which were so central to the Vedic tradition.
5. Siddhartha and subsequent Buddhism had a more pessimistic evaluation of
normal human existence. Whereas Hinduism tends to emphasize the positive
features of normal life (You can have what you want--Smith), Buddhism
stresses the negative (see below).
C. The core of Buddhist teaching is the Four Noble Truths which Siddhartha
discovered and which all branches of Buddhism hold.
1. The first noble truth is that life is suffering. This teaching can be interpreted
in various ways:
a. Life in general is miserable.
b. Life may often be pleasant, but there is no avoiding eventual suffering
and death (and rebirth).
c. In comparison with the bliss of final liberation (nirvana), even the
pleasures of life should be seen as (relative) suffering.
2. The second noble truth is that suffering is caused by ignorance which
produces craving. Human beings suffer because we are excessively attached (in
modern terms, addicted).
a. Addiction leads to suffering because

1). We cannot be at peace if we do not have the object to which we

are addicted.
2). To get that object we are willing to hurt others.
3). Since everything is transitory, we ultimately lose that object
and suffer.
b. Addiction is based on the misconception that we can possess things,
whereas in truth there is no (separate, unchanging) thing to possess and
no (separate, unchanging) "I" to possess them (see below for an
3. The third noble truth is that to end suffering we must break our craving.
4. The fourth truth is that the way to do so is the Eightfold Path.
D. As Novak and Smith emphasize, the Eightfold Path presupposes right association.
Unless one avoids associating with people who pursue addiction and one cultivates
friendships with people who are seeking enlightenment, liberation is impossible.
E. The Eightfold Path consists of right views, intention, speech, action, livelihood,
effort, mindfulness, and concentration.
1. Much of the Path consists of morality and compassion. For example, right
livelihood includes not engaging in professions that are inherently evil, such as
being a slave dealer, or inherently degrading, such as being a prostitute.
Traditionally, Buddhist morality consists of five principles. One must
a. Not kill but instead show kindness toward sentient beings.
b. Not steal but instead give liberally to those in need.
c. Not engage in destructive sex but instead be celibate or monogamous.
d. Not lie but instead tell the truth and seek an accurate understanding.
e. Not drink excessively or take drugs but instead cultivate mental clarity,
especially through meditation.
2. Other parts of the Eightfold Path (e.g., right concentration) presuppose
mental exercises which enable people to break addiction and become detached.
a. For example, one is to observe one's moods without pushing them
away or clinging to them and observe one's cravings without acting on
b. An especially important exercise is getting into a comfortable position,
ideally lotus (i.e., sitting with one's feet crosswise and resting on opposite
calves) and paying attention to breathing.
c. Another important exercise is to be constantly aware of whatever one
is doing.
d. Through these exercises one purifies the mind from such obsessive
emotions as lust, anger, greed, and fear and achieves equanimity.
3. Other parts of the Eightfold Path consist of a correct understanding of the
nature of reality and the proper goal of life (see below).
F. Underlying the Noble Truths is a metaphysical view that everything is empty, that
there is no thing and no self. Hence, when people are enlightened, they understand
that there is nothing to be attached (addicted) to.
1. Everything is changing and nothing lasts forever.
2. Moreover, even in the present nothing has an essence.
a. Of course, various things and people exist.
b. However, everything and everyone consist of a loose association of

disparate items. Thus, a human being is a disorderly combination of

thoughts, sensations, feelings, matter, and bodily activities.
3. Moreover, everything in the universe is constantly interacting, and there are
no firm boundaries between one thing and another. Thus, a human being is
constantly taking in air, food, and ideas and letting other things out from
excrement to speech. Hence, nothing has independent existence, and everything
is continually changing everything else.
4. Our ignorance and immoral choices contribute both to the complexity of this
chaos and our attachment to it.
5. And our chaotic existence does not even end at death, but our attachment
brings into being another reincarnation.
6. Paradoxically, because everything and everyone are empty, our true nature-everyone's true nature--is the Buddha nature, but ignorance hides this fact from
most people.
7. When you realize that there is no (separate) self, then everyone is you and
you are compassionate.
G. Nirvana
1. Nirvana (literally cooling) is the ultimate goal of Buddhism.
2. Beginning with Siddhartha himself, Buddhism has emphasized that Nirvana
cannot be adequately described.
3. Nevertheless, when a person enters Nirvana, s/he
a. Has seen through the illusion of self.
b. Has extinguished all attachment.
c. Is in perfect peace.
d. Will stay in this state forever and never again be reincarnated.
e. Two helpful images of Nirvana are
1). Experience without an experiencer.
2). A drop of water in the ocean.
4. It must be stressed that Nirvana is not a place to which someone goes but a
state of mind.
5. Hence, even the present chaotic world becomes Nirvana for the person who
has seen through the illusion of self and has extinguished all destructive desire.
6. All sentient beings will ultimately attain Nirvana, though only after long ages
of reincarnation.
V. Monasticism
A. Monasticism plays a key role in Buddhism.
1. Siddhartha himself began monastic communities.
2. In subsequent history all Buddhist communities have had monks and
sometimes nuns, and Buddhist leaders have normally been monks.
B. Buddhist monks and nuns traditionally
1. Are celibate and live in single-sex communities.
2. Spend much time in meditation.
3. Sometimes assist the needy, including providing medical care.
4. Are vegetarians and do not eat after noon.
5. Do not sleep in luxurious beds or engage in revelry.
6. Traditionally do not have money and support themselves by begging. Note:
By providing for monks lay people gain merit which will lead to a better

7. Provide religious ceremonies and instruction for lay people.
VI. Traditional Lay Buddhism
A. Of course, the vast majority of Buddhists have not been monks and nuns.
B. Most Lay Buddhists have not engaged in large amounts of meditation.
C. And they did not seek immediate entry into Nirvana at death.
D. Instead, through practicing Buddhism they sought tangible benefits in this life and
a better reincarnation in their next one. Most Lay Buddhists only expected to enter
Nirvana after many more reincarnations.
E. Most lay Buddhists have sought to get these benefits of a better life now and a better
reincarnation later by
1. Supporting monks and nuns.
2. Loving devotion to the Buddha and participation in Buddhist rituals.
3. Acts of kindness.
VII. Some notes on the early growth of Buddhism
A. After the death of Siddhartha, the movement he began continued to grow in India.
B. Buddhism became especially widespread with the conversion of Emperor Ashoka
(reigned c. 273-232 BCE). Ashoka
1. Made Buddhism virtually the official religion of India, though he also
promoted religious freedom and tolerance.
2. Sent out Buddhist missionaries to the rest of the known world.
C. After Asoka's time Buddhism continued to spread thanks to the work of other
missionaries, especially Buddhist monks and merchants.
VIII. Different branches of Buddhism.
A. Different branches of Buddhism arose as
1. Buddhism adapted to the diverse cultures of the lands to which it spread.
2. Different personalities gave competing interpretations of the Buddha's
B. Theravada Buddhism (literally: Traditionalists).
1. Theravada has been dominant in South East Asia and Sri Lanka and,
consequently, is also called Southern Buddhism.
2. It is conservative and stayed closer to the explicit teaching of Siddhartha.
a. Its most sacred texts, the Pali Canon, are the oldest and most reliable
source of information about Siddhartha and what he taught.
b. An especially revered and important text is the Dhammapada which
contains collected sayings of the Buddha.
3. Theravada is relatively severe and teaches
a. Normally a person will go through many more reincarnations before
reaching Nirvana.
b. One must depend solely on one's own efforts to achieve
enlightenment. The Buddha helps us only by providing a path to follow.
c. Monks are the exclusive leaders, and one must become a monk before
taking the final step to Nirvana.
4. Theravada has been a minority within Buddhism and is known pejoratively
as Hinayana (the inferior vehicle).
C. Mahayana (the greater vehicle).
1. Mahayana has been dominant in China, Japan, and Korea and is also called

Northern Buddhism.
2. It has been innovative and claims to be faithful to the spirit of the Buddha's
teaching rather than the letter. Mahayana notes that the Buddha not only
taught that there was a path but also helped people on it.
3. It has emphasized the availability of grace from spiritual beings.
a. Mahayana stresses that the Buddha is now a heavenly being with
myriad resources to help those who seek his aid.
b. Other people who have already achieved enlightenment have chosen
not to enter Nirvana but instead to be reincarnated as deities in order to
help people reach salvation. These deities are called bodhisattvas
(literally, "wisdom being").
c. Every Buddhist should seek to become a bodhisattva until all sentient
beings achieve enlightenment.
d. Much of demotic Buddhism consists of devotions to various
bodhisattvas in the hope of obtaining spiritual or even material benefits.
Thus, for example, Pure Land Buddhism teaches that by chanting one of
the Buddha's celestial names, Amitabha, a devotee will be incarnated in a
paradise where it will be easy to reach final enlightenment.
e. Because so much grace is available, Mahayana holds open the hope
that even lay people may be able to reach enlightenment in a single
f. Mahayana is the majority within Buddhism and has many different
D. Chan/Zen Buddhism is theoretically a school of Mahayana but is so distinctive that
it deserves a separate treatment.
1. Chan/Zen is perhaps the form of Buddhism that is most well known in the
United States.
2. Chan and Zen are respectively Chinese and Japanese (mis)pronunciations
of the original Buddhist term for meditation.
3. The Chan/Zen school emphasizes enlightenment by direct experience during
meditation rather than by studying scriptures or doing devotions.
4. This enlightenment must be found on an individual basis, and the teacher
can only give cryptic indications and keep challenging the student.
5. Koan.
a. The koan is the most (in)famous part of Chan/Zen.
b. It is a riddle (e.g., what is the sound of one hand clapping?) which
logically cannot have an answer.
c. Nevertheless, a monk will engage in long and intensive meditation
seeking an answer.
d. The ultimate result is that normal reality collapses, and the monk has
a spiritual breakthrough and directly experiences that there is no
(separate) self.
e. The use of the koan is somewhat controversial, since even within
Chan/Zen itself critics have alleged that the breakthrough is in fact an
experience of insanity.
f. Chan/Zen meditation gives to one's perception freshness and

E. Vajrayana (Thunderbolt) Buddhism.

1. Vajrayana Buddhism became dominant in the Himalayas.
2. It places a special emphasis on
a. Achieving spiritual union with a bodhisattva through visualization.
b. Using the body (in special gestures, dancing, or even sex) to help
achieve enlightenment.
c. A classic of this tradition is the Tibetan Book of the Dead which gives a
detailed description of a person's transition from death either to
enlightenment or a new reincarnation.
d. Vajrayana Buddhism has suffered gravely under Chinese rule in Tibet.
e. The exiled leader of Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama, has become a
symbol of Buddhist compassion and patience in the face of great
provocation and an ambassador for international peace and kindness.
VIII. Buddhist holy days celebrate the great events of the Buddha's life: his birth,
enlightenment, and passing from earthly existence to Nirvana.
IX. Buddhist art.
A. Buddhism has produced some of the greatest and most diverse art in world history.
B. All branches of Buddhism have statues and paintings of the Buddha himself,
1. The stages of his life and even his previous incarnations
2. His compassion and invitation to the viewer to become enlightened.
C. Different branches of Buddhism have produced distinctive artistic styles. Two of
the most significant are
1. Chan/Zen paintings.
a. These are deceptively simple and appear to be easy to do, since they
are monochromatic (black ink on paper or silk), consist of only a few
brush strokes, and are asymmetrical.
b. But they are very sophisticated and require great skill.
2. Vajrayana mandalas
a. These paintings are brilliantly colored, highly detailed, symmetrical,
and have complex iconography.
b. The composition tends to be circular or square.
c. The paintings portray the path to enlightenment. The path begins at
the outside of the composition and leads to the center. On the path the
viewer passes through many gates, encounters demons and bodhisattvas,
and ultimately reaches the deity in the middle.
d. Ideally, the viewer studies the mandala during meditation.
X. Some notes on later Buddhist history.
A. Ultimately Buddhism disappeared from India where it originated. This
disappearance was due to several factors.
1. The loss of support from later dynasties, which were Hindu or Islamic.
2. Reforms within Hinduism which
a. Responded to Buddhist criticism. Note that the Buddha himself
entered the Hindu pantheon as a manifestation of Vishnu!
b. Placed more emphasis on love.
3. Islamic invasions.
B. Buddhism in many countries (China, Mongolia, etc.) suffered gravely under

C. However, Buddhism is once again growing in these lands.
D. It also has become increasingly respected in the West, though the number of actual
converts has remained relatively small (see below for a discussion of Buddhism in the
United States).
XI. Modern Buddhism in the United States
A. Buddhism has come to America in two ways:
1. Immigration
2. Conversions.
B. Buddhism has been attractive to educated Americans who
1. Are seeking greater inner peace and ability to concentrate through meditation
2. Want a religion that teaches morality but does not rely on faith in God.
3. Easily coheres with scientific investigation.
C. Consequently, Buddhism is growing.
D. (Novak and Smith) American Buddhism has responded to its larger cultural setting
1. Becoming politically active
2. Giving a greater role to women and lay people.
3. Combining elements from different branches of Buddhism.
E. There is also the growing phenomenon of what one might label secular Buddhism,
that is people who
1. Practice Buddhist meditation to gain greater tranquility and ability to
2. Perhaps believe on empirical evidence in the doctrine of no-self
3. But do not believe in reincarnation or that one can enter nirvana after
physical death.
XII. Some questions for Buddhism:
A. Since Buddhism, like Hinduism, relies on the doctrine of reincarnation, is
reincarnation credible?
B. If there is no unchanging soul, is there sufficient continuity from one incarnation to
the next to guarantee moral accountability (especially since we cannot even remember
past lives)?
C. Is Nirvana as a state of passionlessness and the negation of (the illusion of) self the
ideal goal of life? Would a paradise with passionate communion between distinctive
selves be preferable?
D. Buddhism holds that the laws of karma are absolutely rational and just but does not
posit a divine intelligence. Would it be more logical to believe in a god as the creator of
Discussion: What are the features of Buddhism that you like or dislike and why? What can
Buddhism contribute to your own search for meaning?
Brief test on Buddhism
Guest speaker on Buddhism: Lee de Barros, "Why I Believe in Buddhism"
Assignment: 2-3 page reflection paper on Buddhism


Reading assignment for Islam: Smith, chapter 6; Novak, chapter 7.

