In this course, I introduce the main tenets of seven world faiths: Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Taoism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The lecture-seminars focus on the philosophical beliefs, ritual practices, and sacred spaces from within each of the religious traditions. This provides a context from which we can begin to examine not only different ‘ways of world makings’ but also the complexity of the socio-political present.
My students are encouraged to question what it means to “study” religion (in distinction to practicing religion) and the course will be designed so as to facilitate a comparative study across the different religious traditions. This comparative methodology involves the study of how the different traditions approach scripture and revelation; the human condition and transcendent reality; gender and the body; image-making and metaphor.
Diversity of Religions Project 2020
Each final research project aims to study and interpret Canada’s changing religious landscape and consider the implications of this more complex religious landscape for Canadian public life. Canada’s emergence of a new cultural and religious reality is clear.
In the Diversity of Religions’ Project, each group contributes to creating a website (or a blog) to ease engaged learning about religious diversity and interfaith relations. Visit Diversity of Religion Project.
Study of Religion:
Eliade, Mircea, The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion. This work popularized a “history of religions” approach, which argued that religious phenomena should be analyzed and compared within their own distinct historical and phenomenological contexts.
Lincoln, Bruce, Holy Terrors. The West’s understanding of religion as private and apolitical is intensely at odds with other modes of religious understanding that are highly political.
Otto, Rudolf, The Idea of the Holy. This is one of the most famous German theological texts of the 20th century, and it has become a standard work in the method and theory of religious studies.
Plaskow, Judith, Image of God as Dominating Other. Plaskow calls for expanding Torah by bringing to light neglected valorizations of women in Jewish texts, and reconstructing Jewish history and memory along non-patriarchal lines.
Tillich, Paul, Lost Dimension in Religion. Tillich describes the modern individual’s loss of a “dimension of depth” and the threat of one’s becoming “a thing among things”, pointing toward a non-literalistic, existential understanding of religious symbols as a response to this situation.
Indigenous Sacred Ways:
Banyacya, Thomas, Hopi Message. Thomas Banyacya was the last of four individuals who, according to Hopi prophetic traditions, were destined to warn the world to preserve the natural balance of world or face cataclysmic consequences.
Toelken, Barre, Seeing with the Native Eye. Toelken addresses an issue that has long been a central concern to anthropologists and those engaged in the academic study of religion: how to study religious cultures objectively without imposing personal biases, terminology, and expectations that are not relevant to the culture under study.
Tlakaelel, Essence of Cosmic Man. A shaman of Tolteca-Chichimeka in central Mexico, Tlakaelel outlines a series of rites of passage that attempt to unite a certain cosmological understanding of the universe with a framework of how to live a harmonious life.
Bhagavata Purana, The Way of Devotion. The Bhagavata Purana, from which this passage is taken, is a classic example of bhakti or devotional literature, describing the reality of and ways to serve divine incarnations.
Eck, Diana L., Darsan: Seeing the Divine Image in India, 2nd edition. In Darsan, Eck carefully explains the Indian relationship to iconography and the key role which images of deities have played in Hindu devotion for many centuries.
Gandhi, Mahatma, Untouchability. Gandhi struggled against religious intolerance and the caste system, which labeled some individuals “untouchables,” and denied them justice and even basic human rights.
Vellaringatt, Joseph, The Secular Face of Hinduism. An Indian Jesuit, Vellaringatt wrote this response to certain Indian political groups which promote the ideals of Hindutva (Hindu nationalism) in the name of orthodox Hinduism.
Hagen, Steve, Buddhism is Not What You Think. While there are many texts that introduce the basic beliefs and concepts of Buddhism, this reading takes the opposite tack: correcting common misunderstandings and misperceptions of the faith.
Hanh, Thich Nhat, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching. Thich Nhat Hanh is one of the most recognized Buddhists in the world, and is widely commended for his ability to apply Buddhist principles to the modern world.
