Heidi Goar, Sociolgy Department
Inver Hills Community College
Inver Grove Heights, MN
Students have indicated a phenomenal interest in religion courses. When polled in my courses, many students are not aware of some very basic facts about religion. For example, many do not know that Lutherans, Methodists, Pentacolstal, etc. are all Protestant religions, even when they are members of this churches. Further, they are quite unaware of the basic tenets of major world religions. This was very disturbing to me, especially since America is an extremely diverse society in terms of religions. Moreover, the fact that our county is becoming more and more in contact with other countries economically, politically, and socially with others that do not practice Christianity. This issue is what has driven me to develop a course that not only studies that philosophies of religions, but to create one that insures a high level of student involvment in religious practices.
The following course has been developed as an attempt to study religions ethnographically. That is, to teach students not only the tenets and philosophies of various world religions, but to help them understand how to use a distinctive social-scientific method generally considered a form of participant observation. This course involves at least six field trips. Direct student involvement with religious activities makes those who are religiously different from them more real, and less deviant, in the students eyes.
The course can be adapted to many departments, including philosophy, psychology, history and many humanities departments. If you have any comments or questions about this course, or you try it and have positive or negative experiences, feel free to contact me at any of the above addresses. And, good luck.
Religions of the World
Instructor: Heidi Goar
This course will look at all main world religions as well as several minor ones. The course will use religions as data to be analyzed sociologically in an attempt to understand them ideologically, politically, educationally, and as sources of both solidarity and conflict. Up to half of the students time will be spent in the field observing various religious ceremonies. It is crucial students attempt to maintain an objective position in this course.
Required Texts: Religions of the World, ed. Forman
Several articles placed on reserve; see librarian
Recommended: Any of the major religious texts of the major religions, i.e. Koran, Bible, Torah, etc.
Overview of course. Discussion of field trips and expectations of students.
What is religion? Why is religion? Religion as ideology.
Video: Joseph Campbell on myth
Cults, sects, and religions: What do you mean they are all the same thing?
Learning to be an observer: A lesson in sociological methods.
Reading: Chapter 1 of text
First exciting field trip to place of worship
The wonderful world of Polytheism
Reading: Chapter 2 of text
Second exciting field trip to place of worship
The wonderful world of Hinduism
Reading: Chapters 3-7 of text
The wonderful world of Buddhism
Reading: Chapter 8-11 of text
The wonderful world of Confucianism, Taoism, and Shintoism
Reading: Chapters 12-15 of text
Third exciting visit to place of worship
The wonderful world of Judeo-Christianity
Reading: Chapter 16-22 of text
Fourth exciting field trip to place of worship
The wonderful world of Islam
Reading: Chapter 22-25 of text
Field trip to Amana Colony
The wonderful world of tiny religious sects
The agnostic and the atheist: arent they just godless creatures?
Reading: Several articles on library reserve
Fifth exciting field trip to place of worship
More class presentations
Evaluation of Students Short papers on field trips 50%
Term paper and presentation 50%
Discussion of various religions This part of the course will include discussion of reading for the week as well as a tactile portion. That is, various artifacts and "sacred objects" will be part of each class period. For example, during the week on Islam, we will look at a Koran in Arabic, at various headgear worn by men and women of this religion, pass around worry beads, see a miniature prayer rug, and so on. For each religion, I will work to obtain as many of these artifacts as possible. We will view slides and/or videos to assist in your ability to visualize the rites and practices of these various peoples.
Field Trips Each student must visit five worships sessions, not including the group field trip to the Amana Colony (see below), and write a short paper on each of these experiences. Students must visit at least four places of worship outside of their own belief system. That is, if you are Christian, Catholic for example, you may visit a Baptist Church service as one of your five selections. But, you may not use a Catholic mass as one of your visits. And, you may count only one other of these experiences within your belief system. You must visit some other worship service, whether it is a Powwow, Synagogue, Mosque, Temple, etc. Furthermore, you will be told about the various worshipping experiences available in the Twin City Metro Area, but you must find the specific organizations and contact them about your visit. Your are strongly advised to contact the organization before you visit to be sure the organization does not perceive you as an intruder. This can be a very serious issue. Oh, and by the way, this should be a blast.
Amana Colony As a class, we will take a couple of days to go down to visit the Amana Colony in Iowa. You will be asked to write a short paper on this trip and this will be included in that portion your grade. While the group is not as dogmatic as they had been in the beginning of this century, they still have a relatively isolationist community. This group holds a Christian socialist approach and as a community started the Amana line of appliances.
Term Paper and Presentation You will do a term paper and presentation that looks at some religious rite, ceremony, or practice. It can be rite, ceremony, or practice (although it is recommended you study one about which you know very little or nothing). This projects must include: 1) A discussion of the culture and/or religion, 2) History of the practice, 3) The practices relationship to other cultural aspects, 4) Who is involved in the practice and why, and who is not and why, 5) The purpose of the practice. Also, you may want to find some visuals to use in your presentation. Here is a list of some examples of types of practices, but it is not complete: circumcision, weddings, baptisms, funerals, births, comings out, etc. Any questions, please contact me.
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