Key quote: No god but the God! Muhammed is the God's messenger! (Islamic creed).
I. From the perspective of secular history, Islam is the youngest of the great Western
monotheistic religions (and the youngest religion we study in this course).
A. Judaism perhaps began when the Mosaic Law forbade the worship of other gods
and outlawed making any divine image, and these regulations may have existed well
before 1,000 B.C.E. and certainly existed by 500 B.C.E.
B. Christianity began with the ministry of Jesus which occurred around 27 C.E.
C. By contrast, Islam did not begin until the lifetime of Muhammed (570-632).
D. The different calendars of the three faiths reflect this chronology, since for Jews the
year 1 is the traditional date for the creation of the world, for Christians the year 1 is the
traditional date for the birth of Jesus, and for Muslims the year 1 is the date when
Muhammed moved from Mecca to Medina (622 C.E.).
II. From the perspective of secular history, Islam got most of its theology and practices from
previous religions, especially the older native religion in Arabia from which Islam took its
central shrine, and Judaism and Christianity from which Islam took its theology.
III. Yet from the perspective of Islam itself, Islam is the oldest religion and has existed
throughout the ages. According to Islamic tradition
A. Adam, the first human being, was a monotheistic prophet and built the Ka'ba which
remains today the central shrine of Islam.
B. Thereafter in each generation God sent new monotheistic prophets to recall the
world to the true faith which human beings were continually deserting.
C. Thus, for example, Abraham, the primary precursor of Judaism, was a monotheistic
prophet and repaired the Ka'ba which had fallen into ruin.
D. Both Moses and Jesus were part of this succession of great monotheistic
messengers from God.
E. Indeed, according to Islamic doctrine everyone who followed the teaching of any
one of the monotheistic prophets was a Muslim.
F. Muhammed is the last of this great succession and revealed Allah's (God's) will
definitively. Consequently, there is no need for another prophet.
IV. Regardless of whether one accepts Islam's claim to be the first religion, it seems clear that

Islam presents monotheism in its simplest form, as Muslims themselves insist.

A. If there is only one God and he created all things, it would be simpler and more
logical if he treated all peoples alike and regarded everything as clean (after all, he
made it!). Yet, Classical Judaism teaches that
1. God chose to have a special relationship with the Jews and gave them special
2. The law which God gave decrees that many things are unclean (e.g., the
consumption of meat and milk together).
B. If there is only one God, it would be simpler and more logical if all people were
alike, but Christianity teaches that God himself became a human being, thus raising the
questions of whether all people are equal and even whether there actually is only one
C. By contrast, in Islam
1. Almost everything is clean. Only pork is absolutely forbidden, though many
Muslims have adopted some of the food prohibitions of Judaism.
2. God does not have a son.
D. Muslims insist that the monotheism they acclaim is purer (more uncompromising)
than in other religions.
V. Because Islam sees itself as the oldest Western religion and because it is the simplest, we
will deal with it first and turn to Judaism and Christianity later.
VI. The situation in Mecca when Muhammed was born.
A. Mecca had severe social problems.
1. The various Bedouin tribes that visited the city often fought with each other
(though not within Mecca itself because the city was sacred--see below).
2. Within the city many of the wealthy no longer observed the traditional Arab
duties toward the poor.
3. The Bedouin tribes felt culturally inferior to the great urban centers (e.g.,
Byzantium) of the larger geographical area.
B. The religious situation was complex.
1. The Bedouin tribes worshiped a host of deities.
2. There was a famous shrine, the Ka'ba which drew pilgrims and, therefore,
was important to the local economy.
3. The shrine was Pagan, and contained hundreds of idols.
4. Nevertheless, there were Jews and Christians in Mecca who were
5. There were also people who worshiped only Allah (literally: the God), the
greatest of the native Meccan deities.
6. And there was a popular hope that a new savior would soon appear.
VII. Muhammed's life according to Islamic tradition. Note: There is scholarly discussion in
the West about the accuracy of this tradition.
A. In 570 Muhammed was born in Mecca.
B. His childhood was difficult.
1. He was orphaned at an early age, and several different people raised him.
2. Ultimately, he was taken in by his uncle and aunt who lived in poverty.
C. According to Islamic tradition, Muhammed has visionary experiences even as a
D. When he was sixteen, he joined an organization which sought to help people in dire

E. As an adult he married a wealthy widow named Khadija and became a successful
F. He also engaged in frequent prayer.
G. In 610 he had the first of the revelations that would become the primary basis of
1. He was praying alone in a cave.
2. He encountered the Angel Gabriel who
a. Told Muhammed to be a prophet.
b. Commanded him to recite what he had heard.
H. Subsequently, Muhammed periodically heard new messages from Gabriel for the
remainder of his life.
I. According to the testimony of someone who knew him, Muhammed's revelatory
experiences were extremely intense.
J. Perhaps Muhammed's greatest religious experience occurred when he was
spiritually taken from Mecca to Jerusalem and ascended into heaven and made a
complete submission to God. Note: Partly because of this tradition, Jerusalem is
sacred to Muslims.
K. In response to his intense religious experiences, Muhammed initially questioned his
own sanity and kept the revelations to himself and his wife.
L. However, he later shared them with friends, and after they encouraged him, he
began to share them in public.
M. His revelations in the name of God
1. Demanded strict monotheism and denounced idolatry.
2. Challenged those with money to aid the poor.
3. Insisted on morality in various areas, including sex.
4. Announced a coming day of divine judgment on which those who ignored the
warnings would suffer, whereas those who heeded them would enter into
N. Muhammed gained some disciples.
O. But not surprisingly, his attack on both the religious and economic establishment in
Mecca provoked persecution of him and his followers.
P. When his life was increasingly in danger, he accepted an invitation to go to the city
of Yathrib (later renamed Medina, the City of the Prophet) and resolve the internal
dissension there. The year of this migration (622 C.E.) is year 1 of the Islamic calendar.
Q. He became the ruler of Medina and showed great skill as an administrator and a
R. War broke out with Mecca.
S. Ultimately, Muhammed's forces were victorious.
T. He took control of Mecca and cleansed the Ka'ba of idols and dedicated it to the One
U. He returned to Medina.
V. He succeeded in bringing unity to the Arab tribes, partly through taking wives from
various ones.
W. He died in 632 after giving a moving farewell sermon challenging his disciples to
continue to follow his teaching.
X. He was buried in Medina, and Medina is the second most sacred site for Muslims.

VIII. Some aspects of Muhammed's personality.

A. He was compassionate, perhaps in part because of his own difficult childhood.
B. He was forgiving. Note that he did not take vengeance on his enemies after gaining
control of Mecca.
C. He was practical.
D. He lived simply even after becoming a ruler.
E. He had a sex life and thought that religious leaders should engage in sex.
1. He got married and had children.
2. He insisted that there was no monasticism [religiously inspired celibacy] in
3. His revelations presented paradise as a place of sexual fulfillment.
4. The contrast with the Buddha who abandoned his marriage to pursue religion
is striking.
IX. The Qur'an
A. The Qur'an is the collection of the various revelations that God made to Muhammed
through the Angel Gabriel.
B. Muhammed was illiterate and recited the revelations orally, and his followers
recorded them. Note that literally "Qur'an" means reciting.
C. Subsequently, the revelations were collected.
D. The finalization of the Qur'an did not take place until the Caliphate of Umar, a
generation after Muhammed's death.
E. The Qur'an is basically arranged by the length of the sections (called suras) from
longer to shorter.
F. The longer suras tend to come from the period when Muhammed ruled Medina and
often deal with legal and social issues (marriage, wills, etc.).
G. The shorter suras tend to come from the earlier period when Muhammed was still
in Mecca and struggling to gain acceptance for his revelations. These suras are more
poetic and mystical and tend to deal with the majesty and unity of God and the warning
to accept Muhammed as God's messenger.
H. Much of the Qu'ran consists of stories that are similar to ones found in the Bible
about such figures as Noah, Abraham, and Joseph.
I. Non-Muslims often find the Qur'an unappealing, because they read it linearly,
silently, and in translation, and the power of the original is lost.
J. The Qur'an is basically a set of poems from God and to be appreciated must be read
or, ideally, chanted
a. Aloud in Arabic
b. Meditatively with each section treated as a separate whole.
c. When read in this way, the poetic language mediates the presence of God.
K. Muslims regard the Qur'an as literally the words of God, transmitted to Muhammed
through the Angel Gabriel.
L. Because the Qur'an in the original Arabic is literally the words of God and has
rhyme, Muslims have been far less enthusiastic about translations than Christians have
been about translations of the Bible.
M. Muhammed proclaimed that the Qur'an was his only miracle and its eloquence a
proof of the truth of his message. Subsequently Muslims have insisted that its
magnificence proves that God alone could have written the book.
N. Muslims often memorize the entire Arabic text and have taken extraordinary steps

to preserve it from variation.

O. A major problem with the Qur'an today is our limited knowledge of classical Arabic
which leads to significant variations in translation.
P. The Qur'an emphasizes that we see God's glory both in the natural world and in our
own nature as human beings.
Q. We are to respond with awe and gratitude.
X. Five pillars which already appear in the Qur'an and have been central to Islam through
the ages.
A. Pillar 1: The confession of faith in one God (shahadah). The center of all Islam is
the unity and supremacy of God.
1. The most serious sin in Islam is making anything equal to God.
2. God is unique, and his power, knowledge, and justice exceed even our ability
to imagine them.
3. God is also supremely compassionate and merciful and ready to forgive all
who repent. Each sura of the Qur'an begins, In the name of God, most
compassionate, most merciful.
4. God is the creator and sustainer of all things.
5. He is also the final judge.
a. The Qur'an emphasizes that there will be a final judgment in which all
people will receive exactly their due.
b. Of course, those who have put God ahead of all else will receive vast
rewards, whereas the wicked will suffer.
6. Islam celebrates God's greatness by calling him ninety-nine names, each of
them underlining one of God's supreme characteristics.
7. God is absolutely unified.
a. Islam does not allow any division within God himself.
b. It explicitly rejects the Christian doctrines of the incarnation (that God
has a Son) and the Trinity (that the one God consists of three persons).
8. Because of God's greatness, Islam rejects making any images.
a. Of course, this prohibition especially applies to images attempting to
depict God.
b. Theoretically, it extends to images of human beings and even animals.
God created them, and we should not attempt to copy God's work.
c. In practice, however, Islam allows representational miniatures.
9. Because of God's absolute supremacy, the central call of each Muslim is to
surrender to his will.
a. Indeed, Islam means surrender, and a Muslim is literally
someone who surrenders (or submits).
b. Such surrender includes following God's laws.
c. And accepting everything that happens in life as God's will.
d. Although such acceptance can sound like fatalism, what it actually is is
the ability to be at peace knowing that God is in control. Islam is
related to the word, peace.
e. Islam believes that the great temptation is to forget our dependence on
God and try to live by our own power and wisdom.
B. Pillar 2 (salat): The contact prayers (so called because through them one makes
contact with God).

1. Islam requires its adherents to pray five times a day. While there is some
flexibility about the exact hour, these times are dawn, noon, midafternoon,
sunset, and evening.
2. There is first a call to prayer which ideally is done from a tower called a
minaret; and each worshiper washes ceremonially; and then the actual prayers
3. The prayers mostly follow a fixed text and are in Arabic and are done facing
the Ka'ba in Mecca.
4. Much of the prayers consists of
a. God is great!
b. No god but the God!
c. Muhammed is the God's messenger!
d. The first sura of the Qur'an.
5. There are also fixed postures. At different times the worshiper stands, bows,
kneels with the head touching the floor, and sits on the heels. Accompanying
the postures are various positions of the hands.
6. The daily prayers serve as a constant reminder within the distractions of life
that God is central and one can be a peace through accepting his will.
C. Pillar 3: Charity (zakat).
1. Islam emphasizes that God rewards every Muslim who to please him helps
others (including animals), especially those in need.
2. Islam stresses that there are innumerable ways that one can exercise charity.
For example, the Qur'an emphasizes God's desire that the faithful buy freedom
for slaves.
3. Islam requires that each Muslim take 2 1/2% of his/her assets (beyond bare
necessities) annually and give it to help the poor.
D. Pillar 4: Ramadan and other sacred times.
1. Some comments about the Islamic calendar.
a. The Islamic year consists of twelve lunar months.
b. Consequently, a full calendar year is eleven days less than the 365
required for the earth to complete a revolution around the sun.
c. There is no fixed correlation between Islamic holy days and the
seasons or Western months or between an Islamic and Western century.
2. Ramadan
a. Muhammed both received his inaugural revelation and later migrated
to Medina during the Islamic month of Ramadan.
b. He taught that this month must be kept with special devotions.
c. These devotions are especially not eating or drinking or engaging in
sex during the day but also include greater time for prayer and greater
generosity to the needy.
d. Perhaps the greatest feast of Islam is the celebration that concludes
3. Other sacred times are
a. Muhammed's birthday
b. The Feast of the Sacrifice which lasts three days and commemorates
Abraham's willingness to obey God's command to sacrifice his son. Note
that, as in the biblical version of the story, God called off the human

sacrifice after it was clear that Abraham would obey.

c. Friday which is when Muslims gather at noon in a mosque (literally
place of prostration, a sacred building) to hear a sermon and pray.
E. Pillar 5: The pilgrimage to Mecca (Haj).
1. As noted above, Mecca was a pilgrimage site even before Muhammed's birth,
and the central shrine was a cubed-shaped structure named the Ka'ba which
contained a sacred black stone.
2. Muhammed's extended family had the responsibility of maintaining the
3. According to local tradition, Abraham and his son Ishmael (the traditional
ancestor of the Arabs) repaired the building.
4. The Qur'an regards Abraham as one of the earliest and greatest of the
monotheistic prophets.
5. Muhammed himself made a pilgrimage to the Ka'ba and cleansed it of idols.
6. The Qur'an requires all Muslims who have the means to make at least one
pilgrimage to Mecca. Note that non-Muslims cannot visit Mecca.
7. During the pilgrimage the most important act is to circle the Ka'ba
counterclockwise seven times.
8. Other rites include spending a day in another sacred place repenting of one's
sins, and throwing rocks at the devil!
9. The peaceful gathering of Muslims from all over the world strengthens the
bonds between them and underlines the equality of all.
XI. Some topics of the social teaching of Muhammed.
A. The absolute equality of all men before God and the need for brotherhood among
1. Muhammed lived in a time when there was great tension between various
Arab groups and, of course, between other ethnic and racial ones, and in which
the Jews claimed to be God's chosen people.
2. Nevertheless, he insisted that in the eyes of God all are equal and God will
judge only on the basis of what each has freely chosen to believe and do.
3. Muhammed also insisted that all Muslims are brothers and sisters regardless
of their language, race, or ethnicity and must treat each other with justice.
B. Women.
1. Prior to the acceptance of Muhammed's teaching, Arabia was very oppressive
to women.
2. In response Muhammed laid down laws to protect them. Note that some of
these laws gave women privileges that did not exist in the West until modern
times. These laws included
a. Forbidding the killing of unwanted female babies.
b. Giving women the right to own property.
c. Mandating that daughters receive part of an inheritance.
d. Insisting that a woman consent to a marriage and giving a woman the
right to initiate divorce.
e. Protecting women by insisting that sex be confined to marriage.
f. Discouraging polygamy by insisting that monogamy was preferable and
that in a polygamous marriage the husband must treat all wives the same
both materially and psychologically.

