Week 1: Defining and Studying Religion

Week 1: Defining and Studying Religion

Thus, from Bumba, the Creator, the First Ancestor, came forth all the wonders that we see and hold and use, and all the brotherhood of beasts and man.
—African creation story
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light;” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
—Genesis 1:1
Who verily knows and who can here declare it, whence it was born and whence comes this creation?
The Gods are later than this world’s production. Who knows then whence it first came into being?
He, the first origin of this creation, whether he formed it all or did not form it,
Whose eye controls this world in highest heaven, he verily knows it, or perhaps he knows not.
—Rig Veda 10.129 1–7

What is religion? Your answer may express personal faith or a distinctive, faith-based outlook. It could also express the way you find meaning in your commitment to a social cause. Your code of ethics, values, and morals may all contribute to how you define a word that can also be a way of life, a spiritual calling, a worldview, or a cultural context. Still, another answer could lie in the etymology of the word itself—religion possibly originates from the Latin relegare, meaning “to bind” and “to connect.” That is, religion connects people in common moral, ethical, and spiritual beliefs.

As you can see, religion touches on the deepest and most personal aspects of human life, and centers on the cornerstone events that people experience as they make their way in the world. You are about to embark on a formal study of world religions. Your intellectual journey around the globe will allow you to deepen your appreciation for the motivations behind the decisions and actions of other people, entire communities, and even nations.

The study of world religions may best be approached by first examining the resemblances and commonalities between them. How does religion connect people with the same beliefs? In addition, how can believers from varied religious backgrounds connect? This week’s readings and activities endeavor to frame the study of world religions with these questions in mind.

Learning Objectives

Students will:
  • Develop a definition of religion with regard to major resemblances between religions
  • Evaluate whether your society includes elements of the religious marketplace
  • Analyze the relationship between your religious background and your identity
  • Relate the globalization of communication to the concept of religion as a cultural phenomenon
  • Reflect on the ways in which life experiences have affected your concept of religion
  • Evaluate, through the lens of the three pillars of analysis, why it is crucial to study world religions in the context of a globalized culture*

*The Assignment related to this Learning Objective is introduced this week and submitted in Week 5.

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Learning Resources

Be sure that you do the following as early in the first week as possible:
Read the Course Introduction.
Read and print out the Syllabus.
Save and print the Final Project, Discussion, and Reflection Rubrics in the Course Information area.
If any of your texts are missing, incorrect, or damaged, please contact MBS Direct Customer Service by calling toll free 1-800-325-3252, or sending an e-mail to VB@mbsbooks.com.

Required Readings

Kurtz, L. R. (2016). Gods in the global village: The world’s religions in sociological perspective (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Chapter 1, “Religious Life in the Global Village”“Tools of the Trade” (pp. 9–23)
“Major Themes in the Sociology of Religion” (pp. 42–44)Chapter 2, “A Sociological Tour: Turning East”“Types of Religious Traditions” (pp. 46–53)

Document: Course Project Overview and Guidelines (PDF)

Required Media

Christian Universities Online. (2015). Top 10 TED Talks on religion. Retrieved from http://www.christianuniversitiesonline.org/top-10-ted-talks-on-religion/

From this website, review A Life of Purpose (2006) by Rick Warren. Note: The approximate length of this media piece is 21 minutes.
From this website, review Let’s Teach Religion—All Religion—in Schools (2006) by Dan Dennett. Note: The approximate length of this media piece is 25 minutes.
From this website, review Science Can Answer Moral Questions (2010) by Sam Harris. Note: The approximate length of this media piece is 23 minutes.

Discussion: The Religious Marketplace

As you have read this week, in many contemporary and pluralistic societies, people of varying religious traditions coexist in the same physical spaces. As people become more aware of other religious traditions, this wide range of religious traditions may start to be viewed as religious “options” that someone seeking religious community may choose from. Through this process, the religious fabric of the society begins to resemble a marketplace of many possible religious opportunities. In this Discussion, you will consider the aspects of your own culture to determine the extent to which that culture can be considered a religious marketplace.

To prepare for this Discussion:

  • Review the assigned pages of reading in the course text.
  • Consider the extent to which the various religious faiths in your local society are available as marketable “products” from which religious “consumers” can select.
By Day 3

Submit a Discussion post of 250 words, summarizing the course text’s definition for the term religious marketplace and then provide your own definition of religion based on what you have read with regard to the major resemblances between religions. In addition, compare aspects of your own experience with religion against the definition you provided. Finally, evaluate whether your society includes elements of the religious marketplace. Include at least one specific example that exemplifies whether or not your society functions as a religious marketplace.

Support the information you present in your Discussion post by making at least 2 references, in proper APA format, to your course readings.

Read a selection of your colleagues’ postings.

By Day 5

Respond to at least one of your colleagues’ postings in one or more of the following ways:

  • Ask a probing question.
  • Share an insight from having read your colleague’s posting.
  • Offer and support an opinion.
  • Validate an idea with your own experience.
  • Make a suggestion.
  • Expand on your colleague’s posting.

Return to this Discussion in a few days to read the responses to your initial posting. Note what you have learned and/or any insights you have gained as a result of the comments your colleagues made.

Submission and Grading Information
Grading Criteria

To access your rubric:
Discussion Rubric

Post by Day 3 and Respond by Day 5

To participate in this Discussion:
Week 1 Discussion