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World Religions
Spring 2010
MWF 10-10:50am, Olin 108
Instructor: Nathan Rein (nrein at ursinus dot edu, office: 610-409-3571, cell: 610-973-

Introduction to the course

It has become a cliché that we live in a globalized world. The so-called "world" religions
are now more global than ever — for example, according to some statistics, there are
now more Muslims than Jews, more Sikhs than Episcopalians, living in the United
States. There are mosques in Detroit, Zoroastrian communities in Los Angeles, Hindu
temples in Jamaica and Catholic cathedrals in West Africa. Being a good global citizen
means knowing something about these ever-closer neighbors of ours.

In taking this course, you will gain a basic factual understanding of five of the world's
great traditions: Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism. You should be
able to participate in an informed and educated way in cross-cultural conversations. You
should know, for example, what a Jewish Bar-Mitzvah is and what it means; you should
have a sense of how the Buddhist nirvana is similar and different from Hindu moksha;
and you should understand why Muhammad's role in Islam is different from Jesus' role
in Christianity. You should also be able to take in news reports of religious events,
conflicts, and movements around the world with a better sense of context and meaning.
At the same time, you will also become aware of how knowledge about religions comes
to exist — in other words, along with learning about the religious traditions themselves,
you will also investigate how we learn about religions, examining questions like: what
kinds of information does one need in order to truly understand someone else's
religion? What "counts" as a religion, or as religious?

How to get more information

I’ve placed as much information as possible about this course on the Web, and I promise
to try to keep it as up to date as I can. Most of what you need to know about the course
(including this syllabus, contact information for me, and daily assignments) can be
found at the course website, http://rels-211.pbworks.com. You can also get the next
assignment sent to your phone via text message. Text UCREIN RELS211 to shortcode
41411. (This usually works.) If you have a smartphone, you can just scan the barcode at
the bottom of this syllabus.

Course objectives
By the end of the semester, you will:
● define, explain and illustrate key concepts from the five traditions discussed
(Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism);
● discern and describe ways in which those concepts appear in observable religious
● develop the ability to describe religious beliefs and practices non-normatively,
i.e., without reference to their ultimate truth or falsity;
● perform close readings of and comparisons between religious ideas and texts;
● practice reading, writing, listening, and talking about religious ideas critically and
carefully; and
● develop an understanding of how our knowledge of other religious traditions is
acquired and shaped.
Note: This course satisfies the Ursinus Core Curriculum requirement for a "G" (global
diversity) course.

Assignments and grading:

Grades in this course will be determined based on the following weights:
● Papers, 28%
● Quizzes and exams, 28%
● Informal writing and participation, 22%
● Cumulative final assignment, 22%
Ungraded, informal writing and short focus papers will be required on a regular basis
throughout the semester, approximately every two weeks. These will be evaluated on a
check/check-plus basis. You will also take regular quizzes on vocabulary and concepts.
You will have the option of turning in a writing assignment or taking an exam at the end
of the semester.

The field trip

I have scheduled five field trips to different religious sites in the area throughout the
term. One of the requirements of this course is that you sign up for one of these trips,
attend it, and write a short report of your experiences afterwards (this will count as part
of the course's informal writing requirement; it will be due by email 48 hours after the
field trip). I will hand out a sign-up sheet in the first week of class. If you can't make any
of the scheduled trips, speak with me privately about arranging a site visit on your own.
You may attend as many field trips as you like, space permitting, but everyone must
attend at least one.

Reading list:
The following books have been ordered for purchase at the Ursinus bookstore. Pay
attention to the edition numbers. Older editions (especially with World Religions
Today, the main textbook) are substantially different. Sorry, but it’s true.
● Endo, Shusaku. Deep River. NY: New Directions, 2002; ISBN: 081121320X.
● Esack, Farid. On Being a Muslim. Revised edition. Oxford: Oneworld Pub.,
2009; ISBN: 1851686916.
● Esposito, John, et al. World Religions Today. Third ed. NY: Oxford UP, 2009
(abbreviated below as WRT); ISBN: 0195365631.
● Heschel, Abraham Joshua. The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man. New
edition. NY: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2005; ISBN: 0374529752.
● Lamott, Anne. Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith. New York: Anchor
Books, 1999; ISBN: 0385496095.
● Nhat Hanh, Thich. Being Peace. Second edition. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press,
2005; ISBN: 188837540X.
There will also be frequent readings from short class handouts.

