Ted Thornton
Humanities II
Religions of the World

Religions of the World - Brazil Travel Study

Assignments and Resources 

Fall, 2009

Important Details

Links to Frequent Reference Materials

Unit I:  Indigenous Religions

Unit II:  Hinduism

Unit III:  Buddhism

Unit IV:  Religion in China and Japan

Unit V:  Judaism

Unit VI:  Christianity

Unit VII:  Islam

Unit VIII: Religion and Change in the West

Unit IX : Sum and Conclusion

Review for "Literacy Test"

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Important Details

The course is organized into units.  Most units will conclude with a Major Essay.  Read the assignments in order unless directed to do otherwise.  "Supplemental Resources" and "Optional" readings are not required unless specifically directed, but are recommended in order to enrich your essays or to stimulate interests. Suggestions for Major Essay topics follow each unit. 

*Note for Fall, 09:  The unique features of the Brazil Travel/Study component of the course dictate that assignments listed below may change.  Check this page frequently to be sure what is expected.

"Active Reading" and "Two-Column" Note Taking:   

I expect you to practice "Active Reading" of assignments in the texts:  underlining key points in the text and making marginal notes.  Occasionally, I will ask to look at your texts to evaluate the extent to which you are practicing active reading. I also expect you to use the "Two-column" note taking technique when directed to do so and as demonstrated in class.

Reading Notes:  When assigned as an alternate to a reading response, write at least one page of notes including three WDYT? ("What do you think?") questions for class discussion.

Fisher Texts Companion Website

MISSED DAYS:  If you miss a class, I expect you to automatically do the next reading assignment in the sequence and write a response.


Links to Frequent Reference Materials

Policies and Evaluation Criteria

How to Write Responses to Readings

How to Write Reading Notes

How to Write Major Essays


Units of Study: 

Unit I - Indigenous Religions

1.  Symbol, Myth, Ritual: Fisher, pp.  14-18 and Fisher Bailey, p. 29: The Greek Virgin Birth of Perseus; Online:  Isis and Osiris, Theseus and the Minotaur, and Working Definitions. Supplemental Resources:  Baalism: Canaanite Religion; Ancient Egypt (at Halsall's Internet Ancient History Sourcebook); Ancient Greece (at Halsall's Internet Ancient History Sourcebook) Origins of Writing (see how Champollion decrypted the Rosetta Stone (material from Oberlin College).

2. Read Fisher, chp. 2, pp. 32-62 top and write Response F2. Supplemental Resources: The Story of Jumping Mouse (Native American tale); Indigenous Peoples of Latin America (Skidmore College);Macumba/Quimbanda; Religion in Brazil (Travel.Brazil)

3.  Optional: Fisher-Bailey, chp. 2, selected texts.

Suggested Written Response and Major Essay Topics: 

  1. What is the role of shamans in indigenous cultures?  What parallels, if any, exist between shamanic ways of healing and Western modes of healing?
  2. Describe the nature of indigenous religions and some of the major obstacles in understanding them.
  3. How does the treatment of indigenous peoples by more dominant cultures illustrate the "negative side of religion?"
  4. Discuss the nature and importance of symbols and myths in indigenous religions. (Essential Resources:  Mircea Eliade, Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung from Fisher-Bailey, chp.1).


Unit II - Hinduism

1. Read Fisher, chp. 3, pp. 72-96 (Note Timeline, p. 76). Write Response F3a (on both Religion and History reading) . Supplemental Resources: Excerpt from the Chandogya Upanishad; ;Article on caste from National Geographic Magazine (June, 2003); Halsall Internet History Sourcebook on India.  

