RELST 113: Introduction to Religious Studies

Course Description

This class is designed to introduce students to religion as an academic field of study. While we can easily locate groups who identify themselves as Christians, Jews, Muslims, or Buddhists, we might actually have more difficulty figuring out what—if anything—unifies all of these groups, and therefore what it is that people mean when they use the term religion. Is there such a thing? What might be its basic characteristics?

In this class we will explore some of the basic categories used by scholars of religion when they investigate the social phenomenon of religion. What is the sacred? What is a myth? Why do people perform rituals? And where is religion located when it isn’t specifically Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or Buddhist?

Goals

By the end of the semester, students enrolled in this course:

Should be familiar with a variety of categories used in the study of religion;

Should have an appreciation for the complexity of the phenomenon of religion; and

Should be prepared to study religion from an academic, rather than a confessional, point of view.

Texts

The following texts are available at the VWU bookstore. You are free to purchase them elsewhere, but you should check with me to be certain you are purchasing the proper edition(s).

Covington, Dennis. Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia. (COVINGTON)

Eliade, Mircea. The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion. (ELIADE)

The Epic of Gilgamesh. (GILGAMESH)

Heschel, Abraham Joshua. The Sabbath. (HESCHEL)

Sexson, Lynda. Ordinarily Sacred. (SEXSON)

In addition, articles are linked to the class Web site; others may be distributed in class during the semester.

YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR COMPLETING ALL OF THE READINGS, INCLUDING ANY ON-LINE READINGS OR READINGS DISTRIBUTED IN CLASS. I AM NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR FAILURE TO OBTAIN READINGS OR READING ASSIGNMENTS DISTRIBUTED IN CLASS.

Responsibilities & Evaluation

Class Participation (20 points + 20 points)

You are expected to attend all scheduled classes and complete all assignments. In addition, you are expected to participate fully in regular discussions, and engage the materials in class. Regular and thoughtful participation in class, as well as enthusiastic participation in the assignments, will be rewarded in this category. Mindless blather will not.

Grades will be assigned in two areas:

Class attendance, participation, interaction (20 points);

“Evidence of…” (20 points, or 4 assignments x 5 points each)

Four times during the semester you will apply the materials from the class to the world around you—in contemporary music, television programming, film, fad, and fashion, etc.—and submit a very short (2 pages, double-spaced) statement that 1) identifies the cultural phenomenon, and 2) describes how that phenomenon reflects the particular aspect(s) of religion assigned for that date.

Don’t tell me about a personal experience, and don’t explain anything that’s more than 10 years old—SEEK something out, describe it, and analyze it. My goal is to have you identify NEW phenomena–things that are actually a part of your lives–that replicate what we are studying (myth, ritual, etc.), not give me your impression of worn out, old, or even familiar phenomena.

Mid-Term & Final Exams (30 points + 30 points)

Format: Both examinations are likely to be a combination of identification questions (defining terms, etc.), short answer questions (requiring an answer that might range in length from a sentence to a paragraph), and an essay (final exam: 2 essays).

General Classroom Policies