3. The drastic subordination of women in some areas of the Muslim world

a. Only took place after Muhammed's death.
b. Was copied from other cultures.
c. Had no true basis in Muhammed's own teaching.
C. Holy war (jihad).
1. For years, Muhammed had to lead Medina in battles against Mecca.
2. Consequently, in the Qur'an we have revelations urging the people of Medina
to fight and promising that soldiers who died in combat would go to paradise.
3. These sections have sometimes been used to justify unethical wars and have
prompted non-Muslims to believe that Islam is a violent religion.
4. Therefore, we must note the following:
a. Linguistically, jihad means exertion, and in a famous saying
Muhammed declared that sacred war was only a lesser jihad. The greater
jihad was to fight against one's own evil impulses.
b. Muhammed laid down rules to make holy war as humane as possible.
1). Holy wars must be defensive, not wars of aggression.
2). There must be no unnecessary violence. Thus, Muhammed
forbade the killing of non-combatants, the execution of prisoners
of war, the destruction of trees, and the mutilation of the dead.
3). In light of the above, it is hard to see indiscriminate terrorism
as properly Islamic.
c. Many other religions have supported wars (even wars of aggression),
and it is not obvious that Islamic history is more belligerent than that of,
say, Christianity.
XII. The early history of Islam after Muhammed's death and the origin of the split between
the Sunnites and Shiites.
A. Shortly after the death of Muhammed, Muslims conquered the Middle East and
Northern Africa.
B. While secular historians explain the conquests as due to social and political factors,
the Muslims interpreted their victories as a sign from God that Islam was the true
C. Following the example of Muhammed himself, the first leaders (caliphs
"successors") of Islamic empires exercised control over both political and religious
affairs, and there was no separation between the two.
D. Since Islamic leaders now had vast power, there were chronic and often violent
struggles over succession and numerous claimants to the thrones were killed.
E. An additional problem was that powerful elites lived in great luxury with little
concern for their subjects.
F. Such irresponsibly contradicted the example of Muhammed and dismayed many
spiritually sensitive Muslims.
G. The struggles over power led to the division between Sunnites and Shiites.
1. The Shiites felt that the successors of Muhammed should come from his
family and championed Ali who was his cousin and son-in-law.
2. The Sunnites successfully supported friends of Muhammed to be the
3. Eventually Ali did briefly come to power but soon was assassinated, and the
official succession never again included blood relatives of Muhammed.

4. As a result, the Shiites broke away.

5. Both the Sunnites and the Shiites continue today.
XIII. The Sunnites (Traditionalists)
A. Believe that the leader of Islam can be any observant Muslim.
B. Are theologically conservative and
1. Interpret the Qur'an literally.
2. See the sayings of Muhammed (the Hadith) and his behavior (sunna) as
normative and the basis for Islamic Law. Note that there are various school of
legal interpretation.
3. Reject the idea that the political leader of Islam has authority from God to
issue doctrine but instead leave this responsibility to Islamic scholars.
4. Do not have an authoritative religious hierarchy and allow great
independence to different groups.
5. Have always been the majority group in Islam.
XIV. The Shiites (Partisans)
A. Hold that the leader of Islam should ideally be a descendant of Ali. Since at present
there is no known descendant, the leaders of the Shiites theoretically are only
temporary replacements until a descendant appears.
B. Are theologically innovative.
1. They often interpret the Qur'an figuratively.
2. They regard their own leader as having a special spiritual relationship with
God and the authority to issue doctrine.
3. They have always been the minority party in Islam as a whole but in recent
centuries have been dominant in Iran where a local dynasty imposed the Shia
for political reasons.
4. As the minority party they sometimes suffered persecution, and they
continue to honor their martyred leaders.
5. Within the Shiites there are many separate denominations due to the
historical fact that different groups recognized different descendants of Ali as
the divinely appointed leader. The majority of Shiites belong to the "Twelvers,"
so named because they hold that there were twelve legitimate successors by
blood to Mohammed.
XV. The Sufis
A. The Sufis are not exclusive and welcome membership from the Sunnis even though
historically most Sufis have been Shiites.
B. They are the mystical school within Islam and seek union with God through ecstatic
C. The Sufis have interpreted the Qur'an figuratively and taught that in it there are
many hidden messages about psychological and mystical matters.
D. The Sufis have taught that God is the entire reality, and everything else is illusion.
E. Sufism has tended to have a mysticism of identity in which the practitioner
experiences that his/her true self is the same as the Divine.
F. Consequently, some Sufis have felt that the observance of the externals of Islam
(e.g., making the pilgrimage of Mecca) is unimportant.
G. These radical conclusions threatened many orthodox Muslims and sometimes led to
H. Consequently, Sufis have often been discrete in their public utterances and reserved

their more challenging teaching for initiates.

I. There are different schools of Sufism, and the total number of Sufis makes up only a
tiny percentage of Islam.
J. Nevertheless, Sufism has often been influential within Islam as a whole and is also
attractive to many non-Islamic intellectuals.
XVI. The Mahdi
A. Both the Sunnite and the Shiite lines of succession eventually broke down.
1. The caliphate became non-Arab and was abolished in the twentieth century.
2. The last of the line of Ali disappeared.
B. Both groups then began to believe that God would ultimately restore proper
leadership by sending a figure called the Mahdi who would inaugurate an ideal era.
C. At various times and places individuals have claimed to be the Mahdi and inspired
millenarian movements.
XVII. The golden age of Islam.
A. From the eighth century until the Tartar conquests in the thirteenth, Muslim
empires ruled from Spain to India.
B. These empires were wealthy thanks especially to the lucrative trade between the
Orient and the West that passed through them.
C. In part due to this wealth and contact with both China and Europe, Islamic
civilization reached great heights. Here we may confine ourselves to intellectual
1. There were major advances in mathematics, astronomy, and medicine. We
may especially note the development of algebra.
2. There were also the study of ancient philosophy and the acquisition of new
philosophic perspectives.
3. This progress became known in Christian Europe and laid the foundations
for progress there.
D. We may note that Islam spread far beyond the Arab world, and that today the vast
majority of Muslims belong to other ethnic groups.
XVIII. Some notes on classical Islamic art and architecture.
A. Since Islam does not allow representations of God, human beings, or animals (see
above), Islamic art has emphasized calligraphy and geometric designs.
B. In architecture Islam has often preferred domed buildings.
C. Within its chosen styles Islam has produced some of the greatest of world art.
D. Paradoxically because it declines to represent God or even copy his creation, Islamic
art makes the majestic otherness of God present.
XIX. Some aspects of recent Islamic history.
A. In the nineteenth century Christian Europe conquered most of the world, including
the Islamic nations.
B. Muslims went through a long period of humiliation and transformation.
1. Europeans regarded Muslims as inferior and treated them contemptuously.
2. Since traditionally Muslims had regarded their earlier political and cultural
triumphs as evidence that they had the true religion, European domination
raised many questions.
3. Different Muslims reacted in contrasting ways.
a. Some Muslims favored westernization, especially learning the science
and technology of the West and adopting Western political systems and

b. Other Muslims reacted against Western ways and aggressively insisted
on traditional Muslim practices.
C. In the twentieth century Islamic nations theoretically gained their independence but
often continued to be dominated by the West.
D. The United States
1. Sometimes supported oppressive Islamic regimes which favored American
2. Supported Israel despite its occupation of Arab land and unjust treatment of
the original inhabitants, most of whom were Muslims.
3. Intervened militarily in various Muslim countries.
E. As a result, the majority of Muslims (though not necessarily their leaders) became
increasingly anti-American.
F. This atmosphere led small groups to engage in terrorism, even though such
indiscriminate violence is contrary to Islamic teaching and some Muslim leaders have
denounced it.
XX. Issues about the future.
A. Many of the teachings of Islam fit well with the pragmatism and pluralism of
1. Islam has a simple theology and is basically a practical religion.
2. Perhaps more than any other religion, it emphasizes the equality of all races
and ethnic groups.
3. At least in the minds of some liberal Muslims, the doctrine that every age has
its own authentic prophet can be an argument for the religious pluralism which
a global culture makes necessary.
B. Consequently, Islam is growing, including in the United States where it is especially
popular among African Americans whose ancestors suffered as slaves under Christian
C. Nevertheless, modern sexual liberation movements and critical historical inquiry
loom as increasing problems.
1. Muslims have traditionally believed that the Qur'an literally is the words of
God and is eternally valid.
2. Yet much of what the Qur'an claims about historical events is no longer
credible. For example, no objective historian today can believe that such
important Islamic prophets as Adam or Noah even existed.
3. In addition the Qur'an stops short of granting full equality to women and
condemns homosexuality as grievously sinful, whereas modern sexual liberation
insists on equality for women and acceptance of gays.
D. A major theological and spiritual issue is whether "submission" is the best way to
relate to God.
E. An even more fundamental question is why the revelations that Mohammed
received should be seen as more authoritative than the revelations that other holy
persons have received in various religions.
Discussion: What are the features of Islam that you like or dislike and why? What can Islam
contribute to your own search for meaning?
Brief test on Islam

Guest speaker on Islam: Nahid Angha, "Why I Believe in Islam"

Assignment: 2-3 page reflection paper on Islam

Reading assignment for Judaism: Smith, chapter 7; Novak, chapter 5.

Two key quotes: I am YHWH your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the
house of slavery. You shall have no other gods besides me." "You shall not oppress a resident
alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt." (Exodus)
I. Numerically, Judaism is the smallest of the religions we study in this course.
II. Nevertheless, it is of extraordinary importance both in the history of world religion and in
contemporary international politics.
A. Judaism provided the root from which both Islam and Christianity, the world's two
largest religions, grew. We may especially note
1. Muhammed
a. Honored such traditionally Jewish figures as Abraham and Moses as
great prophets.
b. Much of the Qur'an consists of stories which in a slightly different
form already were found in the Hebrew Scriptures.
2. Jesus and his first followers were Jews, and Christianity included all of the
Jewish (Hebrew) Scriptures in its own Bible as the Old Testament.
B. Relative to its size Judaism has provided an astonishing number of eminent figures
(Einstein, Freud, etc.) in every field.
C. The continuing tension between officially Jewish Israel and the Islamic world is one
of the greatest threats to international peace today.
III. Like Hinduism, Judaism is primarily an ethnic religion.
A. The terms Jew and Judaism derive from Judea which is southern Israel and the
location of Jerusalem.
B. The Jews, even when they were in exile (586-539 B.C.E.; 135-1947 C.E.), regarded
Israel as their god-given homeland.
C. Beginning in 1948 they regained control of the area.
D. They still speak an ethnic language, Hebrew.
E. A major part of Jewish religious law consists of rules about such ethnic markers as
food, dress, and holidays.
IV. As an ethnic religion Judaism is also a culture, and many people identify themselves as

Jewish without sharing the religious perspectives of Judaism. Some people even call
themselves Jewish atheists or Jewish Buddhists!
V. More than any other religion that we study in this course, Judaism focuses on a story: The
Jews remember and celebrate their history/story.
VI. Because of the diversity of Judaism and the centrality of the story of Judaism, it seems
best to begin by outlining the history/story of Judaism and noting the origin of the beliefs and
practices which would become central to Classical Judaism from which all modern forms of
Judaism descend.
VII. Judaism shares with Hinduism the distinction of being the oldest of the axial religions,
and at least in some form already existed before 1,000 B.C.E.
VIII. Unfortunately, there is little secure knowledge of the earliest period.
A. The Hebrew Scriptures were written centuries after the earliest historical events
that they record.
B. The scriptural account is at least as much the product of theology as of historical
C. Extra-biblical sources of information are scanty.
D. The biblical record and what extra-biblical data there are often conflict.
IX. To understand Judaism, the idealized account in the Bible is more important than what
actually happened.
A. Until the rise of modern critical historical studies, the accuracy of the biblical
account was generally accepted and was the basis for Jewish (and even Christian and
Islamic) faith and practice.
B. Today fundamentalists still accept the Bible's historical accuracy.
C. Even contemporary Jews who acknowledge that the biblical account is not
historically reliable read the story for spiritual inspiration.
X. The Bible records that the earliest ancestors of the Jews were known as Hebrews or
Israelites and
A. Were nomadic herders in the Fertile Crescent (the arc of arable land that extends
from the Nile to the Persian Gulf).
B. Received promises from God that their descendants would one day possess the land
of Israel.
C. Practiced male circumcision. Note that ever after male circumcision has been the
physical sign of being Jewish.
D. The most important figures in the biblical record of this early period were the
patriarchs Abraham, Jacob (whose name was changed to Israel), and Joseph.
E. At the end of this period, the Jews migrated to Egypt and fell into slavery.
XI. Moses and the Exodus (1250 B.C.E.?)
A. God then summoned a Hebrew named Moses to free the Israelites.
B. Moses asked the Pharaoh to do so, and when the latter refused, God sent a
devastating series of plagues culminating with the slaughter of all the first-born of
C. In connection with the last plague, God commanded the Israelites to observe an
annual meal called the Passover, because he passed over the houses of the Israelites
and not slaughtered the first-born in them. Ever after the celebration of the Passover
has been central to Judaism.
D. God then enabled the Israelites to escape by dividing the sea so they could go
through it on dry land. When the Egyptian forces attempted to pursue, the sea

returned to normal, and the Egyptians drowned.