2. Excerpts from the Bhagavad Gita (course WebPages).  Study Questions (write out longhand in notes, bring to class):  Which passage best represents Krishna's advice to Arjuna on war?  What do you think about this advice? Which lines from the selection as a whole do you think most strongly reflect the nature of Hinduism?  Why? (For quick reference, use the chapter and verse notation in the text when referring to passages:  i.e. (1.07))

3. Read Fisher, chp. 3, pp. 97 - end (117). Write Response F3b (on Religion reading only) .  Bring Fisher-Bailey to class for work in the following selected texts: Hymn on Creation (64);Realize the Brahman (65);  Rama, Sita, and Lakshman (68); Duties of the Four Castes (70-71);  The Faithful Wife (71-72); Yoga Sutras (73-74);  Three Poems by Kabir (80-81); Awakening of Universal Motherhood (89-90). 

4. Read Fisher, chp.4, pp.120-133. No writing is due. Read in Fisher-Bailey, Gandhi on 'Untouchability' (83-84);  Savarkar on 'Hindu-ness' (85-88). No writing is due. Supplemental Resources:   The Secular Face of Hinduism (86-88); Awakening of Universal Motherhood (89-90);  Timeline of Gandhi's life.

Suggested Written Response Topics: 

  1. Is Hinduism a polytheistic or monotheistic religion?  Explain and support.
  2. Why do many Hindus call the Bhagavad Gita an essential sacred text? 
  3. What views of women are engendered by Hinduism?
  4. Explain why there are so many different kinds of religious responses within Hinduism.
  5. Contrast the views of Gandhi with Hindu nationalists like Savarkar.  Don't forget to include descriptions of essential Jainist beliefs in your discussion of Gandhi. 


Unit III -Buddhism

1. Fisher, chp.5, pp.134-154 middle; Fisher-Bailey, chp. 5, Defeat of Mara (114-117). Write Reading Notes F5aSupplemental Resource:  The Sermon at Benares.

2. Fisher, chp.5, pp.154-169 middle;  Fisher-Bailey, chp. 5, selected texts:  Speculations Undeclared (117);  The Dhammapada (119);  Rejection of Birth Castes (120);  Discovering Universal Emptiness (123).  Write Reading Notes F5b. Supplemental Resource:  The Diamond Sutra.  .

3. Read Fisher-Bailey, Suzuki on Zen and Koans (124); Engaged Buddhism in Asia (131);  A Brief History of Buddhism in America (134);  Thich Nhat Hanh on Precepts for an Engaged Buddhism (137).  Write Reading Notes F5c   Supplemental Resource:  Flower Sermon ; the Dalai Lama on Love, Kindness, and Universal Responsibility (127). 

Suggested Written Response and Major Essay Topics:  

  1. What in your view is the foundational core of Buddhist teachings?  Explain and support.
  2. Compare and contrast Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism.
  3. Compare and contrast the major tenets of Buddhism with those of Hinduism.
  4. Which events in the Buddha's life serve as good models for his teachings?  Explain.


Unit IV - China and Japan

China:  The Tao and Confucius

    1. Fisher, chp. 6, pp. 182-199 middle and Reading Notes F6a.   Fisher-Bailey, chp. 7:  Heaven's Gifts (171);  Communication of the Force of Life With Heaven (173); The Essence of Tai Chi (181). Supplemental Resources:  Fisher-Bailey:  The Way of Perfect Truth (176) and The Story of Ho Hsien Ku (179); Historical Highlights in the History of East Asia

    2.  On course WebPages read Selections from Tao Te Ching. Reading Notes F6b.

    3. Fisher, chp. 6, pp. 199-211;  Fisher-Bailey, ch.6,  Doctrine of the Mean (148);  Confucianism and the Twenty-First Century  (157).  Supplemental Resource: Confucius.

    4. Fisher, chp. 7, pp. 214-229and Reading Notes F7 (on Shinto in Japan).


Write a Major Essay on ONE of the following questions:

  1. Compare and contrast Taoism and Buddhism using paraphrases of excerpts from relevant primary texts among assigned materials (from web and texts).
  2. It has been said that, taken together, Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism offer a balanced and well-ordered life.  Use at least one example from each tradition to demonstrate how this may be so.