The fine print

Written work: All written work must be submitted in order to receive a passing grade for
the class. Late papers will be penalized by one grade-step (from B+ to B, etc.) for each
day they are late, unless you have arranged with me for an extension well in advance of
the due date. Informal writing will not be accepted late. All written work must
include both page numbers and a word count in the upper right corner of the first page.
Email submissions are acceptable and usually preferred.
Attendance: Attendance at every class meeting is expected. Missing class shows
disrespect for your classmates and professor and for the collective enterprise of the
class. I will be taking attendance at every class session, and participation grades will
reflect attendance records. Missing two class meetings may result in the issuance of an
academic warning slip. Missing more than four scheduled meetings may result in your
being dropped from the course with a grade of F.
Academic honesty: Plagiarism is a serious offence, and today it has become very easy to
detect. In written work, all quotations must be properly attributed and appear in
quotation marks. But at least as importantly, any time you are drawing on someone
else's work you must cite it! (Either parenthetical citations or footnotes are
appropriate.) This includes paraphrases, summaries, or any time you make use of an
idea that's not your own. Anything else, including the use of information you find online,
is plagiarism and can result in one or both of the following: (1) a failing grade for the
course or (2) College-level disciplinary action, including expulsion. At best, you will have
an extremely unpleasant meeting with the dean and get an "F" for the assignment, and I
guarantee it will ruin your day and mine. If you have questions about the proper use of
sources, please don't hesitate to contact me. You are probably better off turning in
nothing at all than turning in a plagiarized paper. Every formal paper should include a
acknowledgements section (which will not count towards the total word length) in
which you thank everyone, by name, who helped you with the paper. This should be
about a paragraph and it should be in a footnote, at either the very beginning or the very
end of the paper.

Schedule of major readings and assignments

Note: this schedule is subject to change. It includes most reading assignments. Additional
readings in handout form will also be required. I will also be assigning frequent informal writing
tasks. Please complete all reading by the date listed. WRT stands for World Religions Today,
the main textbook for the course.


M 1/17
Welcome and introduction to the course

W 1/19
WRT, Introduction, pp. 3-33

F 1/21
Endo, Deep River, chs. 1-3
M 1/24
Endo, chs. 4-7
Interview assignment due

W 1/26
Endo, chs. 8-13

F 1/28
Reading t.b.a.
First focus paper due


M 1/31
WRT, pp. 147-173

W 2/2
WRT, pp. 173-198

F 2/4
WRT, pp. 198-211

M 2/7
Lamott, Traveling Mercies, through Part Three
Christianity quiz

W 2/9
Lamott, Parts Four and Five

F 2/11
Lamott, to end
Second focus paper due


M 2/14
WRT, pp. 74-114

W 2/16
WRT, pp. 114-129

F 2/18
WRT, pp. 129-145
First formal paper due

M 2/21
Heschel, The Sabbath, prologue, parts one and two
Judaism quiz

W 2/23
Heschel, part three and epilogue

F 2/25
Reading t.b.a.
Third focus paper due

M 2/28
Review week; reading t.b.a.

W 3/2

F 3/4
Midterm exam

Spring break, 3/7 through 3/11


M 3/14
WRT, pp. 213-265; Qur'an handout

W 3/16
WRT, pp. 265-288

F 3/18
WRT, pp. 288-299

M 3/21
Esack, On Being a Muslim, chapters 1-2
Islam quiz

W 3/23
Esack, chapters 3-4
F 3/25
Esack, chapter 5
Fourth focus paper due


M 3/28
WRT, pp. 301-344

W 3/30
WRT, pp. 344-362

F 4/1
WRT, pp. 362-387
Second formal paper due

M 4/4
Gandhi, "All Religions Are True" (handout, pages t.b.a.)
Hinduism quiz

W 4/6
Gandhi, continued

F 4/8
Gandhi, continued
Fifth focus paper due


M 4/11
WRT, pp. 389-430

W 4/13
COSA (no class)

F 4/15
WRT, pp. 430-443

M 4/18
WRT, pp. 443-469

W 4/20
Nhat Hanh, Being Peace, chapters 1-3
Buddhism quiz

F 4/22
Nhat Hanh, chapters 4-5

M 4/25
Nhat Hanh, chapters 6-7
Sixth focus paper due

CONCLUSION (Review week; reading t.b.a.)

W 4/27

F 4/29

M 5/2
Quick information
Course website http://rels-211.pbworks.com

Contact information for Nathan Rein phone: 610-973-7186

email: nrein at ursinus dot edu

Class meeting times MWF 10-10:50am, Olin 108

Exam dates Midterm exam: March 4 in class

Final exam: to be announced

Formal paper due dates Feb. 18

April 1

Informal writing due dates Jan. 24 (interview)

Jan. 28 (focus paper)
Feb. 11 (focus paper)
Feb. 25 (focus paper)
March 25 (focus paper)
April 8 (focus paper)
April 25 (focus paper)
48 hours after your field trip, via email
(field trip report)

Quiz dates Feb. 7 (Christianity)

Feb. 21 (Judaism)
Feb. 21 (Islam)
April 4 (Hinduism)
April 20 (Buddhism)

Assignment information by text message text UCREIN RELS211 to 41411

(or scan the barcode below with your
Tentative dates for field trips:
Field trips will last three to five hours (depending on traffic) and will leave from the
parking lot between BPS and the Physical Plant building. All dates and times are subject
to change.

Gwynedd Friends Meeting Sunday, Feb. 13 (around 9 a.m.)

Gwynedd, PA

Tiferet Beth Israel Saturday, Feb. 26 (around 9 a.m.)

Blue Bell, PA

Foundation for Islamic Friday, March 25 (around 11:30 a.m.)

Villanova, PA

Bharatiya Temple Sunday, April 10 (around 10 a.m.)

Chalfont, PA

Wat Mongkoltepmunee Sunday, April 24 (around 10 a.m.)

Bensalem, PA