XII. The Covenant and the giving of the Law
A. God called the Israelites to assemble at Mount Sinai.
B. There he appeared and made a covenant (solemn agreement) by which he would be
their God and they would be his special people (a kingdom of priests).
C. As part of that covenant the Israelites agreed to follow the Law which Moses
received from God. That law dictated that the Israelites would
1. Worship no other God
2. Be just to one another and merciful to the poor and the vulnerable.
3. Perform certain cultic practices (e.g., offer animal sacrifices).
4. Observe what today we call an ethnic lifestyle, including a particular diet,
dress, and set of holidays.
5. We may note that historically some of this law resembled earlier Middle
Eastern codes, but in the biblical account the Mosaic Law
a. Placed greater emphases on protecting the marginal.
b. Was agreed to by the population as a whole, not just by its leaders.
D. God promised to bless the Israelites if they kept the covenant and punish them if
they did not.
XIII. In the course of giving the covenant, God revealed that he is
A. Ethical and concerned about the oppressed. Note that the gods of the surrounding
peoples often acted unethically and primarily championed the privileges of the
governing authorities.
B. Transcendent. Note that one of the major commandments was not to make any
image of God. The gods of the surrounding peoples were immanent in the natural
C. Jealous
1. He would not tolerate the worship of other deities.
2. One reason that he would not tolerate the worship of other gods is that they
did not behave ethically and some of them demanded such things as human
3. Initially, the Jews did not deny the existence of other deities.
4. But ultimately they became monotheists in the philosophical sense.
XIV. In subsequent Judaism these commands would be honored, except that the study of
certain cultic commandments would replace keeping the commandments literally. Thus, after
the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in 70 C.E., there was no place to offer animal
sacrifices and the study of the laws concerning animal sacrifice replaced the actual practice.
XV. A brief summary of Jewish history from the Exodus until 135 C.E.
A. According to the biblical account,
1. With God's help the Israelites conquered Canaan (Israel/Palestine).
2. They then repeatedly violated the terms of the covenant.
3. God inspired prophets who denounced the oppression of the poor, the
worship of other gods, and threatened disaster. Note that the proclamation of
the prophets became the basis of subsequent campaigns for social justice
throughout Jewish-Christian-Islamic history and had a major impact on the
United States.
4. Ultimately, foreigners conquered the Israelites and took them into exile.
B. In exile some Jews repented and recorded the sacred traditions (thus beginning the

writing of the Bible as it now exists).

C. They were then able to return to the land of Israel and re-establish a Jewish culture
D. Increasingly, Jews saw studying and explicating the Law that God had given to
Moses as a central way of honoring God.
E. The Jews revolted unsuccessfully against Roman rule (66-72 C.E., 132-135 C.E.).
And, as a result,
1. Lost their temple. Note that the Western Wall is a remnant of that temple
and is the most sacred spot for Jews today.
2. Were expelled from Judea. Note that Jews continued to live in Galilee
(northern Israel).
F. Henceforth, the Jews would live as an ethnic people without a homeland until 1948.
XVI. Classical (Rabbinic) Judaism
A. After the destruction of the Temple and the loss of Judea, Judaism achieved its
classical form.
B. The central texts of classical Judaism
1. The Jewish Bible
a. Is in Hebrew which for a long time was a dead language and only was
resurrected as a living tongue in modern times.
b. Has three major parts:
1). The Law which consists of the biblical history prior to the
Jewish conquest of Canaan (Israel/Palestine). According to
tradition, Moses was the author. As the title Law suggests, these
books contain the regulations that God gave as part of the
2). The prophets which consist of the actual proclamation of the
prophets and the history of the period in which the prophets lived.
3). The writings which are a diverse collection of other books
(history, philosophy, even love poetry, etc).
4). Although, the Hebrew Bible became part of the Christian Bible,
the order of the later sections is not the same, and the Hebrew
Bible ends with Jews returning from exile to Israel. This order
reinforced the Jewish view of their (divine) history as a series of
exiles and returns.
2. The Mishnah and the Talmuds.
a. The Mishnah and Talmuds are commentaries on the Law specifying
the details of what Jews must do to keep the biblical commandments.
b. Much of what is in these books comes from earlier oral tradition.
c. The Mishnah was recorded in writing around 200 C.E.; the two
Talmuds, the Babylonian and the Jerusalem, around 400-500. Note that
the Babylonian is more important and in theory has equal authority with
the Bible.
3. Subsequently, there were additional commentaries on the Law. Two
especially important legal commentators were Saadiyah ha Gaon (882-942) and
Rashi (1040-1105).
4. It has become customary to publish each page of Jewish legal commentary in
layers with a section from the Mishnah in the center, surrounding it is

commentary on the topic from the Talmud, and surrounding that is commentary
from later authorities (especially, Rashi) and surrounding that is blank space for
commentary by the reader!
C. The major doctrines of classical Judaism
1. Ethical monotheism.
a. There is only one God
1). He is the creator and ruler of the universe, but is not part of it.
Note that the Bible begins with God creating the universe.
2). He has a proper name (YHWH) which the Bible relates to the
verb to be. YHWH is the one who exceeds all categories and
simply is and brings into being. Note that in Judaism the divine
name is too sacred to be pronounced. Many modern English
translations substitute "LORD" for YHWH. Older translations
used Jehovah.
b. God demands justice for all and mercy for the needy.
2. Special election. God has chosen to have a special relationship with the Jews.
As part of that special relationship God has given the Jews a special law and the
land of Israel. In exile the Jews looked forward to returning to the Holy Land.
3. Study of the Law (Torah).
a. Torah, which is conventionally translated as Law, can also be
translated as teaching and includes the entire Hebrew Bible plus
subsequent commentaries.
b. Classical Judaism felt that studying the Torah was a sacred activity in
which God's own Spirit was present.
c. Obeying the detailed precepts of the Torah made God's will visibly
present in all of life, and the Jewish home became a sacred space.
d. Jewish study of the Law is characterized by erudition, debate, and the
use of logic. Note that already the Mishnah and the Talmuds express the
differing views of past rabbis on debated questions.
e. To outsiders Jewish legal discussion often seems like excessive
attention to trivial detail, but to Jews it is part of loving God with the
mind and allowing God's people to please him in all aspects of their lives.
4. Eternal life
a. Classical Judaism held that there would be a final resurrection.
b. All Jews who had been basically faithful to the Mosaic Law would
enter paradise, but each Jew would have to suffer temporarily for his or
her sins.
c. Gentiles would also face God's judgment. The righteous would enter
paradise. Note that Gentiles were not required to follow the Mosaic Law
but were expected to follow basic ethical principles (e.g., have courts of
d. Although belief in the "world to come" was required during the period
of Classical Judaism, this belief was not required previously or
5. The Messiah. Classical Judaism taught that God would send a great Jewish
king to bring justice and peace to the earth and deliver Jews from oppression.
D. Holy days

1. The Sabbath
a. The Jews gave the world the concept of a week consisting of seven
b. According to Jewish reckoning, a day ends at sunset and the next day
begins at twilight.
c. The Sabbath is the final day of the week and lasts from sundown on
Friday through sundown on Saturday.
d. In the Bible God commands the Jews to observe the Sabbath as a
solemn day of rest, and subsequently much of the legal commentaries
specified what could and could not be done on the Sabbath.
e. The solemn rest on the Sabbath is a prefiguration of the eternal rest
that Jews will have in paradise.
f. The Sabbath is also the day on which most public worship occurs.
2. Passover
a. Passover begins on the first full moon in spring and lasts for a week.
b. As noted earlier, it commemorates God freeing the Israelites from
slavery in Egypt.
c. The rituals of Passover center around a sacred meal at home in which
there is a retelling of the story of the Exodus and there are special foods.
3. Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) which occurs in the fall.
4. The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).
a. Occurs ten days after Rosh Hashanah.
b. Is a solemn fast.
c. Centers around worship services in which there are public confessions
of sin. According to tradition, this day God pardons the sins of the
previous year.
5. Sukkot which is a fall harvest festival and ultimately inspired the American
holiday of Thanksgiving.
6. Hanukkah
a. In classical Judaism this was a minor festival.
b. However, it has become important in modern times as a Jewish
substitute for Christmas.
c. The festival lasts a week and celebrates the rededication of the
Jerusalem temple (or a miracle in connection with the rededication) in
164 B.C.E.
d. Since the rededication came as a result of a successful revolt against
religious persecution, modern Jews regard Hanukkah as a celebration of
religious freedom and mutual tolerance.
E. Institutions
1. The Rabbis are the clergy of Judaism and lead worship services and preach.
Since Judaism places so much emphasis on study, Rabbis are also scholars.
2. The synagogue
a. Literally, synagogue means coming together.
b. It indicates the building where Jews gather.
c. The synagogue has traditionally been both a place for worship and for
F. Two especially important Jewish rituals

1. Male circumcision which normally occurs on the eighth day of a boy's life and
symbolizes being under the covenant.
2. Bar (Bat) Mitzvah. Around the age of twelve Jewish children go through an
elaborate ceremony in which they take responsibility for following the
XVII. Modern Judaism
A. Several events decisively affected Judaism in the last three centuries.
1. Persecution
a. Even previously Jews had suffered persecution.
1). The ancient world, especially, the Greeks and the Romans,
sometimes persecuted Jews, because Jews refused to worship
other gods.
2). Christianity for much of its history severely persecuted the
Jews, because
a). They would not accept Jesus as the Messiah or worship
him as divine.
b). Jews dominated much of the banking industry, and
Christians were eager to seize their wealth.
b. But in modern times Judaism suffered perhaps even more
1). Under the Nazis (1933-45) who slaughtered millions on the
erroneous belief that Jews were an inferior race.
2). Under the Arabs who objected to Jewish rule in Israel.
2. The refounding of the state of Israel in 1948 which
a. At last gave the Jews back their ancient homeland and a safe place to
practice their religion.
b. Raised ethical questions as the Jewish state seized land from
Palestinian Arabs and oppressed them in various other ways.
3. The growing challenge of secularism.
a. Modern biblical scholarship disproved the literal truth of much of the
Hebrew Bible.
b. And it showed that many of the ethnic commandments in the Bible did
not come directly from God to Moses but were only ancient cultural
c. As Jews in some areas (e.g., the United States) became increasingly
accepted, there was greater opportunity to participate in the larger
culture and greater temptation to assimilate.
B. Consequently, Judaism separated into various branches.
1. Orthodox Judaism
a. Continued to follow strictly the customs and beliefs of classical
b. However, this traditionalism not only separated the orthodox from
Gentiles but even separated them from the vast majority of Jews.
2. Liberal religious Jews
a. Under this label I am lumping Reformed, Conservative, and
Reconstructionist Judaism.
b. While each of these groups have their distinctive histories and
emphases, they all

1). Continue many of the basics of classical Jewish faith and

practice (monotheism, observance of the Sabbath, etc.).
2). Drop some of the details.
3). Have given greater leadership to women and more acceptance
to homosexuals.
C. Humanistic Jews
1. These no longer participate actively in Jewish worship and may no longer
have any traditional faith.
2. However, they often retain
a. The Jewish concern for justice and mercy. Note that in comparison to
its relatively small size Judaism has produced an enormous number of
champions for human rights.
b. The Jewish passion for study.
D. All branches of modern Judaism seem to be divided on how much to support the
state of Israel, particularly when its policies invite ethical criticism.
XVIII. Jewish religious art.
A. Ancient Judaism did not develop a major distinctive tradition of sacred art, partly
because Jewish law forbade the representation of God.
B. Subsequently, the Jews became a people living in exile among the nations, and, not
surprisingly, Jewish religious art tended to reflect the art of the larger environments in
which the Jews were living.
C. Nevertheless, a series of paintings by the Russian Jewish artist Chagal for me
symbolizes the Jewish experience. In these paintings a very Jewish Jesus is being
crucified while elsewhere Christians are committing atrocities against his people.
XIX. Judaism in the United States
A. There are more Jews in the United States than in any other country except for Israel
itself, and this demographical fact influences American politics as many Jews seek
American support for Israel.
B. Jews have come to the United States seeking religious freedom.
C. Even here Jews in the past suffered from prejudice and discrimination.
D. But in recent times anti-Semitism has decreased.
E. Nevertheless, in some circles there has been an increase in criticism of Jewish
support of Israel. How much of this criticism is justified is unclear to me.
1. Certainly, Israel has sometimes acted unethically toward the Palestinians.
2. Nevertheless, Israel's human rights violations have been no greater than that
of many nations (including Arab ones) who have received far less criticism in the
United States.
3. Perhaps the American critics of Israel are especially vociferous because the
United States has been the primary international supporter of Israel, and,
therefore, we share a larger moral responsibility for what Israel does.
4. To what extent criticism of American support of Israel is a cover for antiSemitism is unclear.
XX. Some issues for contemporary Judaism.
A. Male circumcision. The medical community seems increasingly concerned about
the long term psychological and even physical effects of the procedure.
B. Special election.
1. Special election was central to both biblical and Classical Judaism.

2. However, it does not fit well with the modern democratic view that all people
are equal.
3. It may not fit well with monotheism, since perhaps God should not play
4. It may also have contributed to anti-Semitism.
5. Consequently, some more liberal Jews have dropped the idea that the Jews
are especially chosen by God but instead emphasize that they choose to be
C. Israel.
1. Does it make sense today to have a nation with an official religion? Of course,
lots of other nations have official religions.
a. Can Jews feel secure in a world where they still suffer persecution if
there is no state to which they have the right to flee? At present any Jew
can immigrate to Israel.
b. But can a state which has an official religion be totally fair to residents
who do not share that religion?
c. In practice has Israel treated the Palestinians ethically?
d. Should Jews support Israel if they feel that it is behaving (or even
must inevitably behave) unethically?
2. For nearly two thousand years Judaism survived without Israel, and has the
existence of Israel made Judaism better or worse?
Discussion: What are the features of Judaism that you like or dislike and why? What can
Judaism contribute to your own search for meaning?
Brief test on Judaism
Guest speaker on Judaism: Henry Shreibman, "Why I Believe in Judaism"
Assignment: 2-3 page reflection paper on Judaism

Reading assignment for Christianity: Smith, chapter 8; Novak, chapter 6.