Unit V - Judaism

1. Fisher, chp. 8, pp. 235-256 and write Reading Notes F8a;   Supplemental Resources:   Enuma Elish ("When on High,")John Milton, "Paradise Lost." ; Zoroastrianism: A Bridge Between East and West, in Fisher, pp. 231-234; Hebrew Bible Era DatesIN CLASS: Fisher-Bailey, 189-192 (online: Genesis Chapters 1 to 3); Search the Bible.

2. Read Fisher, chp. 8, pp. 257-275 bottom and write Reading Notes F8b; Fisher-Bailey, chp. 8, The Rest is Commentary (199).   Supplemental Resources: From Course WebPages:  Canaanite Religion;   Also: Prophets and Kings (Nathan and David, Elijah and Ahab); Excerpts from the Book of Job; Search the Bible.

3. Read in Fisher-Bailey, chp. 8, Abraham's Covenant (pp. 192-193), then on Website read The Testing of Abraham (Genesis 22).   In Fisher-Bailey, chp. 8,  Surviving Auschwitz (Viktor Frankl, 212).  SKIM: Persecution of the Jews.  Write the following Directed Response (one page, no footnotes): What are your thoughts about the respective tests Abraham, Isaac, and Frankl all endure while trying to honor the covenant with God?

4. Read Exodus chps. 12-15;  Read in Fisher-Bailey, chp. 8, pp. 193-194, "The Mosaic Covenant."   Write Write Response F8.

Supplemental Resources:  Persecution of the Jews.; Fourth Song of the Suffering ServantSearch the Bible; Link to website for Elie Wiesel's NIGHT.  IN CLASS: Parable of the Old Men and the Young


Suggested Written Response and Major Essay Topics: 

  1. Identify and explain three major beliefs in Judaism.  Why did you select those three?  Explain and support.
  2. Discuss the impact of the holocaust on Judaism. 
  3. Compare and contrast the attitudes of Judaism toward the material world and history with those we discussed in Hinduism and Buddhism.  Refer to essential texts from each of the traditions. 
  4. Use Genesis 17 and 22, Job, Wilfrid Owen's poem, Frankl, and other texts to address the question of which of the following is more true:  Life owes us an explanation for the way things are, or, life asks the questions of us and challenges us to come up with the answers. 
  5. Using Genesis 1-3 as your starting point, discuss what you would do if you were offered the choice to return to the Garden of Eden. 


Unit VI - Christianity

1. Fisher, chp. 9, pp. 295-314. Write Reading Notes F9aSupplemental Resources:  From course WebPages, New Testament Era Background; New Testament Period DatesFourth Song of the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 52:13 - 53:12); Philip and the Ethiopian (Acts 8:26-40); Search the Bible.

2. Fisher-Bailey, chp. 9, excerpts from the New Testament (223-226);  From course WebPages, Three Parables of Jesus. Also on website, John the Baptist (Matthew  3), and Testing of Jesus (Matthew 4).  Supplemental Resources: Search the Bible; Origen on How to Interpret Scripture (236);  The Thunder, Perfect Mind (Nag Hammadi Library, 233);  also from course WebPages, Excerpts from the Nag Hammadi Library; Myth of Er (Plato).


Directed Judaism-Christianity Major Essay

In what ways can Jesus and the early Christians be recognized as Jews (they certainly saw themselves as Jews first!) and in what ways can Jesus and the early Christians be seen as contributing something new? 

Resources for this assignment: Fourth Song of the Suffering Servant in the Hebrew Bible Book of the Prophet Isaiah (52:13 - 53:12); Philip and the Ethiopian  Acts (8:26-40). You will also want to draw on material from the Judaism unit:  Abraham and Isaac, the History of the Persecution of the Jews, and the Exodus (Exodus chps. 12-15) are suggested. On Jesus ideas of sacrificial love, reread carefully Fisher, chapter 9, especially page 311 and the web link "Three Parables."  For those of you who want to venture further into the New Testament, look at Jesus' "Sermon on the Mount" (Matthew chapters 5-7, and John 3:16.  Use any Bible you choose or  Search the Bible.  

We will discuss this assignment further in class. Don't forget to provide documentation (footnotes) for your research.