Payutto, Prayudh A., Buddhist Economics. Payutto presents a Buddhist perspective on economics.
Smith, Huston and Novak, Phillip, Buddhism. This reading introduces Vipassana, or Theravadin meditation, and provides a good introduction to one of the unique aspects of Theravada Buddhism.
Frankl, Viktor, Surviving Auschwitz. Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl explores the psychological dimensions of the Holocaust using psychoanalytic methods.
Lerner, Michael, The Ten Commitments. Rabbi Lerner addresses how to apply Jewish tradition to contemporary secular life.
Tov, Baal Shem, From Strength to Strength. Tov is known as an influential Jewish mystic and founder of Hasidic Judaism who advocates intense piety and emotional spirituality in understanding Judaism.
Umansky, Ellen, Women in Jewish Life. Most noted for being critical of patriarchal readings of the Hebrew Bible, Umansky offers a new method of biblical interpretation that includes the voices of women.
Augustine of Hippo, The Confessions of Augustine. One of the classics of Western literature, this is a spiritual autobiography that details his thought on issues such as the knowledge of God, the role of the Church, and the nature of humanity as essentially sinful and completely reliant upon God’s grace for salvation.
Hildegard of Bingen, Everything Lives in God. An exemplar of the twelfth-century European renaissance, Hildegard is best known as a mystic who sought and sometimes experienced union with God.
Irvin, Dale, Unity and Diversity in the Earliest Christian Movement. There were both Jews and Gentiles in the early church; this reading gives a summary of Paul’s argument against the need for Gentiles to follow Mosaic Law.
Marsden, George M., Fundamentalism as an American Phenomenon. This history of fundamentalism in the United States details its start among conservative Presbyterians at Princeton University and how it spread among Baptists and other denominations.
Origen, How to Interpret Scriptures. In this section of his work, Origen, an early Christian Alexandrian scholar and theologian, teaches the three-fold method for interpreting scripture – for the body, soul, and spirit.
Armstrong, Karen, The Battle for God. Armstrong seeks to explore the socio-economic and historical contexts that have given rise to a type of religious resurgence that often spills over into private and public violence.
Esposito, John, Islam: The Straight Path. Esposito’s chapter “Islam and Change: Issues of Authority and Interpretation” highlights many of the existing social and political tensions in the Muslim world.
Forward, Martin, God in a World of Christians. Forward, an ordained minister and proponent of interfaith dialogue, advocates for readers to encounter all religions in their complicated and complex realities.
Schimmel, AnneMarie, Mystical Dimensions of Islam. Schimmel’s classic text outlines the rise of Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam that arose as a reaction to the perceived worldliness of the Umayyad Caliphate.
Dasam Granth, Writings of the Tenth Guru. The Dasam Granth is a vast compilation, containing Guru Gobind Singh’s autobiography, mythological tales, and philosophical thought.
Singh, Dharam, The Sikh Gurus’ Vision of an Ideal Society. Dharam Singh presents his view of the ideal Sikh society with quotes from the Gurus and other important early Sikh figures.
Singh, Guru Gobind, Jaap Sahib. Guru Gobind Singh’s Jaap Sahib is recited as part of early morning prayers.
Religion in the 21st Century:
Hall, John R., “Introduction” in Apocalypse Observed: Religious Movements and Violence in North America, Europe, and Japan. Hall develops a sociological model for violent apocalyptic groups and uses the events of Jonestown, Waco, Aum Shinrikyō, Apocalypse of the Solar Temple, and Heaven’s Gate as case studies.
Hunt, Stephen J., Alternative Religions. Hunt provides definitions and common connotations for alternative religions, cults, sects, and religions.
Nelson-Pallmeyer, Jack, Is Religion Killing Us? Nelson-Pallmeyer argues that religion has been at the heart of much human violence through history, often providing sanction or blessing.
Taylor, Charles, A Secular Age. Taylor argues that secularism is important only because religion continues to be vital and viable.