Key quote: God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that all who believe in him
would not perish but have everlasting life (John's Gospel).
I. Christianity arose out of a troubled Judaism.
A. The Land of Israel was under Roman political domination, and Jews were trying to
preserve their identity in the face of an aggressive Greek culture.
B. The Jews were divided
1. Into various religious elites who differed with each other over how to
interpret the Mosaic Law.
2. Between these elites and the common people who lacked the resources to


follow the Mosaic Law exactly and, therefore, were impure.

3. Between the relatively rich and the (often desperately) poor.
II. The life of Jesus
A. Our information about Jesus's life comes almost entirely from four brief biographies
called gospels (good news) in the Christian Bible.
B. There are some historical problems with these documents as sources for Jesus.
1. The gospels were written decades after Jesus's death.
2. By that time the authentic memories about Jesus had mixed with
a. Material expressing the convictions of the early church about who he
b. Legends.
3. The gospels seem to include all these types of material, though there is
scholarly debate regarding the relative percentages.
C. Despite these problems, the following is historically likely.
1. Jesus was born into a Jewish family around the turn of the era, and in
connection with his birth that are stories of miracles.
2. He was raised in Nazareth, a village in Galilee (northern Israel).
3. His family belonged to the common people.
4. There is no reliable information about his early development, but it is
noteworthy that he apparently did not get married.
5. When Jesus was a young adult, John the Baptist proclaimed that God was
about to judge the Jews and that only those who repented would be saved. As a
sign of repentance John administered baptism (a ritual bath).
6. Jesus journeyed south and received baptism at John's hands and may have
been John's disciple for a time.
7. When John was arrested and executed, Jesus returned to Galilee.
8. There he traveled about preaching and accepting hospitality and financial
support from sympathizers.
9. In contrast to John, he adopted a worldly lifestyle. He ate and drank; he
associated freely with sinners.
10. He drove out demons and healed the sick. Depending on one's
assumptions, these well attested wonders were either
a. Signs of Jesus's divine power
b. Signs of Jesus's extraordinary spiritual and psychological presence
c. Psychosomatic cures due to people's faith in him.
11. He attracted followers and named an inner circle of twelve who apparently
were the leaders of a new Israel.
12. His followers pressed him to declare himself king, but he resisted.
13. Toward what would be the end of his life, he went to the capital Jerusalem to
confront the nation with his message.
14. There he staged a demonstration in the temple to symbolize that it was to be
destroyed and replaced by his kingdom.
15. In response, the high priest and his supporters got the Romans to execute
(crucify) him as a revolutionary.
III. Some aspects of Jesus' personality.
A. He loved the pleasures of life but was not attached to them.
1. His enemies even accused him of being a drunk and a glutton.

2. He was able to remain an itinerant with no secure means of support.

B. He hated pain but was willing to endure it for the sake of love and God's call.
1. As noted above, he was not an ascetic, and the characters in the parables he
told are seldom heroic.
2. Still he accepted his own death by torture as God's call for him.
C. He lived one day at a time in trust.
D. He could see into people's hearts and respond to the real person, and, consequently,
he exposed people for who they truly were.
E. He was compassionate toward people in need.
F. He was impatient with pride and hypocrisy in religious leadership and tended to be
confrontational toward leaders who exhibited them.
G. He could not be manipulated either by individuals or social regulations.
H. He acted with authority.
I. He was humble and pointed away from himself to God.
J. All the above came from his relationship with God which was characterized by
obedience and intimacy.
IV. The teaching of Jesus.
A. The theme of Jesus's message was the kingdom of God.
B. The basic content of the idea seems to be God reigning over a renewed Israel. Like
some other Jews of his day Jesus believed that
1. The world had fallen under the power of evil.
a. Israel had sinned and God had allowed other nations to oppress it.
b. Satan and his demons were loose in the world causing sickness and
2. God would intervene to
a. Make Israel righteous and restore it to favor.
b. Use Israel to bring the world to know him.
c. Destroy the power of Satan, judge the world, and renew the creation.
Jesus apparently held that the dead would somehow participate in this
new creation.
C. Jesus's fundamental contention was that the kingdom was beginning through the
movement that he himself was starting.
D. When Jesus was alive, his movement was small, uninfluential, and suffered
reversals. Hence, he stressed that in the present the kingdom was hidden but was
active and growing. Nevertheless, he admitted that the growth was spotty and there
were setbacks.
E. To join Jesus's movement (enter the kingdom now) one had to realize that the
kingdom was supremely valuable and be willing to give up everything else for it.
F. The present manifestations of the kingdom in the movement Jesus was beginning.
1. The breaking of Satan's power, especially through exorcisms and healings.
2. The achievement of a new intimacy with God who is our loving and forgiving
3. The reconciliation of God's people and the inclusion of the lost and
conventionally rejected. Note that Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners.
4. The surrender of religious, economic, and sexual privilege.
5. The surrender of hatred toward outsiders (Love your enemies). Note that
this surrender suggests enormous confidence in God's power, since openness to

outsiders could lead to absorption.

6. A greater ability to recognize and overcome hypocrisy. Note that Jesus was
more concerned about the heart (the core of our personality) than about
outward conformity to conventional morality.
7. Living one day at a time in trust that God would provide.
8. It is to be noted that Jesus did not think that the time had yet come to
evangelize Gentiles.
G. In the future the kingdom would be suddenly manifest to all, but then it would
come as judgment on those who earlier rejected it.
1. The coming would catch Israel unaware and expose each person for who they
really were.
2. There would be a reversal of external circumstances with the poor receiving a
blessing and the rich a judgment. Hence, previous sacrifices for the kingdom
would lead to a reward.
3. And a confirmation and extension of one's true spiritual status.
4. Toward the end of his life Jesus believed that Jerusalem and its temple would
be destroyed because Israel had rejected his message.
5. After this destruction the new Israel would triumph and reign over a new
6. Nevertheless, it is to be noted that Jesus apparently did not give detailed
predictions of the future, and most of what he did say was in metaphors
7. Indeed, in his teaching Jesus deliberately exaggerated so that what he said
would only point in a certain direction and not be taken literally.
H. Jesus stressed that the primary commandments were to love God and love one's
neighbor (i.e., everyone that one deals with).
I. The relationship of Jesus to the kingdom.
1. The kingdom began with him and was present in his words and deeds. Note
that for the Baptist the kingdom was wholly future, whereas for Jesus it was
present, though hidden.
2. Nevertheless, through Jesus others could share in the same relationship with
God and the same authority Jesus had to act and speak in God's name.
3. Jesus seems to have believed that in some sense he was the head of the
kingdom, but he was not comfortable with the title Messiah (Christ) because of
its traditional military and hierarchical connotations. However, afterward the
church gave him the title of Christ, and he became in ordinary usage Jesus
V. The Resurrection of Jesus
A. The gospels record that on the third day after Jesus's death, some women went to
his tomb, and it was empty.
B. Subsequently, Jesus repeatedly appeared to his disciples in bodily form and proved
that he was alive.
C. The disciples concluded that he was the ruler of the universe.
D. When the tangible resurrection appearances ceased but Jesus's Spirit still was
present, the disciples concluded that Jesus himself had ascended into heaven and had
sent his Divine Spirit to continue to support his followers on earth.
E. The disciples then went out to convince their fellow Jews to become disciples of

Jesus and soon extended missionary work to the Gentiles.

VI. Paul
A. After Jesus himself, Paul was probably the most important figure in Christian
B. Ironically, as a young Jewish man Paul persecuted Christianity, apparently because
he felt that it was a threat to Judaism.
C. Then he had a vision of Jesus and became a Christian.
D. Paul engaged in enormous missionary work, founding Christian communities
throughout the northeastern Mediterranean.
E. To guide these churches when he was away, he wrote them letters.
F. These letters may be the oldest surviving Christian documents and became a
foundation for subsequent theology and part of the Christian Bible.
G. Paul concentrated on converting Gentiles and insisted that they could become
followers of Jesus without adopting the Mosaic Law. If Christians believed that Jesus
was the Lord and in his name loved others, that was sufficient.
H. Ultimately Paul's positions prevailed, and Christianity became an international
VII. Major Christian doctrines.
A. The Trinity
1. The doctrine of the Trinity arose to explain the contrasting perspectives that
a. There was only one Goda central claim of Judaism retained by the
Christian Church.
b. Jesus was the Lord of the Universe.
c. His divine Spirit remains with Christians even though Jesus himself
has ascended into heaven.
2. The doctrine of the Trinity is that God
a. Is one substance (i.e., reality)
b. But nevertheless consists of three persons, the Father, the Son, and
the Holy Spirit.
3. The Church has struggled over the centuries to explain how this doctrine
could be logically coherent.
4. In my opinion, the following is helpful in resolving the paradox.
a. God is supremely loving, and love simultaneously unifies and
b. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit become persons through
giving themselves to one another (Gelpi).
c. The Trinity is the model of perfect community.
1). A perfect community is totally unified.
2). Yet it enables individuals to realize their special gifts
and make unique contributions.
3). The Trinity is a challenge to human beings to become
individuals through loving one another and working
together as one for common goals.
B. The incarnation.
1. The doctrine of the incarnation arose to explain how Jesus who was obviously
a human being could also be divine.
2. The doctrine teaches that

a. The eternal Son took on a human existence without ceasing to be

b. Therefore, Christ is a single divine person who consists of two natures,
one human and one divine.
3. As in the case of the Trinity, Christian thinkers have struggled to explain how
this doctrine can be coherent.
4. I believe that the doctrine is coherent if we hold that in Jesus God chose to
have (i.e., fully experience) a human life as his own life (Gelpi).
C. The atonement (literally at-one-ment).
1. The doctrine arose to explain why Jesus's crucifixion was necessary.
2. The doctrine holds that through his suffering and death Jesus broke the
power of sin and made God and humanity one.
3. There have been various theories as to how Jesus's suffering overcame sin.
a. Jesus paid the price of our sin, and, therefore, those who accept this
gift can enter paradise despite their misdeeds.
b. Jesus's suffering demonstrates God's great love and inspires us to love.
c. Through Jesus's suffering God experienced directly the ultimate
limitations of human existence and, therefore, produced the deepest
possible bond with us.
VIII. The Christian Bible.
A. Christianity kept the Jewish Bible, relabeling it as the Old Testament, but
rearranged the books so that the Old Testament ends with a prophecy of the coming of
a messianic age. Of course, the Church held that Jesus was the Messiah who began the
new age.
B. Some Christian groups also added books to the Hebrew Bible. These additional
books which other Christian groups reject are called the Apocrypha (Hidden
C. To the Old Testament the Church added a series of Christian writings, including the
gospels and the letters of Paul, which collectively became the New Testament.
IX. Classical Christianity teaches a two-step eschatology (end of human existence).
A. At death the soul leaves the body and goes to a preliminary judgment, and good
souls then go to heaven, and bad souls, to hell.
B. But at a future date Christ will return in glory to transform the earth.
X. Christian sacraments.
A. Christianity, like other religions, has many rituals.
B. The most important of these are sacraments and, according to Christian belief,
mediate the power of God.
1. Baptism and Eucharist are the central sacraments.
a. Baptism is a ritual bath which
1). Recalls Jesus's own baptism.
2). Makes someone a member of the Church.
3). Bestows the forgiveness of previous sin.
4). Gives the Holy Spirit.
b. The Eucharist (which has various names) is a ritual meal.
1). The Eucharist recalls Jesus's last supper with his disciples in
which, according to tradition, he
a). Announced that he would not dine with the disciples

again in this age.

b). Said that henceforth bread and wine would be his body
and blood.
c). Asked them to remember him.
2). In the Eucharist Christians
a). Give thanks for all that God has done for them, and,
especially, for Jesus's life, death, and resurrection.
b). Recommit themselves to being faithful to Jesus's
c). Become Christ's body (i.e., the place where his Spirit
3). There have been different theories as to how bread and wine
become Christ's body and blood in the ceremony.
2. Some Christian groups have additional sacraments. One is penance in which
a Christian confesses his/her sin and a church leader declares God's forgiveness.
XI. Major Christian holidays.
A. Christmas which is in the winter (at least in the northern hemisphere!) and
commemorates Jesus's birth.
B. Good Friday which is in the spring (or the autumn in the south) and commemorates
his death.
C. Easter (the Sunday after Good Friday) which commemorates Jesus's resurrection.
D. Pentecost, which is fifty days after Easter and commemorates the coming of the
Holy Spirit to the Church.
E. Sunday which is the primary day for public worship.
XII. Apostolic succession
A. Apostolic succession holds that the original leaders whom Jesus appointed (the
apostles) ordained the first bishops who in turn ordained others, and this succession
has continued throughout church history.
B. One must be ordained by a member of this succession to be able to pronounce the
forgiveness of sins or celebrate the Eucharist.
C. Under apostolic succession there are three classes of church leaders.
1. Bishops who govern specific geographic areas (dioceses) and alone have the
authority to ordain other church leaders.
2. Priests who lead individual congregations and (along with bishops) have the
authority to celebrate the Eucharist.
3. Deacons who assist bishops and priests.
D. The Catholic and Eastern Churches have apostolic succession. Most Protestant
churches do not.
E. Note that because of Apostolic Succession, the official leaders of Christianity have
not been the official leaders of Christian countries.
XIII. Three major types of Christianity.
A. Eastern Orthodoxy.
1. As the name suggests, Eastern Orthodoxy has been dominant among ethnic
groups in Eastern Europe and adjoining areas.
2. Compared to other branches of Christianity, Eastern Orthodoxy has less
emphasis on political activism and tends to support government policies,
especially if the rulers are Christian.