Unit VII - Islam

1. Fisher, chp. 10, pp. 376-392. See also on course WebPages, the chronology contained in Notes to film, "The Message."    Reading Notes F10a   Supplemental Resources: The Constitution of Medina;   Glossary of Islamic Terms and Concepts;   An Overview of Islam ;   Benchmarks in Islamic HistoryIslam in Spain (Andalus) and Baghdad Middle East History Data Base; BBC's "Islam Around the World" Tale of SubmissionSufi Tale of the Sands.  See also: Shia and Sufism; Fisher-Bailey, chp. 10, excerpts from the Hadith and the Qur'an (268-285) -- see also: The Qur'an Database; The Hadith Database"Islamic Middle East" Course Resources; Muslim Times of Prayer, Muslim Calendar, and Other Resources .  

2. Fisher, chp. 10, pp. 392-406 top. On course WebPages, Malcolm X:  Letter from Mecca.  Reading Notes F10b.    Supplemental Resources:  An Overview of Islam (See especially the section on al-Talbiyah, "The Compliance."); BBC page on HajjAbu Hamid al-Ghazali; Poems by Rumi; Tale of SubmissionSufi Tale of the Sands.  See also: Shia and SufismMuslim Architecture. 

3. Fisher-Bailey, chp. 10,  How to Perform Salaat (284); Mysticism (al-Ghazali, 288);  Sufi Mysticism (291-294); Rights of Women (Riffat Hassan, 294), Ecology:  A Sacred Science (Seyyed Nasr, 297).  Reading Notes F10c.   Supplemental ResourcesAbu Hamid al-Ghazali; Sufism Islam and Women

4.  On the web site read: Ibn Taymiyya, The Wahhabis, Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, Muhammad Abduh. No reading notes.  Supplemental Resources: Muslim Revivalist Movements; Wars of Words and Images (Muslim-Christian polemical wars); The Political and Religious Landscape of the Middle East.

5. UPON OUR RETURN FROM SOUTH AFRICA (see below):  Fisher, chp. 10, pp.414 bottom - 430 and Reading Notes F10e. Supplemental Resource: Fisher-Bailey, Islam and the West: So, Are Civililzations at War? (interview with Samuel Huntington - 300); Muslim Revivalist Movements, especially Hasan al-Banna, Sayyid Qutb, Mawlana Mawdudi, Osama bin Laden , Deobandi Muslims, Taliban ; Wars of Words and Images (Muslim-Christian polemical wars).

Suggested Written Response and Major Essay Topics: 

  1. Compare and contrast what is known about the life of Muhammad with what we know about either the Buddha or Jesus.
  2. Discuss the interrelationships between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. 
  3. Discuss the differences between sunni, shia, and sufi Muslims. 
  4. Discuss the role of jihad in Islam.  How is it similar to and different from the call to "fight" the enemies of Islam?  Discuss the circumstances in history that make the emphasis on jihad understandable in Islam. 


Unit VIII - Religion and Social Change in the West: The Middle Ages, Reform, Enlightenment, Revolution, and Revival

1. The West in the Middle Ages - Read Fisher, chp. 9, pp. 330 - 347 top and Reading Notes F9bSupplemental Resources: In Fisher-Bailey, excerpts from St. Augustine, Confessions (240), "the pears" incident (Harvard Classics at Bartleby.com (read section 9 to the end), and Augustine's famous statement on the role of will in human error:

"And I enquired what iniquity was, and found it to be no substance, but the perversion of the will, turned aside from Thee, O God, the Supreme, towards these lower things, and casting out its bowels, and puffed up outwardly." (Confessions, Book VII:22)

 Additional Supplemental Resource: Everything Lives in God (Hildegard of Bingen, 243);  Search the Bible

BackgroundRenaissance and Humanism

a. Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494), Italian humanist and philosopher.  See his  "Oration on the Dignity of Man (1486)" 

One of the key passages is the following:

"I have placed you at the very center of the world, so that from that vantage point you may with greater ease glance round about you on all that the world contains. We have made you a creature neither of heaven nor of earth, neither mortal nor immortal, in order that you may, as the free and proud shaper of your own being, fashion yourself in the form you may prefer. It will be in your power to descend to the lower, brutish forms of life; you will be able, through your own decision, to rise again to the superior orders whose life is divine."

b. Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527), Italian political theorist. Read Excerpts from The Prince (written ca. 1513, but not published until 1532).  The principal argument is that maintaining political power and order is a higher aim than adhering to moral principles. Machiavelli's thought influenced the political philosophies of rulers down to modern times (for example, Russian Communist leader Vladimir Lenin).

