Comparative Religion
Religious Studies 302
Saint Martin's College
Main Campus
Spring 2003

Saint Martin's College 
Humanities Division 
Department of Religious Studies 
David Suter homepage
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Campus office:  366 
Campus phone:  (360) 438-4360
Office hours:  MWF 2:00-2:50 PM; TR 10:00-10:50 AM 
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General Education 
Topics and

            One can study religions "comparatively" in different ways and for a variety of reasons.  As we become involved in the study of various religions, we will begin to realize that the title of the course itself presents a problem:  can we compare, and, if so, what are we comparing, and why?  Is comparing religions a little like comparing apples and oranges?  Or are the different religions alternative paths to the same center, to use a Hindu metaphor?  Are we seeking common "patterns" within different religions—founders, mysticism, or the use of scriptures—out of intellectual curiosity or for spiritual reasons?  Or are we seeking to speak the truth about God, or the Absolute, without regard to any particular religion, because we dare not say anything untrue about him, her, or it?  Are we seeking to choose among religions, to understand our own more fully in comparison to others, or the ability to enter into dialog with persons of other faiths?  These options reflect the alternatives current among scholars and schools dealing with what is called variously comparative religion, the history of religion, or world religions.  At the outset of the course, these options are open, and the student will be expected to choose her or his place among them as the course progresses.  The text we are using, Roger Eastman, The Ways of Religion:  An Introduction to the Major Traditions, will facilitate the study of the various religions by permitting the student to encounter excerpts from some of the ancient texts and contemporary representatives of the different religions and to interact with fellow students over the meaning and interpretation of those excerpts.  A second text, Michael Molloy, Experiencing the World’s Religions, is intended as a supplement to Eastman to provide the student with basic information about the individual religions.  A third book included on the syllabus as optional, Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths, by Karen Armstrong, is intended to provide a basis for a class project in comparative religion, studying the city of Jerusalem from the perspective of the intersecting spheres of holiness claimed by the three Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Judaism. 

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General Education

This course qualifies for general education credit at Saint Martin's College.  The aims and objectives of general education at Saint Martin's College include the goal that "Saint Martin's College graduates will have an understanding of religious and philosophical concepts and principles, and of the moral and ethical questions they will face in society and the professions."  In this course, we will have several goals, including the acquisition of some exact knowledge about several of the religions of the world, a focus on the central or controlling concepts of those religions, the ability to communicate and to enter into dialog with persons of other faiths, and perhaps a better understanding of the "religious" dimension of our own lives, however we define it. 

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Roger Eastman, The Ways of Religion:  An Introduction to the Major Traditions, Third Edition (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).  ISBN 0-19-511835-9.

Michael Molloy, Experiencing the World’s Religions:  Tradition, Challenge, and Change, Second Edition.  (Mountain View, CA: Mayfield, 2002).  ISBN 0-7674-2043-8.

Optional:  Karen Armstrong, Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths (New York: Knopf, 1996).  ISBN: 0679435964.

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The course will include a midterm test, a final exam, a focus paper, and a term paper.   The test and exam will be take-home tests with essay questions.  The focus paper is an essay of four to five pages dealing with an issue that emerges for you from the readings and class discussions.  Considerations in evaluating the essay will include the significance of the issue, the understanding of the issue reflected in the essay, the clarity of the writing, and the citation and discussion of material from reading assignments and class sessions.  The term paper will be a research paper of eight to ten pages dealing with a topic related to the comparative study of religions.  Considerations in evaluation of the term paper will include the significance of the topic, the quality of the student's understanding of the topic and related issues, the clarity of the writing and presentation, the choice and evaluation of appropriate source material, and the use of appropriate forms of documentation.  The class will include an extended small group project designed to examine the city of Jerusalem from the perspectives of the three Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, which claim intersecting spheres of holiness in the Old City, and students may wish to base their term papers upon research done for that project.  For both the focus paper and the term paper, the student will be expected to include endnotes (or parenthetical documentation) and a bibliography or list of works cited. Late papers will be lowered a letter grade.  Violations of the College's policies on academic honesty as printed in the catalogue will lead to failure of the assignment or the course, depending upon the seriousness of the offense.  The final grade will be weighted as follows:  midterm test, 15%; focus paper, 20%; final exam, 25%; term paper, 25%; class participation, 15%.

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Schedule of Topics and Assignments

A significant part of the class will involve discussion and examination of selected readings from the textbook, and students will be expected to come to class having read the assigned material in advance and prepared to discuss it in class. 

Jan. 15:  Introduction to course. 

Jan. 17:  The Axial Age:  Introduction to the Comparative Study of Religion

Jan 22:  Hinduism.  Read Eastman, pp. 13-22, 53-58, 65-75; Molloy, pp. 59-103.

Jan. 24, 27, 29:  The scriptures of Hinduism.  Read Eastman, pp. 22-53.

Jan. 31, Feb. 3:  Video on Hinduism.

Feb. 5:  Buddhism.  Read Eastman, pp. 80-90, 110-129; Molloy, pp. 105-65.

Feb. 7:  Some Buddhist scriptures.  Read Eastman, pp. 91-98.

Feb. 10:  The Zen tradition.  Read Eastman, pp. 131-61.

Feb. 12, 14:  Video on Buddhism.

Feb. 19:  Confucius.  Read Eastman, 163-86; Molloy, pp. 191-235.

Feb. 21:  The Tao.  Read Eastman, pp. 215-33, 246-54. 

Feb. 24, 26:  Video on China.  Focus paper due.  Consult professor’s web page for focus paper assignment.

Feb. 28:  Review.

March 3:  Orientation to group project on the three Abrahamic religions. 

March 5, 7: Video on Jerusalem.  Midterm exam due.

March 10, 12:  Scripture in Judaism.  Read Eastman, pp. 287-313; Molloy, pp. 265-319. 

March 14:  Video on Judaism.  Read Eastman, pp. 313-18.  

March 24, 26:  Scripture in Christianity.  Read Eastman, pp. 339-64; Molloy, pp. 321-403.

March 28, 31:  Video on Christianity.  Read Eastman, pp. 364-86.

April 2, 4:  Scripture in Islam.  Eastman, pp. 400-21; Molloy, pp. 405-55. 

April 7, 9:  Video on Islam.  Read Eastman, pp. 416-44.

April 11, 14, 16:  Small group preparation time.

April 23:  Jerusalem from the perspective of Judaism (Group presentation).

April 25:  Jerusalem from the perspective of Christianity (group presentation).

April 28:  Jerusalem from the perspective of Islam (group presentation).

April 30:  Review.  Term paper due.  Consult professor’s web page for term paper assignment.

May 5:  Final exam due by 5:00 PM in professor's office.

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