3. Eastern Christianity consists of a loose association of national churches

(Russian, Greek, etc.).
4. Major decisions about doctrine must be made by a council of church leaders
and accepted by the faithful as a whole.
5. In practice the necessary decisions were made in the early centuries of
Christian history and further doctrinal development is minimal.
6. Eastern Christianity stressed the goal of mystical union with God.
7. The worship centers on praise and focuses attention on the heavenly Christ
who rules the universe.
8. There is a special emphasis on Christ's resurrection and the coming
resurrection and transformation of the faithful into the image of Christ
9. Churches normally have a dome, and icons (painted images of Jesus and the
saints) play an important role in public worship and private devotion. Note that
icons follow special artistic conventions (e.g., illumination from within) to
emphasize the holiness of the one who is being represented and facilitate
B. Roman Catholicism
1. The Roman Catholic branch of Christianity is the largest.
2. It emphasizes the authority of the pope as the appointed head of Christianity.
According to Catholic doctrine
a. Jesus entrusted leadership of Christianity to Peter.
b. Peter was the first bishop of Rome.
c. His successors inherit his authority.
d. That authority includes
1). Appointing all other bishops.
2). Making laws for the church.
3). Declaring church doctrine. Note that the pope is held to be
infallible when solemnly pronouncing major dogma which
formalizes what the church as a whole already believes.
Historically, infallible pronouncements have been rare.
3. The Catholic Church has been socially and politically active, perhaps
especially in championing the needs of the poor.
4. The Catholic Church has been a major patron of many art forms, and,
especially, has commissioned crucifixes. Perhaps its greatest artistic
achievement is that Gothic Cathedral.
C. Protestantism
1. The name is related to protest (testify for the truth).
2. Protestantism originated in the sixteenth century as a protest against papal
3. From its beginning Protestantism has consisted of different denominations,
and today there are hundreds of Protestant sects.
4. Especially in its classical form Protestantism stresses
a. Salvation comes not from one's merit but from trusting (having faith)
in God's forgiveness.
b. The primary authority for doctrine is the Bible, not church tradition.
c. Public worship should be simple.

d. Christians do not need the help of the saints in heaven.

e. Preaching rather than the Eucharist.
f. Freedom of conscience rather than submission to church directives.
g. Conversion rather than subsequent spiritual growth.
D. Pentacostalism/Charismatic Christianity
1. Theoretically, Pentacostalism is a Protestant denomination, and Charismatics
are members of Catholic and Protestant churches.
2. Nevertheless, Pentacostalism and the Charismatic movement are so
distinctive and have become so numerous that a separate treatment is
3. Pentacostalism arose in the twentieth century, and a congregation in Los
Angeles (!) played a major role.
4. Pentacostalism rediscovered speaking in tongues and the interpretation of
tongues, practices which existed in the earliest Church but subsequently were
5. Speaking in tongues is the use of nonsense syllables to express religious
6. The interpretation of tongues (at least when it is a genuine interpretation) is
the identification of the cause of the emotion.
7. The Pentacostals were a recognizable denomination, but then members of
other Christian groups began speaking in tongues and intrepreting them, and
the Charismatic movement arose.
8. From these recent and modest beginnings the Charismatic movement has
spread, and become especially important in non-Caucasian Christianity.
XIV. Some events in Christian history.
A. Christianity first expanded into the Roman Empire (the entire area surrounding the
B. Initially the Roman Empire persecuted Christians, because they would not worship
the emperor.
C. But then the Emperor Constantine became Christian, and in subsequent centuries
Christianity became the Empire's official religion.
D. After the rise of Islam, probably the majority of Christians lived in Europe.
E. Later as Europe expanded its power and influence over ever wider areas,
Christianity grew thanks in part to a vigorous missionary effort, and Christianity is now
the world's largest religion.
F. In the last couple of centuries, Christianity has struggled with how to respond to
critical scholarship which has cast doubt on the accuracy of the Bible.
1. Liberals have accepted the conclusions of modern science and critical historians.
2. Fundamentalists have steadfastly maintained the view that God's Word must
be wholly true.
G. Christianity has also struggled with how to respond to feminism and gay liberation.
1. Conservative Christians have resisted granting equality to women and gays
and justified this resistance by appealing to traditional values and a literal
interpretation of certain passages in the Bible.
2. Liberal Christians have favored equality for all on the grounds that it is just
and reflects the Bible's concern for the oppressed and God's love for everyone.
H. Christianity currently is declining in the industrialized West but is growing

I. An encouraging development in recent years has been the revitalization of Christian
philosophy in the United States.
XV. Some questions for Christianity today.
A. Can Christianity acknowledge the value of other religions and still maintain its
claim that Jesus is the unique incarnation of God and salvation comes through belief in
B. Even if one concedes that Jesus is the unique incarnation of God, why is someone
who lived two thousand years ago central to our lives today?
C. Is the claim that Jesus is the incarnation of God credible given the fact that critical
historians hold that he never claimed to be divine and belief in the divinity of Christian
only began with the resurrection?
Discussion: What are the features of Christianity that you like or dislike, and why? What can
Christianity contribute to your own search for meaning?
Speaker: Scott Sinclair, "Why I Believe in Christianity"
I. Christianity has a basic similarity to other axial religions and a basic difference.
A. By "axial" I mean religions that have gotten beyond
1. Simply deifying natural phenomena.
2. Depending solely on story telling (mythology).
C. Like other axial religions Christianity believes that there is an Ultimate Reality
(God), and this Ultimate Reality is transcendent (i.e., not limited by time and space),
ethical, and compassionate and invites us to be ethical and compassionate.
D. Unlike any other axial religions that I am aware of, Christianity teaches that this
Ultimate Reality became human and suffered torture and death. Note that the two
world religions that are otherwise closest to Christianity, Judaism and Islam, explicitly
reject this Christian teaching.
E. Christianity claims that this distinctive teaching is so important that Christianity in
the primary path to God.
II. Therefore, to understand Christianity we must examine these two basic claims.
III. Belief in an ethical and compassionate God arises from at least two factors
A. The human need for a transcendent source of love and ethics.
1. As humans we have the mental capacity to imagine other times and other
2. We can also to some extent imagine the feelings of others.
3. We realize that we are only a small part of a greater universe.
4 Consequently, we also have the capacity to question whether we as individuals
or as groups are acting ethically.
5. Yet, we also are physically vulnerable and often, both as individuals and
groups, selfish.
6. Hence, we need to believe that there is an Ultimate who will stand by us in
every time and place and who will encourage us to act ethically and who will also
forgive us.
7. Note that if we do not believe in such a God we will end up making ourselves
God (e.g., we will have to decide whether we should forgive ourselves!).

B. The human experience of God. That experience includes the following elements
1. God is personal. We sense that there is a Spiritual Reality beyond ourselves
who knows us, loves us.
2. God has no limits. God is available in all times and places and indeed
transcends time and space.
3. God commands and promises.
(4. If you do not have this experience, try talking over your day with God and
see what begins to happen.)
IV. We can see that Judaism from which Christianity came already had these insights by
looking at Exodus 3:1-14.
V. Nevertheless, there are major problems with belief in God.
A. Our natural (i.e., based on universal human experience, including spiritual
experience) knowledge of what God is like is very limited.
B. In our ignorance we tend to make God rather like ourselves.
C. This God is either
1. Self-centered
a. He (usually it is a he, especially in patriarchal cultures!) wants us to
praise him all the time.
b. He expects us to make sacrifices for him, when he never has to make
any sacrifices for us.
c. He gives us a set of commandments that we are to obey blindly, just
because that is what he wants.
d. Human beings must constantly ask God what he wishes us to do.
e. We must never get angry with him but accept everything that happens
as his will.
2. Indifferent to our problems.
a. He lets the universe go on without interference.
b. He seldom reveals what he wants.
c. He cannot change or suffer.
D. Another problem with belief in God, especially in one Omnipotent, Virtuous God, is
that it easily leads to trivializing evil.
1. If a good God made and rules the universe, then nothing serious can really be
2. If something is wrong then it is the fault of the person who is suffering.
Innocent people do not suffer.
3. People who do evil are solely responsible for their deeds.
VI. Islam and Judaism, the two religions that are closest to Christianity, avoid these problems
to some extent, but the basic problems remain.
VII. The belief that Jesus of Nazareth was the incarnation of God (the human life of God)
arose because of a series of factors.
A. The extraordinary personality and power of Jesus's words and deeds.
B. The fact that he pointed away from himself to God and yet seemed to embody God.
C. The events that occurred after his death.
1. The finding of the empty tomb.
2. The appearances of Jesus himself.
3. The coming of his Spirit.
D. Consequently, Jesus, especially in his risen state, was both personal and had no

limits, that is, he was God.

VIII. What Christianity as its best (and, I admit, it is often not at its best) then claimed is that
the traditional images of God noted above must be balanced with the God who visibly revealed
himself in the limited and ultimately crucified Jesus.
IX. Hence, Christianity at its best stresses that
A. Although God likes to be praised and thanked (as we all do), God was willing to
accept revilement and humiliation.
B. He never asks us to make sacrifices that he himself did not make. Note that
psychological rejection, physical torture, and death are in principle the worst things
that humans can suffer.
C. He invites us to live as spiritual adults.
1. Jesus emphasized that
a. The primary commandments were to love God and others. Other
commandments were only of relative importance. When Paul made
Christianity international, he eliminated all ethnic commandments and
insisted that the entire "law" was fulfilled in the commandment to love
one's neighbor.
b. We must discover what is in our hearts, and deal with our own
c. Inner transformation is more important than external obedience.
2. The doctrine of the incarnation implies that we are not only God's creation or
3. Consequently, God does not call us to mindless obedience but to working
with him as partners to save the world.
D. There is drastic evil in the world, and God suffers because of it. The world crucified
God who came to save it, and in the crucifixion God revealed who he always is, namely
someone who suffers because of evil. Many implications follow
1. We must not blame victims.
2. We must help others not only for their sake but for God's sake, because God
suffers when they suffer.
3. God will always love us, because he forgave those who tortured and killed
him. Indeed, we must love ourselves for God's sake (Bernard).
4. When we suffer, especially when we suffer for doing right, we become more
like God and have greater fellowship with him, because he also suffered for
doing right.
X. Each religion has its areas of stength. And I think that Christianity can learn from other
religions (e.g., from the tolerance of Hinduism).
XI. But the implications of the incarnation and the crucifixion noted above seem to me to be
so important that Christianity must be my spiritual path.
Brief Test on Christianity
Assignment: 2-3 page reflection paper on Christianity


The High Religions from China: Confucianism and Taoism

Reading assignment for Confucianism and Taoism: Smith, chapters 4-5; Novak,
chapter 3-4.
A key Confucian quote: Filial piety and fraternal submissionare they not the root of all
benevolent actions? (Confucius).
A key Taoist quote: Open yourself to the Tao, then trust your natural responses, and
everything will fall into place (Lao Tzu).
Discussion: It is better to behave naturally and be yourself or to live up to expected social
I. So far in this course we have dealt with axial religions that originated in India (Hinduism
and Buddhism) or originated in the Middle East (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam).
II. We now turn to China.
III. Some observations about primordial religion in China.
A. The ancient Chinese believed in a supreme deity, sometimes called Shangdi.
B. Underneath him were a series of deities and other spiritual beings.
C. An important part of Chinese religion was ancestor worship.
1. After death some aspect of the deceased entered into a spiritual realm and
acquired new power.
2. The family of the deceased honored and even offered sacrifices to sustain
3. In exchange the deceased intervened to help the family.
4. Prominent people after their death especially received honor and were
believed to be members of Shangdi's court.
5. Hence, it is not surprising that in popular religion both Confucius and Lao

Tzu ultimately became deities.

D. Chinese religion included many other dimensions which we might call magical or
scientific, including sacrifices, divination, alchemy, and abnormal consciousness which
allowed "shamans" to receive messages from the spirit world.
IV. Some generalizations about Chinese history.
A. There are periods in which most of China is under central control and periods in
which there are numerous small states or outside invasion.
B. During centralization there is relative peace, and the government bureaucracy is
comparatively efficient and honest, and taxation is tolerable.
C. By contrast, when there are competing small states or outside invasion, there is war
(with its attendant human rights violations), corruption in the bureaucracy, and
excessive taxation.
V. Confucianism and Taoism originated under the second set of conditions.
A. The Chou Empire was falling apart.
B. There were many small states struggling for power, and warfare was chronic and
human rights violations, extreme.
C. Within the various states there were struggles for internal control, and bribery and
even assassinations were commonplace.
D. To pay for the warfare and the Machiavellian politics, taxation was exorbitant.
E. Of course, under such conditions, the common people suffered.
VI. During times of seemingly endless social stress there are two options for people who wish
to retain both their integrity and tranquility:
A. Struggle to reform society despite the difficulty
B. Accept that intervention will not be fruitful and withdraw and cultivate one's inner
relationship to Ultimate Reality.
VII. Confucianism basically chose the first.
VIII. Taoism basically chose the second.
IX. The life of Confucius
A. Confucius is a Western pronunciation of the Chinese for Master K'ung. His real
name was K'ung Ch'iu.
B. The sources for his life.
1. Like Siddhartha, Jesus, and Muhammed, Confucius taught orally and left no
writings for future generations.
2. After Confucius's death his followers produced a collection of his sayings and
of incidents in his life. In English this collection is called the Analects.
3. The Analects seem to contain both accurate memory and subsequent
4. Material about Confucius that comes from after the period of the Analects
reflects growing veneration of him and decreasing historical reliability.
C. The following is either historically accurate or at least is faithful to the earliest
idealization of Confucius.
1. He was born around 551 B.C.E. in the small state of Lu which today would be
in northeastern China.
2. His childhood was difficult.
a. His family were impoverished aristocrats, and, consequently,
Confucius was exposed both to hardship and to culture.
b. His father died when Confucius was an infant, and his mother raised

