RELS 102 Introduction to Religious Studies

Religion is often a crucial factor in understanding both the history of human civilization as well as every individual's own relation to that which is conceived as ultimate. The understandings of self, society, and cosmos that religious traditions transmit affect many aspects of culture, including archeology, art, literature, social norms, and political events. Despite sturdy claims of continuity however, these understandings vary considerably, depending on place and time. Transient, evolving, and always subject to selective emphasis, their material traces are later excavated by archeologists and historians, who then produce, ex post facto, rational surveys like this one.

This course is an introduction to the major religious/intellectual traditions of the modern world and to their critical appraisal; namely, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, Shinto, atheism, and theory of religion. We will examine some of the outstanding texts, concepts, places, events, practices, and people involved in each of these traditions. The academic study of religion is part of a liberal education in two important ways. First, distinct from technical training, it does not teach us how to make a living, but how to live, and why. Second, in conjunction with technical training, it allows us to practice our skills of creativity, communication, and critical thinking.

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