2.  The Protestant Reformations and Puritanism

Read in Fisher-Bailey: Faith Can Rule Only in the Inward Man (Martin Luther,  245); Read also pp. 246- 247 on Anglicanism and on John Calvin.  Reading Notes F9c.

Supplemental Resources:

Letter from Luther to the Archbishop of Mainz, 1517

John Knox's "A Godly Letter of Warning or Admonition" (1553)

John Knox (1505?-1572) was a Scottish reformer.  Some regard the following passage from Knox's "A Godly Letter of Warning or Admonition to the Faithful in London, Newcastle, and Berwick" (1553) as a justification for regicide should a monarch be deemed to have strayed from God's ways:

"For all those that would draw us from God (be they kings or queens), being of the devil's nature, are enemies unto God, and therefore God wills that in such cases we declare ourselves enemies unto them; because he would that we should understand how odious is idolatry in his presence, and how that we cannot keep the league betwixt him and us inviolate if we favour, follow, or spare idolaters." 

Manifest Destiny

Notes on the Enlightenment

1.  Charles Louis de Secondat Montesquieu (1689-1755): Spirit of the Laws (1748)

Montesquieu pioneered the concept of the "separation of powers."  He was motivated by his fear of the concentration of power in the monarch (which he witnessed during the reign of Louis XIV) at the expense of other segments of society, most notably the nobility. Louis, who had become king at the age of five in 1643, was ten when the rebellion known as "The Fronde" ("sling") broke out in 1648. The nobility played a large role in the insurrection. Determined never again to allow the nobles to become strong enough to mount a threat against him, Louis ordered them all to live with him under his watchful eye in the restored villa southwest of Paris known as Versailles.

Read the entire excerpt and write a summary, including key quotations, to report to the class.

2. Voltaire (1694-1778):  Letters on the English (1778 - read Letter IX, On the Government)

While Voltaire, like Montesquieu, admired the way England was governed, unlike Montesquieu he put his complete faith in the monarchy and was uneasy with the way the nobility and the religious authorities strove to accumulate power at the expense of the monarch.

Read only Letter IX and write a summary, including key quotations, to report to the class.

3. Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778):  The Social Contract (1763)

Rousseau is famous for his doctrine of the "General Will": the individual's complete submission to that which rational people would choose for the common good. According to this understanding, freedom means not the absence of limits, but instead obedience to a self-imposed law of reason (self-imposed, Rousseau thought, because it is the product of natural law). The purpose of government is to bring about a union of the general will and the wishes of the people. In this fashion, Rousseau constructed a political paradox: his claim that true freedom comes only with coercion. As he said in The Social Contract, "Whoever refuses to obey the general will shall be forced to obey it by the whole body politic, which means nothing else but that he will be forced to be free." (see also The Social Contract and Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, Lester Crocker, ed., New York: Pocket Books, 1967, p. 22) This idea came to hold great sway in the French Revolution and in revolutionary thought that followed, especially Leninism in Russia (later the Soviet Union), Maoism in China , and in the revolutionary thought of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge movement in Cambodia: a testimonial to how far flung and how influential French political thought became. 

Concluding Note: Rousseau (1712-1778) dedicated his book Discourse on the Origin of Inequality to his birthplace, the city of Geneva, in 1754. Rousseau was ambiguous when it came to religion.  However, in his dedication, he celebrates the Puritan ideal that everyone in the community should know everyone else very, very well:

“...a State in which its individuals might be so well known to each other, that neither the secret machinations of vice, nor the modesty of virtue should be able to escape the notice and judgment of the public; and in which the agreeable custom of seeing and knowing each other, should occasion the love of their country to be rather an affection for its inhabitants than for its soil.” 

