Introduction to World Religions

 Course Syllabus

An introduction to the origins, development and current meaning of some major spiritual traditions. This course is designed to show you the process of religious transformation as it is experienced in these various traditions; it is hoped that you will experience the diversity of religious traditions as well as the common questions they address.

 The course begins with a consideration of the relation between religion and human life as we experience it. The particular focus of this course is on the contemporary experience of religious diversity within the United States.

In the light of this introduction, we will examine the Hindu, Buddhist, Confucian, Taoist, Native American and Islamic traditions. In each case, we will try to understand that tradition's sense of the human condition, the goal of human life and the means used to attain that goal or deal with the unsatisfactory aspects of human living.

 Purposes and Objectives

 We will be concerned with

 --understanding the human condition as it is perceived by these various traditions;
--examining the processes of spiritual transformation used by each;
--isolating the significant religious figures, doctrines and symbols which express this transformation of the human condition; and
--appreciating and evaluating the religious ideals of each spiritual tradition in relation to the religious questions of our experience and the problems confronting the contemporary world.


 There will be two class sessions weekly. A portion of each meeting will be devoted to lecture and other presentations; part of each session will be available for questions and discussion. There will be frequent use of audio-visual materials.

 Opportunities will be provided for students to meet with or visit local representatives of some of the traditions studied through field trips.

 Required Materials

Roger Schmidt, Patterns of Religion (basic course materials and readings)

Norton CONNECT.NET (communications software for posting assignments and other course materials). CONNECT.NET requires access to a PC compatible computer and use of MS-WORD.

On Common Ground: World Religions in America. This CD-ROM disk is compatible with both MAC and PC systems. There is no charge for use of this disk because the College has a site license. However, you will have to return the copy at the conclusion of the course.

Supplementary course materials will be stored at the instructor's web site. Readings are stored in a password protected area.

 Course Requirements

 You are expected to be present regularly for class, prepared to discuss assigned readings and to participate in workshop sessions and general discussions. Students will be asked to introduce assigned topics for class discussion. Your overall participation in the class will influence your final grade. Unexcused absences beyond the second will be penalized at the rate of one point per absence. First year students should note the absolute limit of three unexcused absences (equal to two unexcused absences in a course that meets twice weekly).

 Specific course work consists of five parts:

 1) attendance, participation, quiz grades and homework [10]

 2) three class tests of content and understanding of class material on 2/15, 3/9, 4/11. [30]

 3) eight one-page essays (posted to CONNECT.NET) on assigned topics. [25]

 4) a written assignment (ONE of the following) [20]

     A decision on the written assignment should be made quickly, but certainly by January 27.

a) a journal of your reflections and comments on readings and class presentations (three entries per week; handed in 2/15, 3/23, 4/20)

b) two short critical essays (4-5 pages in length; posted to CONNECT.NET) on topics related to the content of the course. One paper can be a critical response to a visit to a local religious group related to the course (due 3/23 and 4/20).

c) Yoga and Yogaville: the experience of hatha yoga practice and the development of an ashram in central Virginia (cost for a six-week yoga class about $40)

d) Religious Pluralism in Virginia and North Carolina: our own study of the religious diversity in our own part of the world: Farmville, Lynchburg, Charlottesville, Richmond, Roanoke, Tidewater, the NC Triangle area, parts of Northern Virginia and suburban Maryland around Washington (going beyond those groups treated in On Common Ground)

e) You are free to negotiate a different assignment with the instructor; such work might be written, some additional experience or the use of media other than the written word.

 In all of these, you are expected to go deeper into material studied in class and subject it to your own reflection. You are strongly encouraged to use media other than the word in giving your response. You might employ art, music, poetry, dance or photography in fulfilling this requirement. Group work and projects that develop into class presentations are strongly encouraged.

 5) a final examination during the exam period. This exam will focus on understanding and application of what you have learned rather than specific content questions. [15]


 Written work is due in class on the date indicated. After that day, the paper will be penalized one grade unit (3 points) per weekday. Papers and tests will be returned within one week of submission.

 Although this is not a matter for grading, inclusive language (i.e., non-sexist language) is expected in all formal papers and exams.

You should not presume excuse from taking tests on the day indicated. In the case of sickness or other serious reason, you will be given a late exam provided notification is given to the professor or a message is left. All exams given at a time other than the scheduled time will include some reduction in choice where such was otherwise permitted.

 Contact Numbers

 Religion Office: Maples 1--223-6268
Bagby Office: Bagby 202--223-6286 or 223-6324
Home: 804-386-5592


 webpage: (Gulabi Baba Web Page)