Department of ReligionKenyon College homepage

Mary Suydam 

Religion 101: Introduction to the Study of Religion: Spring 2009

Prof. Mary Suydam

Merriam Webster Online Dictionary
  The Bible Unbound

Class: MWF 11:10 - 12

LBIS Consort: Course Reserves and E-RES
  The Bible on the Web

Phone PBX 5067


Ten Commandments for Essay Writing

Office: Ascension 011

Twenty Rules Not to Follow

Film Viewing Guidelines

Office Hours: Monday-Wednesday 1-3

The Academic Study of Religion
  Defining Religion


The Seven Dimensions of Religion

Timelines and Glossaries

Chronology of Hinduism: Literature Glossary of Terms: Islam
Background for the Bhagavad Gita Glossary of Terms: Hinduism
Christianity: Timeline Glossary of Terms: Buddhism
Ancient and Early Rabbinic Judaism: Timeline Glossary of Terms: Christianity

Goals of the Course

The aim of this course is to enable you to think clearly and critically, from an academic rather than a devotional perspective, about the various human phenomena that we call "religious". The academic study of religion takes a global and pluralistic approach, looking at religion critically while attempting to understand religious phenomena from the perspectives of participants. Learning the ways in which scholars attempt this "double stance" - critical yet empathetic - is a major goal of this course.

A second major goal of this course is to introduce you to some of the basic concepts and categories that are used by scholars in the academic study of religion. The major categories that we will study this semester are: IDENTITY, MYTH, MORALITY (or ethics), in terms of both INDIVIDUALS AND SOCIETY, RITUAL, and the SACRED.

These concepts do not exist in an abstract vacuum but were created as tools to understand specific religious phenomena. Therefore, a third major goal of the course is to introduce you to some of the major religious traditions and to see how these concepts help us to understand these traditions better. The traditions that we will survey this semester are Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism. In our study, we will learn 1) some of the basic worldviews of each tradition, 2) how the traditions have developed historically, and 3) how religion shapes and is shaped by cultures.

Course Requirements

This course is structured as a collaborative exchange of information between students and professor. The format of the class is a combination of lecture and discussion. Active discussion of the topics is a critical component of this class. Missing more than two classes or two weekly assignments will lower your final grade by one full point (B becomes C, for example). Grades will be based upon:

There will be weekly writing assignments each week to aid in preparing for discussions of the texts. Because critical reading of the texts is so important, you will be assigned a study partner for this class. Reading and assignments will be done as a partnership. Some writing will be in-class; some will be done outside of class and brought to the class.  Click here for weekly grading guidelines.

Refer to Guidelines for Short Papers



Lawrence Cunningham and John Kelsay, eds., The Sacred Quest: An Invitation to the Study of Religion, 3rd edition (New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2002)

Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley, The Autobiography of Malcolm X. NY: Ballantine Books.

Ramdas Lamb, Annual Editions World Religions Reader (McGraw-Hill)

Barbara Miller, trans., The Bhagavad Gita.

The Bible: New Advent Library (Note: You may use your own copy of the Bible, or download sections you need from the Online Bible listed on the course website)

Course Outline


Week 1: Jan. 12, 14, 16: Intro to class; the academic study of religion.


Huff, Religion: A Search for Meaning, chapter 1" "Who Am I? Who Are We?", 2-23 (E-Res)

The Autobiography of Malcolm X, chapters 1-3

Film: Inside Mecca

World Religions Reader: Raimundo Panikkar, "Each Religion Expresses an Important Part of the Truth" and

John Charlot, "The Hula in Hawaiian Life and Thought"

Assignment 1  

Week 2: Jan. 19, 21, 23: Identity and Community: Symbols  


The Autobiography of Malcolm X, chapters 9-11, 12-14

Cunningham, Sacred Quest, chapters 1 and 2

Huff, Religion: A Search for Meaning, chapter 2, "How Do We Communicate? Symbols and Identity" (E-Res)

Film: Inside Mecca

Qur'an Excerpts

World Religions Reader: "Veve: The Sacred Symbol of Vodoun"

Syncretism and the Lwa

Click here to see some Veve images

Assignment 2  

Week 3: Jan. 26, 28, 30: Identity and Community: Ritual  


Autobiography of Malcolm X, chapters 16-17

Cunningham, Sacred Quest, chapter 5

Film: Malcolm X

Tom Driver, "Transformation: The Magic of Ritual" (E-Res)

Richard Sosis, "The Adaptive Value of Religious Ritual" (P/Class)


Studying Ritual



Week 4: Feb. 2, 4, 6: Myth; Hinduism

Monday: Film:  Test 1: Islam

330 Million Gods


Cunningham, Sacred Quest, chapter 4, "The Language of the Sacred"

World Religions Reader: "Sun Mother Wakes the World"

