It has political, historical, and economic significance.

Week 1:
Readings/DB1
WR The Golden Rule
What is Religion?
Ancient Religions
Native Religions
WRAm Native Americans and their Religion
Religion and Politics in America
Religion and Society in America
Questions (your responses to these are to be posted to the Discussion Board)
1. If the Golden Rule seems to a core teaching in all religions, why do you think religious beliefs are so tied up with many of the most bitter, violent conflicts in our world?
2. Pick any one of the Ancient Religions from the chapter in WR and tell me three things you found interesting/confusing about that religion.
3. Define the following terms: shamanism, oral tradition, rite of passage, myth, ritual. Describe any one ritual from the Native American religious traditions and tell me its function within the community.
4. Does separation of church and state truly exist in this country? Tell me your reasons why or why not. Is the first amendment a religious statement, a political statement, or both?
5. Does religious affiliation say something about who you are? Or is it mostly an accident of birth/upbringing?
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REMEMBER: I will post the questions on Sunday of each week and the answers are due to the discussion board by 11 pm on the following Sunday. For credit, you must post your answers on time AND then respond to two other posters in the class by 11 pm on Tuesday. You do this by opening their answers, then hitting”reply” with your own response to what they said. Any problems executing this, please email me or leave a message on Blackboard.
NOTES:
Good day everyone. I just wanted to type up a few paragraphs of helpful notes and concepts for your consideration as you read the chapters in WR and WRAm (the Bowker and Neusner textbooks, respectively).
Religion is a rather loaded term. It can bring joy and unity; it also causes grief and separation. It increases some folks sense of “security” (they believe they are going straight to heaven if they follow all the rules); it also can marginalize or profile the “other”, those who don’t belong. I don’t want to equate religious affiliation with gang membership, but from a sociological point of view sometimes churches behave like the Crips or the Bloods or the Latin Kings or La Nieta. You’re either in or out, often there are no gray areas. Added to these dichotomies is the fact that the spectrum of belief levels within the same religion can be very wide (Sunni vs. Shi’a Muslims, Hasidic vs. Reform Jews, fundamentalist vs. liberal Christians).
So why study religion? (OK – I know you HAVE to because this is a requirement for graduation … that’s not what I’m asking you!) Does it have any impact on your own life? Your family’s? Your friends? Does it matter whether you know about someone else’s beliefs? Because good or bad, religion plays a part in society. It has political, historical, and economic significance. Even if you do not belong to any religion, you still have to negotiate the playing field of co-workers and friends and spouses and family who have specific religious beliefs which inform their choices.
The English word RELIGION is derived from the Latin “religio” which refers to the fear or awe one feels in the presence of a spirit or god, the presence of mystery. There are five characteristics of major world religions:
1. they deal in some way with people’s relationship to the unseen world of spirits/gods/demons
2. they developed a system of myths, especially creation myths, about this unseen world
3. they engage in rituals designed for communing with and/or appeasing these spirits/gods/demons, with temples, priests, and scriptures @ some point in their history
4. they say something about life after death, either in a linear sense (humans moving from birth to ending up in heaven or hell) or a cyclical sense (reincarnation – you keep coming back until your soull gets it right)
5. they have attracted large followings, either now or in the past
Did humans develop religion because they were weak and ignorant of the forces of nature that surrounded them? did religion arise simply out of fear … or was it devised as a way to explain the presence of mystery in our lives?
BOOKS REQUIRED; Assigned readings in textbooks and posted on the web; the two texts for this course are World Religions: The Great Faiths Explained and Explored by John Bowker (ISBN 978-0756617721 OR 0756617723) and World Religions in America edited by Jacob Neusner – fourth edition (ISBN 978-0664233204 OR 0664233201). These texts will be referred to as “WR” and “WRAm” when I assign readings from them. Additional optional relevant readings/notes/video clips may be posted on the web as the course progresses.

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