The Puritan tendency toward surveillance is evident here, a practice embraced fully by the French Revolution (see below) during the Terror, and later by twentieth century totalitarian regimes.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, Lester G. Crocker, ed., (New York: Pocket Books, 1967), 154.


          The French Revolution 
  • Chronology of the Revolution.
  • Resources on the French Revolution (Halsall)
  • Resources on the French Revolution at George Mason University
  • Declaration of the Rights of Man (1789): Pay attention to Article 3, "the principle of all sovereignty resides essentially in the nation" (and NOT the monarch). This is what came to be called "republicanism." Also pay attention to Article 6, which contains what some historians see as a contradiction they blame for igniting the revolution: on the one hand, a call for obedience to the "general will" (an idea the drafters borrowed from Rousseau), but on the other hand, a call for popular representation, too. (See also Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), an excerpt of which appears on p. 205 of the text.)
  • Maximillien Robespierre (1758-1794), Justification of Terror (1794).  Robespierre admired Rousseau deeply.  Can you find evidence of this admiration in "Justification of Terror?"
  • Louis Antoine de Saint-Just (1767-1794): "What constitutes a republic is the total destruction of everything that stands in opposition to it." (Speech to The Convention, February 5, 1794)

Paradox:  How do we explain Napoleon crowning himself emperor at the end of events whose stated purpose was "liberty, equality, and fraternity?"


3. Contemporary Movements and Expressions

Read in Fisher, chp. 9, pp. 358 -372. Also, Excerpts from liberation theologies (Fisher-Bailey, 248-255 top).   Reading Notes F9d. 

Supplemental Resources:  Muslim Revivalism; European Radicalism:  Nationalist Movements, Marxism: Socialist and Communist Movements, the Revolutions of 1848Background:   Romanticism (as a reaction against the Enlightenment)Wordsworth, Tintern AbbeyCan reality be reduced to a single universal force (Nature, for example)?   Background Summary: The Enlightenment argued that human beings use reason (to answer questions and solve problems).  Romanticism argued the reverse: that human beings are used by reason, nature, God, or some other singular force. In other words, contrary to what the Enlightenment claimed, we human beings have relatively little or no control over our lives or history.  For the German Romanticist philosopher Hegel, reason, in the form of "World Spirit," as he called it, uses us to push history forward, to achieve progress. Hegel was a heavy influence on the thinking of Karl Marx (Communism). What are the implications of such thinking for the concept of liberty? Excerpts from Hegel  


Unit IX - The Sum of Things and Conclusions: What is "Religion?"

1.  Read Fisher, Living Religions chp. 1 and write Response F SUM.  Review terms:   transcendence, immanence, religion, theophany, paradox, theism, atheism, agnosticism, mysticism, asceticism, ultimate concern.

2.  Fisher-Bailey, An Anthology of Living Religions, chp. 1:  Read passages from Freud (p. 9f.), Marx (p.10f), Nietzsche (11f.), and, read Paul Tillich, "The Lost Dimension in Religion," pp. 32-34.  Write Response F SUMb.  Review Working Definitions.  Read  Goethe's "Prometheus"

3. Review "Key Terms" at end of Fisher, chp. 1 (pp.29-30) in preparation for the Religious Studies portion of the "Literacy Test"Review Tip:  To review concepts "in context," use the index at the back of Fisher to locate passages where they are used. 

Supplemental Resources: Fisher, chp. 12.  In class:  Fisher-Bailey, Life in a Peaceful World (Jehovah's Witnesses, 319);  Witchcraft (Diane Mariechild, 325);  A New Revelation from the Unifier (Baha'u'llah, 328); See also material at Belief Net;  also see the official website of the Jehovah's Witnesses

World Religions Home Page


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email: tthornton@nmhschool.org

Last Revised: July 16, 2009