Much like sociology, cultural anthropology, or psychology, an academic study of religious and nonreligious traditions offers insight into what motivates people around the world to do the things they do. To understand religion is to understand one of the most influential forces for an individual or a community. Today, however, the understanding of religious principles and practices through literature comes secondarily to the images projected in media and public representations of other religions.
This course will focus on providing basic information disputing stereotypes and misconceptions about some of the world’s major religions and philosophies: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Atheism. Participants will discuss stereotypes of religions, how they originated, and how they have manifested. Discussions will revolve around religious pluralism, the tenets and beliefs of each religion, and other contemporary issues such as sexuality, marriage, and gender; violence in the name of God and religious extremism; and a comparative study of what the religions share in common. Identifying with a specific (non)religious path or tradition is neither a requirement nor an impediment to enrolling in this class; rather, participants must be curious about and open to various approaches to perennial human questions and willing to explore the relevance of these perspectives to their own lives, communities, and societies. In this course, everyone should feel encouraged to discuss and respect other students’ opinions and beliefs while relating them to course readings and presentations.