Genesis, chapters 1-2

Assignment 3  

Week 5: Feb. 9, 11, 13: Myth in Hinduism  

Bhagavad Gita, chapters 1-4
Bhagavad Gita, chapters 5-9

Cunningham: Myth Outline

Eliade, "The Structure of Myth" (E-Res)

The Parade of Ants (E-Res)

Assignment 4

Paper Topics Due


Sign Up Sheet: Paper Bibliographies

Week 6: Feb. 16, 18, 20: Hinduism


Cunningham, Sacred Quest, chapter 8

Bhagavad Gita, chapters 10-14

Test 2:  Hinduism


Week 7: Feb. 23, 25, 27: Buddhism

Film: Footprint of the Buddha

Milinda's Chariot, The Man Who Lost his Body (P/Class)

Cunningham, Sacred Quest, chapter 7

The Perfections of the Boddhisattva

Parable of the Burning House,

Paper Bibliographies Due



Week 8: MARCH 16, 18, 20: Mahayana Buddhism


Cunningham, Sacred Quest, chapter 3

Nagarjuna on Emptiness; The Skillful Means of Vimalakirti (P/Class, in "Experience of Buddhism", pp. 9-19 )

"The Sacred is Complete Emptiness" (P/Class)

Strong, Experience of Buddhism: Sangha (P/Class)

World Religions Reader: The Beginnings of Buddhism

Assignment 5


Week 9: March 23, 25, 27: Mahayana Buddhism


Going for Refuge and Taking the Precepts

Test 3: Buddhism

Papers Due Friday, March 27


Week 10: March 30, April 1, 3: Christianity  


Selections from the gospels:  Matthew 1:18 - 2:23; chapters 5 - 7; 24:29-35; 25: 31-46; 27:11 - 28: 20 John, chapter 1; Mark 14-16

Selections from Paul:  Romans chapters 5-7; 1 Corinthians 15; 1 Thessalonians 4-5

Letter of Bishop Clement

Irenaeus of Lyons on the Apostolic Tradition

Cunningham, Sacred Quest, chapter 9

Otto, The Idea of the Holy, chapter 1, excerpts (E-Res)

The Death of Joseph (E-Res)


Assignment 6

Signup Sheet to Discuss Paper Re-Writes

Week 11: April 6, 8, 10: Christianity  


Cunningham, Sacred Quest, chapter 6


Readings on the Medieval Church

Letter of Henry IV to Pope Gregory

Pope Gregory excommunicates Henry IV

Pope Boniface VIII: Unam Sanctam

Anagni, 1303

Rule of the Franciscan Order

Poem Criticizing the Avignon Papacy

Martin Luther, The Three Walls of the Romanists (The Second Wall)

Creed of the Council of Trent

World Religions Reader: Resuscitating Passion

Test 4: Christianity; Readings in Judaism (in class)

Roman Arch of Titus (81 C.E.)

Mishnah Sample 1

Mishnah Avot

Talmud Sample


Week 12: April 13, 15, 17: Putting it Together: Holiness, Community, and Society: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam



Exodus 2-20

Psalm 137

Rivers of Babylon: The Melodians


Passover and the Exodus

America the Beautiful

Go Down Moses
For the Strength of the Hills

Go Down Moses, another version Exodus clip

The Stations of the Cross

The Stations of the Cross: Catholic Encyclopedia Online

St. Veronica

Via Dolorosa


World Religions Reader: The Politics of Holiness in Jerusalem (117-121)

The Dome of the Rock: Jerusalem's Epicenter (167-170)

The Sacred Space of Judaism (112-113)

Maps of Jerusalem in different time periods

Jerusalem: Where Heaven and Earth Meet

Assignment 6


Week 13: April 20, 22, 24: Putting it Together:

Holiness, Community, and Society: Hinduism

Monday: Film: Excerpts from the Mahabharata

Jerusalem Insights

For Wednesday:


World Religions Reader: "Seeing the Sacred"

Bhagavad Gita, chapters 17-18

Assignment 7

What is Puja? Smithsonian Guide

Some Observations on Brook's film

For Friday:

World Religions Reader: "The Sacred is the One True Reality of Brahman"

Assignment 8

---------------Paper Re-Writes Due Friday, April 24 -----------------------


Week 14: April 27, 29, May 1: Putting it Together:

Holiness, Community and Society: Buddhism

Monday, April 27: Film: Mandala: the Sacred Circle of Vajrabhairava

Readings: (Wednesday, Dec. 10)

Buddhist pilgrimage: the Bodhi Tree

Mt. Kailasa, Tibet

Stupas around Mt. Kailash

The Rocket Festival, Pirit Chanting, Victor's Cage (Experience of Buddhism, pp. 20-28 in P/Class/Religion/Suydam)

Wednesday, April 29 : Assignment 9  


Final Exam handed out in class Wednesday, April 29. Take-home portion will be due at the beginning of the in-class exam, May 4.

Exam date: Monday, May 4, at 8:30 am in the regular classroom.