PHIL 1304: World Religions

Matthew M. Daude

Fall, 1999

Section  5857

M 7:05-9:45 PM

RGC 220

The ACC catalogue describes this course as "A study of religious consciousness and the major religions of the world including Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam." We shall pursue the following goals:

I. To become familiar with major religious traditions, belief systems, and communities

II. To examine the ways in which religion provides meaning and order in human life

We will explore the religious traditions discussed in Smart’s book, The Religious Experience, which covers the religions named in the course description above. We will also examine the religions of the Aztec and the Maya, tracing the influence of these traditions into the present. I will give the class some latitude to pursue other interests, so talk to me about particular topics or traditions you would like to discuss. In view of the current situation, we will spend some time exploring millenialism and millenial cults.

Preliminary Issues

There are no prerequisites for World Religions. A passing score or the equivalent on the reading portion of the TASP is required, and I highly recommend a passing score or the equivalent on the writing portion. There will be a significant writing component, and I recommend some internet skills. (Please talk to me if you have questions about the internet skills. Please note that you can get free email at ACC's computer labs--talk to me for details.)

Our objectives for the semester reflect the goals listed above: basic knowledge of the belief systems of major world religions and familiarity with the significant rituals, holidays, and community life of these traditions. The major forms of assessment will be tests (both short-answer and essay) and writing assignments.

Office Hours

Please refer to my main page for office hours and locations, and how to get in touch with me.

Texts and Reading Assignments

Smart. The Religious Experience.

The text is available in the ACC bookstore(s). There may be handouts, each of which will be available here. If you find that you must miss class, please get the handouts prior to the next class. I will post reading assignments here. I expect everyone to come to class having read and thought about the assignment. Be sure to get in touch with me if you are having problems with the course content.

Work and Grading Policy

Your grade for this course will be based on written and collaborative work demonstrating the pursuit of the goals of the course. There are three components:

3 tests


3 Religious event essays


Research paper


We will talk about the course components in much more detail in class, but my comments under Coursework Guidelines will give you the main idea. Due dates for written work will be arranged in class. Please note that I will not accept work after the stated due date, except by prior agreement. All written work done outside of class must be typed (using a standard font—no italics!) and double-spaced. Please see my General Course Policies for further information.

I expect everyone to participate in class discussion. Class participation should be informed participation. By this I mean that everyone should come to class having read and thought about the assignment. We only meet one evening a week—be prepared. Religion is often a difficult subject to discuss openly, so the conventions of respect and responsibility I discuss in my General Course Policies are of particular importance in this course.

Coursework Guidelines


I plan to give three exams. Each exam will involve an in-class portion and a take-home essay component. The in-class portion of the exams, worth twenty-five points, will consist of short answer items in which I ask you to identify and explain important concepts and terms. I will expect you to explain these terms (briefly!) in the context they appear in our readings and discussion. We will identify these important ideas as we proceed, and I will give you study questions on each section to help you prepare. The in-class component will take no more than thirty minutes to complete.

The take-home portion of the exam will consist in several short essays covering the material we have studied. This portion of the tests will allow you to demonstrate your understanding religious traditions through comparison and contrast. I will usually give three essay questions for each test, each worth twenty-five points, and I will look for how well you have digested the material, gotten "the point," and discuss your understanding in an organized format. Neatness counts.

For fans of Bloom's taxonomy, the in-class portion is at the knowledge and comprehension levels, and the essay questions go beyond comprehension to application (at least).

Religious Event Guidelines

During the semester, you must attaend three religious events. You will write a (four-page) essay on each religious event, and the essay should should include not only a description of the event but also an explanation of the religious tradition. Occasionally, someone may have an interest in a religious tradition for which no events are accessible (ancient Egyptian religion, for instance). In that case, you may substitute a (four-page) research paper for one of your event essays; however, you should discuss this option with me in advance. Please note that you must have submitted no fewer than two event essays by mid-term November 1 (which, incidentally, is the Feast of All Saints in the Christian tradition).

Permissible Events

I recommend that you choose events in the religious traditions we will be studying this semester; however, you may attend any religious event you please, so long as certain conditions are met. You should avoid writing about a tradition that you consider your own—the point of this assignment is to expand your understanding of religious traditions and communities.

The event must be a ritual, worship service, or ceremony. A lecture, film, or discussion group (for instance, a Bible study group) is not appropriate (though such activities may provide important background for your exploration).

It is also helpful to contact the organization in advance and make arrangements to attend. This will give you the opportunity to ask questions about things like appropriate dress, etc. (and I expect you to be considerate and respectful!) Prior contact will also enable you to link up with someone who may help you understand the event "from the inside." If I have time, I may post a list of organizations that have regular events in the Austin area. Watch the announcements for updates.


The essay is both a "reaction paper" and a critical exploration of the religious tradition you have chosen. Give the date, time, place, and tradition of the event at the beginning of the essay. You may attach materials from the ceremony, if you like. Include (at least) the following:

  1. a description of the event (what happened)
  2. what the event meant to participants (Be sure to explain the significance of the actions, symbols, images, reading of scripture, etc., to the participants. In other words, why do they do these things and not something else?)
  3. an explanation of the ways in which the event manifested the belief-system of the tradition, including a brief explanation of the beliefs

For instance, let's say suts,ne attends a Christian baptism. The event essay will include what happened (". . . and then they used Holy Water to mark the sign of the cross on the infant's forehead . . ."), what it meant ("Baptism includes not only a commemoration of the 'baptism' of Jesus by John, but also a ritual marking the child's entry into membership in the Church . . ."). Finally, the essay will include a brief explanation of the belief system within which this event is situated (The principal doctrines of Christianity are the Incarnation and the Atonement. These doctrines set the stage for baptism in the following ways . . .").

Research Paper

The paper will be a four-page exploration of a topic of your choice. Please note that I would like you to use your papers to explore the topic of millenialism this semester. I am not stipulating a particular format for this paper; any standard format for term papers is acceptable (MLA, for instance). I will discuss term papers in more detail as the semester unfolds. Please do not hesitate to contact me about your interests (email is good:, but .


Please note that reading assignments are, in fact, coursework. In class discussion, I will assume that you have done your readings (and thought about what you have read). I will announce reading assignments in class, and they will be posted.


If you do not have access to email, contact me right away. There are many free services in cyberland (like hotmail) that you can use in one of the computer labs. All you need to do is sign up. I plan to have a sign-up session in the first week or two, but you can go to most any open lab and get help from the techs (they are great!).

Please do not send assignments as attachments. Please put your assignment in the email (as the body or text).

Please help me organize my email by using a standard subject line:

    sect Last, First: Assignment

Once you set this up it's not hard to remember. "Sect" means the section number of the course in which you are enrolled, "Last, First" is yohe estrong> name (yes, I'm afraid that people have used my name here), and "Assignment" means what you are sending me. "Assignment" should be whatever you are sending me; for instance, the second exam would be

    5857 Daude, Matthew: Exam 2

If you just have a question or want to talk about something, use some short descriptive phrase:

    5857 Daude, Matthew: Question about Vedic Gods

I know this is a pain, but it helps a great deal with organization on my end. Thanks in advance!


This page was last updated on 03/01/09.