Jonathan Brumberg-Kraus

Knapton 102 x3694

In this course we will explore the historical and philosophical foundations of the major religions of the world. But why study these religions? What is the point? Why should a course on world religions be included in the liberal arts?

The study of world religions is important for four reasons. First of all, in order to understand where we are today as a society, and as a part of humankind, we must have some idea from where we have come. This is an historical question which forces us to seriously examine one of the central forces motivating human activity, religion.

Second, today more than ever before we find ourselves face to face with people from other cultures. Developments in communication and transportation have had the dramatic effect of bringing together people from diverse cultural backgrounds, people who embrace radically different ideas about the world we share. Religions prescribe a way of "seeing" the world and provide answers to the profound questions asked by
humankind in every culture. In order to understand others, we must make sense of their view of the world, as well as the aspirations and motivations, inherent in their religion.

Third, studying others can give us a clearer perception of our own world-view. Like glasses perched on the nose of the near-sighted man, our worldview provides us with a means to "see" the world; but to study our own worldview presents a problem. When we take off our "glasses", in order to examine them, we find our vision is impaired. Examining other world-views, other religious traditions, helps us develop the aptitude to recognize value and limitation in our own way of "seeing".

Fourth, religions have something important to say about the fundamental human experience of suffering. As embodied beings, we are subject to a variety of physical pains, pleasures, desires, losses, gains - the consequences of our mortality. Religious traditions have developed a variety of strategies for dealing with "the human problem" contingent upon their basic assumptions about what is real or only illusory, whether physical and spiritual well-being are radically opposed or intrinsically integrated realities. Religions promise different strategies and goals of "salvation" that are rooted in their different worldviews about suffering, their different "theodicies."

In summary, the study of world religions is important for four reasons: (1) it helps us discover our historical roots; (2) it allows us to better understand others who do not share our world-view; (3) it paves the way for greater self-reflection, helping us achieve clearer personal and cultural self-understanding; (4) it explores the strategies for dealing with one of the most fundamental aspects of the human condition: suffering. These four reasons for studying the patterns emerging from world religions will act as the focus for our work this semester. With this in mind, consider the following course objectives (a suggested list open for discussion and further refinement).



1. Intellectual inquiry: to explore the historical and philosophical foundations of the major world religions.

2. Reasoned self-expression: to develop skills necessary for critical analysis, and for articulate self-expression, both verbal and written.

3. Cross-cultural openness: to see the world though the eyes of other worldviews.

4. Global consciousness: to overcome any provincialism or narrow allegiance which obscures the "connectedness" of all peoples and all lands.

5. Cultural humility: to recognize our worldview as one way of "seeing" among others just as legitimate as our own.


1. February  16 Midterm examination (30%).

2. Prescheduled final examination (30%).

3. Mini-research paper (30%).

4. Quizzes (10%). Note: quizzes may not be taken late; however the lowest quiz grade will be dropped. No Make-up Quizzes


Living Religions, 5th, 6th or most recent edition by Mary Pat Fisher. Prentice Hall: 2002,2005,  etc. Used copies are available at the bookstore.

Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Beliefs 3rd edition by Ninian Smart. Prentice-Hall: 1995.


Anatomy of the Sacred: An Introduction to Religion 3rd? edition by James C. Livingston. Prentice Hall: 1993. (Readings on Ereserve)



21 W Introduction to the course.

23 F Video: "The Way of the Ancestors."

Reading: Chapter 2, "Indigenous Sacred Ways."

26 M Chapter 1, "The Religious Response." QUIZ on Chapters 1-2

28 W Video: "330 Million Gods."

30 F Reading: chapter 3, "Hinduism." QUIZ


2 M Discussion: Worldviews

Reading: Worldviews pp. 1-34: "Introduction" and "Exploring Religion and Analyzing Worldviews"

4  W Reading: chapter 4, "Jainism." QUIZ

6 F Reading: Worldviews p.74-89: "The Mythic Dimension"


9 M Reading: chapter 5, "Buddhism." QUIZ   --- Tu Bishvat (Jewish New Year for the Trees)

11 W Reading: Worldviews p. 58-73: "The Experiential Dimension.


13 F Review for midterm exam


18 W Reading: Worldviews p. 121-133: "The Ritual Dimension

20 F Reading: chapter 6, "Daoism [Taoism] and Confucianism". QUIZ

Guest Speaker - Daoism (Ed Tong on Tai Chi?)

23 M Reading: chapter 8, "Judaism." QUIZ ; Reading: Passover Haggadah (selections to be distributed).

25 W Reading: Worldviews p. 90-106: "The Doctrinal Dimension."

27 F Video: "There is No God but God"


2 M Reading: chapter 10, "Islam." QUIZ

4 W Reading: Worldviews p. 107-120: "The Ethical Dimension."

6 F Reading: chapter 9 "Christianity." QUIZ


16 M Video: "Catholicism : Rome, Leeds & the Desert"

18 W Reading: Worldviews, p.134-139: "The Social Dimension."


20 F Reading: chapter 11, "Sikhism." QUIZ

23 M Reading: "Anthropology: The Human Problem," Anatomy of the Sacred (pp.251-272) on EReserve

25 W Reading: "Soteriology: Ways of Salvation and Liberation," Anatomy of the Sacred (pp.349-378) on EReserve

27 F Reading: "Eschatology: Goals of Liberation and Salvation" Anatomy of the Sacred (pp.381-408) on EReserve

30 M Reading:"Theodicy: Encountering Evil," Anatomy of the Sacred (pp.275-302) on EReserve


1 W Mini-research paper is due

Video: The Land of the disappearing Buddha (Japan)

3 F Reading: Chapter 7, "Shinto" QUIZ

6 M “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and Religion

 Selections from M. Pollan, “Our National Eating Disorder,” and “The Perfect Meal,” The Omnivore’s Dilemma;” Isak Dinesen, “Babette’s Feast” (both on Ereserve); optional: Brumberg-Kraus, "Torah on the Table: A Sensual Morality"

8 W Video: Zulu Zion

10 F No class Second Day of Passover

13 M Reading: chapter 12, "New Religious Movements." QUIZ

15 W Reading: Worldviews p. 148-166: "Reflections on the Future of Religion and Ideology."


17 F Video: New Religions in America

20 M Chapter 13: “Religion in the Twenty-First Century” QUIZ

22 W Religion and Science – Are we hard-wired to be religious?; Readings:  Is ‘Do Unto Others’ Written Into Our Genes?” and “Intelligent  Design” folder on Blackboard in Course Documents

23 Th 7:30 PM Video - Dogma

24 F Discussion of religious dimensions of Dogma

27 M

29 W Conclusions; Student Evaluation of Instruction; Guide for Final Exam


1 F Last class - Review for exam

Content by Jonathan Brumberg-Kraus,  Professor of Religion
Designed by
David Dudek, 2001
Last Update 1/21/09