him in poverty.
3. Probably Confucius's early sufferings help explain his lifelong sympathy for
the common people.
4. As an adolescent Confucius found work.
5. He also engaged in intense study, especially of the Chinese classics, a study
which continued through the rest of his life.
6. As an adult he apparently got married and had children.
7. He was only able to obtain low level government posts.
8. And he primarily supported himself by teaching students for a fee. However,
he also taught students who could not pay.
9. In time he became well known both because of the excellence of his
instruction and because some of his students became prominent officials.
10. To promote peace and public welfare in China, he traveled from state to
state seeking to get a state to follow his vision of how to reform society.
11. Some rulers refused to see him, and other rulers, perhaps to gain favorable
publicity, consulted with him but did not actually follow his advice.
12. Ultimately, Confucius returned to his home state and concentrated on
13. He died around the age of seventy-two.
X. The personality of Confucius.
A. He was the quintessential Chinese gentleman, polite, serious, idealistic, hard
working, a lover of music and poetry, kind to all.
B. But he was also down-to-earth, humble, practical, truthful, able to point out
people's faults, able to enjoy a party.
XI. The basic teaching of Confucius.
A. Confucius's thought was a direct response to the wars, chaos, and cruelty of his era.
B. His teaching lays out a path to restore peace, order, and morality.
C. Confucius believed that the secret to a better society was to return to the ways of
ancient history, which he along with others idealized.
D. Consequently, Confucius did not see himself as an innovator. Instead, he advocated
the earlier Chinese classics which included books on such diverse subjects as poetry,
history, and divination.
E. Nevertheless, in important respects he did improve the material that he passed on.
F. In line with the China of his day, Confucius believed in some divine presence
(Heaven) in the universe.
G. Heaven supported moral behavior, and, as a result, ethical action would ultimately
H. However, Heaven primarily worked through human beings.
I. Therefore, the challenge for Confucius was how to make the people of his own day
J. To do this he relied on three things which probably in his own mind were aspects of
a single reality.
1. From a Western perspective those three things were: education, decorum
(li), and art.
2. Nevertheless, I suspect that Confucius would not have been able to
distinguish these three, since much of Chinese education consisted of
inculcating decorum and art, and for him the aesthetic and the moral were a

single reality.
K. By education Confucius meant
1. The formal study of texts, especially, the learning of ancient tradition.
2. The study of everything we experience in daily living. Confucius learned from
everyone he met, though in some cases that learning consisted of mistakes to
3. An honest and constant examination of one's self and a daily effort to
4. Learning the limits of one's own competence and always being willing to
admit past mistakes and improve.
5. Learning and living the morality that is the basis for a civilized society.
6. Realizing the importance of moderation (the middle way).
L. Li (decorum)
1. Included sacred rites to honor the gods and, especially, the ancestors.
2. Good manners both at home and in public, especially deference to superiors
and courtesy to all people.
3. Nevertheless, Confucius was not in favor of mere rites or conventional
manners. Instead,
a. The rites had to be the expression of a genuine devotion.
b. Religious ceremonies should not consume excessive resources, since
Confucius believed it was more important to concentrate on human
c. Manners must not degenerate into mere outward show but be an
honest expression of one's inner attitude. Hence, manners must not be
fussy and self-conscious.
d. And manners must not be mindlessly following rules regardless of the
situation but be appropriate to particular situations.
M. Confucius also believed passionately that music and poetry improve character. Of
course, he was thinking of the classical music and poetry of ancient China (not the
music and lyrics of punk rock!). Partly because of Confucius, China has a higher regard
for art than many other cultures do and has made tremendous achievements in many
art forms (painting, poetry, ceramics, jade carving).
N. Underlying Confucius's thought was the assumption that a human being is
primarily a member of a community, not an isolated individual.
O. The most important community was the family.
P. Within the family there was a natural hierarchy in which parents, husbands, and
older relatives, took precedence over children, wives, and younger relatives.
Q. The top members of the hierarchy gave guidance and protection.
R. The lower members were to be obedient and respectful. However, if the upper
members of the hierarchy were acting irresponsibly, it was the responsibility of the
lower members to rebuke them politely.
S. Confucius especially emphasized the importance of filial piety.
T. Confucius felt that if the family was functioning well, society would follow.
U. He also envisioned the larger society as analogous to the family.
1. The emperor corresponded to the father and was responsible for protecting
his people and giving them a moral example to imitate. Confucius had endless
confidence that the ethical example of a ruler would determine the behavior of

the ruled.
2. The emperor's subjects corresponded to sons and daughters and owed loyalty
and obedience to ethical rulers.
XII. Confucius emphasized that good government can only exist when
A. Things are called by their right name.
B. Rulers put the welfare of the people ahead of egoistic seeking for riches or renown.
C. Officials are appointed on the basis of merit rather than on birth or political clout. The
influence of this perspective became decisive in subsequent Chinese history, leading to
civil service examinations which were open to all.
XIII. Since society is analogous to the family, there should be special social respect for the
elderly, just as in a family children should respect their parents.
XIV. Confucius especially emphasized the importance of humaneness (ren), stating that since
we are human we must treat other humans as we would wish them to treat us. Ren combines
respect for others with respect for oneself. One becomes a "superior person" not by noble
birth but by exercising ren.
XV. In the period in which Confucius lived there were two competing theories of social ethics
(in addition to Taoism which is discussed below).
A. The Realists taught that human beings were basically selfish, and a leader had to
govern through intimidation.
B. The idealists, also called Mohists after the name of their most prominent
spokesman, thought that human beings could have an identical love for every person
and that absolute pacificism was practical.
XVI. In response Mencius (=Master Meng; his real name was Meng K'o; 372 BCE-289), the
leading follower of Confucius, successfully argued that
A. Human beings have a natural orientation toward goodness, but need instruction to
solidify this inchoate virtue.
B. Since loyalty to one's family is natural, it is unrealistic to expect humans to love
everyone equally.
C. A ruler is only legitimate when he rules with the welfare of his people in mind.
1. Only then does he have the "Mandate of Heaven."
2. Rulers who act tyrannically forfeit their right to office.
3. Hence, rebellion and tyrannicide become ethical and even necessary.
D. Mencius became the basis for orthodox Confucianism.
XVII. Another important follower of Confucius was Hsun-tzu (c. 312 BCE-c. 238).
A. Contrary to Mencius, Hsun-tzu argued that human nature is bad but agreed that
education could improve it.
B. He attacked superstition (divination, prayers for rain, etc.) as unworthy of educated
C. Although ultimately less influential than Mencius, he is important because
1. He helped produce a more rational religion among the intellectual elite.
2. But unfortunately also helped produce an aristocratic contempt for others
who followed more traditional beliefs and practices.
XVIII. Initially it was unclear that Confucius's perspectives would triumph.
XIX. An especially difficult period was during the reign of Emperor Ch'in
who unified China by force and then ruled with a brutality that only the Realists could have
accepted. When Confucian scholars criticized him, he buried the scholars alive and burned
their books.

XX. However, as Confucius would have predicted, the Ch'in dynasty soon collapsed.
XXI. The next dynasty, the Hans, who ruled for four centuries, used Confucianism to bolster
their own legitimacy.
XXII. The Han made a knowledge of the classics that Confucius himself revered necessary to
pass the civil service examinations.
XXIII. Thereafter, Confucianism remained the civil religion of China until modern times and
also became influential in the neighboring countries of Korea, Japan, and Vietnam.
XXIV. Confucius himself received increasing veneration. Sacrifices were offered to him and
temples were dedicated to his worship.
XXV. In keeping with the Chinese tendency toward combining religions, Confucianism
increasingly adopted elements from other systems including Taoism and Buddhism.
XXVI. As a result, Neo-Confucianism included both meditation and a greater concern with
metaphysics without abandoning the core of Confucianism. Indeed, Neo-Confucianism
emphasized the study of the writings of Confucius himself and his followers and deemphasized the study of the "classics" that Confucius himself recommended.
XXVII. With the collapse of the Chinese imperial system in the twentieth century, there was a
reaction against Confucianism.
A. In the early twentieth century liberal Chinese blamed the social conservatism of
Confucianism for the technological backwardness of China which allowed Western
nations to exploit the country.
B. Under communist rule, all religion initially suffered persecution, and the
persecution became extreme during the Cultural Revolution.
XXVIII. In recent years, however, the Chinese government has become more tolerant of
religion, and there seems to be a Confucian revival.
XXIX. It also seems that the Confucian emphasis on hard work, integrity, and cooperation
have greatly contributed to the amazing economic growth of China and adjoining lands in
recent times.
XXX. We have also seen the rise of New Confucianism which combines traditional Confucian
perspectives with contemporary values (e.g., equality for women).
XXXI. The major Confucian holiday is Confucius's birthday which is celebrated on September
XXXII. In my opinion Confucianism had a decisive impact on Chinese painting.
A. To be sure, not much of the iconography is explicitly Confucian, though there are
representations of Confucius and Mencius in Chinese painting.
B. Nevertheless, the ideology of the dominant school of Chinese painting seems to me
to be Confucian.
1. The dominant school of Chinese painting is the Literati (scholarly).
2. The Literati School was composed not of professional painters but of scholars
who pursued painting as a serious pastime.
3. The Literati were not interested in technical expertise.
4. Instead they cultivated amateur styles that expressed their own poetic
sensitivity and grandeur of soul.
5. Moreover, they often deliberately incorporated archaic material into their
work, but used that material to express a personal taste.
6. This approach seems very Confucian (Cahill).
XXXIII. Some reflections on Confucianism and American culture today.
A. The values of Confucianism, family, respect for the elderly, tradition, decorum seem

to be the opposite of what prevails in California where we value individualism, youth,

innovation and behaving naturally.
B. The question we must face is whether our lack of Confucian values is gravely
harming our culture.
C. For liberals today, an especially troublesome aspect of Confucianism is its
patriarchalism, a problem with which the New Confucians are struggling.
D. Of course, an additional issue (already raised in the twentieth century by liberals
and communists) is whether Confucianism holds back progress both in technology and
social matters (e.g., tolerance of homosexuality, the rights of children).
XXXIV. If Confucianism is about civilizing society, Taoism is about escaping from the
artificiality of society and returning to the simplicity of Nature and acting naturally.
A. Many of the Taoism's heroes/heroines (whether human or super human) lived in
the wild.
B. Taoists take pilgrimages to natural wonders.
C. Toaists feel that through contemplating the natural world we can discover both
1. The Spiritual Essence of the Universe
2. And our own deepest and most authentic selves.
XXXV. So perhaps it is best to begin our study of Taoism by looking at some of Taoism's
sacred mountains.
XXXVI. The problem of Lao Tzu and the historical origins of Taoism.
A. Taoism incorporated much of earlier Chinese religious practices, and in some sense
is as old as Chinese civilization.
B. Nevertheless, as a distinctive movement it originated during the same period of
social dysfunction as Confucianism.
C. But instead of attempting to intervene to change the prevailing political realities as
Confucius and his followers did, the Taoists advocated cultivating tranquility through
the acceptance of providence.
D. The traditional founder of Taoism, Lao Tzu, is a problematic figure.
1. Lao Tzu is probably not a proper name but a title meaning Big Master.
2. The primary evidence for his existence is the small book, The Way and Its
Power (Tao Te Ching) of which he is the traditional author.
3. Scholars disagree over whether the book was the work of a single person or
an editor who combined multiple sources. Note that the book consists of
distinct sections, each of which is brief.
4. The traditions about Lao Tzu appear to be late and may contain some
accurate memory about an individual or may only be deductions from the book
or pious legends.
E. The book itself is also called the Lao Tzu.
F. When I refer to Lao Tzu in these notes, I mean both the book and its author or
XXXVII. The Tao Te Ching is a highly compressed work with many ambiguities and hidden
references to other literary works and has occasioned different interpretations. Perhaps the
ambiguity is designed to allow different readers to gain different perspectives in accordance
with individual needs. According to tradition, Lao Tzu
A. Was leaving China in disappointment with human beings and to have the leisure to
pursue inner harmony undistracted.
B. Was stopped by a border guard who asked him to record his wisdom.

C. Responded by writing the work before he abandoned civilization for a peaceful old
XXXVIII. The key concept of Lao Tzu is the Way (the Tao). Note that the Tao is prominent in
Chinese thought as a whole, including Confucianism. But in Confucianism Tao has the sense
of proper moral conduct. In what follows I will restrict the discussion to the Taoist
understanding of the concept.
A. The Tao in itself is ineffable, and Lao Tzu insists that we cannot describe it.
B. However, it is clear that for Lao Tzu the Tao is
1. Eternal and unchanging. Note that the Tao is even older than the gods who
originate from it and embody it.
2. Inexhaustible and limitless.
3. Impersonal. It does not have desires or goals.
4. Beneficent. The Tao is wholly good.
5. Creative. All things come from the Tao and return to it.
6. Directive. The Tao guides all things.
7. Non-controlling. But the Tao is small, i.e., not manipulative.
8. Because the Tao guides all things but does not control them, it is possible for
human beings to act against the Tao, but when they do, nothing positive occurs
and nothing lasting results.
9. Lao Tzu likes to use feminine images for the Tao. She is the mother of all
things. The physical image Lao Tzu likes to use for the Tao is water.
XXXIX. Nevertheless, it must be stressed that Lao Tzu and subsequent Taoist spiritual
teachers were not primarily concerned with intellectual concepts about the Tao but with inner
transformation through embodying it. Taoism is a practical religion and not interested in
theological speculation for its own sake.
XL. Sages in their own lives embody the Tao by
A. Being humble
B. Being free of ambition and desire
C. Having little property
D. Being able to respond to every situation
E. Being able to change with the times while still maintaining integrity.
F. Being gentle
G. Being non-competitive, except in a playful way
H. Being kind to all, even to the wicked
I. Not depending on the approval of others.
J. Being oneself, especially being spontaneous rather than self-conscious.
XLI. Yin-yang
A. Yin and yang were already important concepts in Chinese thought before Lao Tzu's
B. However, Lao Tzu and his Taoist successors placed special emphasis on them.
C. According to them, yin and yang come from the Tao.
D. Yin includes such categories as earth, dark, feminine, valley.
E. Yang includes such categories as heaven, light, masculine, mountain.
F. All things contain some mixture of yin and yang.
G. Yin and yang also presuppose each other. Thus, there cannot be light without
darkness or masculine without feminine.
XLII. The Tao pervades the world that arises from it and, consequently, everything that is

