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Course: World Religions

Instructor: Bahar Davary

Description: The history and culture of religious traditions are explored in order to understand how religious world views are created through myth, dogma, ritual and symbolism.

SO, WHAT’S THE BIG IDEA? Today’s discussion centers on the question of whether monotheistic Gods are violent by nature. The primary focus is on Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Hinduism.

YES, THIS WILL BE ON THE TEST: The dozen or so first-year honors preceptorial students are instructed that 70 percent of their grade on their next test will be derived from their essay response to the question, “In what you’ve read of various religious traditions, what religions are theoretically inclined toward violence? Toward peace?” No doubt each of these scarily well-prepared students will ace this, and subsequent, tests.

PROVOCATIVE QUESTION DU JOUR: “How has Christianity both endorsed and condemned slavery? Are the biblical interpretations of Dr. Martin Luther King correct? Or is it the interpretation of the KKK that’s correct? After all, the Ku Klux Klan burned crosses in the name of Christianity.”

FROM IDEA TO BUMPER STICKER: One student sums up a previous classroom discussion in a single crystalline nugget: “If I say, ‘I want to feed the hungry,’ I’m a saint. If I say, ‘Why are the poor, poor?’ I’m a Communist.”

SUGGESTED READING: Along with more expected texts (Siddhartha, anyone?), students are urged to seek out current provocative books, such as Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer’s Is Religion Killing Us? One student thinks that the author may be “misrepresenting faith itself. He takes the verses he needs to make his point and leaves the others out.” The teacher agrees that it’s relatively easy to take things out of context. “Look at Cain and Abel. The whole Genesis story begins with violence. Is it religion? Or human nature?”