natural is good. Note that here natural does not mean non-human, but that which
corresponds to the essence of things (the Tao). Of course, the natural world always follows
the Tao if human do not interfere.
A. The world is constantly changing, but as long as we do not interfere with the Tao,
only good arises.
B. When we perceive something natural as evil or destructive, we are merely
ignorant about how that thing contributes to the whole.
XLIII. Evil appears when we interfere in the natural working of things.
XLIV. Consequently, the sage (i.e., the ideal spiritual person) usually allows things to take
their natural course with the knowledge that
A. Interfering will only make matters worse.
B. Things that appear to be evil, such as ugliness or death, are necessary complements
to those that appear to be good and, therefore, are not evil in the final analysis.
C. In due course, the world will through the guidance of the Tao set itself right.
XLV. Hence, the sage is tranquil and is not disturbed by the seeming disasters of this life. Of
course, this philosophy was reassuring during the chaos and cruelty of the era of Lao Tzu.
XLVI. The tranquility of the sage positively affects others.
XLVII. Nevertheless, the sage apparently will intervene to prevent catastrophe, but once
catastrophe has been averted, the sage relinquishes power over others.
XLVIII. If the sage is in a position of governmental leadership, the sage does not try to control
or manipulate but through humility and tranquility empowers others to realize their own
achievements. Thus, even though they were guided by the leader, the people scarcely are
aware of that fact and imagine they achieved everything by themselves.
XLIX. Consequently, the Tao Te Ching emphasizes the principle of non-interference (wu
wei). By not seeking to manipulate or dominate, the sage accomplishes all that needs to be
done or even can be done.
L. A major question is to what extent the Tao Te Ching advocates political action to counter
A. For the most part, the book insists on non-action, even in the face of opposing force.
Paradoxically, the sage overcomes by yielding.
B. Yet section 31 insists that it may even be necessary to engage in war to counter evil,
but one should only do so with extreme reluctance.
LI. Perhaps the best solution is that one can take action, but only when one is in touch with
the Tao and doing what is "natural."
LII. After Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu (399 BCE-295) expressed many of the same ideas, but
A. The sage was not to get involved in politics.
B. The sage should practice a mysticism of unity in which one loses all sense of
individual identity and becomes one with the universe.
LIII. A founder of "religious" Taoism was Zhang Daoling (2nd c. C.E.).
A. Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu did not found a continuing religious institution with
officials, rites, dogmas, and property.
B. According to tradition, Zhang Daoling
1. Spent years as a recluse and an ascetic
2. Then he had a vision of Lao Tzu who told him that
a. The present world would soon come to an end.
b. There would then be a golden age of peace.

c. Zhang must found a community to prepare for the transition.

3. Zhang then
a. Organized a religious belief system with a large pantheon which
included Lao Tzu himself as a major deity.
b. Organized a priesthood which in the Celestial Masters sect continues
until the present day. The priests act as mediators between the gods and
the worshipers and bring divine power to ordinary people.
c. Apparently placed a special emphasis on the confession of sin,
absolution, and atonement through good works.
LIV. With religious Taoism, the Tao becomes more personal (e.g., it has desires).
LV. In subsequent centuries Taoism became increasingly complex by
A. Developing various techniques for meditation. Note that these produce harmonious
energy in the body.
B. Adopting monasticism.
C. Developing other ideas and institutions from traditional Chinese culture, including
alchemy, divination, communication with spirits, exorcism, and the martial arts.
D. Dividing into sects.
E. Adopting more than a thousand texts as scripture.
F. Creating especially long and complex liturgies.
G. Finding diverse ways to absorb and then pass on power from the Tao.
LVI. Taoism also became concerned with achieving immortality either through alchemy or
A. Through alchemy one was thought to achieve physical immortality.
B. Through meditation one's spiritual self united with the Tao and survived corporal
LVII. Some of what Taoism took over and developed did not prove to be fruitful. For
example, Taoist alchemy did not succeed in finding a substance that would prevent physical
death. In fact, some of the substances that were tried proved to be fatal!
LVIII. However, much of what Taoism developed in various fields remains helpful today,
including acupuncture and tai chi, and Taoism was responsible for such historical inventions
as the magnetic compass and (alas) gunpowder.
LIX. Taoism has had changing fortunes.
A. During the Tang dynasty (618-906) it was virtually the official religion in China, and
the Emperor Wu actively persecuted foreign religions (including Buddhism).
B. But subsequently the influence of Taoism waned.
C. Like Confucianism Taoism suffered criticism in the twentieth century from liberals
and communists who wanted to westernize China.
D. Taoism appeared to be dying in the period of intense persecution during the
Cultural Revolution.
E. However, Taoism seems to be reviving in contemporary China.
LX. Today there are two primary sects of Taoism
A. The Orthodox Unity (a later version of the Celestial Masters) which has married
priests and concentrates on liturgical rites and includes much which outsiders would
consider magic.
B. The Complete Perfection which is more monastic with a celibate leadership and
emphasizes meditation and rejects magic.
LXI. Three Taoist holidays. Note that the Taoists use the traditional Chinese lunar calendar.

A. Lao Tzu's birthday (early spring).

B. Ghost Day (late summer) which resembles Halloween or the Mexican Day of the
Dead with the addition that Ghost Day includes making atonement for spirits who are
suffering because of their evil deeds.
C. Chinese New Year on which the Taoists have special ceremonies. Note that the
holiday season lasts for fifteen days and ends with the Lantern Festival.
LXII. Taoism has inspired a rich variety of art in many mediums, including painting,
sculpture, embroidery, and ceramics.
A. The philosophy of Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu inspired landscape painting.
B. Religious Taoism especially produced numerous depictions of its many deities.
LXIII. Taoism versus Confucianism
A. In many ways Taoism and Confucianism are opposites.
1. Taoism
a. Urges us to be natural and spontaneous.
b. Holds that conformity to the artificial conventions of society is
spiritually damaging and does not give us the flexibility to respond
appropriately to an ever changing world.
c. Recommends non-interference in the political system.
d. Tends to be egalitarian, since all have access to the Tao. Note that
Taoism was at least relatively feminist and that the Celestial Masters
(Orthodox Unity) has female (as well as male) clergy.
2. Confucianism
a. Urges us to follow decorum and even developed a detailed blueprint for
correct social behavior.
b. Advocates working to reform immoral political systems.
c. Is essentially hierarchical with an elaborate system of authority and
d. Is traditionally patriarchal.
B. Not surprisingly the Taoists and Confucians often criticized each other.
C. Nevertheless, perhaps the majority of the Chinese down through the centuries have
been both Confucians and Taoists!
D. It seems clear that both religions contain deep truth, but the problem remains how
to combine them.
LXIV. Some reflections on Taoism and the contemporary West.
A. Certain aspects of Taoism are very attractive today.
1. The writing of Lao Tzu is very popular in the West.
2. Such things as acupuncture and tai chi have enjoyed growing interest.
3. At least in the Bay Area spontaneity and being oneself and not having to
conform to a code of good manners or predetermined social roles fit our
perspectives very well.
4. We also resonate with the reverence that Taoism has for the natural world
and can see the disastrous results of interfering in it.
B. But to us Taoism as an institutional religion seems burdened by superstition.
C. Taoism's traditional optimism about nature's orderliness and ability to right itself
does not cohere with modern scientific theory or the present ecological situation.
D. And in Western democracies, political activism seems both ethically mandatory and
often effective.

E. Can the West produce a religion that incorporates the best of Taoism without
adopting the more questionable features?
Discussion: What are the features of Confucianism and Taoism that you like or dislike and
why? What can Confucianism and Taoism contribute to your own search for meaning?
Brief test on Confucianism and Taoism
Assignment: 2-3 page reflection paper on Confucianism and Taoism
Exclusiveness, Pluralism, or Something Else: The Problem of Many Paths and One Ultimate
I. Perhaps by definition there can be only one Ultimate Reality.
II. And religion, almost by definition, posits that this Reality is helpful (or, at least, can be
helpful) to human beings.
III. Yet, as we have seen, different religions have very different descriptions of the Ultimate.
IV. Various ways that one can view the competing claims of different religions and the
strengths and weakness of each way.
A. Option 1: Only one religion has the truth; other religions are useless.
1. Some religious groups have even condemned other religions as perverse. For
example, conservative Protestants traditionally taught that salvation was only
through faith in Christ, and conservative Muslims believed that idolatry was an
unforgivable sin.
2. This uncompromising approach has its strengths.
a. It obviously allows one to affirm completely one's own religion.
b. It produces a concept of the Ultimate that is relatively simple and
3. But there are major difficulties.
a. The position that only one path is helpful consigns the majority of
humans to perdition (sometimes even to eternal damnation).
b. It ignores the many positive features of all the axial religions, and even
of the non-axial religions.
c. It does not fit well with the fact that all the axial religions have large
areas of agreement (e.g., on ethics).
B. Option 2: One religion is in all respects superior, but other religions are helpful to
the extent that they agree with that definitive religion.
1. This option has the strengths of the first.
2. In addition it allows for a greater appreciation of other paths, though not for
their diversity.
3. It also is the position which many adherents of various religions hold.
C. Option 3: All the axial religions (and others as well?) are equally valid paths.
1. This option has the strengths of
a. Honoring various religions and their diverse achievements.
b. Producing good will and tolerance. Note that exclusive religious
claims have sometimes produced intolerance and even attempts to force
people to convert.
2. But there are problems.

a. The inclusive approach does not honor religious traditions that insist
on the superiority of one path, and at least orthodox Buddhism,
Christianity, and Islam all do. Hence, it is questionable whether the
inclusive approach actually honors all paths or even is truly open and
tolerant. Condemning intolerance can be itself intolerant!
b. The resulting picture of the Ultimate is extremely fuzzy and
1). If we claim that all paths have valid understandings of Ultimate
Reality, then
a). Ultimate Reality is both one and many, both personal
and impersonal, both active and passive.
b). The ultimate goal of human life includes the fulfillment
of desire in Islamic paradise and the extinction of desire in
2). Inclusivists have responded that various traditions from
Christianity to Taoism agree that human beings cannot fully
understand the Ultimate and, therefore, we agree that the Ultimate
is paradoxical. But in my opinion, this claim does not respect what
some of the religious traditions actually teach. Thus, although
classical Christianity stressed that we know God only by analogy,
God is at least greater than our analogies. God is supremely
personal, supremely active, and to claim that God is impersonal or
passive is from a classical Christian perspective absolutely false.
D. Option 4: Each path has strengths and weaknesses, and today we should combine
the best features of each.
1. This eclectic approach has strengths.
a. Different religions focus on different things (meditation, political
activism, etc.).
b. Many people from various religions have adopted aspects of other
religions. For example, many Christians have found Eastern meditation
practices helpful, and many Buddhists and Hindus have adopted the
Western emphasis on the need for religion to address political issues.
And as we noted above, in some cultures (e.g., China) people have
normally practiced more than one religion.
c. One can produce a personal religion that fits one's own needs.
2. But there are problems.
a. How do we determine which aspects of each religion are the best?
b. If we tailor a religion to fit our own needs, there is the extreme danger
that we are producing beliefs and practices that cater to our own limited
understanding and goals or even our own egoism. At least the various
axial religions have stood the test of time and challenged people of
various cultures to become more than they were.
E. Option 5: The disagreements among the axial religions about the nature of the
Ultimate help prove that there is no higher power, and the only ultimate reality is the
material universe from which humankind arose by accident.
1. The strength of this atheistic position is that it does take the competing
understandings of the Ultimate seriously and does not try to explain them away.

2. However, it does not take the agreements of the religions seriously (e.g., that
there is a moral force in the universe totally apart from human beings).
3. And atheism dismisses so much of human spiritual experience.
4. Of course, atheism leads to a fundamentally pessimistic view of the final end
of human life (whether the life of every individual, the survival of humanity, and
even the survival of the universe).
F. Option 6: The disagreements among the axial (and other?) religions prove that
there is more than one ultimate reality. The different paths of, say, Islam and
Buddhism go to different places both of which are equally real, valuable, and eternal.
Paradise and Nirvana both exist, and neither is superior.
1. The great advantage of this pluralistic universe is that all (axial?) religions are
fully valid.
2. But there are severe problems
a. Metaphysical chaos. The spiritual universe is hopelessly fragmented.
b. None of the axial religions endorses this solution. Even Hinduism
believes that the many paths lead to a single reality, not that they arrive in
very different destinations.
Discussion: Which option do you prefer?
V. Regardlesss of which option one prefers, the undeniable fact remains that there are
millions of sincere adherents of each of the religions we studied in this course (as well as
millions of sincere adherents of religions we did not have time to study).
VI. The primary questions--both practical and theoretical--that this diversity inevitably poses
A. What do all the religions which we studied share despite the obvious areas of
B. How can we live together in mutual respect?
C. Can we somehow enrich one another?
D. And can we work together for the good of the larger societies of which we are part
and the world as a whole?
VII. Here are my (tentative) answers to these vital questions:
A. All of the religions which we studied (and many others that we did have time to
1. Agree that every human being is entitled to justice, and in principle all human
beings are precious.
2. Are serious and fruitful paths toward peace, joy, and compassion.
3. Agree that this ethical commitment and these fruitful paths are grounded in a
more fundamental reality (God, karma, the Tao, Heaven, and so forth) that
exists totally apart from human beings as well as within us all.
B. Because of what we share, we can, despite our profound disagreements, cooperate
in the continuing struggle for the well being of the world.
C. As we recognize what we share and we work together for human welfare, we
naturally grow in appreciation for one another and contribute to each other's (and the
world's) spiritual wholeness.
VIII. Is there a special role for the United States in world religion?
A. None of the religions that we studied arose in the United States (although some of
the Native American religions which arose in North America ended up in the United

B. Nevertheless, the United States has two special religious characteristics:

1. A tradition that theoretically insists on religious freedom but which in
practice has often oppressed religious minorities.
2. Communities of virtually every large religion in the world. Note that all of the
guest speakers we had this semester came from the Bay Area.
C. These special characteristics challenge the United States to be a leader in getting
different religions to appreciate one another and cooperate for the common good and,
thereby show to the rest of the world how religion in general can be a force for unity
and peace rather than for division and violence.
Assignment: Write a 2-3 page paper on how this course has changed your view
of religion.